Monthly Archives: January 2017

Input Welcome

A note regarding “point of view

Do you recall the excitement of being anywhere different? The heightened expectation of “the new,” along with the slight concern about all the expectations others may have for how and where and what you may now experience?

Learning a new language can be filled with all of the above for the individual learner even without the extra pressures which travel (perhaps miles away from home) can impose.

And we, as Educators must become aware that our students have the ability to open up our points of view as well.

They – the students- will share with us, the confusion and the missed communications and the real distress over grammar, structure, vocabulary choice and test preparation most of which we both expect and may even plan for but… points of view are the sparks in a classroom that not only surprise with shared insight but which also ought to challenge each of us to reflect and consider how, globally, perspective is challenged via the environment, the politics, the arts appreciation, the science and technology a region had not only available but also “taken for granted.”

A quote from a poet who began his life in one country before moving to America and suggesting how important the new language became and why even more so to him than to his classmates at University who took their reading of English texts “for granted.”

“My knowledge of this subject is qualitatively different. It is an active knowledge, the knowledge of someone for whom all these texts are precious. More precious …because my life-to say nothing of my world view-was changed by these texts… and American students as a rule never come across that kind of approach to literature.” Joseph Brodsky on the difficult art of not only acquiring “proficiency” in a subject but to become engaged in the depth of the variety of points of views on the subject and how to then share, using language, actual human feelings that others may enter into someone else’s point of view.

We share words, divided into levels; teach first the single paragraph then the simple short point of view spoken and written that a student may exclaim, ” I am ready, bring on the “TOEFL” or any other accepted formal exam process for qualifying the student for the next level of participation. But we may not make the time, the so precious time, to offer our students opportunity to demonstrate how and where and when and why their original points of view about “anything” were challenged if not actually changed-What may have became “precious” for them? How did learning a new language challenge their points of view? Did this newly acquired “tool” allow for communication about ideas and ideals, or did it remain the necessary “thing” for purely academic and employment advancement?

If the former- then we as “teachers” increased dialogue that may one day help make those bridges that do connect people not only places to be traversed. But if the latter, then we merely offered a box- ticking off for ourselves which slot to file the learner into-passed or not, ready or not- but for what? Real world experiences? More than a smattering of language levels is necessary for both higher level academics and employment and friendships- Connections count.

The current and upcoming American inauguration is sparking much public and private debate. Points of views are continuously being challenged – dare we open discussions to our International Students? My point of view is we must. What is your point of view on how to best remain as neutral as possible that we may listen to learn other perspectives, while also encouraging these voices to not merely participate within classroom discussion but also in coffee shops and private/public spaces – and thereby broaden each other’s points of view. Is a panoramic point of view with respect for differences possible?

Welcoming your perspective.

A Blog posting…

A Rant about “Labels”

“Fresh before” does help us grocery shop- we can buy with ease products that we believe will stay fresh on our shelves or in our cupboards until consumed.  And when we understand about such labels that products may still be both tasty and healthful even after the stamped date- we can buy the products often on discount and not only save money on the goods, but also contribute to the environment via causing less waste and with the current public awareness of “less than perfect” produce being equally tasty and good, awareness is changing the way we shop for food-

Labels, and awareness of how they may be positive and negative at the same time is essential for all connected to Education. For every sign that used to be posted on a clasroom and which read “Failure is not an option” the counter (or opposite) sign in a Science lab might show Edison and his maxim about trying to find the right formula at least a thousand times.  What then is the “ideal sign” for a classroom wall?  WELCOME! and in here there will be no labels.  

For children learn quickly what is considered their own ability and their own strength in relation to the others in the classroom.  Affixing additional labels may help administration in using computers to slot the children into various groups- it doesn’t however help the students themselves.  Most labels in Education have to do with funding- how a school, or a district, or class, or individual students may receive “extra,”- and when the entire school district receives funding, the neighbourhood benefits- however, when a student is mislabeled the student may be removed from one group of peers and placed instead within a community of “misfits” to then on struggle to not only make sense of “Schooling” which becomes a place where little learning is happening, but to, if actually graduating – to graduate with the label of “problem, trouble, slow, applied, special needs, remedial,” and then either reject what schooling offered, or challenge this same system anyhow by going for a future that those labels couldn’t have predicted! In particular the concept of “Special needs” ranges from highly gifted and talented to students with multiple exceptionalities- who may also be gifted-and students who are mis identified as hyper or attention deficit when their inquiry or their attitude or their foundational knowledge base or their background makes the particular class and teacher student interaction one of challenge versus “empty vessel to be filled.”

In so many ways though, that concept of children as “empty vessels” must be overturned in favour of children as learners- period.  And children must challenge, everything and nearly everyone in order to grow- new ideas will not come unless children and adults are both thinking, and both actively willing to be “imperfect,”  to make, create or build something that might not in the completed project match the original vision, but then to question how to improve upon the construction.  Classrooms where inquiry is respected have students who challenge themselves, and who bring extra information to the benefit of the group- like in the workforce where cultures aimed towards growth will find employees participating beyond clocked hours in contemplating how and where to focus energy on improving, and no one is saying or groaning “homework” because the problem solving is the challenge and the actions to be taken provide a stimulation for brain and body- healthy challenges that permit contradictions and design thinking.

We speak of “design” as if it were a simple process, when in fact design is a holistic attitude towards the combination of use (function) and form.  And then in schools we over crowd, underpay, and underfund the neediest of school districts, whose students may even later be sent as “overflow” to higher income neigbourhood schools and once again relabelled; how to “use” as in place these extra students? with the goal often of continuing to claim “setting standards” which may translate to keeping the formal test results up and proving on paper that learning took place.  Integration?  Diversity? Ministry tests as goals or as cumbersome to the whole concept of education?

Labels matter- we all are aware of this – and even the popular “you matter” becomes another slogan when much needed time per pupil, per person, per individual is shortened to mandated minutes, and a stopwatch always clicking off minutes prevents the actual interactions – creating encounters instead of communication.  Young, youngish, older, and seasoned Educators can agree that statistics do not capture commmunity, that labels, even the so called positive ones, may mask the personality of the person and that as human beings, each of us recognizes almost instinctively when in fact we do matter- and when we simply do not or have not “fit in.”

The produce table is now selling “less than perfect” vegetables; and in many elementary schools the notion of wearing “less than perfect” hats continues to catch on- almost like a movement spread from teacher to teacher, and community to community, this new ideal of accepting “not perfect” doesn’t mean “discard” but instead encourages taking a chance- try the produce – try the exercise- try and try again.

For 2017- do “try” until the right combination of people and place and actions allow for the almost unexpected exclamation “perfect!” till we begin- again.  Best wishes…


















For Teachers, Everywhere

April might be the official Poetry month, but this poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye seems “just right” for back to work/back to school after any type of holiday: 



The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Teaching tends to feel like this – from one Educator to wishes for 2017! …to learning, and not forgetting this is what we do…  #teaching