What Have We Learned?

It’s high school reunion time!

This is a milestone year for me and for all those who graduated high school in 1971. It seems like ages ago that we were singing our favorite songs with James Taylor, Carole King, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Or dancing to the best Motown music by the Temptations, Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye.

We enjoyed being with our friends and made every effort to extend that time beyond our classes together. We were living in our protective high school bubble, filled with the usual school stuff like cramming for tests, talking on the phone for hours and planning for the weekends.

But on the outside, something was trying to burst that bubble.

We lived through the Vietnam War even though many of us didn’t understand why we were there. The world around us had experienced massive changes. Protests and unrest were the norm in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Assassinations and tragedies seemed common place. African American and Women’s rights came to the forefront. Young people struggled to comprehend what was happening. Fear, mistrust and confusion entered our bubble and it was difficult to adjust.

At some point in time, it was as though a generation decided to turn on the lights in a very dark room.

Inside that room, visible for all to see, especially the young people, was not only dust and cobwebs, but rotted floorboards and peeling wall paint. There was also a stench that was indescribable. What do we do with all this? How do we clean this place and make it something beautiful? That question still permeates the thoughts of many young and older people today. They are still grappling with some lingering remnants in that now, semi-dark room.

It’s not easy to change the flow or to nudge it in a different direction. Some in my generation don’t particularly care to change much of anything and others are still energized to see it through to a better end. Some just prefer a comfortable familiar, where they have discovered another kind of protective bubble.

Bubbles eventually burst no matter how hard we try to keep them in tact. It’s okay. Being outside the bubble has the potential to give us a new perspective. It can help us learn more about ourselves and others.

Whether an activist or a pacifist or a status quo-ist, we all can learn from each other. Kids do it instinctively. We did too when we were children.

If left without hovering or biased adult interference, except for matters of safety, little ones learn how to navigate their challenges through trial, error and negotiation. They eventually learn to build bridges and on ramps. They learn that differences in thought are not to be feared or silenced. Initially, it may be easier for some than others, but eventually they discover their own value and what they can bring to the table.

In those moments, learning out of their bubbles, they are making something beautiful. They are building relationships.

As I remember 50 years ago and think about what I value today in regards to those high school years, it’s the relationships I made and still maintain. Each of those friendships may look differently today. Sometimes we blossom in different directions on the issues of life, like religion, politics, and family. But in the big scheme of things, we can agree on some basic principles if we so choose.

Kindness, compassion, understanding and humility, built on the premise that we are all created equal has now, as it did when we were children, the power to make something beautiful in our lives.

So, what have we learned?

Wishing and Thinking and Hoping and Praying

Borrowing the title from an old Dusty Springfield song, which clearly ages me I know, seems to convey my thoughts on this matter in which I write today.

Maybe it’s the ability to observe without an agenda. Maybe it’s the lack of preconceived notions. Maybe it’s watching without judging. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age.

Perhaps it’s about raw, authentic, built in curiosity and brilliance manifested in the most extraordinary ways.

I know I say it often but it bears repeating. Learning is not the result of what the teacher does, but how the learner innately interacts with the world around them.

I was in my twenties, thirties and forties while being a mom to four very bright, energetic and curious children who are now grown. This year I reached the noted distinction of having four in their forties. How in the world did that happen so quickly? I watched them learn and grow even though I had somewhat narrow notions of how that was supposed to happen.

Over the years, my experience as a teacher, administrator, and grandparent, gradually shifted my perspective on teaching and learning.

I first was a grandma at forty five and I am still enjoying new little ones being added. Three years ago, Troy arrived and most recently 8 year old Griffin, through the marriage of my second oldest son and his sweet wife, Griff’s mom. My “grand” total so far, is eleven and counting.

When the first ones arrived, I lived across the country and was working full-time which only gave me holidays and spring/summer weeks to visit and spend time with them. Every moment was precious and wonderful memories were made with loads of stories to tell in the years to come.

It was a different kind of grandparenting and took a lot of faith to assure me that regardless of the miles or time lapse in between visits, we still built close relationships. Many grandparents find themselves in this kind of situation. It’s the quality time that counts, even though deep inside we all want more of that.

In those 15 years, I observed the sweet curiosity and innovative energy in each one of those dear grandchildren. It was a delight to watch them, spend time with them, take them on vacations and see them grow.

I remember thinking how brilliant these grands were and still are. I was moved by how they navigated their world as we took them to beaches, oceans, rivers and streams, museums, historic destinations, big cities and little ones, parks and walking trails. We took them to plays, dance performances, theater, and art galleries. We traveled together by plane, car, train, boat, bus, trolley, and horse drawn carriage.

They asked a few questions along the way and were terrific travelers. Our many special photo albums document our adventures.

At sixty-five, Troy arrived twenty years after my first grandchild, Maria. Being retired, I now had more time, closer proximity, and much less energy than I had at forty-five.

I am thrilled that I can be available to watch Troy three days a week. When I used to see the grands at three month intervals, I now see week to week changes and growth. It is so wonderful. I see him discover and learn without any preconceived agenda on my part.

Since I taught in a classroom for many years, and supervised others in this endeavor, I thought there was a “right way” to teach. I thought learning happened because of direct teaching. Perhaps for some it does to a certain extent.

The kind of learning that lasts beyond a test, has much less to do with teaching than it does the curiosity, interest and sense of meaning for the learner. When children are enabled and empowered to choose, investigate, experiment and play with the tools in their environment, deep and lasting learning happens.

Wish it could be that way for all children. Wish teachers and parents understood the power in that kind of learning. It is truly incredible to observe.

I guess I have always been drawn to children. I love their innocence and pure hearts. Wishing it could always be that way in our world. Wishing that hatred of others, disregard for life, and greed were not part of our human existence. None of us starts out that way. It is learned behavior or lack of healthy support in the growing years. My personal faith tells me that it doesn’t have to be that way. I try to live my life by that belief.

A certain quote in the bible seems appropriate here.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Without much religious commentary or dissection, let’s just assume that the heart of a child is humble and innocent. It is trusting but curious. It is looking for meaning and purpose in life, in it’s own rudimentary way.

How incredibly powerful to watch, participate in and to support the growth of a little one in this life.

I can’t think of a greater privilege or responsibility.

Learning Loss – The Myth

No Learning Loss for Troy as we build train stations, bridges, and tunnels with dominoes and blocks. If only life was this uncomplicated.

Turn to any news media sources and you’ll hear the often repeated myth that children are experiencing learning loss due to the pandemic-induced shutdowns happening in most schools across our country. The truth is, you can’t rely on the media to provide any credible information regarding the evidence that science presents on any given day, no matter what your political persuasion.

Because of our reaction to the unknown as well as our overt political polarization in these intense times, we deemed it appropriate to close everything down and stay inside to slow the spread of this unknown, killer Covid-19 virus. This included schools. A year ago in March the shift to “school” at home began for the majority of young people across our nation.

It took a while to catch on as the inequities of remote learning manifested in predictable ways. Now, one year later, there are still many schools that are not fully open except for a range of private schools, including Catholic. Depending upon the local teachers unions, some schools may never fully reopen or return to normal any time soon. Some are using a hybrid model and will complete the school year in that manner.

Without an end in sight, a moving target is hard to manage. Dr. Fauci in a recent interview responded to a current study suggesting that there is no marked difference between three and six feet distancing measures for students in schools. Dr. Fauci agreed with the research. However, the six foot requirement has been one of the main hurdles to reopening schools.

Many schools believe that remote schooling is not the same as in person learning. Teachers and their districts hope for the best even amid plans to require state testing this year. Testing seems a cruel and unusual punishment after a school year like this one but it’s proponents consider it an important accountability measure, one whose purpose is to address performance gaps among various demographics. That’s what it’s typically designed to do.

Even in the best of circumstances, schools have experienced performance gaps for many, many years. Remote schooling promises to shed a blinding light on the existing gaps even more so.

The “learning loss” mantra is not the same as performance gaps. Learning loss presumably effects everyone. Gaps are distances measured between groups. But it’s believed that the already existing gaps will be even greater due to this past year and a half outside of the school setting.

What exactly does learning loss mean?

Self-proclaimed experts say, learning loss is attributed to lack of in person teaching and learning for over one year now. It’s hard to imagine how teachers would be held accountable to ensure that every major grade level standard is covered let alone tested and graded during a time like this. It’s hard enough to covered the glut of standards in the a “normal” year of schooling.

Many have adjusted to working at home, but teachers had to basically shift gears midstream, likely without the adequate time, resources and training to pull off such a unique feat. Savvy teachers who use and understand the tools of technology may have had a small advantage, but the learning curve was still steep. Even more so if they have children of their own to care for while zooming with their class of 20-40 students everyday.

Parents too had a similar challenge of working remotely and keeping up with their child’s school work. Juggling computer time and access for themselves proved quite challenging.

I remember my former school district brainstorming this scenario many years ago. How we would ensure that students could still access learning if a catastrophic occurrence happened and schools were closed down. I was fortunate to work with forward thinking colleagues who tried to stay several steps ahead of the “what if” scenarios. I believe they are doing better than most during this current situation.

Learning loss has not been an issue of course with those who homeschool, unschool, or attend private schools that remained open.

Parents desperate to deal with what they perceive as an unacceptable situation took a critical look at learning alternatives. Some banded together to create learning pods as chronicled in a recent New Yorker article, Why Learning Pods Might Outlast the Pandemic, by Lizzie Widdecombe, March 14, 2021.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-education/why-learning-pods-might-outlast-the-pandemic

Another example is highlighted in a Forbes article written by Kerry McDonald titled, More Parents Opt For Private Learning Options, March 15, 2021.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerrymcdonald/2021/03/15/more-parents-opt-for-private-learning-options/?sh=2413437e137e

From Kerry’s article, she states that, “Polling from both Gallup and Education Week last year estimated that the homeschooling rate has at least doubled during the pandemic response, suggesting that up to five million students could now be learning this way.”

She also cites that various edtech startups have emerged to meet the demands of parents for affordable, enriching and high quality digital education.

The article goes on to say that “school districts across the country have felt the exodus with public school enrollment down in most states since the fall as parents choose other options.” In addition, “support for school choice policies has grown since last spring’s school closures, with parents and taxpayers having a more favorable view of allowing the funding to follow students directly in the form of education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships and vouchers.”

Kerry explains that more than two dozen states currently have legislation proposing or expanding educational choice.

As a former public school assistant superintendent, I know this is problematic for those districts on many levels. School district funding is a slippery slope, as they rarely have a huge stockpile of emergency funds available to handle regular mandates let alone pandemics that wreak havoc on already strained budgets.

It is no wonder that the Covid relief bill includes $128 billion for K-12 schooling. When school enrollment is down, overall school funding takes a major hit and since the bulk of K-12 spending is dedicated to salaries, one can imagine the impact. Thus the uproar from the teacher unions.

The Covid relief bill covers a wide variety of perceived needs. Every aspect of life and work is impacted by the shutdowns. For public schooling to stay afloat during this time, federal and state aid is considered essential to survival.

Reason opinion article written by Peter Suderman, February 18, 2021 below.

The article concludes, “How much of this alleged coronavirus relief plan is actually related to the coronavirus?  According to CRFB, just 1 percent of the relief plan’s spending would go toward vaccines, and just 5 percent would go toward pandemic-related public health needs. Meanwhile, 15 percent of the spending—about $300 billion—would be spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis. For proponents of these long-standing policy priorities, this relief package is a huge step in the right direction.

Perhaps you might want to read the legislative and budget office cost estimates here. https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2021-02/hEdandLaborreconciliationestimate.pdf

For those concerned with the impacts of learning loss among students this past year and a half, this relief bill does little to address that as the spending is rolled out over a period of years. As noted in the Reason article, “Previous coronavirus relief and congressional spending bills have already included more than $100 billion in funding for schools. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, “most of those funds remain to be spent.”

When you depend upon the pubic schooling system to educate your child there are a number of strings attached. If you don’t mind the strings and you love your local school then stay the course.

If you find that this pandemic has broadened your viewpoint and perspective on learning, I encourage you to seek out alternatives. There is a vast supply of resources and networks available to parents as they consider the options.

Three Cheers for Self-Directed Learning

I’m going out on a limb that will no doubt anger some, perplex a few and perhaps cause some gossip in my previous schooling circles. That’s okay. I don’t mind. I know what I’ve observed. I can’t not see it, say it and advocate for a different and dare I say, a better way to reach the goal of learning for all children.

My blogs over the last several years were designed to spark curiosity, challenge our thinking about conventional schooling and the status quo and push the envelope of hope. For those who read regularly, you are appreciated. For those who happen to read here and there, I hope you read this one.

I’ve had the distinct privilege and joy to spend three days a week with my grandson, Troy. I’ve been watching him in some capacity since he was three months old and I’ve observed his growth and innate ability to learn. His parents entrust him to me and I take that trust very seriously.

I do my best to follow their lead and insert, when appropriate, my years of experience with children in order to provide a warm and happy environment in which he can play and discover his world. For this, I am grateful.

I have learned so much from him, a two and half year old now. It’s the kind of learning that supersedes my teacher and administrator preparations courses as well as all the years of receiving and providing educational professional development in the various school districts where I’ve worked.

I will stipulate as one of his grandparents, I see him as a wonderful child, full of brilliance and possibility. I’m totally head over heels in love with him. That fact stated, I believe every child starts with the same brilliance and possibility regardless of circumstances, if we choose to see them in that manner.

Yes, physical, mental, emotional health and a nurturing environment all play a part in the healthy development of babies, toddlers, children and adolescents. Not all young people have this stability and for them my heart breaks. It’s even more important to recognize those little ones and give more of ourselves to them in whatever ways we can. Being a good friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a counselor, an advocate, or just a kind person in their lives can make such a difference.

As I observe Troy, I am amazed. We are always talking with each other and he is now at the asking why stage. He is very curious about the inner workings of my apartment. For example, he is potty training right now and is quite intrigued with where everything goes once it leaves the potty. He bends down to look at the underside of the toilet and the nobs connected to it. He asked, “Where does it go Grammy?” He wasn’t satisfied with my simple answer of, “down the water pipe.” I can’t blame him for asking more.

This conversation led to us watching a short video on plumbing in a house and the sewer outside as well as a waste water treatment plant. He watched it intently and then we drew a big picture of my apartment and where we thought the plumbing might be located. We also found my hot water tank and drew that. I have a dry erase white board that he loves. We saved that picture and he explained it all to his daddy when he picked him up later that day.

That same day he asked about the heating system, the vents and the controls. He walked around pointing to the ceiling vents in every room. Thankfully we found another short YouTube video that explained HVAC systems. He put his ear to my walls to listen for the noise that the system made whenever the heat came on in my apartment. I thought this was genius and adorable. We talked about how my vents are in the ceiling and at his house they are on the floor.

If this wasn’t enough for one day, he also asked about the lights and electricity. Another short video provided him with great satisfaction as he studied the live clip of a battery, conduits and a light bulb. We drew a picture of that as well and then he pointed out all the light sources in my apartment. We watched another video on magnetic poles that really fascinated him. He was a sponge and I had to keep up with him.

These learning experiences were not rehearsed. I did not have to rely on a lesson plan. I didn’t determine what he should know and be able to do and I certainly didn’t think about the standards that we set for students in schools. I realize he is not “school” aged yet, but that doesn’t really matter.

Learning happens all the time, any time, any place. He generated the learning. He chose his interest and I was there to facilitate the best I could. It was enough to satisfy his curiosity and perhaps provide him with future questions about these or other topics. All I know is that he was pleased.

Rest assured, there is ample play during the day. In fact, that is most of the day apart from a nap. I am mesmerized watching him navigate his little world, his toys, my things, his interactions, his “pretend” activities like grocery shopping. I offer choices that include some prep on my part like painting, coloring and baking but most of his time is self-directed.

I couldn’t help but wonder what real self-directed learning could look like for all children at all ages. What if every child could continue to learn in this manner, unhindered from the kind of structure they encounter in schools. No bells, schedules, grades, testing, or constant evaluation.

The very nature and structure of schooling is not designed to foster anything self-directed. Yet in schools, we ask children to self-reflect, self-pace and self-evaluate. And then we try to teach them persistence, grit and agency. All “school” terms that describe how to undo what we’ve knowingly done to them since Kindergarten. How can they oblige when they are not given the freedom to direct their own curiosity and learning.

They are told what they have to know based on grade level standards and they are graded, evaluated and labeled according to those criteria. They are not vested in their learning. They are programmable projects with adult expectations looming over them. Who of us would thrive in that kind of environment?

I know there is a better, more humane way to foster learning in young people. I know that brilliance is in every child if we chose to believe it. I commend those parents who are taking charge of their child’s wonder years outside of the school setting. Those who are homeschooling in a way that is not a replica of what they would experience at school are prime examples. Those who trust the self-directed path are another example. It’s a matter of choice.

I love reading about the discoveries and interests of children and their parents, unhindered from the schooling paradigm. There are so many reasons why parents are reclaiming the learning on behalf of their children. They deserve our respect and admiration.

Those who claim to speak for all public educators find great disdain for these “different” methods of learning, citing all sorts of assumed and sinister reasons why parents choose something other than public education. It’s sad and unfortunate but not surprising. The system must sustain itself, it’s perceived relevance and purpose. There will always be many who believe that.

After thirty plus years working in schools, I’ve come to realize that they can’t possibly provide this kind of learning environment. It’s an economies of scale model and can’t be rehabilitated. It’s designed to do exactly what it does; provide jobs and day care, segregate children in labeled batches, and provide a daily structure and environment that produces frightfully compliant, dependent and programmed young people.

It also perpetuates racial and ability inequities and injustices in spite of it’s claim to the contrary. Sadly, many parents think this is okay or they are not fully aware.

I published my book, Learning UNLEASHED, in 2016 hoping that some of my ideas could take root in forward thinking school systems brave enough to tackle the topics and seek a change. I read how some schools are attempting to shift but never quite make it all the way. I held out hope for small changes but every time I read or hear that “students are falling behind” during this pandemic, I cringe.

I emphatically want to restate as I have many times, I do not fault the teachers or other sincere individuals who work in our schools. They were trained and are expected to do it the way it’s been done. The change many of us seek can only happen outside of the typical school setting. Alternatives are available if we are willing to look for them and brave enough to trust the process.

More insights on learning during a pandemic will follow in my next few blog posts so stay tuned.

Bucket List

After a long career in the educational arena as a teacher, administrator, professional developer, director and assistant superintendent, spanning over thirty years in three different states, I decided to return to my first passion…ART.

I retired in 2015 and in 2016, I published my first book, Learning Unleashed – Reimagining and Repurposing Our Schools. (Rowman& Littlefield) That was the first item on my bucket list. While it is not a best seller, it was extremely gratifying to write and share with those who value learning without all the state and federal strings attached. I still find a few folks who are like minded and enjoyed reading my book.

I hold out hope that parents and teachers will realize the sheer joy of facilitating learning rather than force feeding a set curriculum to the masses that still think public education is the only answer. This pandemic has opened more than a few eyes to the endless possibilities of how one accesses learning.

Item number two on the list is painting.

While clearing a collection of clutter accumulated when you’ve clocked over 65 years, I discovered a few art supplies that hadn’t been used for a very long time. I dusted them off, sat down at my dining room table and began to sketch and paint Shab Row on East Street from a photo I took when I arrived in my new town. It was rudimentary and a bit off kilter, but gave me enough momentum to try a few more.

I drew and painted our City Hall building, a window view from a trip I took to Spain, and a favorite family spot at the lake and beach. Six or seven paintings later, I decided to try something new.

In 2017, I drew and painted my own Christmas cards from photos, catalogues and Pinterest pages. I sent these to family and friends. Yes, it was a bit time consuming but so much fun and a personal gift for those I love. After a second year, (2018) of generous feedback and at the urging of my children and grand children I decided to share and sell them locally in 2019.

I sold over two hundred and fifty cards then the pandemic hit in 2020 and no one was interested in stocking their shelves when they were shut down. Although a few local businesses opened to a limited number of customers, my hopes of selling locally dwindled to my art supply store and hair salon. It didn’t matter because I just enjoy painting them, so I did a whole new batch for my immediate family this year. I preferred not to go the online route for sales because of the expense and bother.

Here are a few examples, mistakes and all!

It’s amazing how much sketching and painting puts me in a happy place. It’s envisioning, creating and using materials to make that happen. It’s trial and error, lots of error. It’s seeing something that you never saw before. It’s exhilarating, satisfying and wonderful to give as a gift to yourself and others.

We are all born with something to give, something to share and something to make us and others happy. I think I found mine. How about you?

2021 is waiting for you to discover what lies within you. Look for it, it’s there!

I’ll be looking for item number three on my bucket list.

Once you are over the hill, you begin to pick up speed!

Age has its benefits, they say. Age brings wisdom and a certain amount of earned respect for having lived long enough to learn from one’s mistakes. Age provides a measure of confidence and ease in speaking your mind. These benefits are intangible, unlike the challenges, which seem to take hold of and grip a once, spry young mind and body. Now subjugated to moments of blank slates, occasional incomprehensible speech and a few aches and pains that remind one every day what it means to be over the hill.

Just remember once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed. (Arthur Schopenhauer – BrainyQuote)

I’ve discovered that focusing on the benefits and that over the hill speed, keeps the challenges at bay, at least for now!

I’ve also discovered that being around young people is a guaranteed benefit like no other. We continue to learn and grow in new ways and stretch our minds in new directions just by playing with them and spending time with them.

My advocacy for freedom in educational choices is the topic of most blogs I write. The observations I’ve made with young people, both in and out of schools, continues to intrigue me as I make my way down the other side of that hill.  It’s particularly exhilarating to re-experience learning from the perspective of a now two, twelve, fourteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty one year old. These are my grandchildren. They are my best benefits!

What I see, that almost escaped my purview when raising my own children, is the fascinating way in which the human mind works. Thirty or more years ago, I paid more attention to giving them chores, teaching them manners, and whether or not they brushed their teeth. I assume they taught those important skills to their own children now. As Grammy, I can assist, but the heavy lifting falls on their parents as I reap those said benefits of age.

On a regular basis I am in awe of my grandchildren, every one of them!

Right now, Troy, the two year old, seems to be learning exponentially.  His little mind is traveling at warp speed everywhere, every day, every moment. It’s a joy to watch!

The box house… he asked for windows (lots of windows), lights inside, and crayons to make it colorful. He tested its durability by climbing through several of the windows. He wanted a front door with a lock, handle and door bell.  Then he proceeded to equip his home with important and beautiful furnishings, like a step stool, a few of his books, his stuffed kitty cat and one of my artificial plants. I didn’t capture the finished product, because we were too into the momentum of creating, but it was a sight to behold.

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Troy plays and colors both inside and outside of the box. He enjoys the opportunity for choice, like we all do.

A simple reminder from John Holt. “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.

 

 

Community – Cooperation – Choice

We all need to feel good about ourselves, especially teachers who have one of the most difficult jobs. I believe that is why so many teachers seek good professional development, relevant books to read and quality speakers who will elevate them in the midst of very challenging work. They want to improve and they want to be successful for their students.

Many teachers do find help on their journey to become informed and effective in their profession. However, challenging the very core and structure of schooling itself could send an ardent teacher into a tailspin. It’s their livelihood, their bread and butter, why would they want to disrupt the status quo? They just want to make their classrooms a great place to be. They care, they spend time and money above and beyond most professions. They desire to sharpen their skills and make a difference in the lives of the young people they meet and work with everyday.

Yet, when talking with each other in a safe environment, most teachers will express honest concern with many of the practices, procedures and policies that are part of their daily routines in school. It’s a regular conversation. I venture to say that those who do not question are successfully indoctrinated to keep the status quo. I speak as one who has done both.

There is common ground in which to build the future of education. We just have to look for it. As we seek to better understand deep, authentic and lasting learning and how we can facilitate that, there are bound to be areas of agreement. The bottom line is the freedom to learn in whichever way produces the desired results for the learner. That has to be the cornerstone principle as liberty and justice for all must extend to our most vulnerable and trusting citizens, our children and young people.

The battle for educational freedom seems insurmountable at times with political, economical and religious factions constantly warring with each other. Sharing the simplicity of educational freedom is like swimming upstream in a downstream world. I still hold hope in my heart. I hope that adults will embrace common ground for the sake of every child who is eager to learn.

As schools contemplate reopening, or not, this fall, wouldn’t it be liberating to finally let go of the one size fits all approach to learning? Wouldn’t it be exciting to seize this moment in time to actively and rigorously re-imagine and re-purpose schooling into something far more compatible with the learners it serves?  There are so many incredible opportunities if we have the mind and will to think out of the conventional school box.

Three key words to consider as you plan for the fall:

  • Community
  • Cooperation
  • Choice

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, (women and children)* are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776.

* Remembering the child and his/her pursuits of life, liberty and happiness!

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Looking Forward #4 (last in this series)

Suddenly, in the spring of 2020, everyone was home schooled. It was an experiment that included a very steep learning curve for school teachers, their students and most of all their parents. It lasted several months and ended as awkwardly as it began. Those who home school by choice had adjustments to make as well.

It was particularly strange for seniors.

Graduates in 2020 have a story to tell that is unique to them.

They completed their last few months of school totally online and without the usual school-sponsored, pomp and circumstance that typically accompanies diplomas. In spite of the challenges, schools made valiant efforts to celebrate graduating seniors while still maintaining guidelines for social distancing.

In the midst of a most unique school year, valuable lessons and experiences evolved as did our ways of thinking about schooling, equity, access, and how one learns best.  Those important discussions continue as the nation faces ongoing pandemic awareness while planning for another school year.

A few lessons are worth noting especially since they have always been problematic.

These include a heavy emphasis on grading, testing, unreliable data gathering and reporting student mastery. They also include bias in high stakes tests like the SAT’s and other standardized measures. We took a deeper look at all of these topics during this three month, online experiment. In many cases, they became a secondary focus or not as necessary as we thought they were.

This is a monumental and long overdue discovery and it took a pandemic to shed light on the need to rethink our practices. Over the school shutdowns, teachers and students learned that supportive encouragement, personal interaction and less emphasis on getting grades, promotes learning in a way far greater than constant evaluation ever will. They knew this before the online only version of schooling. They know it better now.

Changes are on the horizon and it couldn’t be soon enough.

Many universities will go fully test-optional in the fall of 2020. Some have waived the SAT and ACT requirements altogether in 2021.  The goal of colleges is to admit students who they think are going to do great and these tests are suppose to provide that data.

The push back to drop these measures is not new. However, the testing companies create an illusion of necessity to the universities, colleges and general public. They also promote this false dependence to elementary schools. Parents want their children in the college-bound pipeline as early as possible.

These tests are not for students or their teachers.

The data analysis is not correlated to what students know or can do. The feedback is not timely or designed to help students do better. It’s designed to weed out and select those who learn the way the test is constructed.

Along with the ability to choose where and how one learns best, high stakes testing is inequitable, biased and unfair.

What will next school year look like? What lessons did we learn? How can we think differently about getting an education, one that is inclusive of the multiple ways of learning and knowing.

Can we better appreciate and understand why more families may permanently choose homeschooling moving forward? Could we please not stereotype these families or any families who chose public or private school options?

As I have frequently said in many blogs over the past several years, there is not one right way to become educated.

For those of you who read to better understand others, here is a great article.

5 Things I learned…

Happy Summer! Stay well! Stay informed!

 

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Looking Forward #3

We are far into this “stay-at-home” life, with some states extending the orders into May and a few others looking at partial openings. School openings are questionable right now in most states. This raises a multitude of questions.

What about the lost school year? What about kids who were already falling behind? What about kids that weren’t provided a laptop or don’t have internet access to participate in distance learning? How will schools manage the outcomes of this hybrid home schooling model?

It’s not the end of the world as some would have you think. At the very least it is sparking innovative thinking and rational discourse on what is really important right now.

The pandemic response of closing schools led many school districts and state boards of education to rethink the mainstay principles of tracking student progress via grading as well as how to address grade level coverage of curriculum. State and local education officials vary widely in their responses.

Ideas/plans floating around include giving all students A’s, issuing pass/fail marks or counting these past few months as enrichment, not work done for credit. Some want students to attend summer school and others are waving attendance requirements. The word scrambling comes to mind.

How do you solve a problem that was created by the very nature of schooling itself?

None of these questions would present a problem if we shifted our school paradigm concerning grade levels and grading students. The issue is only present when you feel compelled to give students a grade. It’s present when you feel compelled to hold them back a grade level or push them thorough with interventions when they have not yet mastered the arbitrary grade level material.

Young people can learn without grades or the artificially imposed age-batching practice of grade leveling.

Sadly, some are still not convinced.

What are ways in which we can facilitate, observe and report on learning without using a flawed, inequitable and damaging system like grading?

What are ways in which we can group young people for learning experiences that are not based strictly on age?

Teachers are asking themselves these questions right now. They are trying to figure out how to transition and then meld the two realities of regular classroom school with school at a distance, to finalize student progress for this school year. It’s challenging to say the least.

I hear teachers sharing their stories of Zoom meetings with various age groups that include little brothers and sisters joining as well as one on one communications back and forth between students and their teachers. In general teachers, children and their families are going with the flow. Day by day, moment by moment, they are all doing a difficult and incredible job. As stated earlier, this is uncharted territory and we have much to learn from it.

Interestingly enough, MindShift posted this on Twitter recently, (ideas from Larry Ferlazzo), to help teachers navigate this time and it’s good advice.

Pandemic response

In my book, Learning Unleashed, I shared the importance of remembering the early childhood days of curiosity and intrinsic self-directed learning. Schooling proposes a different kind of learning than curious self-direction. It shifts the learner to a tightly constricted box that is a one size fits all approach.

This pandemic “shut down” response sheds light on what is really important and how we might transition back to classrooms next year with a newly developed sense of purpose.

For as long as I can remember, at least in my 30 plus years as an educator, the issues of grading and grade levels are on the “do not touch ” list of school reforms. The practice of grading is one of the sacred cows that we talk about but can’t seem to reach a consensus. The idea of grouping children based solely on their age is rarely questioned.

The idea of developmental and interest grouping instead of grade levels by age, is not even on school radars. Many credible and well respected educational visionaries speak on this regularly. Sir Ken Robinson is an example.

We listen and do little to change.

What will it take to make changes to these unproductive practices?

Perhaps a forced closing of all the schools in the country could set the change in motion.  It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

Maybe Pandemics are the Mother of Innovation.

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My Photo taken at the Musee Olympique in Lusanne, Switzerland. The screen says CHANGE as my Grandson examines the information. Seems logical for a 16 month old!

Come back for Looking Forward # 4, the last in the series to celebrate the graduating class of 2020!

 

Looking Forward #2

We are still in the uncharted territory of a massive nationwide shutdown that has never been implemented before, at least not in my lifetime. Regardless of one’s political views or personal beliefs, this is devastating on many levels.

The loss of thousands of lives being the most tragic, as with any pandemic, places many in the heartache of unanticipated death of loved ones. There is never a more scary result than this. It is truly a sad time.

Other consequences as a result of this quarantine have left many unemployed, suicidal and hopeless. Those that are the most vulnerable to poverty, sickness and despair are suffering like no other group or individual. They are in survival mode right now.

Those who can still work from home, or as brave essential workers on the front lines still collect paychecks and can provide for themselves and their families. The stay-at-home directives are an inconvenience for some and for others a luxury of sorts. They are not as financially impacted as many filing for unemployment or those with no source of income at all.

It is unfathomable to think we can go on like this much longer. It’s not the way it’s suppose to be. We have to understand both the risks and the safety measures as an interwoven dilemma. We live our lives walking the delicate balance between both. It’s always been that way. Yet, in a world divided by ideology instead of reason, intellect and compassion, we seems to be at odds, or at least that’s what social media tells us.

One particular challenge area is how we are educating our children during this crisis. In Part 1 of this blog series, I elaborated on those challenges and our best efforts to meet them. Take a minute to read it if you haven’ t done so yet.

Since most schools will not resume for the duration of this school year, what does that mean for our children, for their teachers, for the system itself? Public school systems fare better since they are funded through various public sources. Private and religious schools are in a different reality. Home Schooling families carry on with adjustments.

In my last blog entry, I floated the idea of learning valuable schooling lessons from this pandemic response. Ones that could inform the future of education for students around the country. Crisis situations, while difficult and sometimes overwhelming, can also provide an opportunity for re-evaluating basic services, the status quo, the institutional constructs that once bound us to a one size fits all approach. Innovation often rises from the ashes of crisis situations.

Innovation is not necessarily welcomed by the faint at heart. Most early adopters of innovation do so at their own risk but they are often deep thinkers, doers instead of talkers, and most importantly, fearless explorers. Many teachers fit that category. Given the opportunity, individually and collectively, they rise to the occasion and innovate.

Teachers are innovating right now. They are navigating uncharted waters every day. They are discovering what to keep and what to let go, what’s important and what is irrelevant or unnecessary.  It’s not their normal school routine and they are working so hard to balance once considered “essential” activities with the inability to pull some of these off at a distance. They have discovered a new way of working with their students.

School will resume eventually. How will what we’ve learned about necessary and unnecessary carry over to next year? What can we let go? What can we do differently? Will we go back to the way things were before this pandemic? When teachers have flexibility during this time and young people are still learning, what can we can take away from this experience? What should we consider when looking forward?

The possibilities are endless. We can aim high. The view is exhilarating.

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My Photo looking up from a boat on Sydney Harbor Bay Australia 2009 seems appropriate. Being in the right place at the right time.

For the record: These possibilities should not include students having to repeat the grade level, attend summer school, or in any other way be punished or stigmatized for a pandemic response imposed by adults. If anything, we should rethink grade levels and the harm that does to a growing young mind. That’s next in this series by the way. Stay tuned.