Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We lose our dreams, and that's a bad thing...

Young kids know dreams implicitly. I have spoken to so many social workers that consider this fact a hindrance to determining the appropriateness of a child's home environment because it's hard for kids to articulate reality when they are young. On the contrary, I think it's a blessing. If kids who grow up in environments that place them at risk had to also be vividly aware of this fact, it would be overwhelming.

I remember a therapist asking me a question once during a family counseling session when I was about 7 years old, and all hell was breaking loose in my home... "Sean, what is your biggest problem at home- the problem you would like to change if it were possible?" My answer was that I wished that the clothes I wanted to wear on any particular day were clean; because they weren't always. Amidst the violence, battery and alcoholism that was prevalent in my home during that time, this was a peculiar response, I must say. I can only guess that at the tender age of seven, it just wasn't possible for me to perceive anything more serious than that particular problem from my child's perspective... even though some really bad things were happening. Perhaps I was dreaming, (and for a child I daresay, that just means living,) in a world of my creation; a world where bad things didn't happen and only good things were justified.

As a counselor in a middle school, and at various times in my teaching experience when I have encountered kids who were really down and out, one of my more effective strategies was to pull out their cumulative file and show them their school pictures from their first years in school. I have yet to look at one that didn't represent hope and happiness in the bright face and glowing smile of each child. This could be called a re-framing strategy that I consider to be a version of the crystal ball technique. The questions that accompany this strategy attempt to revisit the state of mind of these kids when the picture was taken seeking understanding about why things have changed. Questions like, "why were you so happy back then?" and "if you could be as happy now as you were then, what would have to change to get that way?"... are the type I would ask, and believe me, the tears flowed quickly and inadvertently many, many times.

What are the circumstances that create the child's dream state of mind? I think it's actually the child's state of mind that creates the circumstances. Children live in a visceral and fascinating world inside their heads that allows them to see the world they believe; not believe the world they see... the world of their dreams, and I think there is tremendous possibility in extending this perspective beyond childhood along the growth spectrum; even into adulthood. At some point we lose our dreams, and that's just profoundly sad because losing our dreams in adult terms is synonymous with lost purpose and possibility. The only thing worse than losing our dreams is losing our tears, but that's another post for another time.

I have noticed that the incident often occurs in middle school. At this point kids are placed in a broader social spectrum; they become more aware of the other kids and how they live their lives. They may be more exposed to the others through visits to their house, playing on sports teams with them or some other extracurricular activity. In whatever context though, the maturation process and expanded awareness of the world around them makes kids reflect on their own reality, and sometimes they don't like what they see, and it's devastating.

What can teachers do? I think we can ensure that our learning spaces are the type that will be adored by kids; magical places in their eyes that provide opportunities to discover, question and explore without fear of scrutiny or failure. They should be places where mistakes are welcome elements of the learning process. After all, if mistakes were the end of the world, nobody would ever learn how to ride a bike. I have been in many classrooms like this, and each one was physically different. It's about the way a place makes you feel, not what the place looks like. We need to make the zeitgeist of our classrooms viscerally endearing to kids; intellectually stimulating from their perspective as opposed perhaps, to ours. We need to tap into their instinctive learning tendencies and not let them fade over time. Is this easy?


When I sit and talk to kids who have been jerked away from their sense of wonderment and possibility so much sooner than most, and they feel helpless and hopeless, it's been a very effective strategy to suggest they return to their place of dreams seeking the purpose and enthusiasm they once realized.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sometimes the path chooses you...

I have written loads about the power of learning people's stories. This spring as my first year as a school administrator wound down, I had the pleasure and good fortune to attend the retirement celebrations of two very honorable and noble men. One is my former District Superintendent, and the other is a friend and lacrosse coaching colleague, and now a former principal. Once again I was reminded what an honor it is to learn someone's story.

I have worked in my District for ten years, the same term that my retiring Superintendent has been in his position. I have known Don to be the epitome of professionalism and commitment in his role as Superintendent, and I have had total confidence in his leadership and guidance. Bob was the principal of the elementary school that my behavior program was housed within during my first five years with the District. I learned a great deal from him about leadership and the art of caring. He also had an incredible ability to use inaction as a form of deliberate action... a skill I have worked hard to develop over the course of the year, (hard for me as a first time administrator wanting to do whatever it takes to the best of my ability in every single situation). Both of these scholarly and hard-working gentlemen have been mentors to me whether they know it or not, but in the context of this post, I want to focus particularly on an element of their retirement celebrations that is resonating with me.

As part of each retirement party event, a historical overview of each man's life before and during their teaching and administrative careers was presented. As I sat listening to these presentations, and watching the slide shows that accompanied them, I became admittedly emotional. I heard things about each man, impressive things, that I had never known before, and it struck an emotional chord with me. In my professional dealings with each of them, I had never known about the personal challenges they overcame to become the people I had come to know. I had not known about many of the amazing accomplishments each had achieved in their lives, or the scope of their talents outside of the educational environment. Hearing about these things for the first time, and being so impressed by each of their respective personal journeys made me wish I had known these things about Don and Bob when I started with the District ten years earlier. At any rate, I know them now, and I am an improved person as a result.

I know that in each man's case, their life journey took them down paths that they may not necessarily had predicted, or even chosen in some cases. I also know that, depending on the situation, they did whatever needed to be done to endure, solve, overcome or perhaps cherish or celebrate the challenges encountered on these paths. This is the mark of  resilient, humble and effective leaders- those who recognize that the path chooses them and understand that the manner in which they walk down it makes all the difference. 

In the hurried and complicated context of our everyday professional lives, it is so easy for really important stuff about people to go unnoticed. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to become aware of some of this stuff about Don and Bob; two honorable men whose mark on teaching and learning has been positively and permanently made, and for that I thank them... and I thank them also for sharing their stories with me.

As a protege and successor to these fine educators, I have been etched by their stories, and reminded that the rewards in teaching and learning far, far outweigh the challenges.

Best wishes Don and Bob.
Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog


learning (49) teaching (45) education reform (29) authentic learning (24) students (23) effective teaching (18) school (18) EduKare (15) educational leadership (13) resiliency (13) creative teaching (11) education (11) educational change (11) perspective (11) 21st Century Learning (10) Glendale School (10) change (10) collaboration (10) school climate (10) school culture (10) support (10) creativity (9) assessment (8) caring (8) culture (8) leadership (8) teachers (8) hope (7) inquiry-based learning (7) learning circles (7) learning stories (7) professional development (7) student success (7) technology (7) technology integration (7) #edchat (6) at-risk kids (6) collaborative teaching (6) empathy (6) pre-service teachers (6) purpose (6) responsive teaching (6) #EduKare (5) Alberta Education (5) Sean Grainger (5) Twitter (5) at-risk (5) engaging (5) integrative thinking (5) mentor teachers (5) public schools (5) teach (5) teacher training (5) Bell Curve (4) beliefs (4) belonging (4) bullying (4) children (4) diversity (4) empathy reboot (4) high-stakes testing (4) learn (4) possibility (4) relationships (4) resilience (4) school leadership (4) student (4) LCU (3) action research (3) child development (3) choice (3) classroom (3) communication (3) community (3) counseling (3) debate (3) dreams (3) duty to care (3) ed reform (3) educators (3) failure (3) fun (3) growboys (3) inclusion (3) inquiry (3) interculturalism (3) kids (3) life-long learning (3) mindfulness (3) nemetics (3) pedagogy (3) professionalism (3) reflection (3) thinking differently (3) transformational leadership (3) understanding (3) #cpchat (2) #ecosys (2) #redcamp13 (2) Bloom's Taxonomy (2) Control (2) Google (2) Innovative Voices in Education- Engaging Diverse Communities (2) Moore's Law (2) PD (2) alternative teaching (2) audience (2) balance (2) behavior (2) behaviorism (2) best educational practice (2) blogging (2) boys (2) bully (2) bully prevention (2) challenge (2) change agent (2) character (2) circles (2) classroom management (2) commitment (2) competition (2) connecting with kids (2) creative (2) development (2) dialog (2) digital technology (2) disagreement (2) edcamp (2) edkare (2) education change (2) effective classrooms (2) etmooc (2) facts (2) feelings (2) formative assessment (2) future (2) goals (2) groupthink (2) growth (2) hope wheel (2) ideas (2) independent thinking (2) interdependence (2) journey (2) listening (2) mastery (2) mindful (2) morphic resonance (2) multiculturalism (2) new teachers (2) opinions (2) opportunity (2) passion (2) personal learning network (2) phenomenological (2) philosophy (2) project-based learning (2) question (2) resilient (2) resolution (2) responsibility (2) self-esteem (2) self-organized learning environments (2) servant leadership (2) share (2) social-media (2) special education (2) standardized tests (2) struggling schools (2) success (2) sympathy (2) teacher (2) teacher welfare (2) trust (2) unconditional love (2) unconference (2) university (2) values (2) vision (2) voice (2) words (2) #LCU (1) #ccunesco2014 (1) #nemetics (1) #speakchat (1) 40 Developmental Assets (1) ATLE 2010 (1) Africa (1) Black Swan (1) Brokenleg (1) Calgary Science School (1) Circle of Courage (1) ConnectED (1) Curate (1) Daniel Durant (1) Dry Island Buffalo Jump (1) FBA (1) Fouth Way (1) Geoffrey Canada (1) Grow Boys (1) Howard Gardner (1) Impact (1) Instructional leadership (1) John Dewey (1) Kathryn Schultz (1) Lao Tzu (1) MIT (1) Michael Josefowicz (1) Nunavut (1) Occam;s |Razor (1) PBL (1) PLN (1) Phoebe Prince (1) Piaget (1) Red Deer (1) SBL (1) SOLE (1) Search Institute (1) Second Way (1) Shankardass (1) TED (1) Tao Teh Ching (1) Vygotsky (1) Wangler (1) aboriginal (1) accountability (1) achievement (1) action (1) actions (1) adversity (1) anger (1) answer (1) applied behavior (1) applied research (1) apprenticeship (1) aptitude (1) aquaintances (1) at risk (1) athletics (1) authentic (1) autonomy (1) badges (1) being wrong (1) believing (1) benchmark (1) blended learning (1) blog (1) borders (1) brain research (1) budget (1) business (1) cdnedchat (1) chaos (1) character education (1) charity (1) child-development (1) clarity (1) collaborate (1) communciation (1) communicate (1) conference (1) confidence (1) conflict (1) connect (1) consciousness (1) conversation (1) cooperation (1) coordinated children's services (1) critical thinking (1) curiosity (1) curriculum (1) democracy (1) destiny (1) developmental (1) differentiated learning (1) differentiation (1) digital citizen (1) digital immigrant (1) diigo (1) dissonance (1) dyslexia (1) education innovation (1) effort (1) emotions (1) enabling (1) endogenous (1) engaged (1) engagement (1) equity (1) ethics (1) evaluation (1) excellence (1) fail (1) faith (1) fate (1) fear (1) feedback (1) feminine (1) finding voice (1) focus (1) friends (1) gender differences (1) gender identity (1) global education (1) goal setting (1) governing body (1) happy (1) hardware (1) healthy (1) heuristic (1) high school (1) higher education (1) homework (1) honesty (1) hop (1) humility (1) iconoclastic (1) imagery (1) imagination (1) improbable (1) inclusive (1) inclusive education (1) indigenous knowledge (1) innovation (1) inspiration (1) instinctual (1) interdependent (1) internalize (1) internship (1) interpersonal (1) intuitive (1) knowledge (1) lacrosse (1) leading (1) leaps of faith (1) learning circle (1) learning disabilities (1) learning disorders (1) learning from place (1) learning goals (1) learning spaces (1) learning story (1) learning styles (1) learning tools (1) lecture (1) library (1) lifelong-learning (1) limits (1) literacy (1) lobby (1) management (1) masculine (1) math (1) medicine wheel (1) men (1) mentorship (1) micro-blogging (1) mindfullness (1) mission (1) mistakes (1) morals (1) motivation (1) navigate (1) negative reinforcement (1) network (1) networking (1) new year resolution (1) objective (1) open education (1) open-source (1) operant conditioning (1) outcomes (1) overcome (1) pass (1) patience (1) polarity (1) positive (1) positive reinforcement (1) positivity (1) positve dissonance (1) postmodern (1) poverty (1) power point (1) practice (1) pride (1) private logic (1) productivity (1) professional organization (1) progression (1) questioning. Socrates (1) rally (1) rationalization (1) rdcrd (1) rdpsd (1) re-frame (1) re-tool (1) reality (1) receive (1) reclaim (1) redcamp15 (1) relative (1) relevance (1) research (1) rest (1) revolution (1) ritual (1) routine (1) scholar (1) scholarship (1) sciences (1) scrutiny (1) self-determination (1) self-help (1) significance (1) silence (1) simple (1) sincerity (1) skate park (1) skateboard (1) smile (1) socialize (1) society (1) software (1) solution-focused (1) speaking (1) sport (1) standards-based learning (1) stories (1) strangers (1) strengths (1) stress (1) student engagement (1) sustainability (1) synergy (1) taking risk (1) talking (1) tangibility (1) targets (1) teaching. learning (1) textbooks (1) thinking skills (1) thought (1) thoughts (1) trans-species (1) transference (1) tribes (1) unconditioned response (1) unconditioned stimulus (1) universal (1) urban gardening (1) urban schools (1) victim (1) visceral (1) wellness (1) wisdom (1) work (1) work week (1) worksheets (1) writing (1)