Category Archives: different perspectives

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: 

Famous

 

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 another..best wishes for 2017! …to learning, and not forgetting this is what we do…  #teaching

 

Dressing Up, Acting Out, Enjoying being a Student!

 

Junior High and the first foray into – wait for it- Makeup!

and in schools today there are still students who exit their homes, faces scrubbed, to make it to the school washrooms fifteen minutes early- in time to apply the newest in eye shadows or lipsticks etc. to apply a slightly different persona for the duration of the school day- a little flirty maybe, a little tough?

Not only the girls – many a young man adjusts his cap, the walk, the talk, the total “attitude” to either appear cool or to be what he considers necessary to “fit in” and there is the unspoken recognition that some of it is also to be different from the adult expectations of the day. And Schools furiously dictate notes and send home written mandates for what is expected dress, and style, as if this surface view ever truly reflected the students posturing, or the student’s understanding of where they fit into the hierarchy of a campus, the code of “behaviour” that operates beyond principal, teacher or family and is centered in “teenager” – the wonderful growing space between twelve and twenty!

Shouldn’t we be celebrating these changes instead of being afraid of them? Fashion after all is a clear example of not only how ephemeral “the right outfit” may be, but of politics, the arts, technology, power structures, group versus individual behavior, male versus female dominance, cliques, teams, belonging and experimenting. And while our children may not actually wish for our votes of approval regarding their specific ways to not necessarily rebel but indeed to grow, we needn’t be the ones constantly worrying about societal approval when instead the people truly deserving if unable to ask for our approval are our kids! And kids do find it hard to ask for that so very basic statement of “I trust you!” that some parents forget is central to allowing children to take chances- for that trust doesn’t and mustn’t mean that if a child wishes to share his/her being upset regarding anything, that guilt (the result of disappointing trust) be laid on top of anyone – or any other type of discomfort.

Guilt is not a cleansing nor a helpful emotion- and the discretions kids make rarely deserve such a depth of negative control; instead children require the openness to discuss what did or not appeal- what did or did not in their opinion “work.” And to be given the time to communicate without pressure to conform. 

We worry- that is part of our role as adults, but we mustn’t worry so much that we forget to indulge and enjoy the wonderful uniqueness that our own children display- thankfully not clones– young, growing, learning, and displaying their own personalities enroute to being what society will later label, “adults.”   In the interim, let’s note their individuality with respect, let’s smile at what they find amusing, let’s recognize who they feel are hurtful, and do what we can to understand how they must, to grow, experiment on their own- not living vicariously through an older generation but making their own mark and establishing and dismissing their own set of goals and dreams while they gradually and sometimes fearlessly break away from the staid and the safe to attempt to understand what skills they possess, how these skills can be further developed, and whom they might inquire of for opportunity to learn more.

Principals, teachers, administrative staff and parents will continue to appear to be communicating about the kids in the exchange of letters home or phone calls or in person “meet the teacher,” nights, but the reality is after and for a number of years all of the above will be talking about and around the children, while the children make plans themselves to challenge one another, to encourage one another, and to spread the very basic attitude of “growing up” by either supporting one another or in the worst of situations, ostracizing one another.  The best we as the recognized adults may do is be there, to listen without preaching, and to love without scolding.  We owe this to each new generation. They depend on us for it.

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For an interesting overview of clothing and the concept of vulgarity- tops too short, hair too spiked, pants worn too low, anything “different,” an excerpt on the “idea of vulgarity” (remember people make these rules up and they change constantly over time!) –  is shared in the recent Harpers Bazaar magazine Sept. 2016 – Vulgarity-The Basic Instinct-As Joan Juliet Buck writes- “in your face is never out of style!”

School uniforms may be the rule- but kids- they just wanna be cool! Remember the old mantra- “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – and focus on encouraging instead of confining. Ms Buck also mentioned “Decibels” and tiny children enjoying a “shrill shriek” – enter a Junior or senior High School and listen for a brief moment! “piercing shrieks for the sheer fun of rendering the air” and laughter, and …yup- Learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rio 2016- & “me”

As to Politics: when we can figure out why people would rather waste money creating problems for people or using people instead of spending money to prevent problems in the first place- we will have created a better world! the Olympics are far from “perfect” and do cost a fortune to prepare for- but – at least for a brief moment we get to see “healthy competition” and a variety of mutual respect – athletes encouraging athletes; “giants” shedding tears; surprise challengers taking the podium, and real emotions on display- too many pictures to select only one to demonstrate the gratitude and awe I feel each time any of the athletes steps up and shares- young and old we each may learn something…

Summer blogging…

Yeah, it is hard to resist forms of puns even in the summer time; and Grease is a movie that reminds me of what many students do experience during the summer- a total change of pace! And this is why it becomes extra important for us as educators to view the returning/incoming students with “Fresh Eyes” and not with expectations from which ever report some school official may have filed the previous year; it is also why as Educators we must view parents in the same light- a light that opens the classroom to the parent’s view, and allows for the “newness” of the new academic year.

P for personal

R for real

I  for each of us

V for value

A for action

C for care

Y for yes- the thing that each of us expects-

At one point my classroom walls had an acronym for RESPECT, then I spoke with various students over the years and uncovered that for many Respect is demonstrated when Privacy is permitted; kids do have, especially from middle school on, a desire to discover their own personalities via “trial and error” and all the potential each finds, we, as Educators, have a responsibility to encourage! In 2016 when “Grease” the movie or the musical, and the 1950s and “Summer Loving” may seem to be taking a step backward in favor of “Star Trek Beyond” or “Ghostbusters (2016)” students are still having experiences that are neither academic nor necessarily quantifiable, during their “vacations” which for more and more students are amounting to less and less “free time” and instead do involve part-time or full-time jobs, travelling, or even academic work when students feel pressure to use every moment to gain a credit or pick up a dropped course … In sum, Summer Vacations may never have actually been “carefree”  (1950s movie depiction) but they might continue to provide people with a chance to – for a little while- step out of the prescribed roles their regular academic social circle defines and allow both teachers and students to be just a little more daring, just a little more “themselves”; for teachers too tend to get typecast within the culture of a school, and today with global connections and online “PLNs” many of us as Educators are constantly happy to explore new aspects of teaching the “same curriculum even if newly labelled” via hearing how our contemporaries are sharing the knowledge and encouraging growth at their respective centers.

It is fun to – have a new positive experience, meet new people, work on a personal challenge, or even simply daydream for a lengthy while, minus the interruptions of the bell; and of course some of the summer experiences could be mis-educative, and instead of encouraging, point a person in the direction away from growth via instilling a little too much grit- sand paper wears something down if improperly applied!

So instead of the intro letter about “how I spent my summer” which used to be expected as the new litmus test to determine if students could remember how to write a paragraph or two, why not give the students a few weeks to jump right into the new classroom environment and to sign up for which ever extra curriculars the school is making possible, letting the students and the teachers reflect themselves on who they are meeting anew- that almost grown up “stranger” may actually be oneself, entering the classroom with a newer perspective as a more “open” educator- less ready to accept what the last set of teachers declared about a student and more curious to participate in the developing and refining of “this year” and who is before one- “Sandra Dee” or “John Travolta” or a variation of any character from Comic Con- real people still, and allow the students to share their feelings over the material you select for the “diverse” classrooms you will be teaching in; privacy also means that educators “Not Assume” so that when students are learning to show both empathy and understanding no one erroneously jumps in to suggest they must only have the personal at stake- more than likely they are actually showing that the learning is affecting them, allowing them to care about people beyond themselves and their narrow circle; we as Educators must remember to let kids change- isn’t this what real learning and evolving is meant to demonstrate?

In advance of 2016-2017-  or if your place has already begun or is beginning the new Academic year- GOOD LUCK! Educators could always benefit from a dose of luck and a well stocked library!

 

 

 

Ears wide open

If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others. Haim Ginott  (Columbia University) 

Over thirty years of teaching and working with both children and adults and the validity of the statement quoted above remains strong-and not merely for children- Any administrator would do well to focus on reinforcing strengths – a teacher’s strength, a parent’s strength, a volunteer’s strength, and a community’s strength – and in this way when the focus is on encouraging the positive any negative that might need to be addressed is seen as what it is – simply a deficit that could be improved with strong positive action.

Brainstorm- separately and together to decide if it will take a combined effort or requires looking outside the community to enhance a program, apply a solution or indeed access much needed funding; each School Culture being unique but the overall goals being similar: to enhance and encourage student growth and development, to see sustainable growth over the years, and most importantly to recognize students, families and the “school family” as all a part of the solution, each participant leading rather than simply following the leader for then respect between and amongst the parents and their children has a space within which to Grow.

Summer is traditionally not merely “time off” for Educators and many students it is also a reflective period; though now with year round schooling in places, summer learning programs, emphasis on camps and the competition for some camps as strong as the competition for some Academic programs, much needed Reflective time is often ignored.  Personally I create a T bar on a scrap piece of paper and on one side begin listing all the positives; by the time that one side is full, the other side is often close to blank or has only the truly major needs for the coming weeks and I am able to smile at what is the positive as I approach anew.  And when active, the time to “worry and fret” is minimal so that actions towards clearing the residual issues produce results-even if not always bankable results.  This bankability is what affects many an educational institution, even ones not interested in labelling themselves an institution such as small tutoring practices, or community resource outlets, or student led activities that to the students fill their personal need but aren’t expected to become formalized.  And with each active participatory endeavor, adults and children come closer to uncovering their personal goals, dreams, and talents, while remaining the most important resource any Educational environment should be working with!

My positive side nearly always begins with names-the people I am pleased to Thank.  So on this very warm July morning, armed with a cup of strong coffee and a pencil I will exit my computer for a brief reflective practice, and bask briefly in the warmth that considering the positive allows.  Try it!

 

 

 

 

Ta dah duh! and almost done:

RECYCLING: School  term almost complete-

Yup- some lessons were better received than others; some assemblies produced more active participation on part of the student body, some after school events had nearly full turnout and others simply fizzled- what were the secret recipes which made for the better showings and ought to be replicated in some fashion next year and which events though dynamic were actually situation specific and must remain so? Each classroom teacher is actively reviewing the term, and admidst the minor chaos which end of a school year inevitably brings, the final reviews, those marks! and the promotions, is the very real organizing and reflecting not only about the students but always too about one’s own teching experience.  Many will discover they didn’t take any time off throughout the year and will determine to save some focused lessons for the on call supply teacher to be shared next academic year! For in the hustle and bustle that is a school most educators simply “keep on going” knowing that there is a purpose to the summer- to catch up, refocus, read, review, and indeed- unwind!

“the merry month of May” went by quickly this year, and as it nears completion so does another school year.  June may hold the expected exams but for many classes and educators the refections and clean ups have begun.  Here is hoping the chatter in the various lunchrooms, staff and student alike, is filled with that wonderful bittersweet tone of excitement for the upcoming months tinged with recognition that the year is being well spent , friendships made, and learning indeed took place.  Best regards!