Sometimes we can offer a sigh of relief

Bird Droppings November 10, 2011
Sometimes we can offer a sigh of relief

“It is about learning not about teaching.”
Dr. Max Thompson

A semester is nearing the end and my daily journey for this semester will end. But it is a relief in some ways. While I have really enjoyed the classes, students and teachers I am working with it in many ways it is still a learning process for me. I have been working the past few days with a young man who is in our Early Childhood Education program. One of his projects is to write a philosophy of education which over the several years of graduate school I have done now several times. Each time it evolves and grows. I am hoping as I help this fellow finish his own philosophy he will gain an understanding of what education is all about. In my own defining I often look to Jean Piaget and his ideas on educating children. .

“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done — men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.” Jean Piaget

Maybe someday I will be famous too for studying my own kids or grandkids, yet out of that narrow window of research came some very insightful ideas on children and education. Something that intrigues me however is how much time Piaget spent with his children observing listening and I have always wondered if he interacted.

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

Interesting how John Dewey who died in 1952 was making statements like this in 1914 John Garner was making this statement in

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” William Yeats

Several times as I have written I have borrowed from Sidney J. Harris who compared education to stuffing a sausage or finding a fine pearl, which would we prefer. Many so called teachers liken education to the bucket filler we only have this amount to put in and then it’s full in this confined space, limited space at that. I prefer to think that a child is like a vast field or forest and when applied correctly and in a manner appropriate fire can make that field grow and flourish, a controlled burn, years ago lightening would do it now with society so restrictive it is controlled. This is somehow so similar to education.

“Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.” Francis Keppel

We are each directly involved in our own education as well as the education of every person we come in contact with. We are teachers to friends, family and even our teachers, professors and even enemies. Education is something that occurs continually not simply in school or college but it is elemental to existence.

“Education, we see, is not merely gaining knowledge or skills helpful toward productive work, though certainly that is a part of it. Rather it is replenishment and an expansion of the natural thirst of the mind and soul. Learning is a gradual process of growth, each step building upon the other. It is a process whereby the learner organizes and integrates not only facts but attitudes and values. We have been told that we must open our minds and our hearts to learn. There is a Chinese proverb: Wisdom is as the moon rises, perceptible not in progress but in result. As our knowledge is converted to wisdom, the door to opportunity is unlocked.” Barbara W. Winder

So education is far more than the confines of school of a class it is a task we are participating in from the day we are born till the day we cease to function as human beings upon the earth.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

For many years I had upon my wall a banner with this saying, a simple concept, but when you apply it to knowledge to education it becomes so much more powerful.

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

Dreams and aspirations can be achieved through education, we can and will fulfill our dreams if we continue to learn, to advance in our journey in life. It is those who halt who stagnant and flounder in the stream who never achieves their dreams. A movie title “What dreams may come?” Actually more about a concept of afterlife but as I look back life here now is what we make of it.

“Our dreams, and if we can think of it we can attain it” Frank E. Bird Jr.

My dad once told me that when I was a child and as I think back watching him putter with pieces of plastic, metal and such on the kitchen table, nearly fifty years ago. He was looking at various safety toe shoes as he puttered. I wasn’t sure what was going on but somewhere he had an idea a dream and eventually it became a metatarsal guard for heavy industry and reduced foot injuries and damage significantly. Dreams aided by education and we can accomplish anything.

“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.” Benjamin Disraeli

It is Thursday morning and a our week is over since tomorrow is a holiday and to finish off one last quote from nearly 3000 years ago and with that have a great week and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

“Only the educated are free.” Epictetus

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.

Success is the journey not the destination

Bird Droppings July 27, 2011
Success is the journey, not the destination

My mother called me on a Saturday several years back all excited as she was listening to one of my father’s speeches from back in the day. I could hear my father’s booming speaking voice in the back ground from the tape recording. She mentioned a speech on Maximizing Success that he did in 1985 and we had recorded for our customers and clients with what was then our family company The International Loss Control Institute. Dad traveled at that time nearly seventy five percent of the time often staying in a country for weeks lecturing and teaching about his ideas on Loss Control management.
As she read the line I have used as a title today it brought back memories of a yellow sticky note and my sons hand writing affixed to my computer back in 1996 or so when a teenager was killed in a car wreck that was very close to many of us. Written on the note was a line from an Aerosmith song from a 1993 CD, Get a Grip and a song entitled Amazing by Steven Tyler. The line read life’s a journey not a destination.

“Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow bring… yeah. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler

Seldom do I ever use the entire line of the lyrics when I quote Steven Tyler trying to get a bit more emphasis from the words. But as I looked today and have been for so many years intrigued by developmentalists the second part, you have to crawl before you learn how to walk caught my attention today. It could be that I had just read excerpts from Rabbi Gans writings and in his thoughts success is a progression towards a goal more than attainment of that goal.
Years ago I was directly and indirectly involved in a program entitled The Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential. Dr. Glenn Doman and Dr. Karl Delacato who were the developers and implementers of this concept. The idea basically was that in working with brain injured children and adults you could retrain portions of the brain undamaged to take over for the damaged portions. A simple concept and when pondering that stories go Einstein only used ten percent of his brain capacity it seems logical. The simple version of their philosophy was you have to creep, and then crawl before you walk. By training and retraining the brain in those patterns you could accomplish great things with brain injured individuals. Perhaps a glimpse at what IAHP does through their philosophy would provide a window.

“Where there is life there is hope. There is no such thing as false hope–it is a contradiction in terms. However, there is false despair. For centuries brain-injured children have been warehoused and forgotten. The Institutes believe that every brain-injured child deserves a fighting chance to be well. It is the mission of The Institutes to give parents the knowledge they need so that their brain-injured children may have that fighting chance. Further, The Institutes proposes that every child born has a right to be intellectually, physically, and socially excellent. The Institutes recognizes that parents are the most important teachers that their children will ever have. When parents know how the brain grows and why it grows the way it does, they are the very best teachers their children will ever have.” The Philosophy Of The Institutes, 2009

A serious issue with many is that there is no scientific proof their ideas work. They tend to refrain from control and excremental groups and if a parent wants help they will try and teach those parents the journey. My younger brother for a number of years was involved and in those years I saw improvement. Myself I was involved in a college program in Texas not only in Human Development classes but in the program myself as a college flunk out and one who more than likely had suffered brain injury at birth from seizures and epilepsy. But I did see success stories every day in their programs. Success many times is measured in minute increments when dealing with a brain injured child. Raising their head unassisted or feeding themselves can be a substantial goal if they had never done that before.

“Success is the journey not the destination.” Frank E. Bird Jr., 1985 Maximizing Success

I found it interesting my mother as we talked had googled the quote from my father and much as I did this morning found many hits but no specific person to attribute the quote to. However as I read I came upon a passage and article reprinted from a book.

“When you travel, you no doubt have a destination in mind. Reaching that destination is the end of a long process. First comes the journey, then the destination. It is the same with any goal; first you make the preliminary steps, then you reach the goal. All the steps in between are part of a long process called “success.” So whenever you set a goal and fall short of reaching it, or you miss the deadline to complete it, you can still be proud of your accomplishments, because as long as you are making progress, you are traveling on the road of success. You are not a failure if you miss a goal, but you are a failure if you stop trying, because once that happens you have brought the journey to a close.” Rabbi Moshe Gans, Success, 1996

As I read this short paragraph many of the ideas I had been pondering for now thirteen years made sense. We do have a goal a destination but our true success is not attainment of that goal but that we are progressing towards that goal. Imagine the applications to education. Immediately I thought of standardized testing with only an end point. Rabbi Gans would say how do you measure the success if you only have a goal and no progress. Essentially we should be measuring the progress not the end results. Where did that student start and where have they gone in their learning. In a learning focused school environment that would be a pre-test and post-test which gives you the journey and a map of where they are going. Sadly we only use the measure of end of course test in so many instances.
I have wandered and pondered many thoughts this morning and still have more reading and writing to do. Success is a journey it is about progressing towards a goal and attaining that goal. Maybe if enough people make a goal of world peace and we head in the right direction we can be successful. Maybe we can progress towards world peace. That would be a nice thought for today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.