Tag Archives: teacher

Eroding thoughts

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about erosion, but not just the literal kind. She says “It can be natural, cultural or something different.” Of course I must answer my usual call to tackle the “something different”.

Generally, erosion refers to the wearing away of the earth. Sometimes it signifies the disintegration of our resolve, our self-image, or of our spirit. Just as various strategies can be employed to prevent erosion or to repair damage incurred by the land, there are strategies that can be used to shore up one’s resolve, build self-esteem, and mend a sagging spirit.

rejection slip

Perhaps nobody knows this better than writers with their stashes of rejection slips rated from encouraging to just plain rude, or non-existent. Few have achieved success without first receiving a downpour of those slips, who haven’t had to work at their skills and accept the edits without eroding their intended message. Sometimes it seems that, with every move, one lands on the “Go back to start” square; and that, while it feels like things are in motion, the end doesn’t appear any closer.

go back to start

Or maybe nobody understands the fragility of the spirit and self-esteem more than does a teacher; and of the importance of building on prior learning to take children from where they are to places they haven’t thought possible; to ensure their esteem stays strong and is not eroded by unrealistic expectations and the tedium of a repetitive diet of something meaningful only to others.

Welcome pack

Welcome pack

I have written many times previously about the importance of establishing a supportive classroom environment, and of using affirmations in growing children’s confidence and self-image.

This doesn’t mean a diet of empty praise, but it does mean that all individuals are recognised for what they can do, and are valued for the contribution they make to the classroom community. Included in these writings was a series, inspired by a Twitter discussion with Anne Goodwin, on praise culminating in Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited and including a guest post by Anne.

The Clever Children Resource

I have also developed resources to support children’s growing confidence and self-image for inclusion on my in-progress website readilearn. One of these resources is a story called The Clever Children which teachers can personalise for use with their own class.

The Clever Children printable

Children write about and illustrate something they can do. The pages are then added to the story which is printed and collated into a book which can be placed in the reading corner or taken home to read to parents and siblings.  My children always loved being a part of this story. I am looking forward to other children being a part of it too. The story aims to build, rather than erode, self-esteem and a love of books and reading.

Which brings me back to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion.

The Nature Principle

For my flash I combine two ideas:

  • Richard Louv’s suggestion in The Nature Principle that, for physical and mental health, we need to be more attuned with nature
  • the need for resolve and inner strength when faced with issues that would erode it.

It’s not really a story, perhaps, but a moment in time. I hope you enjoy it.

1 (7)

The rock

The rock, promising permanence, beckoned: perfect for contemplating expanses beyond while pondering life and one’s significance. She sighed, and succumbed. The waves, licking repetitively at the base, soothed somehow; as if each grain of sand stolen from beneath her feet loosened her tension. Becoming one with the rhythm, her heart sang the melody as her mind slowed, releasing all thought. Feeling whole again, as solid as the rock, and with renewed strength, she prepared to face those who sought to erode her. Though tides would rearrange and redecorate, and often do their best to annihilate, they could not obliterate.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Who wouldn’t be excited with high test scores?

Regular readers of my blog are aware of my attitude to didactic top-down, content and assessment driven methods of schooling students to become machines regurgitating meaningless facts on command. A bit of push and shove it in and belch it out.  For those of you who weren’t aware – now you are!

I probably should apologise for my indecorous description as I’m usually a little more temperate in the way I express my views, but I won’t as that is how I am feeling about it at the moment. The authorities who have the power to make the changes necessary are so caught up in their own murky visions that they fail to see either effects or solutions. Every time I read another report of test scores or hear of another child damaged by a faulty system my frustration grows.  It becomes one of those hysteria blossoming days.

bag

A few moments ago I read a post titled “Vietnam Wallops US on PISA. Vietnamese educators belittle value of PISA” on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Ravitch is an education historian.

As the title suggests, Vietnamese fifteen year old students did better than their US, UK and most other EU counterparts in the 2012 PISA tests, ranking 12th out of 76. What I found interesting about the article was not the results but the attitude of Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Education and Training. His view that the tests don’t reflect students’ overall competence, reminded me of a letter, shared in my previous post, written by teachers to students sitting the national tests last week in Australia. (PISA are international tests).

In the article referred to by Ravitch, Dr Giap Van Duong was reported as making reference to UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to be and Learning to live together. His opined that PISA addresses only the first pillar, and in only a limited way. He said that while Vietnamese students did well on the tests, “many … students fail to land a job after graduation. (and that when) they study overseas, many have difficulties in meeting the requirements of advanced education systems like team-work, problem solving and creativity”. Perhaps they are not “out of basement ready” as described by Yong Zhao.

Duong said that the reason Vietnamese students do well on the tests is because the “The whole system operates to serve only one purpose: exams.”

Duong’s admission that Vietnamese students lack the ability to work in teams, to problem solve and to think creatively reiterates the fears of many teachers who are  ruled by expectations of high test results and provided little opportunity to inspire learning, which surely remains the real (if neglected) purpose of education. Counterbalancing one’s philosophy with an employer’s expectations sometimes seems like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about rocks and hard places. But Charli knows that good can often spring from those seemingly hard places through making connections. She has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.

It is connections that are most important in my two main roles in life: parent and teacher. Neither is easy and neither will result in much good without making connections. I often worry about things I have said and the affect they may have had on others. To be truthful, occasionally it even keeps me awake at night. While I would rather think of my words and actions creating a positive ripple, there is no guarantee that, even when delivered with my best intentions, they won’t do harm.

Trevor Pilgrim shared a quote which puts it this way:

What-a-teacher-writes-on

In his article Pilgrim says,

“teachers have (the power) to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity.”

Scary stuff!

At about the same time I read an article that said that the influence of teachers is not as great as one might think; that socio-economic status, amongst other things, is more important. While I am happy with the thought of having a positive effect, I definitely do not wish to ruin anyone’s life so am happy to know that my influence is not be the most important to the lives of my students.

For this challenge of Charli’s I am back thinking about Marnie’s art teacher and the hard place she found herself in when she saw the brown muddy mess that Marnie seemed to have made of her paints. That she must respond is a given; but how? Whatever she says will probably have a lasting impact so she must ensure that her response is appropriate. While her initial instinct is to express disappointment, she maintains her professional composure and delays commenting until she has thought it through.

Here is my response:

Brown.

She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.

Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.

 Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction

The story behind brown paint

muddy brown

Over the past few months in response to flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch, I have been writing snippets from the life a character, Marnie, whose story is beginning to emerge as I respond to the prompts.

A couple of recent prompts had me writing about a particular situation which involved mixing paints in an art class.  While all flash fiction stories relevant to Marnie’s story can be found on her own page, the two specific to this post can be read here and here (scroll to the bottom of each post for the flash fiction).

I was appreciative of the comments on both posts, with those specific to Marnie’s story encouraging me to reflect and think more deeply about the art class situation in relation to both Marnie and the teacher. While I am still mulling over the appropriate response the teacher may make, I thought I would write a longer piece to explore one possibility from Marnie’s point of view. This episode also relates to other flash fiction pieces, but hopefully the longer episode will be strong enough to stand on its own.

Art class

Marnie looked at the paints. The bright colours reminded her of a rainbow, and her unicorn. Her gaze dropped. She needed her unicorn now, but it was up in the office, drying out on Mrs Tomkin’s desk.

“It will be here waiting for you at home time,” Mrs Tomkin had said, smiling. “Okay?”

Marnie nodded, reluctantly, knowing there was no other choice. At least there was only the afternoon session left, and that was art with lovely Miss R.

Miss R. always wore beautiful dresses with colourful patterns. She had long wavy red hair, the colour of Marnie’s and her nails were always painted brightly, sometimes decorated with stars, sometimes with hearts, and sometimes with other patterns. She smelled of paint, and chalk and crayon and other scents Marnie found delightful. She noticed everything about Miss R.; because Miss R. noticed her. Miss R. always had a kind word to say:

“I like the way you used this shade of blue for the sky. I can see a storm is brewing.”

“Tell me about this picture. What’s it all about?”

“I can see you worked hard to get that looking just right.”

Marnie liked it best when she said, as she often did, “I like your choice of colour, Marnie. Your pictures are always bright. They make me happy when I look at them.”

But not today.

Miss R. stopped and looked at Marnie’s work. Her paper was covered in paint the colour of brown mud.  Marnie felt Miss R.’s eyes on her work, then on her. She didn’t look up. She didn’t want Miss R. to see the tears that were threatening to fall, that would fall whatever was said. Her lip quivered.

Miss R. moved on.

“I am not crying. I am not, not, not . . .” but it took all her strength when her insides felt as muddy as the paint on her paper. She felt like mud. Maybe she should look like mud too. She smeared her paint-covered hands on her shirt, and wiped the strand of hair away from her eyes. She wanted to tell Miss R. She wanted to tell her about Bruce and what he had done. But she dare not. Bruce had threatened her and she knew he meant it.

Bruce had tripped her at lunch time and she’d fallen into the puddle. The mud had covered her from head to toe. She’d tried to hold her unicorn high; tried to keep it out of the mud. But it had fallen as she hit the ground. It was all muddy too. Everyone had laughed. Everyone except Jasmine, that is. Jasmine had taken her to Mrs. Tomkin, who had helped her clean herself up and gave her some clean clothes to wear. Mrs Tomkin had said she’d call her Mum, so that was another problem looming. At least things would be okay in art with Miss R.

But not today.

Bruce had pulled faces at her and made threatening arm movements as they lined up. He made fun of the oversized shirt Mrs Tomkins had found for her. Everyone was sniggering at it; at her.

Marnie looked straight ahead, trying to ignore the stares. “I am not crying!”

Then Miss R. was there and she suddenly felt protected, like everything was going to be alright; for a little while at least.

But not today. Today was a bad day, a very bad day. It had been bad in the beginning, and it was going to be bad at the end too. Nothing she could do.

Miss R. handed out the papers and paints. Everyone had their own brush but a small pot of water was shared by four.

Marnie couldn’t wait to get started. She knew what she was going to paint: a rainbow and a unicorn! Maybe a tree and some green grass, with some flowers. She couldn’t have her own unicorn but she could paint it. Miss R. would like her bright happy colours, and her pleasure would make her feel better, for a little while at least.

But not today.

While Marnie was contemplating which colours to mix for her unicorn’s mane, Brucie reached over and snatched Marnie’s brush. With one flourish he had dragged the brush through the middle of each of her colours leaving a dirty brown trail. Marnie had opened her mouth to speak, but Bruce silenced her with a threatening motion of a finger across his neck, as it to slit it open. He stashed her brush on the shelf out of reach, and turned back to his paper, innocent-like. Marnie’s eyes searched for Miss R.’s hoping she had seen and would come to her rescue. But Miss R. was talking to Jasmine and some others at the front, and didn’t see.

Marnie looked at her palette. “I am not crying,” she thought as she tried to still her quivering lip and stop the tears that would give Brucie so much pleasure.

She looked at him and poked her tongue. He held up a fist.

Marnie rubbed first one hand, and then the other into the coolness of the paint, blending all the colours. It felt soothing somehow, the way her hands slid easily through the paints. She watched each colour disappear into the muddy brown she was creating, wishing she too could slide away and disappear where no one would notice her anymore; where no one would taunt or bully or harm. If they couldn’t see her, if she was invisible, maybe she’d be safe.

She looked at her palms – covered in brown, just like the mud that had covered them earlier. She smeared the paint on her paper, covering it from edge to edge so nothing of it remained. She wiped what was left on her shirt. What did it matter? She couldn’t be in more trouble than she already was. They were already going to kill her. Sometimes she wished they would. Sometimes she wished she’d never been born. Sometimes . . .

Miss R. stood beside her desk. Marnie could hear her breathing; could still smell her marvellous scents above that of the muddy brown paint that was now her camouflage. She longed for Miss R. to paint her life away, to ask her about her work and what it meant. But she willed her not; and it must have worked because she walked away. How could she tell her? Her life was as muddy as the paint and she could see no way out.

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. I’d love to know what you think of this as a possibility of Marnie’s thinking.

 

 

 

 

A palette of colours

I think few of us would deny that each of us is unique, or question the importance of an individual’s interests and abilities to learning. Much has been written about learning styles, multiple intelligences and differentiation of instruction.

Most teachers try to incorporate a variety of experiences into their programs in order to maximise learning opportunities in the hope that, if students don’t “get” it one way, they will “get” it in another. The imposition of national standardised assessment makes doing this a challenge for teachers. The increased requirement for the implementation of particular approaches to teaching makes it even more so.

To say that I hold fairly strong views about learning, and the differences I consider there to be between education and schooling is perhaps an understatement, but it wasn’t always so.

My memory tells me that, while I probably didn’t “love” school, I probably didn’t “hate” it either. It was simply something that I had to do. I didn’t question it. I did my best to be a “good” girl, do what was expected of me, and conform. All of which I think I did pretty well.

The questioning came later and had more impact upon my teaching and parenting than it did on my own schooling. I came to view schooling as something that is “done” to us, and education as something that we do for ourselves. That is not to say that no worthwhile learning takes place in school, for it does, but education is a whole-of-life experience and schooling is but one small part of that.

Education is a whole of life experience

However, if the importance of schooling, and here I mean learning of particular content by particular ages, is inflated and rated more highly than children’s natural curiosity, interests and abilities, then the consequences to individuals and the community in general can be more negative than positive. One consequence may be that children don’t enjoy school; another may be the view that only school knowledge is important; and yet another may be that children are turned off learning all together.

My first conscious discomfort with what, for convenience, I’ll call a factory model of schooling (children go in one end, have things “done” to them, and come out the other end all the same) was as a young teacher when all five year two teachers were expected to be doing the same thing at the same time. That imposition, along with other inadequacies that were beginning to become apparent, set me on a quest to learn more about learning and education. My quest has never ceased and I am still searching for answers.

Recently I read a book by Daniel T. Willingham entitled Why Don’t Students Like School? The title had instant appeal, of course, and I thought I’d recognise a few of the reasons at least. My initial expectation was of reading views similar to those of authors like John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and John Dewey whose books I had read in the 70s and 80s; but a closer look at the subtitle told me I was in for more: “A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works and What It Means For The Classroom”.

The book is a wonderful read and I’m certain to share many of Willingham’s ideas with you in future posts. I enjoyed it because, in almost equal measure it reinforced, challenged and extended my thinking about many aspects of learning and how best to provide for and stimulate it in a classroom setting.

Sometimes Willingham would make a statement with which I agreed, and then go on to explain the faulty thinking behind it. Sometimes his statement would seem to completely contradict what I think but his explanation would show that we simply had different ways (mine perhaps inadequate) in explaining it.

What I really appreciate about the book is that Willingham carefully translates what has been learned from research into practices that can be implemented in the classroom to enhance student learning. Often research seems only to tell teachers what they already know from experience and observations, or provides information in such an abstract way that nothing of practical use can be gleaned.

The section of Willingham’s book that I refer to today is “Chapter 7 – How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners?” Willingham opens the chapter with the words “All children are different.” He says that some learn visually, some auditorily; that some are linear thinkers and some holistic, for example, and that

“It seems that tailoring instruction to each student’s cognitive style is potentially of enormous significance”.

The important word in that sentence is “seems”. He talks about the differences in the way that hypothetical Sam and Donna might learn and says that “An enormous amount of research exploring this idea has been conducted in the last fifty years, and finding the differences between Sam and Donna that would fit this pattern has been the holy grail of educational research, but no one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference.”

He states that the “cognitive principle guiding this chapter is:

“Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.”

That statement really made me sit up and take notice: “Children are more alike than different”. But it turns out, those words are not the most important ones in the sentence. The most important ones are: “in terms of how they think and learn.

He goes on to say that, “the claim is not that all children are alike, nor that teachers should treat children as interchangeable. Naturally some kids like math whereas other are better at English. Some children are shy and some are outgoing. Teachers interact with each student differently, just as they interact with friends differently; but teachers should be aware that, as far as scientists have been able to determine, there are not categorically different types of learners.”

He also talks about it in this video:

Willingham acknowledges that students differ in their cognitive abilities and styles. What he does in the chapter is “try to reconcile the differences among students with the conclusion that these differences don’t mean much for teachers.” In reading these words one might expect that Willingham is proposing that differentiation is not an important part of classroom practice. But such is not the case, as stated in this video:

In the book he writes, “I am not saying that teachers should not differentiate instruction. I hope and expect that they will. But when they do so, they should know that scientists cannot offer any help.” According to Willingham, scientists have not identified any types of learners or styles of learning.  He says, “I would advise teachers to treat students differently on the basis of the teacher’s experience with each student and to remain alert for what works. When differentiating among students, craft knowledge trumps science.

What Willingham says is of most importance for a learner to learn is background knowledge. If a student does not have sufficient background knowledge to understand the content or concepts which are presented, learning will not take place. This supports the advice that I repeatedly give to parents: read to your children, talk with them, and provide them with a wide range of experiences and activities. The same is true for teachers: ensure the students have sufficient knowledge on which to build the new work you are expecting them to grasp.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has thrown a prompt with which I have struggled: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the day the earth turned brown. I always like to tie my responses to the educational focus of my blog and this one had me stumped for a while. A mind journey following various twists and turns, retracing well-worn paths, and hitting many dead ends, finally led me to an oasis in the parched brown earth: the uniqueness of each of us; the amazing potential of each new child to create possibilities beyond our imagining; and the contrasting effect of a narrow test-driven school system that attempts to reduce each to the sameness of minimum standards and age (in-)appropriate benchmarks. A paint palette seemed a suitable medium for the story.

For those of you who have been following Marnie’s story, I apologise. She makes no appearance this time, though I have not ruled out the possibility with student M. I’d be pleased to know what you think.

palette

Palette potential

She walked between the desks admiring their work. From the same small palette of primary colours, and a little black and white for shades and tones, what they produced was as individual as they: J’s fierce green dinosaur and exploding volcanoes; T’s bright blue sea with sailing boat and smiling yellow sun; B’s football match . . . At least in this they had some small opportunity for self-expression. She paused at M’s. M had mixed all the colours into one muddy brown and was using hands to smear palette, paper, desk and self . . .

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

 

I feel good!

A lot of good feelings and thoughts have been passing around the blogosphere in recent weeks including the #1000Speak for Compassion project and, closer to (my blogosphere) home, the Carrot Ranch with  Charli’s Mills’ flash fiction challenge and the responses by the Congress of Rough Writers.

Hearing these good things is good for my soul which could otherwise become burdened down by the cruelty that is experienced on a personal, local and global level.

Areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory were, over the weekend, devastated by severe weather, other states by fires, parts of the northern hemisphere by cold and snow. Nature itself is so destructive, why do humans think we have to add to it?

Many homes in Central Queensland were destroyed by damaging winds when the cyclone hit. In the early morning news the following day there were already reports of looting. It seems incomprehensible to me that people would do that to each other. Stealing from homes of those left vulnerable and sheltering in a community evacuation centre!

In the same bulletin there was a report about people receiving payments from the government while training to fight overseas for terrorist groups. The list goes on. The news media are not the best places for seeking uplifting stories or developing a habit of meliorism.

applications-internet

I turn back to my blogger friends for their stories of compassion and inspiration, and thoughts of how we can raise children to be kind, caring and compassionate.

My two most recent posts, Who cares anyway? and #1000Speak for Compassion, addressed the issue of compassion and received a number of comments which added more interest and value to the topic. Most of those who responded have also shared their thoughts about compassion on their own blogs, each post as individual as they. Here are a few links to get your reading started:

Charli Mills writes about Literary Compassion

Anne Goodwin about Compassion: Something we all need

Geoff Le Pard: Me, me, me; You, you, you #1000Speak

Sarah Brentyn: 1000 Voices for Compassion

Irene Waters: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion – mine is but 1

Sherri Matthews: How to save a life

Christy Birmingham: To Writers Who Struggle with Self-compassion #1000Speak

Lori Schafer: #1000Speak about Compassion: Through the Eyes of a Rat

I am very happy to belong to a community that values kindness and compassion. As at least one  blogger commented though, it may be difficult for someone who has not experienced compassion to express compassion for others. Compassion may be a natural feeling, but it also may need to be learned. It reminds me of those famous words, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” and also of a story shared by Lata on Hot Cup of Kaapi as part of the #1000Speak for Compassion project. (Note to self: Remember this!)

In my last post I shared two ways of showing compassion suggested by Daniel Goleman in his video Why aren’t we more compassionate?:

Pay attention

Consume ethically

At about the same time as I was reading these posts about compassion, I also read a post on one of my favourite educational sites Edutopia about Creating More Compassionate Classrooms.

The author of this article, Joshua Block teaches at The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, which you may recall I mentioned in a post about Chris Lehmann and Visioning a better school, a better way of educating. I was certainly impressed by Chris Lehmann, so I expected to be impressed by this article and its suggestions, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the article Block talks about the Academy establishing an Ethics of Care as described by Nel Noddings. I am both embarrassed and disappointed to admit that I hadn’t previously heard of Noddings but I will be looking more in depth at her work in the future. So much of her work is pertinent to these discussions we have been having about compassion, including her understanding of the terms sympathy and empathy, for example. The article about Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and education states that

“We learn first what it means to be cared-for. ‘Then, gradually, we learn both to care for and, by extension, to care about others’ (Noddings 2002: 22). This caring-about, Noddings argues, is almost certainly the foundation for our sense of justice.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Block questions how he can create a more compassionate classroom without adding to the demands already placed upon him as a teacher. He wonders what a compassionate classroom would look like and suggests

“A compassionate classroom environment is not an environment that lacks academic rigor. In this environment, students are understood to be complex people. Here, young people feel that they belong. Here, they meet challenge and encouragement while we ask them to be the best versions of themselves. Compassionate classrooms are places where student voices and student ideas are prioritized.”

I do like the sound of that classroom environment.

Block goes on to suggest six practices that help to develop that environment:

  1. Remembering to Check-in
  2. Informal Conferencing
  3. Increasing Personal Connections with Content
  4. Asking Better Questions
  5. Expressing Belief in Student Abilities
  6. Being Flexible and Accepting Failure When It Happens

I think each of these practices could fit under the banner of being attentive, of really tuning in to the needs of the students. They are all great practices that should form the basis of establishing any classroom environment.

Joshua Block has his own blog: Mr J Block: Reimaging Education and his article can also be accessed there, along with many other interesting posts and information.

Now back to the title of this post and my flash fiction response to the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling good.

I trust that somewhere in Marnie’s life she had a teacher (or more) as compassionate as Mr J Block.

I feel good!

She stood at the door for one final glance. Not much had changed, but it felt, oh, so different. They were gone. Gone!

Almost twenty years had passed since she’d stood in this spot; since she’d fled their cruel ways. Twenty years of dodging shadows, double-locking doors, and fearing the phone’s ring.

But no more. They were gone. Gone! And for more than five years! Five years to track her down! All that remained was the house. She’d sell of course.

With the door closed behind her she almost skipped down the stairs, her heart singing, “I feel good!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Talking the way out

Recently I met up with some teacher friends and, as always happens with teachers, the discussion turned to school, teaching and children. There was talk about the crowdedness and inappropriateness of many aspects of the curriculum, of resources that were ambiguous and poorly written, of time spent practising and preparing for tests, of (other) teachers who were ill-equipped to teach and not interested in professional learning.

It made me sad. It has always made me sad. Sad and frustrated with the inappropriateness of so much that happens in schools and the effect it has on diminishing our most precious resource: the ability to think, learn, innovate and create.

The fact that I am unable to do anything about this situation at times overwhelms me and I just want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. That I have spent almost my entire adult life swimming against the tide trying, through a variety of means, to make a positive difference through education with an effect as insignificant as a grain of salt in the ocean, makes my efforts seem futile and worthless. A waste of time and energy. I should just give up.

But, foolishly maybe, I haven’t and don’t. Here I am writing a blog about education. One more way to try; with a website on the way as well. What effect will they have? Probably very little, but at least I am doing something that is important to me; something that gives my life meaning; even if it has no real value beyond that.

I have been out of the classroom now for three years. I escaped before the introduction of new programs which I would have found philosophically and pedagogically impossible to implement. It had always been a balancing act, doing what my employer expected of me and what I believed to be best for the children and their learning. (Of course there is no saying that what I thought was better. The value of my thinking may well have been just in my head!)

Five times before I had left the classroom, only twice for reasons unrelated to dissatisfaction (the birth of children). But I could never shake off my belief that education delivery could be improved. I read widely, seeking alternative ways of making a positive difference but, although I had vowed at each departure to never return, something always drew me back.

Rather than allowing the situation to overwhelm me by accepting that there was nothing I could do; rather than throwing my hands in the air, walking away and admitting that it’s all too hard, I didn’t let go. Perhaps it was foolhardy. Maybe I should. Maybe one day I will. But not yet.

Instead I choose to focus on the good things I see happening; the parents, teachers, nannies and child care workers who strive to make a positive difference. We know we can’t change the whole world. We can’t rid it of all the injustices, inequalities, violence and other wrongdoings against humanity and the Earth. But we can make a difference in our own little corner; and my own little corner has always been my focus. If I can make a difference with something as simple as a smile or sharing a positive thought then I will do it. If I can do more than that then I will, but I will focus on what I can rather than what I can’t.

So for my little bit of positivity today, I am sharing some of what I think are great things that are happening, making a positive contribution to education and children’s lives; some things that make my heart sing and confirm my belief that if we want to, we can make a difference.

marshmallow 5

I have previously shared some thoughts that stimulated great discussion about the famous Marshmallow Test conducted by Professor Walter Mischel.

On All Our Words I recently read a report of an address made by Mischel to the team at All Our Kin.

In that address, Mischel is quoted as saying,

“When a child grows up in a high-poverty, extremely unpredictable environment – in which anything can happen, in which danger is constantly present, in which chaos is always possible – it affects him at a biological level. Those experiences turn into chronic stress, or toxic stress, and they actually change his brain. They limit the potential of the cool system to make long-term plans and be patient and work for a distant goal.”

The author of the article, Christina Nelson writes

“Fighting against the biology of disadvantage requires a sustained effort that begins at birth, or even earlier, which is why creating high quality early care and education is so important for vulnerable children.”

Mischel’s address further supports that view and congratulates the team at All our Kin for their work, saying

“By providing a sense of trust, a sense that the rewards are attainable, that promises will be kept, that life doesn’t have to be chaotic and unpredictable, you folks are providing exactly the basis for the development of the cool system, and for the regulation of the hot system. The kids who have that when they are two years old are the same kids who are successful at the marshmallow test at five.”

The praise from Mischel would not have been given lightly. I’m impressed with what I have read about All Our Kin, including this from their mission statement:

“. . . children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.”

family1

The Talking is Teaching program, which was launched by Hillary Clinton as part of the Too Small to Fail initiative, in Oakland aims to reduce educational (and life) disadvantages by teaching parents the importance of talking to their children from birth.

Thanks to my friend Anne Goodwin and daughter Bec I was also alerted to an article in the New Yorker The Talking Cure which described a program in Providence that also encourages low-income parents to talk more with their children.

The author of the article, Margaret Talbot says that “The way you converse with your child is one of the most intimate aspects of parenting, shaped both by your personality and by cultural habits so deep that they can feel automatic. Changing how low-income parents interact with their children is a delicate matter”. The aim of the program is to support parents in non-threatening ways to support their children.

I have previously mentioned a recent publication by Michael Rosen entitled Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. This book provides wonderful support for parents of children of any age. In very readable, accessible language, Rosen’s book is packed full of simple, inexpensive, fun and powerful ways for parents to support their children’s learning, effectively but unobtrusively, in their everyday lives. I think this book should be supplied to all parents on the birth of their children.

Closer to home here in Australia are Community Hubs  and other programs such as Learning for Life run by the Smith Family and Acting Early, Changing Lives by the Benevolent Society.

These are but a few of the good things that are happening. I have focussed on community programs rather than individuals (except for Michael Rosen’s book) in this post. I know there are many more great programs, and individual teachers doing amazing work. I’d love to hear about some that you admire.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflect and refine

The end of a year is often used as a time for reflection, reassessment, and redefining goals. This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking just that: reflecting on the year that was, assessing her achievements and failures and redefining her goals for the next part of her journey. Charli admits that she didn’t achieve all she had hoped but acknowledges that those shortcomings were more opportunities for learning than failure as such. While she learned more about herself and her abilities she was able to recalculate her goals and redefine her vision.

In education, failure is recognised as integral to learning.

Willingness to

  • have a go
  • try something new
  • seek alternate solutions and ways of finding solutions
  • persist and not give up
  • recognise that success does not always come with a first attempt;

these are effective characteristics of learners, innovators and creative people.

Thomas Edison, after many unsuccessful attempts said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There is no failure in a failed attempt; there is only failure in giving up.

Again, to quote from Edison,

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

C.S. Lewis is also quoted as saying,

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

He says,

“One fails forward toward success.”

The-greatest-glory-in Ralph Waldo Emerson

What helps that ability to rise again is a sense of where we are going, of what we are aiming for and what we want to achieve. This is often referred to as a vision, and it is a vision that Charli Mills has challenged writers to include in a flash fiction piece this week: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vision.

Having a vision of the future and working towards that future is essential to effective teaching.

As explained by Vicki Davis in her post Thank You Teacher for Your Presence on the Cool Cat Teacher blog, teachers are constantly preparing students for more independent and resourceful futures.

Through learning from a mentor teacher Jackie Catcher was able to refine her vision for effective teaching, which she shared on Three Teachers Talk :

“I learned that to lead students into our subject, we must make them feel valued within our community. We must work to acknowledge their strengths and show them that we are all equals when it comes to developing as readers and writers. We must praise their hard work and determination far more than their failures, and we must make ourselves available both in and outside of class to have meaningful conversations and connections. In the end, we are never too old to change our outlook and education. After all, one teacher can make the difference.”

I constantly share my own, and others’, views about and vision for education on this blog.

I-had-this-dream-Chris Lehmann

Some of those posts are:

Visioning a better school, a better way of educating

Talking interviews

Whose failure?

Imagine that!

Child’s play – the science of asking questions

 

I have also referred to an alternative to traditional schooling that I “failed” to establish in the 1990s. The vision for that alternative was:

“A dynamic centre of learning opportunities

for children, families and communities

which focuses upon the development

of self-esteem and positive attitudes

in a nurturing environment

in which individuals are appreciated

for their uniqueness and diversity

while fostering the commonality of their human essence.”

The-best-questions-are

Which brings me to my flash fiction piece for this week. In it I attempt to draw together many threads from views expressed over the year and finish with an optimism for the future.

 

The power of “No”

It was grey.

For as long as anyone could remember.

They moved about, comfortable in the familiar, avoiding the unknown.

Shadowy shapes beyond incited fear: a threat to all they knew?

Lives lacked definition, blending to sameness, conforming to rules.

“But why?” The tiny voice shattered the stillness.

All eyes turned. Bodies stiffened.

Whose was this unruly child?

“Shhh!” the hapless parents failed to hide their offensive produce.

“Why?”

Again! No one moved.

“Because!” was the parents’ definitive reply.

They breathed. “Because!” they confirmed in unison.

Defiantly the child pressed the dust-covered switch and flooded the world with light.

 

The-principal-goal-of education - Piaget

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

I wish you success as your vision takes shape in 2015.

HappyNewYear_by_Rones