A Truthful New Year Resolution

We’ve all made them and subsequently broke them before the winter thaw. Those of you who are incredibly disciplined may actually find yourself ten pounds lighter in the spring or suddenly wealthier from not stopping at Starbucks anymore. Perhaps your new hobby takes flight or you do to another country. Whatever resolution you make, it’s usually with good intentions. We all know the adage that a certain place is paved with those same intentions. I don’t want to go there.

I have a New Year resolution as well.

I decided to permanently reside in an illusive destination that is sometimes hard to find. It’s called “TRUTH.”

Truth quote

The truth is, I was a teacher and I loved teaching. To be honest, I also enjoyed the sense of authority it afforded me. Being the youngest child growing up in my home, that rarely happened. I love children and I wanted to impart knowledge and understanding in those young people entrusted to my care. I wanted to make a difference in their lives. I’m sure many of them learned something from me and I’m equally sure that some did not. That is the truth.

It is also true that I observed a variety of learners, those who needed more time, a different kind of curriculum or the freedom to learn at a more rapid pace. I tried to accommodate all of them. It was never easy and always left me wondering how well I did. I remember the success stories, as well as a small few that ended in retention or interventions. To be truthful, if schools really worked FOR children, they would all thrive. We are not afforded those adjustments unless we use labels like gifted, learning disabled, or behavioral disorders. Labels attempt to tell us who we are. They do not tell us what we can or cannot do. I detest labels, especially when we assign them to children. That is a legislated truth.

The truth is, I was an administrator in various capacities from the school level to the central office and thought I was helping more children in a greater way. I led others with direction and support in concrete structures, practices and procedures. I provided feedback and offered coaching for improvement. I loved working with teachers, especially those who were so eager to be the best for their students. Some were great and others desperately needed a different kind of job. This is a scary and still happening truth.

I also worked very closely with parents as they navigated the schooling system to benefit their child. Having four of my own children, I could easily relate to their desire for transparency and inclusiveness. To be honest, I didn’t always like the response I had to give them. It was a, “trust us” we know what’s best, we are the educators with our degrees and we are certified to tell you what we know to be true about your child.  This is a not so true truth.

Ending my schooling career, in 2015 as an Assistant Superintendent of a school district, I oversaw all the educational programs including curriculum, instruction, grading and assessment,  teacher and principal training and support, student health, state and local reporting, counseling, special education, school plans, foster youth, suspensions and expulsions, data management, and a score of other less exciting responsibilities labeled other duties as assigned. My plate was full but the truth is, this vantage point sealed my thirty plus years that led me to write my book, Learning Unleashed.

I loved seeing the faces and hearing the powerful voices of wonderful teachers and principals working hard on behalf of their students.  I loved the collaboration, the innovation, the thinking out of the box moments. I loved seeing what the kids were working on at any given classroom visit.  I loved working alongside the best office mates that tirelessly devoted more hours than I can count trying to make life a bit easier for our schools, a thankless job, but they did it anyway.

I did not love the system that forces a one size fits all education for our young people. I did not love the bureaucracy, overbearing regulations, or the lack of freedom for both teachers and their students. I did not love ramming mandated directives down the throats of those working closest to the children. I did not love hearing kids say, “does this count for a grade” or “will this be on the test”?

The list could go on but it would not be exhaustive as there are multiple problems needing immediate attention. The saddest truth of all is that many people working in schools already know that we need a grand overhaul to this schooling experiment. Those who are content with the status quo need a dose of truth telling.

It is not hard to tell the truth, once you’ve seen it face to face. I see it in the faces of parents, teachers, and children who want more than what they are currently experiencing. I’ve seen it up close in my various schooling roles over the years. I see it most clearly now. The truth is our children deserve to learn in an environment that honors their unique differences and their genuine curiosity and creativity.

As I contemplate my new year resolution, this last 2017 blog sets in motion a full throttle truth telling about schools. Schools as we now know them will become more and more irrelevant and unnecessary in the future. Those of you, my friends who work in this system,  I leave you with this quote. The truth is I’m not sure that Socrates really said it, but you get the idea.

change--socrates-quotes-quotable-quotes

The Gift of Time

I simply love giving gifts!

I make my lists and check them more than twice. I try to think of what the recipient might want or need and what I can afford to give, hoping there’s a good match somewhere in that mix. It takes a little time but I don’t mind.

Shopping becomes an adventure as I compare prices, sales and special offers. I try to shop early and local as much as possible, but sometimes its more convenient to order online. Wrapping the gifts I purchase is one of my favorite holiday activities. I like to be creative with each gift. It takes a little time, but I don’t mind.

I make gingerbread houses every year with my grandchildren and that is also a gift they love. I watch as each year they become more elaborate and detailed. We play music while we work and we often end up laughing at the amount of candy a gingerbread house can really hold. It takes a lot of time, but I don’t mind.

December 2015 022

Finding the right cards to send to each person on my list is also part of the gift giving season. This year I created many of my own by drawing and painting them. A few turned out really well and the rest were just a labor of love. It took a ton of time but I didn’t mind.

 

 

I bake cookies every year and give them as gifts. They seem to be a favorite with everyone. Many recipes are generations old, like my Italian grandma’s, my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s. They definitely take time but I don’t mind.

December 2015 047

The Gift of Time

Time is an equalized commodity. We are all given the same amount as we plan our days, weeks, months and years. We start with 24 hours each day and go from there, yet we so often can’t find enough of it.

bravur-wall-clock-black__29234_pe116289_s5

“I never have enough time.”

“There’s not enough time in a day.”

“Time flies.”

“The hours just got away from me.”

“I lost track of time.”

“What time is it anyway?”

I have one to add to this list.

“Time is precious, use it wisely.”

As this year winds down into the next one, I’m thinking more about how I use my time.  I’m thinking about how many hours I have left as opposed to how many I’ve already used.  I’m thinking about how to make those hours count for something more than myself.

I came to the conclusion that I want to give the gift of time until my portion is depleted. I don’t know when that is, but I plan to use it wisely. How about you?

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

A Thankful Blog!

Thankful

Do you have a thankful list?

I do.  I am thankful for…

My parents, who though they had struggles, always loved each other. That spoke volumes to me.

My first husband George, who passed away in 1996, made me thankful everyday that I was his wife of twenty three years. His love, compassion, sincerity and adventurous spirit brought his family of six through the hills and valleys of life. If my heart was visible, you would see his name written there. His legacy lives on in our four wonderful children.

Our four grown children, who are amazing people, make me thankful everyday that I get to be their mother. They are incredibly bright, industrious, caring and thoughtful. My two daughter-in-laws and one son-in-law are equally amazing. They are gifted and generous. My six grandchildren, four girls and two boys, are simply the best in the world. Of course there is some bias in that statement, but as their Grammy, I reserve the right to brag.

My late husband Norm, who passed away in 2013, made me believe I could do anything. His quick wit, perseverance and “fix anything that’s broken” attitude, is enshrined forever in my sweet memories of him. His two sons, daughter-in-law, and grandson, are also mine. They are precious people with hearts of gold.

I could end the list here and be fully satisfied, but there are other important items on my thankful list that are worth noting.

I am thankful that I became an educator, and that I spent almost everyday with children and young people, in addition to my own. I am thankful that I worked with parents, teachers, principals, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, nurses, counselors, school secretaries, attendance clerks, crossing guards, and a multitude of district and county office coordinators, directors, technology folks and superintendents. There are hard working, dedicated individuals among them. They taught me much for which I am very thankful.

I am also thankful that I clearly understand the real meaning of choice, separate from any politics or ideology. Life is full of choices. We choose to be kind, or not. We choose to forgive, or not. We choose to see the good in people, or not. We make choices all the time.  Some of us choose to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Some of us choose to serve.

Some of us choose to LEARN, or not.

I am sincerely thankful for educational options that provide choice in the most fundamental of human experiences – LEARNING.

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

It’s a Matter of Time

A few years ago, research told us once again, that all children learn differently and as teachers, we must meet those needs through “differentiation” in the classroom.  Books, articles, charts and conferences surfaced by the millions to help us make sense of this not so new insight about learners. Below is one example.

1076ce79ff12f534151b67b55fbe165d--differentiated-kindergarten-differentiated-instruction-ideas

The differentiation dilemma is complex because it does not take into account the school system’s inability to actually accommodate it. Differentiation is mostly intended for heterogeneous classrooms where age is the single most common factor. Grouping learners by age in an assigned grade level is less designed to benefit students and more for the benefit of the system. It really flies in the face of known child and adolescent development theory. One child may learn to read at five while another at eight or nine. In our current system, the five year old may be identified as gifted and the nine year old is labeled learning disabled.

An Example 

I am reminded of my own four children and their individual growth during their first few years of life.

  • My oldest son sat up straight at five months and walked unassisted at nine months. When he started to fully communicate, around ten months old, it was in complete phrases or sentences like; time to play, go for a walk, want a cookie.
  • My second son sat up at six months, walked at ten months and talked almost immediately and frequently and still does. He also experienced persistent ear infections which required medical attention.
  • My daughter, third in line, sat up at nine months, walked at eleven months and learned to express herself by pointing until she was able to formulate her words. Her two older brothers often spoke for her. She took command of the situation by physically pushing them out of her conversations.
  • My third son and last born, sat up at seven months, walked at ten months and was reading words from flash cards at 24 months much to the surprise of his older siblings who learned to read much later.

In the school schemata, that batches students by age and grade level, each of my children at five years old would be in different developmental stages with regard to their learning. Now multiply those four by six or seven and you have the average Kindergarten classroom. Kindergartners are all over the map when it comes to experiences, exposure, support structures, and health issues.  Teachers, often successfully, corral these school newbies into a cohesive unit to begin the process of “schooling” them.

The grade level curriculum covers about a ten month period targeting the identified grade level standards often written by an unknown entity which has determined what students should know and be able to do by the end of that grade level.  Milestone markers and yearly goals are clearly articulated and progress towards those goals are reported via student grades on a report card. This system is familiar to most and rarely questioned unless a student is not meeting the goals in the given time frame. What if students don’t meet the goal by the end of the school year? What if they don’t walk unassisted until four months later?

Some schools employ the failing method which requires retention or a “do-over” of sorts. Others push students on with identified interventions to get them up to speed. Still others do nothing and continue the practice of assigning failing grades on report cards. The student themselves are keenly aware that something has gone wrong in their schooling process. Something is out of kilter, they have dropped a ball and its their fault. Internal and external pressure places a heavy weight on their shoulders to do better. Some eventually retrieve that dropped ball while others do not.

Differentiation is supposed to help alleviate this dilemma because we are offering instruction and assessment in a way that meets the particular needs of our students. While effective differentiation may help to support students in their learning, without including either more or less time, it is an incomplete model of differentiation. If a student needs three or four more months to master a concept we can’t give it to them. Kindergarten is over in June.

What would it take to think out of the box with regard to the current grade level schemata in our schools? Some argue that a time frame is necessary because life is full of deadlines and children need to learn that fact.  Really? I’ll try to remember that when my next grandchild enters the world. I hope to support their individual growth with dignity, respect and as much time as they need to realize their potential and gifting. Learning is not over in ten months increments. Learning spans a lifetime.

 

 

Perspective

When I was young, my parents took me and my two sisters camping every weekend during the summer months. We lived in the city, so having the ability to spend time in the mountains with fresh air and a cool, swift moving creek brought pure delight to our senses. We looked forward to this getaway as a unique diversion to summers in the city.

The almost three hour drive provided a self-directed sightseeing adventure through the hills and sleepy towns of northwestern Pennsylvania. Silos, cows grazing, corn stalks blowing in the intermittent breeze that carried with it the unpleasant farm smells reminded us that we were no longer in the city.

Once there, we unpacked and set up our camp grounds. In the early years we pitched tents. Later in our camping evolution, we slept in three connected cinder block cabins. This raised our comfort level quite a bit as we were on higher ground and a little farther from most of the creepy crawling creatures that often invaded our tents.

A direct view of the moon glittered creek, a warm cracking fire, and sparkling stars strewn over the night sky provided the perfect setting for roasting marshmallows, telling stories and singing silly songs. The swift moving creek served as one of our fun-filled afternoon adventures as we drifted downstream on large inner-tubes catching the warm rays of the bright sun along the way.

A two mile walk into the little town grocery store was filled with multiple surprises and discoveries.  Along the route we stopped to watch snakes slither across the road and butterflies lighting on the colorful wildflowers that dotted the hillside. We paused for a cool refreshing sip of mountain spring water spouting out of a pipe embedded in layers of shale and rock on the road embankment. Wherever we found ourselves; in the creek, on the dirt road, or in the makeshift outhouse, it was definitely out of our city comfort zone.

Camping brought into view a different and new perspective of our world. We became keenly aware of what we typically took for granted, things like plumbing, electricity and the ability to pick up a phone to call someone. The need for those essentials faded along side the spectacular benefits of fresh air, nature in full bloom, and the rugged joys of outdoor life.  The trade-offs were worth the slight inconveniences. The lessons learned far outweighed our perceived need for the familiar. It was a matter of…

perspective 1

Perspective is what life gives us if we are open to receive it.

I am thankful that over my lifetime, various and vast experiences have greatly enhanced my perspective. It happens to all of us, whether good or bad experiences, they shape how we think, feel, and sometimes react. They become our lens through which we see everything.

For most of us, the ability to see perspectives other than our own is challenging. It requires us to listen with an intent to understand, as we ask questions and seek clarity. Too often, rather than fully engaging in an open and reciprocal dialogue, we are more concerned with crafting our response or rebuttal. We miss an opportunity to learn from one another. The dialogue shuts down. We choose not to listen ascending to and condescending from a camp we’ve created on our higher, more comfortable ground.

If you have read any of my blog posts, you’ll know that I strongly believe in one’s freedom to choose how to become educated. I am pro any kind of environment that promotes authentic and meaningful learning. Unfortunately, while many in and around schools tout the same sentiment for authenticity and meaning, the actual occurrence of such is spotty at best.

The measuring stick of testing accountability and the over reliance of coercion and bribery tactics suck the life out of what could be a rather positive story.  These unfortunate practices continue to permeate the world of schooling with no real end in sight. Even with all those visionary educational cheerleaders telling us about the importance of creativity, physical activity, and meaningful, self-directed learning, we refuse to listen. We refuse the change. We hunker down in our camps refusing to budge.

Within the various educational camps we fly our banners proclaiming the one, right and only way it should be done, demonizing all those who dare to disagree with our perspectives.  It doesn’t have to be this way if we would allow ourselves to really hear and understand different perspectives about learning. Don’t fall for an “us versus them” scenario perpetuated by our various media outlets, union organizations, or governmental entities. Use your own powers of observation and listen with an open mind.

I know some great public school teachers, public charter school teachers, private and religious school teachers, home-school teachers, and those who guide their children in self-directed learning. They have several things in common. They will do anything to ensure that each child in their care is respected, nurtured and allowed to learn in their own way. Granted it is difficult to do this in a formal school setting simply due to the rigid constraints, but there are a few brave ones who rise to the occasion. I know, I worked with some of them over the years.  I wish there were more.

Browsing through educational articles and websites one notices how often they beat the drum of change. Topics like grading, more time for recess, more physical activity, course offerings that tap into a young person’s interest and creativity, and the need to branch out of the four walls of a regular classroom are among the most noted topics. They are offering us a much needed and different perspective on the way we do school.

We hear from well-respected voices like Sir Ken Robinson and several others about the need for more creativity and authenticity in our schools. We see educators flocking to these conferences and returning to their schools utterly baffled at how they might implement such ideas within the strict curriculum pacing guides. Grade level standards  must be taught before the looming state tests in the spring.

Strong teachers try to infuse authentic and creative access to learning for their students. They work very hard within a structural format that does not lend itself to this kind of flexibility. They spend more hours outside of their school day, without reimbursement and without recognition, just to ensure that they can offer their students a peak learning experience. They are trail blazers. I will always admire those kind of teachers.

Embed from Getty Images

Perspective is everything.

Camping connections for those learners who prefer non-analogous examples.

We didn’t just talk about how great summer camping would be in the hills of western Pennsylvania. We didn’t imagine the fun we’d have or the lessons we’d learn. We didn’t just read about outdoor life or attend events showcasing campfires, tents, fishing, or rafting down a steam. We didn’t practice camping in our own backyards first to see if it would work, we just did it! 

Message to every teacher, principal, school board, parent and tax paying community member reading this:

  • Be open and willing to learn from another perspective whether public, private, religious, home-schooling, or self directed learning
  • Work with those around you to make your particular learning environment more authentic and meaningful for the children you serve
  • Lighten up on the self-imposed constructs that choke the joy out of learning*

Just do it! Children will thank you and they will still learn – I promise!

 

*These self-imposed constructs are outlined in my book.

Learning Unleashed – Re-Imagining and Re-Purposing Our Schools

Make ’em Laugh

laughing kids 1

I grew up in a family of clowns. Well, not literally, but enough of them kept all of us laughing most of the time.  Clowning was a way of life for my dad, a few uncles, my sister and at least three or four other folks in the extended family. We simply appreciated a good laugh which often led to tears rolling down our cheeks.  The jokes may have been self-deprecating or at the expense of family members, but regardless of the punchline, we didn’t take offense.

I still remember one liners that my dad often said while driving. Like the time a woman cut in front of him on the highway and he mumbled, “She must thing her name is MERGE!” Or when he saw a sign warning “curves ahead” and he lovingly looked at my mom saying, “Honey, look they must have known you were coming.” The “Right of Way” sign was reserved for anyone who edged over the median strip. My dad quickly reminded them that it didn’t mean help yourself to the highway.

Another comical memory was when our large family met for Christmas Eve Dinner at the home of my Uncle and Aunt. The tables were set for 15 or more as we prepared to enjoy our Italian vigil, seven fish meal together.  My Uncle asked for the bread and instead of passing the plate, a young cousin picked up a dinner roll and sent it on its way down the table. By the time it reached my uncle, at least seven people had touched it. Keeping a straight face as he quietly waited for the roll’s arrival into his hands, he took a look at it and then threw it on the floor asking if we could try that again. He suggested  this time sending the entire plate of bread so he could choose his own roll. We all laughed so hard it took us a few minutes to regain our composure and get back to our food that was getting cold.

The various stories, practical jokes, and infamous one liners are too numerous to mention. Growing up with major doses of humor was a natural way of life for me. I continue that tradition today. At this point in my life, the self-deprecating kind is the safest and most reliable form of humor since the perks of aging provide plenty of material.

Laughter is the universal language that everyone understands.

boy laughing 1

Just by way of a reminder here is a list of laughter benefits from the HELP GUIDE

Physical Benefits of Laughter:

  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits of Laughter:

  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and tension
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Strengthens resilience

Social Benefits of Laughter:

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Ehances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

My purpose for writing this short blog is to challenge all of us to find some laughter in our day, especially those who work with children. In case you need help getting started please click on the links below. To avoid the cynical folks who must post every possible negative comment on these links, I suggest you watch the video only, remember it’s laughter we’re after not sour grapes.

ENJOY YOUR DAY!

Make ’em Laugh

Make ’em Laugh

Make ’em Laugh

The Overdue Metamorphosis of School

 

50c43a321ecb48940b19cd23e0a02444--butterfly-metamorphosis-cosmos-flowers

Borrowing excerpts from Merriam-Webster below:

Metamorphosis

  • change of physical form, structure, or substance
  • a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances
  • a typically marked and more or less abrupt developmental change in the form or structure

From the Latin and Greek origins, meta and morph are translated to mean transform. [1]

In the educational arena, we often hear the term REFORM. Rarely do we hear the word TRANSFORM.  Reform implies changes or tweaks made with a desired outcome of improvement to existing metrics or accountability results. We often compare our students to each other and those around the world using these various measures.

The schooling system in our country experiences “reform” efforts about every five years. One might ask why and to what end. Do these reforms actually improve learning?

Surviving at least twenty or more reform efforts in my thirty plus years as an educator, has informed and transformed my thinking about the institution of schooling.  I’ve concluded that for every new reform, another one is needed. This will always be true because these efforts only address generalities in teaching and learning, not the unique differences among learners. While the researchers warn us that what works for one may not work for others, the suggestions leave teachers wondering how to faithfully implement so that all of their students might benefit.

Researchers and those who work in schools are miles apart in reality. We ask teachers and principals to accept and implement the latest and greatest research on school reform and wonder why there is overall lack of interest or buy in. Lack of time to process new reform efforts as well as adequate opportunities in which to practice such reforms often lead to poor implementation.

Given the exorbitant amount of training that goes along with new reforms as well as regular school paperwork, teacher evaluation, grading expectations and curricular pacing, among other challenges, there is little time left to truly delve into or examine the pros and cons of most studies. Even with a built-in Professional Learning Community structure or (PLC) time, most teaching teams and their principals must prioritize and weigh their efforts against competing demands.

From an online abstract published on May 17, 2013, titled, Teacher resistance to school reform: reflecting an inconvenient truth,  Ewald Tehert writes the following.

“… David Gleicher developed his well-known ‘energy formula for change processes;

  

…the formula reads that the change in energy C is sufficient if the product of the three factors (a) degree of dissatisfaction with existing state, (b) clarity of vision with respect to goal and (d) first visible steps towards the desired change is greater than the material and emotional cost of change x.”[2]

The costs of most major school reform efforts are literally staggering, both monetarily and emotionally. School reform is basically a jobs project for all related entities that presume their knowledge and materials will effect a positive change in student outcomes.

School reform is a lucrative business. School transformation is not and that is why it is rarely considered.

We don’t need more reforms and especially reforms on top of already existing ones. Imposed reforms produce apathy, skepticism and even contempt among teachers who have no say in the matter. Even well-perceived reforms often fall short of providing effective and lasting results, if any. This is mainly because they are only a small brick or two in a massive schooling structure that needs major renovation.

Rick Hess in his September 14, 2017 article titled, Educators’ time loss and the invisible cost of reform said the following.

“After all, when I reflect on some of the major reform pushes of the past decade or more, I fear that such attention is almost invariably absent…in each case, it’s easy for advocates to insist that this negative impact is negligible. If they concede any burden, they’ll insist it’s modest and obviously worth paying. It’s remarkable, though, that in an era infatuated with data and evidence that no one — and I mean, literally, no one — has made it a priority to figure out how much time this stuff takes or how big a distraction it is. Foundations that claim to value empowered teachers, autonomous schools, and nimble systems don’t invest in any of this. Scholars don’t study it; advocates don’t bother with it.” [3]

We just keep piling it on, year after year, reform after reform and to what end? Reforms don’t necessarily make schools better, they just make them very busy places. There are good, hard-working people in our schools. Many of them believe that our public schools provide the best hope for young people, a place that can lead and guide them into a gratifying and successful future. There will always be those who survive the system’s structures.

The reality is more and more parents and students are finding the compulsory, one-size fits all schooling model, a relic of a bygone era – one that is not providing them with peak learning experiences. They are finding more engaging and relevant ways in which to become educated. They are transforming the narrative one at a time, day by day, year after year. They are visionary learners refusing to accept the myth that in order to learn one must go to a place called school.

Oh, that this transformation could become reality for every young person and teacher who must endure the “latest and not so greatest” school reform efforts.

 

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metamorphosis
  2. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13632434.2013.793494
  3. https://medium.com/@rickhess99/educators-time-loss-and-the-invisible-cost-of-reform-79aaa134de4e

* Butterfly Photo credit to Getty Images

School is a social construct, learning is not.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s clarify the common understanding of a social construct.

“A concept or perception of something based on the collective views developed and maintained within a society or social group; a social phenomenon or convention originating within and cultivated by society or a particular social group, as opposed to existing inherently or naturally.” (Oxford Living Dictionary 2017 Oxford University Press)

School is a social construct. Learning is not. Learning is inherent. We are born with the ability to learn. It happens naturally, all the time.

School, in its current state, is basically designed as a one-size, fits-all construct. It functions in a regular pattern from school to school. Each school is a proverbial round hole, particularly traditional public schools. They frequently have similar rules, common curriculum and standards, similar language and comparable day to day practices. This is the familiar construct we have created.

Young people are the pegs that we force into the round holes of school.  Compulsory school attendance law leaves little doubt that coercion is involved. We typically send our little ones off to someone we don’t personally know who then “teaches” them for 6 to 7 hours a day, for 12 or more years. This is called in loco parentis. It is a Latin term meaning “in [the] place of a parent” or “instead of a parent.”  It refers to the legal responsibility of some person or organization to perform some of the functions or responsibilities of a parent. [1] If all goes well,  and we fit them into the round hole, it is seen as smooth sailing until graduation day. Sometimes.

As a society we are convinced that schools are essential to preserve our democracy. School is where we learn our history and the histories of the world. It is where we understand the value of reading, writing and mathematics. School is also where young people learn and develop the school’s understanding of empathy, social justice, and equality. Many believe that without schools, kids would not learn. More precisely put, school is social engineering for future generations.

How do our schools prepare students for their future?

John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State Teacher of the Year explains it this way, “I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching – that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic – it has no conscience.” (This is an excerpt of a speech by John Taylor Gatto accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990.)

There is a groundswell of healthy skepticism of the inherent value of many schools in their present form, including colleges and universities. A massive number of young people are electing alternative avenues to educate themselves. Many seek out mentors, coaches, apprenticeships, or a combination of some online coursework and real life experiences. States and cities that are forward thinking in welcoming and supporting charter schools, equip more parents with the ability to choose which school matches their child’s needs regardless of their zip code.  Additionally, an increasing number of families are discovering the freedom and opportunity afforded them through homeschooling and self-directed learning.

While school choice is often seen as politically, racially, or religiously motivated, it simply allows the freedom to choose what, how, where and when one learns. It is often met with consternation and push-back from those who believe there is only one right and acceptable way in which to become educated, and that is public schools. Choosing anything else is simply heresy.  However, the wind is shifting, particularly with the millennials.

In a September 15, 2017 article for Intellectual Takeout, Kerry McDonald presents a solid snapshot of the rise in support of school choice options. “According to a new GenForward report conducted by University of Chicago researchers, most millennials support school choice efforts. The GenForward report echoes similar findings from a report last fall by EdChoice, showing widespread millennial support for school choice. [2]  Kerry’s Article

Schools, in their present form, cannot come close to providing the kind of authentic learning that is needed in this rapidly changing world. No matter how hard schools try, they simply cannot provide true personalized learning.  This is mainly due to their flawed design, one-size-fits-all, round hole structure, along with an ignorant refusal to fully understand the unique differences in learners.

Although some teachers try very hard to personalize learning for students, particularly those with disabilities, they are often handcuffed. They must follow the school construct theory that says, batch children by age, follow the exact grade level curriculum, constantly assess and grade, prepare for high stakes tests, and complete all the requisite paper work, on time and with accuracy.

I am dismayed at the claims saying that if students had more grit, perseverance, empathy, or a growth mindset they might do better in school. Teachers and school systems believe these myths because they are looking for strategies that will better engage their students in the act of learning and paying attention. One can see why these theories might be considered. Children in our schools would need these traits in order to navigate a highly restrictive and outdated mode of schooling that forces them to sit for 6-7 hours a day, unmotivated, disengaged, and often tired. Let’s not underestimate the amount of grit it takes just to attend school every day, teachers included!

As author, Paul Collins writes in his book titled, Not Even Wrong: A Father’s Journey Into the Lost History of Autism, “The problem with trying to fit a square peg into a round hole is not so much the amount of time and effort and frustration of forcing the fit, but that you end up damaging the peg.” [3]

This holds true for many young people who find themselves at the mercy of a system determined to make them fit. All children deserve to learn in whatever way is best for them, instead of us forcefully molding them into the “right” shaped peg.

 

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute, September 16,  2017. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/in_loco_parentis
  2. McDonald, K. Black and Latino Millennials Overwhelmingly Support School Choice, Academic Survey Finds. Intellectual Takeout, September 15, 2017.
  3. Collins, P.  Not Even Wrong: A Father’s Journey Into the Lost History of Autism. (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004, page 225.)

“You’re Going to Love School, I Promise!”

200449839-003

The “Back to School” signs are in full force on multiple fronts including advertisements, social media, print articles, radio and television.  I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of titles aimed at parents who may need support getting their children excited about going back to school. The fact that we have to entice young people back to school should be a warning signal. Unfortunately, there are too many who believe that school doesn’t have to be enjoyable, after all, not everything in life is enjoyable.

There are always some who love the routine and predictability of school. They have done well, fit the mold, followed the plan and achieved the subsequent rewards, i.e. good grades, certificates and other tangible payoffs.  They blissfully abide by the constructs of forced schooling. It’s what they are used to, what their parents are used to and what schools and our society tells them they must do to succeed.

In schools, we learn to comply or we fail.  Sounds like fun right?

Learning in school is contrived, overly scheduled, forced and regulated. None of these conditions are conducive to learning, yet we willingly convince our children it’s in their best interest to do so.   We believe we are good parents when we send our young people off to school everyday. We start the pep rallies months before they are old enough to go, just in case they exhibit signs of resistance. Parents can be the best cheerleaders.

It apparently doesn’t matter that almost every psychology course that teachers take in their educational preparation track, clearly outlines the importance of relevance, meaning and self-direction in the learning equation. This also proves true in brain research and various learning studies. While teachers find this information helpful, they often seek the practical nuts and bolts application in their classrooms.  Studies don’t bridge that gap very well.

What actually happens in the classroom is drastically different and is most often not the fault of the teacher.

Someone else decides what, when and how students will learn. Someone else determines who succeeds and who fails. Someone else decides and predicts a child’s strengths and weaknesses based on a designated grade level curriculum. Deadlines and expectations are a constant threat with frequent evaluation and reporting as a means to ensure progress. Even if a teacher wanted to allow for self-directed learning, the system is not designed to function that way.

Encouraging exceptions to this norm do exist as a recent article by Kerry McDonald explains below.

Full article

Kerry’s Blog

Different and effective models of learning are edging their way into the mainstream public schooling world and they are long overdue.

I am a firm optimist and believe that all things are possible. When a critical mass rallies around the freedom to learn, great public schools can happen. Many brave teachers are rallying the troops even now.

83b987c01220b04be41ac34ac8109ff9--dr-seuss-day-educational-quotes

Experience Life – Don’t Just Live IT!

GRammy sign

The old proverb, “experience is the best teacher” rang true this week as I discovered another accurate saying, “you are never too old to learn something new.” It was, it is, and it will always be true.  I’ve heard that experience gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards.  Some of us may need more experience than others when it comes to learning our lessons. More than often, I fall into that category, but not this past week. This week, I experienced three incredible lessons that I learned rather quickly. I’ts no wonder, I had the best teachers –  my grandchildren!

Here is what I learned.

  1. Grandchildren are better than ice cream on a hot day.
  2. Grandchildren are better at hearing and listening than we think they are.
  3. Grandchildren are better at taking you out of your comfort zone than you are yourself.

Let me explain.

My 18 year old, incredibly busy granddaughter, texted me at 1:30 p.m. “Grammy, you want to hang out together later this afternoon and maybe go to the pool?  I have until 6:00 p.m.?” I quickly replied in the affirmative knowing that this granddaughter typically has very little time to spare. Several minutes later she texted again, “I have to work late, sorry, no time for swimming.” I responded that maybe we could just grab dinner and she replied, “COOL!”

At five o’clock she texted, “Still at work, “Can’t do dinner. How about ice cream instead?” I never say no to ice cream on a hot day so I agreed. At 5:45 p.m., Maria and I met at the frozen yogurt shop.  As we sat talking about her upcoming class schedule, her stage managing, various shows in the works, our mutual passion for sorbet and her healing foot still in the boot, I realized this experience was a keeper. Her big blue eyes danced as we exchanged smiles and hugs good-bye – until the next time.

These brief 15 minutes were far better than the cool sorbet ice cream we enjoyed together.  She had to leave at 6:00 p.m. That was the best 15 minutes of my day.

My two younger granddaughters, 9 and 11 came for one of their Grammy sleepovers. We played games, went to the pool, ran a few important errands and had pizza, of course. As is our custom, we went to church on Sunday. The girls walked hand-in hand to find seats where they waited for my signal to pull out their coloring books. Busy creating the most extraordinary pictures, they hardly noticed that the service was over. As we made our way back home, I asked if they heard or learned anything from the sermon.

Much to my surprise, they both summed it up in one sentence. “If you don’t have love for others then what’s the point?” That brought a huge smile to my face. I was tempted to send their shortened version to the pastor, but decided that it was meant for me. Alexis and Anya added, “it matters less what you say than what you actually do.” They also chuckled telling me that they were listening while they were coloring and reminded me that you can do more than one thing at a time.

We all laughed, but I knew that this experience was another keeper. These morsels of wisdom were far better than any sermon I’ve ever heard.

During a brief visit with my 14 year old grandson, he described his efforts to build a demo derby car from spare parts. I know very little about cars and nothing about demo derby ones, but his face beamed with excitement at the possibility of telling me everything I ever wanted to know. How could I refuse?

He explained the kind of paint needed, the type of engine he wanted and the specific tires that he might use. Details included the nuts and bolts holding it together along with a YouTube visual for the demo-derby challenged like his Grammy. I asked questions, he eagerly responded with patience and expertise.

I found myself relishing this moment simply due to the sparkle in his eyes as he shared his passion with me. I knew it was another keeper experience. Although stretched a bit out of my comfort zone, I can talk demo derby with some confidence thanks to Nathanael’s tutoring.

Experience is definitely the best teacher, especially when it’s with your grandchildren. There is absolutely nothing better.