Tuesday, June 20, 2017

High Relationships / High Academics: It takes Unity to Achieve this.

As I went to church this weekend, I listened to the visiting speaker talk about issues that divide many churches today. (Don’t tune me out just yet!) Usually what divides people in churches are a matter of preference and not because it’s absolutely essential. Some of the things that divide churches are the kind of music played, or the version of the Bible used from the pulpit, or whether you’re allowed to have a social drink or not. Yet all of these issues are matters of preference.

He illustrated this by using a diagram such as the one below.

When churches have Low Love Low Truth, they are going nowhere because there is little vision or direction.

When churches have High Love and Low Truth, they become too permissive or passive, even though everyone is getting along, nobody really is taking a stand for anything.

When churches have Low Love and High Truth, they tend to become intolerant and judgmental of others, or very legalistic.

When churches have High Love and High Truth, they embody a balance that allows the church to overlook preferences or differences that matter little to the grand scheme of things because there is a Love for one another and a Love for Truth. These churches grow because there is a unity that thrives pulling everyone in the same direction.

So what does a Sunday morning message have to do with school? If you didn’t grow up in a strict legalistic Baptist church as I did, maybe the relevance is lost on you. But I think there are a lot of similarities in how schools operate. Let’s change a few of the terms first. Instead of Love, let’s call it Relationships, and instead of Truth, let’s call it Academics.

When a school operates in the Low Relationships Low Academics quadrant, they are a struggling school. There is tension or division, and the purpose of learning is lost.

When a school operates in High Relationships Low Academics quadrant, they become too permissive and kids are running the school. There is chaos. Standards are absent to hold students and teachers accountable. Learning takes a backseat in these scenarios. When the relationship is everything often what starts with unity ends in a division because the purpose is unclear.

When a school operates in the Low Relationships High Academics quadrant, they tend to become intolerant and judgmental of others who differ with their opinion or ways of doing things. These schools resist change because they are very set in their ways. They are right so why change. These schools are also very punitive towards behaviours or grades because the relationship piece is of little value and academics are everything.

When a school operates in the High Relationships High Academics quadrant, they embody a balance that allows the school to embrace diversity. Differences of opinion are valued and recognized as preferences. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and express themselves however they feel as long as it is in the best interest of the students learning needs. These schools understand that relationship with one another as staff and students is the key ingredient where learning begins. They realize students learn from teachers who care about them as a person first and know how to help them learn. There’s a balance. As a result, these schools thrive, because they move forward together with a common goal in mind.

So what does that mean for us as a school? The desire is for unity not for uniformity. Uniformity demands that everyone believe the same, or agree on everything. That is not realistic. We strive for consensus with the understanding that some will not be in agreement, but they will still work and support the majority. We need to be in agreement on the Code of Conduct, the TQS, Alberta Education Initiatives, Grassland School Division vision and mission, the Division policies, pedagogical practices, assessment, and lots more. These are the essentials.

However, when schools have developed a negative culture where it is acceptable to be critical of one another based on different preferences, these schools rarely move forward with success. Without unity, schools stall. Student learning takes second place because disunity distracts everyone from achieving what they are there to do. High Relationship, High Academic schools respect each other’s opinions without taking it personally, or it becomes a deal breaker for working together. They talk things out honestly and respectfully rather than meet in the hallways to solicit support for their positions because they have a need to be right.

I’m certain that staff at Bassano School want to be a High Relationship High Academic school. But if we focus on our differences, our focus is on each other. If we focus with unity, our focus is on our students, our school, and our communities. It’s not realistic to think we will always agree on how things should be done, but if we agree to respect each other despite our different preferences, we will remain united and be a strong healthy school. When we disagree with one another, it’s important not complain to one another about something because this promotes disunity. A legitimate complaint followed by solutions directed to the appropriate individuals in a respectful manner promotes unity.

I say this not because I feel that we are divided. Every school has its challenges, and overall I think we are pulling together as a staff. I feel a positive energy shift within our school. I would like for us to keep moving forward with unity and harmony. As we have a few new staff joining us next year, we need to be open to new ideas and suggestions they may bring with them. We need to make them feel welcome and important. I know we will do that because we want to be united and we want to grow as a school.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My Philosophy of Education Starts With Children

From the earliest moments of systematic knowledge acquisition or formal schools, Aristotle classified the pursuit of knowledge into three categories: the theoretical pursuit of truth for truth’s sake, the productive discipline of making things, and the practical discipline of making judgments. Not much has really changed over the years because each of these disciplines suggests that the learner was central to the process of learning as a life-long learner, which subsequently transferred this knowledge into something usable that lead to action and yet guided by principles of what is good for all. Learning from that point forward encouraged the individual to pursue knowledge through inquiry that centred around the constructivist principle attaching meaning to learning outcomes or concepts. But somewhere along the way, education was limited to the elite upper class heavily influenced by the Industrial Age, restricting many from accessing formal learning opportunities.

That was the past. As learning theories have swung like a pendulum over the years, and many repeating themselves, we have moved into the 21st Century, and it is imperative that we base all educational philosophies upon proven theory of understanding and knowing the truth (knowledge) that places the burden of learning squarely on the individual learner.

While we are inundated with all kinds of initiatives and approaches to teaching learning these days, like RTI – Response to Intervention, CRM – Collaborative Response Model, Adaptive Schools, Math for Success, Brain Based Learning, Personalized Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and more, we must keep one thing central, the students. What sometimes gets lost with teachers under the pressure of learning a new approach is the learning itself. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this just good practice around students and learning, or is it a new initiative that will fade into the past like so many have before?” Recently, a new research study released by Oxford University stated that in the next 25 years, 47% of the jobs will be gone due to computerization, machination and robotics. While this might scare us reading this, it is ever more increasingly important to teach students how to learn. It is imperative then to assist our students in the process of being a life-long learner, and when we have done so, we have helped them for life.

In the 21st Century, placing the learner at the centre of all learning experiences needs to be aided by technology, makerspaces, experiential learning, and other ways to engage the learner.

  • Learners need to develop skills, knowledge, and competencies that will benefit them in school and life,
  • With outcomes and standards established, we need to support learners in attaining these outcomes with means other than textbooks and worksheets,
  • Learners are supported in the construction of knowledge that links past and present knowledge with outcomes in meaningful ways through connections to real life,
  • Greater emphasis needs to be placed on literacy and numeracy skills for lifelong learning,
  • Assisting learners in developing learning pathways based on intrinsic motivation that integrate personal values, interests, and goals,
  • Each learner is considered unique, allowing flexibility of where, when and how they are able to learn,
  • Engaging parents as an active and essential role in creating meaningful opportunities for the learner,
  • Supporting teachers in their role as facilitators of learning through professional development and with their Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s),
  • Engage learners through technology connecting them to a world of information,
  • Incorporating technology into the learning experience that embraces creativity as the highest order of thinking,
  • Understanding where students come from and what trauma they may have experience that is impeding their ability to learn.

In the end, it simply comes back to putting kids needs first over those of ourselves as educators. It’s also about treating the students as we wish we were treated as students. When we show respect to students, we create the fertile soil where learning can and will happen. Each student will learn at different rates and by different methods, but in the end, they are still learners, and as a teacher, I have been granted the wonderful opportunity to change lives that ultimately changes their future.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is it FEAR you’re afraid of?

afraid of fear
While mowing my lawn listening to Switchfoot on Spotify, I paused for a second as Jon Foreman sang the lyrics, “is it fear you’re afraid of?” Had to think about that line for a second. How many times are we afraid? Afraid of change. Afraid of living. Afraid of risks. Afraid of fear. Some people live in constant fear. Sad really, when fear takes hold of a heart, driving people to irrational anxiety or worry to the point of not living. I’ve been there myself.

As a child, my parents would send me downstairs to fetch something for them. Being the oldest child, it seemed that responsibility fell to me more often than my siblings. I hated going downstairs by myself. Some people love the isolation and quiet of the basement, but not me. It was one of my greatest fears. I was convinced there were people downstairs just under the stairs ready to grab my ankles through the open stairwell. To make matters worse, the light switch was at the top of the stairs. On more than one occasion, one less than sympathetic family member found it funny to turn the light off while I was downstairs. Fumbling my way through the dark I would clamour up the stairs to find the door locked. I could the hear sniggling siblings on the other side of the door getting all kinds of pleasure at my expense. Fear would rise inside of me intermingled with physical panic causing me to gasp for air. I hated those stairs, I hated that basement, I wanted to hate those siblings.

Years later, my fear turned to full blown anxiety when I found myself working in a group home trying to put myself through college. As much I told myself that I didn’t need to be afraid of those kids, my irrational fear could not control the thought patterns I had trained my mind to think. I felt so out of control and afraid. It took a lot of reading, self-reflection, journaling, and talking to finally change those patterns.

That was over 30 years ago. Over the years, I have used my weaknesses and failures as a means to empathize with my students in the classroom. As teachers, Parker Palmer reminds us that we “try to teach to their fearful hearts” so they can be freed up to learn and change their hearts. How many of our students struggle to come to school each and every day? Fear is fear, irrational or not. It still bottles people up limiting them from really living. Nothing drives me crazier than watching unsympathetic and uncaring individuals ignorantly go about their daily affairs, so wrapped up in their selfish lives, oblivious of people suffering from fear. And even worse, when it’s kids who are suffering!

It takes very little for us to smile and say hello. It takes very little to stop and engage in conversation. It takes very little to give of our time to make another feel of some importance or significance. It takes very little in comparison to a lifetime to stop and listen to the heartbeat of a child’s soul echoing its sad refrain. Yet if it takes so little, what stops so many of us from giving a little of ourselves to ease the child’s fearful suffering.

I think truth be told, many of us have yet to master the fear we have within ourselves. We are still afraid of fear. We are afraid to die, we afraid to live, we are afraid to fail, we are afraid to succeed, we are afraid to lose, we are afraid to win, we are afraid of change, we are afraid things staying the same. The list goes on. But we downplay the power fear has over us when we don’t acknowledge how much it controls us.

“As soon as our own safety is threatened, we tend to grab the first stick or gun available, telling ourselves that our survival is what really counts even if thousands of others are not going to make it. Aren’t we so insecure that we will snatch at any form of power that gives us a little bit of control over who we are, what we do, and where we go?

“I know my sticks and guns. Sometimes my stick is a friend with more influence than I; sometimes my gun is money or a degree; sometimes it is a little talent that others don’t have; and sometimes it is special knowledge, or a hidden memory, or even a cold stare. I will grab it quickly and without much hesitation when I need it to stay in control. And before I realize it, I have pushed my friends away.” Henri Nouwen.

I am not afraid to say that I still live in fear, but I have acknowledged it, talked it through with loved ones, embraced a growth mindset that doesn’t feel shame for being afraid. I may still be afraid of fear, but I don’t let it stop me from living. I use fear to keep me alert to the dangers in life, not to force me into hiding. I don’t keep it all bottled up inside anymore. I’m honest about what it did to me. I’m not ashamed of it because I’ve had to push passed it. I allow myself to feel things and not become so detached and calloused. I let myself be human. So, yes, it is FEAR that I’m afraid of. Truth be told, we’re all afraid. But can we all admit it?

Karen Thompson Walker adds some of her thoughts on what fear can teach us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Dared to Gaze Off into the Sunset…

How often do we fail to stop and appreciate what we have in life? We get so mired in the negative. So much is lost of time because we fail to adjust our attitudes. If you were to ask me how I was doing a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have replied with much positive, because all I could see, feel, breath was the noxious negativity that I found myself in. Every time I opened my mouth I hated what I heard myself saying. I was frustrated and angry. I could choose to remain in this state of mind, or I could lose myself in the beauty of nature and space to regain perspective.

So for the past three weekends, we have gone camping. A time to get away and reflect. A time to read and escape into a world of fiction and fantasy. A time to rest and get away from the demands of life. A time to refresh and feed my soul. A time to heal from all the hurtful things hurled at me. A time to forgive and release the bitterness that encompassed my being.

And then on one of these camping excursions, a sunset rests gently into that goodnight that reminds you that everything will be okay. The winds still. The glassy mirroring water shimmers tranquillity for those willing to stop and dare to gaze off into the sunset to lose themselves for the next few minutes. Peace floods my soul. I am in awe and wonder of such beauty that the toxic tentacles evaporate into oblivion unable to maintain its hold on my heart. I want to feel love, not hate. I want to care despite the hurt and pain of rejection and failure. I am free to love because I choose to let the negative go.

May you dare to gaze off into the sunset and find some peace too! 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Love and Learning Go Hand in Hand

I was reading this morning from 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. Not to get all spiritual on everyone, I was, however, drawn into thought about the centrality of love with regard to schools and learning. As a teacher, if all l focus on is covering the curriculum outcomes without a love for the student, or a care for their situation in life, I may get results, but not near the results I would with love.

Let’s break this down. I’ve copied the passage that so many of us are familiar with from the numerous summer weddings we have attended. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not brag, it is not puffed up, it does not behave inappropriately, it does not seek its own way, it is not provoked, it keeps no account of wrong, it does not rejoice over injustice but rejoices in the truth; it bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. Love never fails.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4–8‬ ‭TLV

The teacher that loves the students, from a place so deep that cares for their being and the whole child, gets results beyond the curricular outcomes. That teacher puts the students needs before their own. That teacher is patient with all the frustrating and repeating negative behaviours of the student. That teacher shows kindness in return to rude comments and doesn’t keep a record of wrongdoings by the student. That teacher doesn’t think themselves better than any students but is grateful for the opportunity to positively influence and change a life. That teacher doesn’t dig in their heels against change because they want their own way, they put students first. That teacher doesn’t label students lazy when the student underperforms, instead, they look for ways to engage the student and build a healthy trusting relationship where learning can happen. That teacher embraces their own failures as well as the students so that they can both learn together. That teacher believes that students can learn and bears that responsibility to ensure every student is given that opportunity. That teacher possesses a hope that every student will grow up with a passion for learning and growing. No matter what happens in and out of the classroom, that teacher endures all things until retirement day still believing in students and wanting the best for them. Why? Because that teacher knows that love never fails.

I was talking to a friend and colleague recently, and he shared a story about going into a Principals office and being the question, “Whose the most important people in the school?” He replied, “The students.” The principal made the buzzing sound you hear when you give a wrong answer and said, “Wrong, the teachers are the most important.” I’m saddened by that principal’s perspective, because when we as teachers, administrators, and staff put students and their needs first, we all benefit in the end. In my school, students are the most important. Why? Because I love my students. I want them to learn. Love and learning go hand in hand.

You think about that.