Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is

Bird Droppings October 17-18, 2011
Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is

I took a relaxing weekend with family and grand baby and sort of got my thoughts together as the days went by. Somewhere as the rain dissipated last week we had a few good days of sunshine even though the temperatures were below normal and a chill has set in. I was running around all day yesterday taking my granddaughter up to her new home in Demorest Georgia just off the Piedmont College Campus. I got home relatively early in the afternoon and fixed dinner sat to write and download photos and my laptop hibernated since I forgot my power cord at school so I was in limbo for the evening. But all in all there is much to ponder and consider as I go into this day. I went out into the darkness this morning and watched the smoke from the sage and cedar embers dissipate into the slight breeze just before a brilliant sun rose in the east. Around me were the stars and a partial moon and sounds of a chilly morning were disrupted with the alarm of a car in the distance.
Today I will be writing and catching up as well as doing some gardening and gathering in my plants that do not enjoy the cold. Hopefully these days off will be filled with writing, a grandbaby, photos and reading. In my research I read the weekly publication from the NEA. I am a member of the National Association of Educators and receive their weekly publication, The Educators Journal. An article caught my attention in a recent issue. In Georgia we have Standards that drive the curriculum throughout the state in line with federal and state mandates. Essentially the article addressed teaching to the test.

“Preferring concrete guidance, teachers make what is tested their de facto focus. The unfortunate result is that tests become the curriculum. And because tests are filled with multiply choice items that do not adequately reflect important higher levels of cognitive demand, instruction becomes less rich that it should be.” Susan H. Fuhrman, Lauren Resnick, and Lorrie Shepard, Standards are not enough

As I thought I recalled a quote I have used many times before and how it applies to education.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Wayne Gretzky

It was last night as I was working on pulling some files together and books for my ideas just before my computer shut down that this Wayne Gretzky quote popped up again. Considering that I had played ice hockey in college and most my life it was sort of cool. Gretzky is a hero to hockey kids just like Michael Jordan is to basketball players. Gretzky’s records cover several pages of HHL record books he holds or shares 61 NHL records. As an example a recent ESPN top twenty five sports records that will never be broken had Gretzky’s feat of 2857 points (goals and assists) right near the top since number three player, Gordie Howe at 1850 holds the longevity record as well and number two is 1887 points. But what does this have to do with the price of beans or with education?

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of the view of the classroom community in developing respect for human dignity as well as preparing students to be active participants in their own learning and in democratic communities. The theme around which programs in the School of Education are built is Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of Children. Our students learn to be reflective, scholarly, and proactive educators.” Dr. Jane McFerrin, Dean, School of Education, Piedmont College

Proactive is a good word. “Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty” is how Dictionary.com explains the word proactive. A good friend has the Gretzky quote up on his wall, I gave him a copy nearly nine years ago and it still is in use. I first used this quote over nine years ago when my friend was principal at our high school. He has moved on but Gretzky’s words ring true, be it in Ice Hockey, teaching or in life. I have expectation as a key element though in this quote, be where the puck is going to be not just where it is. Be thinking ahead rather than thinking in stagnation.

“For, he that expects nothing shall not be disappointed, but he that expects much – if he lives and uses that in hand day by day — shall be full to running over.” Edgar Cayce

“Life… It tends to respond to our outlook, to shape itself to meet our expectations.” Richard M. DeVoe

Much of Cayce’s reading can be a bit much but these are good words and our daily outlook does mold where and how our day will be.

“We advance on our journey only when we face our goal, when we are confident and believe we are going to win out.” Orison Swett Marden

Marden was the founder of Success magazine and is considered to be the founder of the modern Success movement.

“We lift ourselves by our thought we climb upon our vision of ourselves. If you want to enlarge your life, you must first enlarge your thought of it and of yourself. Hold the ideal of yourself as you long to be, always, everywhere – your ideal of what you long to attain – the ideal of health, efficiency, success.” Orison Swett Marden (1850 – 1924)

I am always amazed at teachers who will have few expectations for students. Research has shown time and time again that students live up to the expectations of the teachers. Teachers literally set the pace by their expectations of a student if you expect little that is what you will get and conversely expect much and you will receive. I am taking a few liberties with a bit of a paraphrase of Gretsky’s famous line.

“Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is” Frank Bird

As I thought this morning teaching is much like any other activity you plan, you implement and you have expectations. If we only teach to where learning is soon you find you are truly going nowhere. For years I will at times use words far beyond operational vocabulary of students, my response is always “look it up and learn a new word”.

“By asking for the impossible we obtain the best possible.” Giovanni Niccolini

“The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car… a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little.” Ben Sweetland

I really liked this concept so often we teach the use of a teaspoon, I do it too, and thinking that this kid will never learn that or this kids reading level is too low. Sweetland writes about expectations and offers this.

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” Ben Sweetland

When that difficult student succeeds you as a teacher succeed and your path is brighter. Years ago I worked with severely disabled students and a simple movement often would warrant a celebration. So often I use the quote from Aerosmith’s song, Amazing.

“Life is a journey not a destination” Steven Tyler

As I was reading this morning Ben Sweetland either listens to Aerosmith or Steven Tyler reds Ben Sweetland’s books.

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” Ben Sweetland

After looking up publishing dates Steven Tyler read Ben Sweetland’s book. Many of which were published in the 1960’s. If we as teachers impose parameters on learning, if we set goals far too low and or do not teach to lofty goals we set, we in effect are the issue not the student. Maybe every teacher needs to tack over there door as my dear friend, the now Georgia Principal of the year at Osborne High School has.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Wayne Gretzky

Let us set some records now, records of learning of successful students and children in our communities. As I went out into the chill of the morning a bit earlier to walk my dog as I looked to the southeast the constellation Orion was clear as a bell over me. I could not help but notice that today was the first day in months it was silent in the morning. No tree frogs, crickets, cicada’s absolute silence. I have often wondered as to the ambient temperature for silence in the morning. I was reading in a small book written between 1953 and 1954 by a Trappist monk, Thoughts in solitude and a passage struck a chord in the silence.

“Living is not thinking. Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.” Thomas Merton

Perhaps I was not listening close enough as I went out just a few minutes ago when I said it was silent. I stepped out again with my other dog and a great horned owl was calling there is always more always new if we constantly adjust thoughts and perceptions. Merton was a prolific writer and his works have stood the test of time he died in a small hotel in Southeast Asia in an electrical accident protesting the war in Vietnam back in the late 1960’s and as I ponder this morning please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.

Reflection is so much more than a mirror

Bird Droppings April 18, 2011
Reflection is so much more than a mirror

I was sitting out in my back yard as I do every morning listening and thinking wondering about the coming day and week so much to ponder as I listened to the haunting call of a whippoorwill. A friend had gone for an interview last week and I was curious how that had gone. A former student is recovering from an accident and again I was wondering how they were doing. I was sitting contemplating and listening to sounds that were ever so silent with the crickets beginning to start the new life as temperatures permit and in the distance spring peepers responding as well to warmer weather.
My graduate studies began at Piedmont College nearly ten years ago. I was at the time intrigued by a concept of reflection built into each of the courses and degrees and literally every day existence in the education department at Piedmont. It is not a reflective position such as from looking in a mirror but one of a deeper pondering of what is going on around you and with your experiences and understandings. I met Dr. Jane McFerrin after failing my initial interview for admittance into graduate school. On a side note the individual who failed me on my first interview and I are good friends now and share many common ideas corresponding regularly now. I was informed I had to go for an additional interview with the Dean of education which was a scary thought as I drove up to Piedmont College.
I found the education department sort of tucked under the library and although I have sat on the steps many times waiting for classes to start since that time watching the lake and geese that time was very significant. Dr, McFerrin called me in and introduced me to the assistant Dean of Education Dr. Cummings who is now the Dean. She asked how could she get on my Bird Droppings mailing list which was my first interview question and sort of caught me by surprise. I was on my second interview having failed the first as being “not professionally suited for teaching” and perhaps it was because I do have an issue with ties and how was I to respond to this first question. I got Dr. McFerrin email address and added her to the list over ten years ago.

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of the view of the classroom community in developing respect for human dignity as well as preparing students to be active participants in their own learning and in democratic communities. The theme around which programs in the School of Education are built is Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of Children. Our students learn to be reflective, scholarly, and proactive educators.” Dr. Jane McFerrin, Past Dean of the Department of Education, Piedmont College

For me this is a very powerful statement and as I proceeded over the next five years to earn my masters and specialists degrees at Piedmont College that term reflective more than once was mentioned it became the standard of each class.

“…reflection is decidedly educational. It is simply an opportunity through which one can learn from experience. Reflection can take numerous forms, and touch on an endless variety of issues. It furthers learning and inspires provocative thought and action. Most of all, it can benefit the individual and the community.” Julie Reed & Christopher Koliba, Facilitating Reflection

It has been many years since the great educator John Dewey promoted reflection in his writings, of utilizing experience, understanding, and reflecting to promote and encourage thinking, and thinking about our thinking to borrow from Donald Schon.

“There are actions, recognitions, and judgments, which we know how to carry out spontaneously; we do not have to think about them prior to or during their performance. We are often unaware of having to learn to do these things; we simply find ourselves doing them. In some cases, we were once aware of the understandings which were subsequently internalized in our feeling for the stuff of action. In other cases, we may never have been aware of them. In both cases, however, we are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals.” Donald Schon, The reflective practioneer: How professionals think in action

With teachers so often we hear or read about being burnt out. That aspect that teachers get so caught up in what they are doing it becomes tedious and boring. Reflection helps to alleviate this process and provides insight into each day and each experience. Earlier today as I read a response to a comment I made I was described as weird. I thought back to my daily greeting from a particular student, Mr. Bird you are weird. What my student is implying is I am different. If you asked him should I be normal he will respond, not hardly. He liked me weird. I thought about it and as I described an explanation I was reflecting on weirdness. I did not see my self as weird but as I looked around my class room yesterday it was not normal peeking in others as I walked down the hall. I have no desks and no official board so to say although I have a portable one when needed with bits and pieces of everything and anything scattered about, questioning sources I call them. My favorite question is Mr. Bird what is this? It is amazing how a day can go when a student asks a real question one inspired by inquisitiveness and not by a lesson plan. That is where true learning occurs and it is then transferring that inquisitiveness to the subject at hand that is the secret. I will reflect on that today but please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.