Saturday, February 13, 2010

Education Reform- How then shall we be led?

flickr CC image via bpende

**With the utmost respect, and in response to Aaron Eyler's "Some Things Educators Need to Stop Saying" post (Synthesizing Education Blog) 

With all due respect, (and I don't necessarily disagree with you,) there are many professionals among us who aren't as attuned to the realities of education reform that you allude to. The terminology, (rhetoric as you refer to it,) educators are using to attempt to make sense of the change going on around them is just that; terminology.

I personally appreciate your honesty, and I get the "good fun" element of your post, but in all seriousness, I think you illuminate a much larger and complicated issue in education. You refer to the transparency and lack of substance of statements such as "who wants to leave a child behind?" I agree; this is a feeble statement, however I also believe that our agreement on the feebleness of this statement would not be shared wholely by the rest of the audience who heard it. Here's the rub: teachers NEED to be led. Many, many teachers buy into this sort of 'rhetoric' because our North American education system has left them feeling powerless to think for themselves, be creative and serve their students instinctually. The focus on externally placed standards of practice and curriculum in North America has become so pervasive that teachers have literally lost the ability to think for themselves, and even worse, lost the priveledge of sharing their professional insight with the continental institution of educational planning and policy-making that assigns these controls.

So, although I agree with your tongue-in-cheek commentary on the educational version of stating the obvious, (the 'child-centered classroom' is another favorite of mine,) I really believe that teachers latch onto these statements hanging on for dear life because they have been left feeling under-valued, controlled and manipulated to the point where any statement about education perceived to be well-meaning and designed to influence thought and perspective becomes popular.

I also wholeheartedly agree that it's time to just get on with things in education. However, to do this, a revised form of leadership would suit the task. I share your fondness for integrative thinking, and honestly (perhaps simplistically) this concept is where we need to begin. There have been many reforms, statements, programs, catch-phrases and movements in education... not all of these were, or are unsound. What we need to do is combine what has been good for education in the past with the best of what forward-thinking educators can come up with today, and design our own destiny.

This is possible.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mindfullness...

flickr CC image via Scooter the Photographer

In a deliberate attempt to lead my fifth grade class toward a deeper understanding of discovery, taking risks in learning and being unafraid to make mistakes, I initiated a discussion about mindfullness.

In my classroom, I intend for students to feel an implicit connection to our learning environment; that learning 'just is'... it's what we do, and not 'added-on' to to our lives in a way that we don't control. In order to fully immerse ourselves as a group in the mindful classroom, it's so important that each individual, including myself as the 'principle learner' leading the group, exercise the ability to be in the moment; fully attuned to what's happening as perceived by our human modalities and intuitions.

Mindfully internalizing everything that occurs as part of our minute-by minute day is a deliberate skill I teach to encourage the visceral and positive experience we all should remember about school. Learning is an attitude, a perspective... and in this context, I believe most beneficial to the individual when it evolves into an intuitive process... one that we never, never stop developing, sometimes despite ourselves.

Mastery is a myth.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Personal Learning Stories

flickr CC image via Enokson

As a former special education teacher, I have had numerous opportunities to develop individual education plans (IEP) for students. Like many things special education teachers do for their students, I was left wondering why writing IEP's wouldn't be a good idea for every student. The process of developing a learner profile that addresses learning strengths and challenges, and then the setting of goals to address both seems quite logical, doesn't it? I believe that every student has a story, and I think of that story as containing three main components: the student's past; the student's present and the student's future. In a more specific context for me as the teacher, these components translate into the story I need to learn about (past), the story I need to help write (present) and the story with the happy ending (future).

As I continued to write, and re-write IEP's every year, I realized that an effective plan wasn't just one to guide learning. For me, IEP's took on a life of their own, and I began to think of them as organic and fluid; it was necessary for the IEP's to change and evolve as the students they were written for changed and evolved. I realized that the IEP was really just a story about where the student came from, where the student is 'right now' and lastly, where the student wants to be someday as a result of the learning effort he/she makes.

To effectively support students, I believe that in the context of this personalized learning approach, we have to begin at kindergarten and, pedagogically speaking, consider education as a 13 year learning story. Every student's story would begin with the IEP renamed as the 'Personal Learning Story' in Kindergarten, and this document would be passed on with the student all the way to graduation detailing challenges, goals and most importantly, successes achieved along the way. Consider the assessment possibilities that could be aligned with this form of tangible documentation... a world of possibilities providing much more insight into the individual student than a 13 year compilation of letter grades or percentile rankings.

Above all in education, the student must feel a sense of empowerment and control over his/her learning. We all write the best stories about ourselves; our experiences, thoughts, feeling, actions and words. Let's consider allowing kids to be the authors of their own learning- let's give them the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the process. The result will be a tangibly increased sense of authenticity in our classrooms, and a renewed sense of responsibility for learning on behalf of students.
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