Sunday, 20 April 2014

I want to be wise

I am at that stage in my life where my goals each day line up fairly well with how I decide to spend my time. Not perfectly of course – there is ALWAYS laundry and dishes. I am a married 60+ woman and did not do the proper significant-other vetting on these topics 40 years ago. 

And, as far as I can tell, there is never enough time to read all the books I want to read.

I chose a kind of semi-retirement to spend time with my grand-daughter and my years have shown me how to do that well, better than I did with my daughter and son. The “new” word describing this is intentional. These are the lessons of parenting we get to improve on when we grand-parent.

Recently, Brain Pickings sent me a piece on Barry Schwartz’s Practical Wisdom. This is an excerpt of the six core qualities of the person endowed with telos that Schwartz and Sharpe outline:
  1. A wise person knows the proper aims of the activity she is engaged in. She wants to do the right thing to achieve these aims—wants to meet the needs of the people she is serving.
  2. A wise person knows how to improvise, balancing conflicting aims and interpreting rules and principles in light of the particularities of each context.
  3. A wise person is perceptive, knows how to read a social context, and knows how to move beyond the black-and-white of rules and see the gray in a situation.
  4. A wise person knows how to take on the perspective of another—to see the situation as the other person does and thus to understand how the other person feels. This perspective-taking is what enables a wise person to feel empathy for others and to make decisions that serve the client’s (student’s, patient’s, friend’s) needs.
  5. A wise person knows how to make emotion an ally of reason, to rely on emotion to signal what a situation calls for, and to inform judgment without distorting it. He can feel, intuit, or “just know” what the right thing to do is, enabling him to act quickly when timing matters. His emotions and intuitions are well educated.
  6. A wise person is an experienced person. Practical wisdom is a craft and craftsmen are trained by having the right experiences. People learn how to be brave, said Aristotle, by doing brave things. So, too, with honesty, justice, loyalty, caring, listening, and counseling. 
Awhile back, I was approach to provide feedback on survey items for the type of program that is so near and dear to my heart. I was flattered because it made me feel “known”. The package arrived and I eagerly opened it. I was a little taken aback by the heftiness, but I thumbed through the forms. Each survey item was stapled to a long feedback form; 49 items in all. As I thumbed, I could feel my jaw tighten and my forehead furrow. I drew in my breath and set them down on my desk. Better get myself into the proper space; I had to pick Anisha up in ½ hour and this would take some time.

Something that has increased with my semi-retirement is my ability to procrastinate. I plunge into stuff I enjoy and leave things I am less enthused about (laundry and dishes and recently taxes). These papers sat a few days and then I touched them again. I had two hours and it seemed a perfect time to begin. Once again I decided to do a read through before writing. I had probably misjudged the nature of the activity and just needed to get my brain to the right spot. As I read, I realized I did not know enough about the program. So I did a little online research – deadly because I went from there to my favorite website to catch up on those ideas I know I will find there and love. Then a quick look at Twitter (there is rarely a quick look at Twitter for me). The time was gone and my work was not done. I fired off some emails to get some more information before I tackled it again.

Now the calendar is beginning to become a factor. The researchers want these back, the Easter long weekend is a week away, my Mom 300 km away is sick and needs help and if truth be told, I don’t really like surveys. 

I examine this feeling about surveys. I remember my days as a classroom teacher administering student surveys for Edmonton Public Schools to my class and filling in the teacher version myself. The teacher edition had, for years, the words "fairly much" as a choice on the scale - it drove me NUTS. I pick at the scab of resentment and displeasure with the results which I knew did not accurately reflect my or my students' “attitudes and feelings”.

So I go online and read about Likert scales and chat with some colleagues. None of this helps. Instead my resent grows (what a useless emotion).

When I know the calendar will allow me no more room, I select a morning time block and plow in – I will just get through them. I hate each item, can’t form any constructive criticism, the time drags and I seem to get nowhere. Why can’t they just use the kids’ journals or talk to them? Why is it not enough for a teacher to say what they think because of what they see? The survey is looking for program support of the boxes of subject areas. 
This is the antithesis of type of learning week-long, site-based programs so effectively do - sending student brains to a deep place of learning where neurons do not follow pathways to brain sections marked math or science or art. Neurons just build connection after connection between the stimuli from the real world and those connections form understanding.

This survey does not get IT!! Man, if I get this distraught it is a good thing they are not asking me to administer it.

I finish while Anisha is napping that afternoon. I know I have let down the folks asking for my “wisdom” but I push the forms in their pre-paid postage envelope and toss it in the mailbox on our way to a cleansing visit of the Muttart Conservatory. The new feature pyramid display has roses and Anisha’s middle name is Rose and we can hardly wait to get there.

Based on the six core qualities of a person endowed with telos, on a Likert scale of 1 indicates no wisdom to 5 indicates wise, I have to score myself 1L

Monday, 31 March 2014

Smiles on their faces

Many of us figure out early the deep wisdom in the old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” I have just run through the mostly unposed photos full of smiling faces that I took during the recent Northlands Farm and Ranch Show. These smiles adorned the faces of kids holding horse shoes, adults answering questions, everyone passing a piece of fiber from a recently sheared alpaca. 9 classes of Grade 4, 5 and 6 students came to spend a day in the Expo Centre during that agriculturally focused business show as Explorers. We call the program How to be an Explorer of the Farm and Ranch Show and it uses the ideas found in Keri Smith’s How to be an Explorer of the World. Agriculture is a concept whose exploration leads to hundreds of current Alberta Education curriculum connections.

Each class spent part the day interviewing and observing in the learning rich environment.  Scheduled time included a chance to interview a Northlands volunteer who cares about agriculture; either because they grew up on a farm and that experience made them who they are today or because they still have something to do with horses or cows. Jessie spoke about urban agriculture. Alice spoke about some of the things that she did not have growing up; electricity and an inside bathroom. Ed spoke from the heart about the cowboy code. Sonia brought a pail with a nipple at the bottom used to feed orphaned calves. John read a cowboy poem he wrote. Murray explained how to begin to make a relationship with a horse.  Allan offered up the complexities of getting a metal shoe attached to a horse’s hoof. And they all answered question after question.

Brain research is telling us that one of the most transformational aspects of human contact and learning in young brains comes during something metaphorically termed “serve and return”. It is related to the deep neuron forming process that occurs when we make eye contact and speak to each other acknowledging we have heard what is being said by responding.

Over those two days I was privileged to observe the joy of learning - for all involved. The students, teachers, parent volunteers, interviewees and most of the people who crossed paths with the classes partnered in the joy of learning. I could recognize it everywhere. No one needed to say a word (although lots of words were being shared). I saw it – in their smiles.

   “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”  Rumi
   “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”  Mark Twain
   “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.” William Butler Yeats
   “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein

This past weekend I read Daniel Coyle’s blog “5 Ways to Nurture Talent” and I have adapted his fifth way (Do: Remember the six-word phrase that matters most - I love to watch you play.) to form my closing thought and cheer to all involved. 

Full of joy-filled gratitude, I say “I LOVE to watch you learn!”

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In the State of Gratitude

I belong to a School of Thirds – most events are 1/3 anticipation, 1/3 experience and 1/3 reminiscing. This approach to life is a very real experience of the dimension of time in our cosmos as past, present and future all in the NOW. 

Last week was my final week of EJ School for 2013-14. Reflecting on the year fills me with gratitude I must voice. Gertrude Stein said “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” 

Ever since I left the more conventional classroom in 2002 for my role leading site-based education experiences, I have toned down my joy to a private revel and quiet thankfulness that I have no year-end progress reports to prepare.  However, I do miss the accumulated satisfaction of accessing the growth and witnessing the learning that 10 months can produce in a collection of students that make up any given class.

I will visit the classes that came to EJ School this year and deliver the glossy Front Pages the Edmonton Journal loving prepared for each student. I will collect students’ comments on things like their biggest surprises from the week, their favorite activities, anything bad that happened and what advice they would give a student coming to EJ School next year. I will get a rush reading through those student evaluations of the program.

But on the planet of Inquiring Minds Edmonton, like most other places in the education universe, we are thinking about next year. At the Greater Edmonton Teachers Convention booth I had the pleasure of connecting with amazing teachers I have worked with in the past. Some of them introduced me to new teachers.  I will be helping a couple of other sites get ready to try the site-based, week-long, inquiry approach and fine tune elements of their programs.

Bringing students into direct contact with the world of journalism has opened my eyes to many things about the nature of inquiry, accurate information and the burgeoning uses of technology. The risk the Edmonton Journal took in opening its doors during this time of dramatic changes for them to a program like EJ School speaks to its deep commitment to the community of Edmonton. Barb Wilkinson and Karen Unland observed the use Linda Hut was making of just one morning a week for her City Hall classes and knew it was good. They have nurtured me these past 2 years and I am so grateful.

I shared classes and experiences with City Hall School and U School this year. I can’t say enough about those chances to collaborate with Linda Hut and Amissa Jablonski. I attended the U School Convocation for our joint class and the experience of watching students at Convocation Hall will be a culminating highlight of my year. I look forward to Linda's Citizenship Fair that celebrates City Hall School's year end.

Brian Dunsmore and the volunteers at CKUA designed a wonderful afternoon of learning for EJ School classes this year.

SAGE (Rachel Tassone and the Senior’s Association of Greater Edmonton) and Kevan Lyons, the Poet of Churchill Square played such an important role in the connection of students to powerful true story.

The Stanley Milner Library and community librarian, Angie Mills took us around the world and into the past with their newspaper collection.

The Marian Centre opened its doors to share its mission with Edmonton’s less fortunate.

The changing downtown of Edmonton was our landscape.

And my biggest thanks goes to the staff of the Edmonton Journal who were so welcoming and forth-coming with students who watched and interviewed them. The Edmonton Journal is more to our community than a source of accurate information.

The brain research says it takes a village to raise a healthy, resilient child. In the past, present and future it is so and in my EJ School village there is a state of gratitude.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Feeding the Writers

Recently, as part of my facilitation of a week of EJ School (Edmonton Journal) I had organized a poetry reading and interview for a class of Grade 6 students with Kevan Lyons, the Poet of Churchill Square. When we finished, I asked them to get up off the floor where they had been sitting for the last 40 minutes spellbound by the formerly homeless poet and go the tables in the Sunshine Café at SAGE (Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton) and write. 

I suggested they could start with “I just met Kevan Lyons…..”

And so, in a matter of a minute they were all seated; quiet, writing; coats and backpacks dripping off their chairs, cafeteria hum around them, friends close enough to touch elbows as they leaned on the small round tables. Quiet, writing. 

After about 15 minutes, I asked the teacher if she wanted to wrap it up since the yellow bus was sitting outside the door to take them back to their school. 
She said “Not yet. They’re all writing and I have students writing that have never sat this way to write all year.” 
Then she took one quiet girl over and read the shy writer’s journal entry to Kevan. They formed a lovely trio, their heads bent into each other, soft smiles and Kevan listened. I had a tear in my eye, really.

Kevan’s message about how writing healed him and helps him suggest a path of healing to others is powerful.
But just as powerful is the experience of watching children carry a blank journal out into the real world, slow down to take things in and sit to write. It is one of the simple but transformation things about a site-based program and I feel privileged every time I am there to witness it.

I was prompted to write this by a blog I read this morning from Deanna Mascle. She says some very interesting things about the waste of precious time preparing for standardized testing. I agree wholeheartedly with her on that topic and most who know me hate to get me started on it. 

But the words that really hooked me came near the end when she said: 
 "I get a little misty-eyed whenever I think about what we have accomplished together and what my students have achieved – ultimately because I remembered to feed the writer as I designed the class, assignments, and activities. Because I remembered to feed the writer, my students have achieved things they never thought possible."
Here, here.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Case for Classroom or Meeting Place

In the last few months the changing circumstances of some of our Edmonton Inquiring Minds sites as well as the possibility of some new ones led to a discussion among site coordinators through email and at meetings around the topic of classrooms on site – from “what would be a dream situation” to “are they even necessary”. 
These days, much of the talk about classrooms is about how to bring the world into 21st century learning spaces through the creative use of technology.  Brain research is showing us that concrete experiences in rich real world activities are actually the neuron synapse way to lay down the foundation of deep learning through connections. But a "box" out-of-the-box can facilitate it! 

So here is the case for a classroom out-of-the-box. 

I discovered early on in my ICE School experience that the space we called a classroom was used mostly as a staging area: a place to hang up coats, stow boots, lunches and backpacks, a spot to get away for a period of time from the distractions of real world work and noise (much of the space in an NHL hockey rink is in almost constant motion), touch some of the interesting artifacts of the game, check out my library of books on hockey, horse and history, eat lunch, access a bathroom, keep a water bottle (there are not many water fountains out in the working buildings of the real world) and leave a few things at the end of the day so they could welcome learners back to the “routine” of another day on the site. Much of the day unfolded somewhere else.

During the development of the ICE School program I realized that the experience of a site based program was to take an education “known” and turn it around (it is all the rage to call this process “flipping”). Spending 5 full days away from school moves students from the “Wow” of arrival to developing the ability to look longer and more deeply and facilitates seeing beyond the first impression. It takes a while to become calm and comfortable and a space to lay down the routine of coming and going plays a grounding role.

In the section titled “The Classroom or Meeting Place”, Campus Calgary/Chevron Open Minds’s generous sharing through Implementing the Open Minds Education Concept in Your Community – a guide states:

       It is necessary (my bold italics) to have a room or space that will serve as a base for the teacher and their students. They need a place for sharing journals, discussions and snacks/lunch, and where they are away from the other visitors and staff.
The following description is the ideal – this isn’t always possible.
·         a colourful, bright space. Classrooms that have a glass wall have been very successful as the public can see what is happening and the students feel more connected to the site
·        in some programs the students sit at tables in five or six groups. Many sites use trapezoid tables that can be rearranged easily into groups or other formations for other users of the space. If the chairs are medium height they can be used by all ages.
·         It’s useful to have a carpeted area so the teacher can have discussion time with the students sitting near her. A white board or easel also is helpful. An overhead projector and LCD projector may also be useful.
·         counter with sink, coffee maker, cupboards
·         coat racks and runner for shoes/boots
·         tables/counters for display of books/artifacts etc.
·         access to washroom facilities

The final words go to the godmother of week-long, site-based inquiry programming, Gillian Kydd. After reading the above she sent me this:

"Made me think back on all the “meeting spaces” I’ve experienced since the program began, from the damp smelly panda theatre at the Zoo which was the first one, to the dark storage closet at Glenbow, to the tiny conference room at the Calgary Arts Centre, to your colourful locker room type space at Northlands, to the small lobby at our local museum, to the old school house with pot bellied stove and minus 25 in Fort Mac, to the round windowed room at the top of the ski jump at COP, to the gorgeous glass wrapped sea to sky views in the OM classroom at The Rooms in St. John’s.
Many of the cramped ones have been replaced but you are right – they are simply meeting places – the real classroom is the world.

The real classroom is the world.