Friday, May 28, 2010

Those blindly insulting things we say to others...

flickr CC image via jerine

One of the most insulting things we say to each other is "I know how you feel." Not one of us can ever truly know how any other of us feels about anything.

Even those of us who have shared a similar, or perhaps even the exact same experience... people's perspectives are as unique as their fingerprints. The variables at play in an individuals mind relative to the emotions surrounding their experiences are infinite... and different for all of us.

When we say " I know how you feel" to someone, the tacit message we're sending is your emotions aren't so deep and personal that I can't understand them... your emotions aren't complicated. To someone who is experiencing emotional jeopardy, someone who may not even understand their own feelings at the time, this is not a helpful message.

We can be empathic, or even sympathetic when necessary, without implying we know how others feel. It's a matter of how we say it... instead of saying "I know how you feel," why not simply say, "I hear what you're saying, just tell me how I can help." Doing so validates the emotions involved and acknowledges that although people can't truly know how others feel, they can still be completely available to those in distress.

In the complex arena of our human emotions, it is critical that we take responsibility only for our own feelings... we don't need to understand how others feel, we just need to be present and let them know we are completely willing to unconditionally share their feelings without judgement or comment.

Nobody can make us feel anything. Our feelings are only ours, and we alone are responsible for them. Don't take responsibility for the feelings of others... just be there when they're feeling them.

Education needs reform- not revolution

flickr CC image via Wildebeast1

I hear teacher-types speaking about education reform a lot, and this is good, however it seems to me that the more vocal so-called reformists among teachers aren't really reformists at all; they're revolutionists.

Reform means to put or change into an improved form or condition; to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses. In education, this should be a perpetual process. Education reform should be contextualized as a process of continuous improvement that doesn't include an end to the means; it should be a wagon we jump on, but never jump off.

Revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time. Revolution connotes radical change; a shift in power. We don't need a shift in power within education. We need a perspective that understands reform as a more viable and achievable alternative. Reform would be better applied as a shift in paradigm without altering the fundamentals of the system. We don't need a wholesale overthrow of the education system... educators need simply to adopt an attitude that seeks to perpetually improve the system as it stands.

There is nothing so sacred that it should be considered invulnerable to change defined as improvement. It's all about context. If teachers were to perceive change as a positive process, (a constant that we embrace as opposed to fear,) one targeting perpetual, incremental improvements to everything we do, I fail to see how this could be bad for teaching and learning.

On the contrary, revolution generally leads to conflict. Fueling revolution is the desire for power, and power struggles are characterized inevitably by adversarial confrontation. There is no issue within education that can be more effectively addressed through the quest for power than it can through the quest for improvement.

Teachers- there are no emergencies in education. It's not about us; it's about teaching and learning, and we should always be aspiring to improvement in both contexts. I think we should understand change as an asymptote process... one that perpetually approaches the perfect state, but that will never achieve it. There is always some element that can be improved, however precisely. Otherwise, once we get to our preferred state, we've already begun to think of the next preferred state. There is always something to refine, no matter how small.

We don't need radical thoughts leading to revolutionary actions seeking power over the teaching and learning process. We do need rational and reflective thoughts leading to reformist actions seeking constant improvement of the teaching and learning process.

I can't wait to hear from the reformists on this one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

There are no borders in the mind of a child...

flickr photo via satguru

"What if" ... I love to say these words. Saying these words takes me back to the days of carefree childhood where everything was possible, limited only by the bounds of my creativity. These two words, and whatever they are followed with, make up every bit of future we create; good and bad. This is the most creativity inspiring phrase I know.

A child's mind is a world without borders where all is shared... kids are so mindful, so attuned to their limitless imagination... sharing their thoughts with each other seems an automatic response. Kids just blurt out whatever is on their mind when they play their 'make believe' games. Just watch a group of kids playing sometime so they don't notice you... every bit of good, and every bit of bad is ultimately shared with the group; it's brilliant. They all benefit from each other's wonderment, but also by sharing their pain, frustration, confusion or any other negative element of their thoughts. The bad stuff ultimately gets distributed to the point of dilution... each member of the group takes on a bit of the pain so nobody has to endure it all, and then, with their minds in overdrive, they begin to construct the next bit of fun.

Imagine this... what if there were no borders in the real world? Perceive a world where we all benefit from good, and where bad is diluted through shared distribution so nobody has to tackle it alone... a world without borders. Some may dismiss this as pie-in-the-sky ideology, but at the risk of altruism, just think about it for a bit.

I have thought about this so many times. We could share all the good, all the richness of each other's newly exposed wonders. At the same time we could dilute those debilitating elements of the real world like poverty, conflict, hunger etc, understanding that sharing the bad allows us to take collective responsibility for all of it... to spread it so thin that its effect is neutralized.... increase good, dilute bad. 

If the adult citizens of the world could tap into their childhood mentality (something we seem so sadly to lose as we get older and begin to believe we can control things by creating limits and borders) the entire human race would benefit from a consciousness that produces a mindful distribution of all that is good, and a willful watering down of all that is bad. It seems to me that when we draw lines in our mind, we are immediately stifled; possibilities are lost. When we draw lines on a map, the same thing happens... we become geographically stifled, less willing to learn from others; to experience their culture and everything good within it, and less confronted by the ills that plague others until we become comfortably ignorant inside our own teflon-wrapped section of our world.

The world is growing and shrinking at the same time. Through technology advances and our growing ability to access every corner of the divided-up world, we are presented with glorious opportunities to harvest consciousness and be more attuned to each other's purpose, which ultimately reduces the perceived distance between us. The cyber-world is much more child-like than I think we even realize... open-source technology is very much like the open-source thinking of children- it's natural; it's an automatic response to the world's desire to know and share information, challenges and ideas... and it's limited only by the bounds of our imagination.

The only thing holding us back from an open-source world are the borders we've created to close it... arguably an act of human nature that has precipitated a lion's share of our world's conflict and pain since the beginning of time. Like so many other lessons we become blind to with age, if we could reacquire the unfettered and border-less nature of children's thought, perhaps the borders of our adult world would become more open, and far less damaging.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unconditional teaching- be ready when a student chooses you...

flickr CC image via RachelLovesToLaugh

 "The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for." - Bob Marley
I've spent a considerable amount of time during my career working with kids from at-risk environments. I say from at-risk environments purposely as opposed to kids at-risk because in the vast majority of cases, these children have had absolutely no part in putting themselves at-risk... they haven't chosen to be that way. Risk in the social-emotional, behavioral, economic, mental or any other all fall in the domain of the adult. Sadly, but undeniably, when adults are experiencing risk, the environment that results will affect the kids exposed to it.

I have met and worked with hundreds of resilient kids who have found ways to endure, and overcome these risk environments. The overwhelming majority have done this by seeking and depending on responsible adults to support their effort. Regarding the most overwhelming problems facing kids today, I would go out on a limb and say that it would take the rarest of individuals who could overcome them alone. We have to be ready when a child chooses one of us as the responsible adult he thinks will be able to help.

Often, the at-risk environments these kids experience include situational violence that can be hard to displace; even when they aren't directly threatened by it. In school, whether through their actions, feelings or words, these kids will typically be perceived as the more violent variety, and this is off-putting to many who work with them. However, besides the generalized violence we see in these kids, what if there was a deliberate purpose to their presentation?

I believe that many of the most adversarial kids in school are the ones that need our help the most, and they're also the ones who have developed an ingenious strategy to filter the proverbial wheat from the chafe, so to speak. Kids who know pain, know how to wield pain... so that's what they do. They do this because they want to determine, very simply, who will take it and still be there the next day to do it all over again- they do it to find out which teachers believe they are worth suffering for.

We are always hardest on those who we're closest to because we feel safe that they will stick with us. We know that their unconditional love is displayed through a lack of judgment, acceptance of our faults and through a willingness to share our pain holding hands together toward a better future.

Next time a student is making your day miserable, ask yourself why because it just may be that you're the one he wants to believe he's worth suffering for.
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