Tag Archives: education

After Volunteering at a Food Bank – and why you should too…

Allowing FOCUS:

 

When I have food in the house I can eat

 

When I eat I can breathe as in meditate and think clearly

 

When I can think I can communicate

 

When I can communicate I can get others to care

 

When I can get others to care the sharing begins

 

When we all learn how to share, the caring grows

 

It all begins with nourishment…

 

Written by me today, August 6, 2015

As as educator I see first hand the effects of poverty, ignorance, and marginalization.  Before we open doors in the hopes of opening minds this upcoming 2015-2016 school year, let’s make sure that our students actually do have the basics- they can continue to grow only with these necessities covered.

Singing

Sometimes songs and words and singers simply enter our brains and remain there like material on a computer and then at the right time the words resurface or the sounds reappear, making the day a little brighter and reminding one of how very much past, present and future can be intertwined.

Yesterday evening I had been entering material into my “journal”, a “private” entry, not a public blog; and wondering if my personal rhymes and real expressions – not academic but indeed philosophical – were of the type that I could compile and self publish.  Then this morning all I could hear was this:

Karen Carpenter endorses the rest of us to :Sing a Song, …Sing a song- “dont worry that it’s not good enough…” How beautiful, and how tragic to read the words at the end of the UTube Video. That anyone with such talent and genuine love for others as expressed in the vocals could also have had such an untimely ending.  Some may equate the melody and the tune with Sesame Street as indeed the song was shared on their popular station.  To me it recalls the shock to learn of a world famous singer whose insecurity about her physical looks overtook her knowledge about her vocal talent and her musical blessings.

Today we have a slightly better understanding about eating disorders- but only slightly.  We do not yet understand how the body could turn on itself, anymore than we have a full understanding about addiction, or about poverty.  And to readers who are wondering how I can put three separate issues in one sentence, their overlapping “venn diagrams”  connections are our collective ignorance about how to genuinly reach out and offer help to one another rather than imposing – name an “ism” here, that would encircle how those who profess to know more than others denigrate rather than empower when supplying prescriptives, and enclose rather than opening up options for others.  I have left this last statement broad for a reason; I can’t solve the world’s problems.  But I am going to play the song again, and again, and hear why it could become an anthem for preschoolers of the Sesame Street age, and consider how “hope” for those same “limitless horizons” touched on in the last blog post must not be trampled on via education systems, social systems, cultural systems, medical systems, and above all by one another- we owe it to each other to encourage the singing- So this summer whether in the shower, in the car, on the street, at camp, or at your cubicle- SING- Sing out loud- and share your voice with the rest of us.

Hot Town; Summer in the City

More than Semantics

Difference between then and now:

Bankrupt currently has a high status notation- in an unusual twist bankrupt (today) seems to imply the ultimate risks were taken, a business was created, failure was the result of any number of things, and one may now join the ranks of iconic success stories for rebounding; after all bankrupt tends only to affect one’s business aspects not one’s personal assets so the ability to live through bankruptcy is allowed. In contrast being broke suggests stupidity, not understanding how to play the high stakes financial games, not borrowing effectively which translates to borrowing without penalty something that big businesses may be getting away with all the time, or simply “not savvy” – perhaps less than astute when it comes to knowing whom to “play” during the building process. Plus once one has attained a certain financial level then there are ways to “own” more than one company and to sell off, walk away from, or to bankrupt one of the businesses while still thriving through another. Now contrast these relatively comfortable situations with the image of a person on social assistance of any kind. Add to that person the stigma of living in a social housing unit. Big problem now to access financial advice let alone assistance in a meaningful way. Broke has only stigma attached to it- zero glamour, even less than zero expectations. But, say people, bootstrapping is still possible? Not without shoes!

Charles Dickens wrote of debtors’ prisons because he had knowledge of the ways in which society affected individual opportunity. His writing is now considered part of “classic English literature” and to an extent relegated to the sidelines for the readers capable of enjoying his in depth descriptions and his very strong points of view. For many, his general story line is accepted as the story expressed via movies that have been created around his characters, Scrooge from a Christmas Carol representing “the terrible boss”, Oliver in Oliver Twist, representing fairy tale dreams of rescue for orphaned children or any child wishing a different situation, Little Dorrit and “good character” winning over moneyed positions; these stereotypical characters were meant to share with real people some basic flaws in the social organization of Dickens’ time. Real people being the readers, who could readily recognize both the exaggeration within the fictional character descriptions and the real “truth” the novels themselves were sharing about the big thematic issue of social evolution. In Dickens’ times, debtors’ prisons enclosed a society; today we have social housing which when truly examined offers little benefit over the debtors’ prison of yore however people apparently strive to access social housing; newspapers would suggest that the line up to get into such “projects” is enormous. The debtors’ prison Dickens portrays was a punishment and recognized for the soul crushing environment and the stigma it produced. Social housing however attempts to suggest it is a “leg up” and here I must question “for whom” as the statistics about current individuals “escaping” the social housing situation is limited if in existence at all.

These thoughts are with me today with the end of a school year arriving and many students not running off to luxury camps and marvellous trips and the expectation of “amazing” experiences. I also recently reviewed the book “Just Kids from the Bronx” an Oral History compiled by Arlene Alda, released this year, 2015. The author interviews over 60 successful and famous folk who originated in the Bronx, New York. In reading many of the stories what became clear was that many were children of recent immigrants, and accepted that within their mixed communities, the pressure to succeed, the dual emphasis on work and education, mixed with the knowledge that they were “broke” in comparison to other regions in the state such as Central Manhattan and its upper East or West side, and attaining a higher income and achieving a better lifestyle was not only doable but expected! The concept of “you can do it” was actually more “you must do it” – there were no big educational mantras as we have today discussing “mindsets”, nor discussions of “Grit” versus “learned helplessness” instead there were visible options, hard work , a generous application of luck and steady if not always agreeable, goals to be crossed off and achieved. Yes this is a book about “success stories” but it is also a nostalgic look back at an area that had been “low economic” yet propelled many to other levels. Very different then from social projects of today which appear to suggest “stop complaining; you already have a roof over your head”, and which enclose low income communities more to “protect” the wealthier neighbours than to provide a stepping stone for the working poor.

However as an educator what also stood out for me in the variety of stories were the “crucial wake up calls from teachers who recognized potential”. Note the use of the word “crucial”; necessary today as then to be validated, to have others suggest that talent or desire to practice is a valid goal. Amazingly, the collection of stories is lauded as not only inspiring but “proof” that the “American dream” (success on one’s own terms) remains achievable. Disclaimer- I had the pleasure of living in New York and genuinely agreeing with the song “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere; New York, New York!” New York seemed to be alive with people, and in the middle eighties many of these people were literally in the streets, entertaining, busking, dancing, proclaiming, and it seemed, anticipating our appreciative discovery of them. Walking was a given, and one could expect that not only would the sidewalks be crowded, but also so would just about everywhere else! Yet one found private spaces, and began to revel in how much the city itself appeared to pulse, how energy encouraged energy, and how very much art, and appreciation of the arts was prevalent on every corner. For educators this IS important, and a close rereading of many of the narratives reminds that even with the educational structures that today are considered taboo such as streaming of students based on expected abilities, school and the place it played for many balanced the idea of work to survive with work that will allow one to thrive. Artists and scientists and business executives remind that it is not the grades of A’s versus C’s that could make one feel “inadequate” ; it is being ignored. I blogged elsewhere about recognizing the quiet ones in a classroom; we also need to recognize the one’s who may appear to deliberately be craving attention and not dismiss them under today’s current structure of labelling.

The stories of the Bronx do change over time, as did the area. What begins as recollections of “community space” slowly becomes like the above mentioned “contained” areas that social projects turn into. I was struck by the following sentences; “It has to do with what the horizon looks like. The horizon from the South Bronx was limited to an everyday survival worry about clothing and shelter…” (in contrast to) “It is one of the gifts of a place like Allen-Stevenson (a school)…that they not only educate you, but they open up limitless horizons for you. My course was changed and set from that moment in fourth grade when a teacher decided to take matters into his own hands.” Wow! What an inspiring positive reaffirmation for Educators! To be reminded that being in the field can make a difference, and to recognize that sometimes little gestures make for opportunities.  

 

A side note: Libraries, museums, free concerts, outdoor theatre, writing challenges, are also mentioned for their affirmative value in suggesting that creativity is to be enjoyed, and encouraged in various avenues. Summer in the city does offer “amazing experiences” however they might be of a more personal nature than the group camp experience or the community activity. And one needn’t be in New York State to seek what is offered closer to home. Summer wishes: keep reading and writing!

 

“Limitless horizons”…lovely thoughts               

 

Second Sunday in May? Mother’s Day

Playing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and wondering how these four men managed to capture beautifully in lyric and score the feelings of parents; so deeply moving when we do “look at them and sigh, and know they love you…”

Grace and beauty just walked out the door together, intent on a project and pleased to share – and I feeling truly blessed have the afternoon “free”, and time to catch up with writing, reading, cleaning (housework rarely takes care of itself), and Yes, Thinking.  So often we are deluged with activities that simple “quiet time” now comes at a premium, to be cherished and appreciated.

Mother’s day for me began the minute I knew I was pregnant with each of them, and has continued daily since; blessed with a son and a daughter, each uniquely capable and caring, and filled with that exuberance of personality that needn’t be restricted but ought to be unleashed- “Hello World”- they are ready for you!  And as a Mom, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And as always, special good wishes to the parents of the children I am fortunate to have taught and  those I continue to work with- You are Amazing

Enjoy the day!  And if you have the minute- give a listen to “Teach the Children”

Holiday Cheer

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work

should be a “no-brainer”- as in “obviously” but there are still people who think this only applies to themselves

so they continue with a “carrot and stick”  and create instead

a resentful at best and a punitive at worst -culture

————————This weekend marks the start of two major holidays that deal with the spirit- Passover beginning Friday evening, and Easter which begins the same day- April 3, 2015

—————Perhaps in the spirit of “good faith” communities in general might consider the message within the TEDx talk  (link offered above) – aimed at educators and the general public (most of us have made our way through a school system) as a reminder that “Happy” is more than a song sung by Pharrel and is an action that flows throughout one’s system; let’s spread a little – shall we?

( and because a little music might indeed help: pharrell williams happy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM  )

Multi-culturalism and learning

Young student to his teacher, ” Why do they call it ‘Chinese New Year’? I’m from Vietnam and I celebrate it too!”

Maps, look at population charts, find some of the history for both countries, discuss foods, customs, language, and what it means to celebrate in a “home country” versus in an adopted country.

Recall and share a comment from another student “Russia is part of Asia too!” – once again maps, populations charts, history…

What it really means to teach a “diverse group of students”.  It means to be aware, to be open, to respect cultural differences, to recognize family practices versus “global” ideals.  And to learn with one’s students.  When we learn together, we give each other “voice” and when we listen we move beyond words and expected understanding of the words to the personal and how each student may or may not “relate” to a concept.

Kindergarten through grade 12 and for many – a number of years in post secondary- that is really a lot of time in the places we label “school”.  As educators we need to be aware of how our own understanding of vulnerability is affected when children voice their confusion, and to join the students in their research and review of concepts that adults may be “taking for granted”.  Our purpose after all is to encourage their thinking skills, their curiousity, and their desire to learn more.  But first we do have to create a safe space wherein they may question us.  And if we do not have the immediate answer- or better yet if we ignore the immediate answer and instead join with our students in the search for answers, we just may be modelling what inquiry – makers, and doers, is all about.

To all who may be celebrating the Lunar New Year Festivities- Enjoy!

Shake it up!

Once upon a time, in an enchanted__________(forest, pond, stream, house, castle,garden…) lived a little______________(prince, princess, horse, pony, goat, duck…?) and this little_______________decided to join everyone around the _____________?  campfire!  Because campfires are good places to share stories and hot chocolate.  And stories and cold juice.  And stories and popcorn.

The night was clear.  The moon was bright.  Everyone was pleased to take part in the ? making of a brand new KITE! And so the ________________ joined in and discovered______________________________????

Reading involves a full body practice- peek into a kindergarten room and observe the need for movement; some of us continue to need that opportunity to use our bodies in motion while the learning process grows- yet – we have a strong image impacted of reading and writing practice being a solitary studious pursuit.  If you have the time, and inclination, rummage through a children’s section at the library or the bookstore or within your own home collection.  And see if you can really sit still or if at times the words on the page conjure up images that make you not only truly laugh out loud, but also seem to get you swaying to the rhythm – words on the page leaping and colliding and having fun.

Learning- of anything- is a time consuming series of repetitions and practices until a learner feels a smidgen of control, slowly leading to mastery.  And which some remain determined may have less to do with “grit” or “mindset” and more to do with circumstances and options.  If however, we, as educators wish to open up a few doors or at least a window into what various aspects of learning may offer, then we will be needing to demonstrate how and why skills are building blocks for movement forward.  Direct communication – making time for this – becomes essential, so instead of lamenting the fast pace and disconnect of modern times, or extolling the virtues of technology and flipped classrooms, let’s remember that if we present testing or reviews in a positive frame, then the likelihood of students responding in a positive manner improves.

Personalities- we each have one- and we no more wish to be lumped into a “type” then do the students in a learning environment.  That is “mindset” in a nutshell; the suggestion that people may be allowed to think outside the box requires people not to be boxed in or restricted by academic labels-  a label may allow for clearer organization within an institution, but at times denies the learner the very thing education is meant to encourage- growth and change.  Movement: across disciplines, within communities, throughout a learning system, demands numerous skill sets including the ability to fill in the blanks, to extend the story, to make it one’s own, to develop, to grow and to become.

And so they lived…which always struck me as suggestive of more to come…

Standing desks, musical chairs, reading buddies, writing conferences, on and off line; shake it up, and find the mix that works best in your student’s frame.

Permission Granted – please DO

Sometimes a Great Notion… book and movie title and real life experiences…

I love using various art forms to enhance any level/grade lesson when English Literacy is the core focus.  We respond to art on two levels- primal and almost intuitive and academic- with the theories and knowledge which we have been taught engaging us in a dialogue with the object at hand.  Children who haven’t yet been “taught” to discuss the piece therefore comfortably share if they “liked” it! Watch a group of young children enter a new space, be it an art gallery or a playground, and see how they maneuver over the ground, tactile, involved, curious, and participatory.  The “new” emphasis on “maker” areas being developed within classrooms is really a return to a “tried and true” methodology; the idea that children and adults will gain through the combination of theory and practice- each on its own being only 1/2 of the story.

Here then to making math- the 1+1=2 understood as a form of literacy as well.  WE read scribbles, in what ever language, and we – people- humans- imbue these scribbles with “extra” meaning.  When the theory is unpacked, sometimes it is hard to believe that we have, as people, developed so many various ways to communicate our ideas, emotions, and hopes for the future- yes hopes, as I believe every artist/ writer/ designer and maker is offering a vision that contains within it a myriad of dreams and options for change.  Whether one is studying the presumed cognitive reactions of the mind and developing new theories with current scientific “facts” that today allow one to “see inside the brain” or creating music to share a set of emotions, creating/ making /doing /= participatory; ACTION is happening.

So as we enter into a holiday season that easily lends itself to the spirit of craft making, let’s cheer for those individuals neither famous nor well known who actively take time to: create personal decorations, write notes by hand, bake a present, sew an outfit,build a piece of furniture, carve a toy, redecorate their own living space…the list goes on and on…and reminds us to allow children to participate in these creative endeavors too- for they become the adults among us who maintain the ability to offer expression and with simplicity, beautify a day.

Weekend prompt

Story sequences: mystery suspense:
Overheard “I find it INTOLERABLE that she didn’t do the work”

Who might have been talking?

Can you flesh out a story from the opening line?

Some writers will claim that they began their novel based on a simple blurb about an incident that they had read in a newspaper, or based on a snippet of conversation overheard in passing.

Slowly characters began to take shape, interacting and developing the plot.

Needed:    A setting – remember – time, place, season, (time can be hour of the day or actual calendar year)

Characters: will you add dialogue?

Problem? What might happen? When? To whom? Is there a why?

Solution: resolution- not all stories are completely resolved- one aspect of a problem is usually cleared up; other aspects may be continued in sequels, or left for the readers to consider.

Prompts for story writing needn’t be the typical SAT form-  argument/example; prompts to encourage a variety of writing styles can be culled from multiple resources.

How to begin: see earlier blog- “brainstorming 101”…

Weekend wishes

Remembering “why”.

The things we remember:

today is November 11, officially Armistice day, and across the globe many communities are paying respects to soldiers – be it the soldiers recalled from the events of WW1 or soldiers who still must fight in a military in 2014.

In Ontario much talk is going back and forth over the value of making the day a National event- since some Canadian provinces already observe the day as a full day of remembrance and use the time up to November 11 to teach about not only the horrors of World Wars but also the hopes that are generated by activists for peace- Planting seeds of peace, encouraging inquiry, focusing on the present generation and all that it may accomplish is an act of doing and making- combining two terms in popular usage today, and sharing that basic desire – that somehow, horrific events are not only not forgotten, but that the meaning of words like “freedom”, “citizenship” and “rights and responsibilities” aren’t just words to be matched up on a test but words that have value, that carry promise, that offer a lifestyle within an ideology of purpose.  Not everyone will grow up to be prime minister, or president, or even interested in the political forum.  But everyone growing up in a world where there may still be a threat of global violence ought to be made aware of how many people have -over generations- risked everything, in the hopes of building ( making and doing ) places where the opportunity to attempt harmonious living will be a mandate for social action.

We memorized poems when I was in school, and the Remembrance Day full school assembly meant total involvement- K-6th grade for at least a month before – from the Canadian Thanksgiving in October, through to the November event.  And through these activities we built up a variety of skills-  plugging a sentence from a poem into Google pulled up the full piece; imagine being nine years old and able to use the word “damn” in front of the whole school because it was central to the poem being recited-  “Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking…”  demagogue- vocabulary building, poem credit goes to Josiah Gilbert Holland, author,  time: American Civil War- linking then the concept of Remembrance to beyond one specific point in time and beyond one specific place.  English Literature, social studies, geography, history, public speaking and drama class rolled into one action.  Granted, as an adult I know now that my elementary school (public) would have been labelled “progressive” ; and I am aware of how much design went into encouraging us to become makers and doers, to question as well as observe, to participate in the lesson by moving beyond the rote aspect of committing to memory, and to attempt ourselves to evoke the need to care within our listeners- the majority of whom were peers.  “Lest we forget” always meant much more than wearing a poppy- it included actively collaborating on projects designed to encourage respect for ourselves, for each other, and for our world.