It is great to see and be inspired by so many modern workspaces, with their bright colours, comfy seating, and quiet nooks. But what can the schools/learning environments that simply do not have the funds to refurbish, or to invest in the “gorgeous new designs” take from the “advice” about the ideal learning spaces? They don’t exist! Yes that is “blasphemy” in today’s newest is better culture of sophistication, but as a “seasoned educator” I have seen first hand wonderfully, excited, curious students ignoring their less than ideal surroundings in favour of the focus on the learning that was being allowed for inside a space. Key word here is “allowed”, and that may take on a number of different situations.
Will the students be able to ask questions? Can they murmur to a peer and chat quietly even when not officially assigned to “group work”; can they get up and reach for additional material, is there fluidity within the class regarding working on assignments? Could a student or students “discover” that via researching a project they wished to change direction or are they locked into their initial “thesis” description. In short will growth on the individual level be encouraged by the teacher/teachers encouraging the students, or will the space be so restrictive as to deny original thought?
What is truly amazing is when students themselves take “ownership” of an idea, and we as educators may step back for a period and allow this new exploration to continue. It may mean doing exactly what was labelled but not clearly defined way back in “teacher’s college”- the recognizing of “teaching moments”, the ability to permit tangential thought, and collaborative effort with other educators within a school building/system/and globally. The fanciest desks and comfiest chairs are still no match for the informed and genuine teacher. And while it seems that even kindergarten students today may have cellphones, educators instill how to take the technology from a toy to a learning tool which may be used in multiple ways to enhance the student’s ability to access further knowledge.
When designing and creating within four walls, consider the input of the students and what extra space within the building may become another station. At one point hallways weren’t for punishment, they were a second area for small groups to congregate, then slowly with “fear” entering the school systems, allowing children to freely be in an open space minus monitors became dangerous. When schools require metal detectors on a par with airport security, every educator must become attuned to anything and everything that could return the classroom environment to an atmosphere where possibility is still available. It could be something as simple as plants actually growing, or posters which the students design themselves…
As a child I attended a summer camp which was held in former army barracks! Oh, those cabins from the outside- people would sigh and marvel that campers wanted to return. But we knew that upon arrival we would be given paint and paint brushes and allowed to redecorate for ourselves /to make magical over three weeks rain or shine; the barest of spaces could come alive with the energy and enthusiasm an arts based camp in the woods encouraged. And so the teamwork, and collaborative effort was instilled. That culture of practice, reinforced over many a summer, prevailed when I as grad student found myself ironing the wax off of brown paper bags to help make art materials for schools in low-income districts. We students of teaching and learning provided the simplest of tools- the children, becoming involved in making and doing before the buzzwords prevailed, furthered the design process. With technology we must continue to provide the how and possibly where, but make sure it is the students learning to ask the “why?”
“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it? and of course- everyone makes mistakes …
As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred. In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take. In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”
Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident. So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push to carts in a grocery store. And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders; and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.
Thanks for reading.
*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…
Looking out my window at a beautiful sky, a current strong contrast with the heavy rain showering down a few hours ago. Right now, calm sky, true blue, powder puff clouds, and that feeling one gets when the air is so clear one can feel bathed in possibilities.
The window is wide open, and the screen hardly visible; yet as I type I find myself marveling that there may be teachers and students who dread a unit on poetry- when poetry as an expression of feeling is what I know a poet would be able to do with my current view. To freeze frame it for a second and third look through words which could express that combination of new day, new desires that the calm after a rain seems to unceasingly bring.
Am I writing poetic prose? Not in the mood to critique myself this morning. Yesterday I had the opportunity we each are given at a birthday; a chance to wonder anew at life itself and the gift of another year. I spent the early part with a large crowd of strangers brought together for a good cause; cheering or running ourselves to raise funds for a relatively new centre at a local hospital; a centre geared toward making it easier for parents to navigate a hospital health care system- and one geared especially to mental health. Kudos to the families whose hard work and caring developed the second annual RBC RUN FOR THE KIDS; my son ran 25 kilometers and though he didn’t hear me cheering amongst the crowd when in just under two hours he crossed the finish line (!) he, and all who ran, cheered, volunteered and/or organized the event made this a truly special birthday. For in looking back over all that we as a family accomplished this past year, I am truly amazed. Mother of two, my daughter was at her part time job, so couldn’t be with us at the event, but her diligence and work also suffused my day. When I work with children or adults, I am so aware of how emotions affect our ability to absorb information. The RBC run is for all the children and their families who might for a period have forgotten how to sing; mental health and all its variety of issues was recently brought home with the unexpected death of famous actor Robin Williams- a man who appeared to be sharing his very soul with his audiences, yet who hid his pain until the pain took over. His death a tragedy; and within our cities today, young people suffering as well- some who it is to be hoped may be helped by the Sunnybrook hospital Family Navigation Project- the more awareness, the better chance for healthy living.
Knowing how much I care about big picture goals as well as the details to make such goals real, and having children who are able to put into practice some of my dreams- I am not a runner-but am a believer- in the fact that opportunity allows for change, and that people working together be it running for a cause, or alerting the “world” that such causes are worthwhile, can and do, daily through little acts of kindness, create that wonderful word- GRACE – for each other. Amen.
Posted in Tutoring
Tagged Academic Practice, adolescence, Birthdays, celebration, challenges beliefs, education, Grace, mental health, RBC Run for the KIDS, Robin Williams, Sunnybrook Family Naviagation Project, tutoring
Profession or calling, enterprise or extension of self- how does one really decide?
Students entering grade 12, or first and second year University, or even earlier- here in Ontario, in grade eight, being asked to project forward, to pick their own learning stream, to choose applied or academic, to “guess” which courses truly will fulfill the goal of satisfied, independent adult “one day”. And then, to their surprise, when at University, to learn how many students ( just like them) are now changing direction, “discovering” through course selection new interests, new opportunities, and their own voice. Such a beautiful discovery; recognizing when to take to heart the comments of advisors and professors, when to decide one’s own goals, when and where to focus both attention and action.
When we look at pictures of High School students from the early 60s when streaming was in effect, almost an entire class when off to University in the pursuit of similar goals- I have heard first hand stories of a class in which all but one entered sciences, followed by medicine, and that one, first obtained a degree in commerce, then entered medicine as well! Today’s more individualized timetables suggest a more personalized approach to course selecting, but is this the reality?
A VIP for a Bank told me he hadn’t been considered good at math in High School, not showing interest- then took a commerce course and loved discussing what to do with “widgets”. For the record – he deals with a tremendous amount of “math” today. There are similar stories, and of course the current jokes about how it might be more worthwhile to put one’s hope into the non academic aspect of school, and encourage a student to focus on an area where showing talent; schools for the arts, and sports oriented programs seem geared to recognizing that there is more to an individual’s “one day-someday” plan than the letter grade, however, when a student’s inklings are for academics, then let us not put down the high scoring community. Too many students still suggest to me their middle school fear of being considered nerdy (actually they often use a much stronger term) if they do achieve, and wish to achieve top grades. It is therefore not surprising to recognize the way in which highest awards are often given to the newest newcomer students- students whose families continue to focus on education, students whose families risked a great deal to make life anew in Canada, and one of their dreams was a full education for their children.
When we collectively consider “school” we may need to reassess the messages we are sending to the very students involved: are we creating an inclusive environment where students needn’t wait till post secondary or later to begin to find their voice? Are we offering within the school the safety of genuine communication, between peers, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, between administration and the entire community? Somewhere, between “get 100” and “fail forward” we need a new slogan; a concept of opportunity shared, versus hierarchical put downs that seem so accepted within our educational settings.
Together- whole child, whole heart, whole community; holistic education. Let’s get it together !
Some have a belief that school is not real- that real life begins only upon graduation- I wonder, in today’s age of fast pacing and career switching, how any could still suggest that the place students are expected to spend at least 12 years of their lives is not “real”. A microcosm perhaps, but nevertheless, very real in the social-cultural, and physical-material sense. And is school an audition? another idea that appears to be floating – No. School is the way in which the majority of children are socialized and when the fit is right- children thrive- when wrong the blisters not only burst but chafe so deeply the right space might still feel too constricting.
While homeschooling may provide an answer and is increasingly an option for those who have the time to devote to not only searching out places that will provide stimulation and feed the curiousity of the learners ( museums, art spaces, public performances, lunch time forums, construction sites, people watching ..) for the majority a school- regardless if private or public, remains the full time space where one’s children attend to daily rituals of practice- practicing communication skills, practicing public participation, practicing organizational skills, practicing physical skills, practicing the give and take of learning- practicing.
And it is the curriculum that determines what gets practiced. April is when many parents begin to question the past year’s choice of schooling and wonder if new arrangements ought to be made for the following September. Things I encourage parents to look for in a school when touring a new space go beyond the basics- not just the physical structure and the size of the rooms, but importantly the sounds one hears when walking the halls; are the sounds coming from the classrooms representative of students’ voices? Do the walls feature student work? Is there an energy even outside the grounds? For elementary students, what appears to be happening during lunch time recess? For junior high school students, are the activities/clubs posted of the type your child may express interest in joining? In a Senior High students should be visible- activities are ongoing and classes more individualized- visit at more than one point during the day and notice how students move about…
School is the “real world” for students while they are moving through it; help them understand and appreciate how growth in any direction can require a new fitting, and believe in them when they are ready to practice something new.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged April, challenges beliefs, change, dealing, education, learning, lessons, practicing, real world, school, tutoring