Teachers are born not made

Bird Droppings October 22, 2011
Teachers are born not made

I started this endeavor yesterday and got a bit side tracked with my granddaughter and came back to it this chilly morning. I walked out of the house and few crickets were calling as they do in the warmer weather during the summer. It was chilly and a front was moving through it is to warm up again in a few days. The week of break is nearly gone and a new school week will be under way and it is great to be a teacher.
Over the years I have listened to many great teachers in college, graduate school, in industry and in the pulpits of various churches. As I went through my teacher education I have been told that men should not teach elementary school, children should be seen and not heard and most of the traditional understandings of what make a teacher. However within those few negative comments there were positive ideas as well. I heard Dr. Norman Vincent Peale many years ago talk about positive thinking. I heard Dr. Tony Campolo lecture in sociology and everyone left the class wanting to major in sociology. I heard Dr. Glenn Doman in a small college in Texas lecturing on human development in 1968 and it impacted me to a point that much of my reading and interest in human development for years to come centered on his ideas. I heard my father speak many times as he lectured worldwide on Loss Control Management. Another is a good friend, Dr. James Sutton who periodically makes it to Georgia and I consider one of the greats.

“….but say there was a student’s union. Might they ask that the dropout rate be lowered? Might they stay at the negotiating table until it was below 50%? We ought to ask kids whether they think the status quo is working.” Bill Gates

In 1972 or so I found a copy of Foxfire 2 at a bookstore and it fit right into the ideas I had about teaching. I was working with a group of Learning Disabled teenagers in Warner Robins Georgia and the hands on approach of Foxfire worked wonders. I asked students what they wanted to read and bought magazines rather than use elementary level books that were provided. Amazingly reading levels went up significantly. Sadly the principal attributed that success to her preferred reading curriculum and bought more of her elementary level books. I never could tell her they learned to read with Wrestling World and Car and Driver.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice One
It is not necessarily about technique that I was intending to write but about that inborn flare for teaching an aspect that I see as an art form, you can compound that with the fact there is not a truly effective means to evaluate teachers. For example in our school a twenty minute observation one to three times a year along with a simple ten or so item check list is our system of evaluation. Time is a crucial factor with administration as to evaluate fifty to a hundred teachers time is paramount to completing an effective evaluation. Charlotte Danielson developed a very good program that has been incorporated in the ETS (Educational Testing Services) program of available tests and evaluation tools. However to be fair to a teacher it takes at least thirty six hours of observation to adequately evaluate with this tool. Most administrators are pushed for twenty minutes in today’s bare bones education budgets.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward
“Very little is invested in understanding great teaching. We’ve never had a meaningful evaluation system that identifies the dimensions of great teachers so we can transfer the skills to others.” Bill Gates

If only we could find a way to effectively evaluate and understand what makes a great teacher. Why is it that kids know and respond accordingly?

The rest of the Foxfire Core Practices:
2. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3. The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8. The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9. The work teachers and learners do together include rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

I have come back to these simple practices many times and each time it seems to me this is just good teaching. Working with the Foxfire Approach to teaching you find very quickly it does take a bit more work but results and the attitudes of kids make it worth the effort. Giving kids input to what it is they are learning adds significantly to retention and their own accountability. I have written about creativity being stripped away from schools in favor of teaching to the test. We seem to find the word accountability bounced around and use standardized tests to measure that accountability. A teacher is a great teacher if everyone passes the end of course test in their subject. Sounds perhaps like a good idea till you are the teacher with ten special needs and ten at risk students all in the same class who also have to pass the test along with ten behavior problems who could care less whether they were in school or not. Now the great teacher is banging their head against the wall trying to survive and the students are literally working against them. On top of that to date fifty seven percent have not passed a standardized test as of yet.
Essentially it comes to attitude as I started reading Dr. Donald Clifton’s book, How full is your bucket, I found that the concept of a dipper and bucket is a good one. Over the weeks ahead as I finish the book I will be sure and use some quotes. In a nutshell we each have a bucket and dipper and either take out of or give to each other. The concept is if you are always giving you will never have an empty bucket. What if we could apply this simple concept in education? Looking at the idea of Foxfire and John Dewey’s democratic classroom and filling a bucket there are possibilities out there that we could find a way to take the natural talents of a given teacher and assist them in bringing that out. If we could give students input and communicate and if we could get away from the methods and technique only approach to teaching we could maybe make a significant change in education. So here I am wondering why we do not much like arguing politics probably even the best solution will never see the light of day because of the powers that be. So as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

JOY!

Bird Droppings August 2, 2011
JOY!
When I walk out in the dark of the morning on a clear day the pines to my left seem nearly black. I joke they would be a good setting for a horror film. The trees form a wall of pine. They were planted so close you literally cannot see but a few feet in even in day light. However local deer and wild turkey love them and daily we see the big birds or does and fawns coming in and out. Still in the morning that black wall is perplexing. Today as I walked the dog on our way to put her out for the day I was greeted by the sounds of morning doves calling off in the pines.

“Keep a green tree alive in your heart and a songbird may come to sing there.” Chinese Proverb

Maybe a simple thought to start with. As I start a bit later than normal still sort of glowing in that back to school newness it has been interesting. Continually when I go out even to Quick Trip I end up meeting former students and friends, each of them have been pieces in that puzzle of my life. This morning as I picked up my energy drink at Quick Trip a student from years ago she is pregnant and due in a month. On her way to work and borrowing from a comically bit of whimsy “happy as a clam”, I never quite understood how clams were happy.
One aspect that I found most recently however is that when I am walking about be it looking for the good, the bright, or happy have a green tree in your heart and as the proverb states then maybe a song bird will come sing.

“When you were born, you cried and everybody else was happy. The only question that matters is this: When you die, will YOU be happy when everybody else is crying?” Dr.Tony Campolo

In 1970 or so I sat in his class at Eastern Baptist College in St. David’s Pennsylvania that feels like a life time ago. Very few people could walk in a room and fire it up the way Dr. Tony Camplolo could. I never while I attended Eastern College saw him not smiling, joking, and living to the fullest. One of the books he wrote Carpe Diem explains his philosophy “Seize the day” –

“Occasionally in life there are those moments is based on that unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols we call words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The primary joy of life is acceptance, approval, the sense of appreciation and companionship of our human comrades. Many men do not understand that the need for fellowship is really as deep as the need for food, and so they go through life accepting many substitutes for genuine, warm, simple.” Joshua Loth Liebman

We are communal beings we thrive on fellowship and on acceptance. It is true many do never understand the need within us for fellowship. For many I am a loner yet within my day I make contact with several hundreds in writing and in conversation. I consider many my friends that I merely met today. One word stood out as I reviewed Liebman words and that is appreciation. As I look at life sometimes when we show appreciation not only is itself gratifying but it too stimulates the person we appreciate. It is symbiotic, that is what we are about I do think, symbiosis.

“Joy, has no cost.” Marianne Williamson

Lecturer and writer of “new age” materials there is one aspect I have noticed in her writings and that is her optimism, a continually up lifting note. She promotes searching for and looking for that silver lining to the clouds in life and reminds us that joy has no cost it is free and waiting for your choice to have it. The other day as I talked with an old friend, what was a moment of pause, a period of time in my life when I felt pushed away and as did he.
I had come to realize had I not gone a different direction I would not be here where I am and I am where I need to be now. I may get pushed away, fired, turned around, but only to where I need to be at that time. In reality it is not a significant change in outlook only a few words and one or two steps. When we focus on the reasons of the past it is so difficult to see reasons of now. When bitterness holds a chain around your neck you cannot rise up and finish crossing the stream. You are held down and drowning floundering in the water.
Take the effort pull up on to the rock and cross, it is Carpe Diem as Dr. Tony Campolo lives his life, seize the day and it will be a joyous one. My dear friends each moment each hour we flounder and keeps us shackled. There is just too much out there to worried over “spilled milk”. Keep your eyes open and see the world around you as you have a glorious and joyous day. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Curriculum is it sacred?

Bird Droppings July 7, 2011
Curriculum is it as sacred?

So often even a miniscule one triggers with me a memory. We have a standing joke at our house about the rabbits that live around our yard. My wife continually mentions the book, Watership Downs, when addressing the bold creatures. Yesterday I was heading to the front door when a young rabbit was standing at the door. The rabbit had no sales flyers or sample case so I am sure it was not a traveling salesbunny. But as I pondered and I did get photos of our door tapping rabbit I thought back to one of my earlier undergraduate experiences. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo; he was a professor of sociology. He has made more of an impact on me in the years since I sat in his class and not because he was not a great professor he was.

“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our ‘advanced’ capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the just of who we are that inner being getting to know where we are in the world and why. Dr. Campolo was a theologian first and used Greek as he taught periodically to make a point.

“Koinonia, (fellowship) supposedly can be generated simply by drinking the right beer” Dr. Tony Campolo

As I have been reading in some curriculum texts it is an interdisciplinary event as well as it is an all encompassing lived in totality undertaking? Curriculum is not just the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ. Seeing curriculum as the tracks that my life’s train is riding on is perhaps a metaphorical stretch at best yet in the true sense of understanding it is so.

“It is through a concern with problems as they are relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliot Eisner

For many years I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leave, twig, rock, animal and human being.

“It was a quote from Krishnamurti that said – he was talking about education being the understanding of the self, and he said, ‘For it is each of us the whole of existence is gathered.’” K. Kesson

For me spiritual is simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within me. I see curriculum in a similar manner one of sacredness of spiritual and fulfillment more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day. As I read curriculum theorists it is this group who are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the “secret” that “sits in the middle and knows” – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” “I think the problem we are up against is that we are crippled in this modernist culture in speaking about this dimension, and the people that have experienced it throughout history – the mystics, the sages – it seems to me they do come back and report it as a deeply meaningful and moral realm.” Ron Miller

I was first introduced to Black Elk by a Creek friend whose grandfather was a holy man as well. He said I should read the book and get a feeling for what spirituality is about. Interesting as I read I also found this is what learning is about.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves” Black Elk

This is the outlook of Black Elk, Oglala Sioux holy man in his discussions and narrative of his visions as a child and as elder in the tribe with John Neihardt in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. This view Native Americans have of life we civilized folk have a difficult time with. Black Elk perceived that there was an all encompassing view of all that is. In my naive beginning study of curriculum theory I see aspects of this philosophy in curriculum theory and my analogy of a track a circular journey in life of education and learning.

“One of the paradoxes of our times is that in an age pervaded by the clash of conflicting ideologies so little effort is spent in enabling students to critically examine their values and beliefs.” Elliot Eisner
We tend to lose individualism in trying to accomplish everything and to standardize and sanitize and provide “curriculum” to our schools. Borrowing from Eisner again.

“As David Hume suggested, one cannot logically proceed from a description of what is to a conception of what ought to be.” “If the concept of mankind were used as an organizing element in the curriculum, certain differences in school programmes might emerge.” Elliot Eisner

Curriculum is a living thing ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers presume. I think I have been pondering to long today and who knows maybe there are answers after all please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird