Being together

Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life. Isaac Bashevis Singer (via nezua)

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Yesterday I commented on Kelly Hines’ post Core Beliefs about my own core belief that learning happens in community.

Today I found this beautiful sentence in  Michael Doyle’s post Puddles:

When one wanders away from one’s usual world, it’s good to have company.

I remember how Meg Wheatley’s words created a shift in me when I first read them a few years ago, that conversation is the natural way we humans think together (from the book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future).

So what does this all have to do with my job as a teacher?

Learning can be about wandering away from one’s usual world, I think that good learning must. When we are learning new ideas we are changing our cognitive framework.

Imagine, we have the innate ability to change our thinking processes, biologically.

While this is happening, especially if it is with a paradigmatic shift in our thinking and beliefs, it is not only good to have company, I think it is necessary.

There are certain states that people need to feel they are in for learning (or change) to be able to happen – a sense of belonging, of safety, of worth. As teachers, we don’t always know if our students experience those states outside of our classroom (though we can sometimes guess based on the behaviours that we see in it!). A big part of my job is to create an environment that encourages these states to be. Not only for students in my classroom but for my colleagues in theirs as well.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

I’m not talking lovey-dovey group hug, you are so special all the time kind of support. I just mean good solid, I know you are here for me and I am here for you and we will be honest kind of support. The kind of support that allows for conflict – the best learning often happens through it.

The support that we as teachers and that our students as co-learners can give each other is vital for learning (change) to happen.

I think of the hard-as-nails student who, in June, wrote a personal reflection on how she had changed over the year. She sobbed openly throughout the hour or so she took to write, shaking her head no when I asked if she wanted to write somewhere else.

Sometimes it can be as basic as just being together that allows us to take the risks we need to take to change how and what we learn.

Blooms Digital Taxonomy: My Thoughts

[cross-posted at 09/10 ~ Thinking Forward]

Concept map for Bloom’s digital taxonomy. Developed by Andrew Churches of Kristin School in Albany Auckland, New Zealand. Click image for source.

Hmmm… not too sure I like the title. I’d just call it revised again, or updated, or something along those lines. It is a taxonomy that is updated to reflect current reality. It incorporates all modes of learning, not only the digital. Right?

Actually, on 2nd look I see that it emphasizes the digital in the descriptors as well as the information document this accompanies. Why the division of digital from all other learning? I’ve written about the problem(s) of separating the digital from other literacies before:

em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble or Hesitancy and “digital literacy”

And that writing still rings true to me.

As teachers we do need to teach students how to know, understand, and do. We need to teach them how to organize the increasingly messy amount of information around them, how to think critically, how to collaborate, and how to create based on all of those skills.

I plan on teaching these skills regardless of the tools they use to get there. Mind maps can be made with Dabbleboard, with masking tape and paint, or with a pen on the back of an old envelope. Heck, they can be made with a finger in the dirt. But the concept of organizing thought, either individually or collectively – stands way above the decision process over which tool to do it with. In fact, I have seen groups get so bogged down in the tools (tools that aren’t available but they wish they were, tools that don’t work, tools they don’t know properly, tools from home that aren’t compatible with school tools, etc…) that they lose their purpose altogether.

We can also model these skills. Students know I have a blog where I write about my teaching in order to improve it. They know I use different digital organizing tools. They know I collaborate with educators all over the world. They also see me calling other teachers into the classroom for advice/feedback/opinion/whatever. They see me talking with their parents so we can collectively reach our goals. They see me taking days off for professional development, so I can go meet with other teachers to improve our practice.

While I appreciate the addition of new verbs and conditions for learning in Andrew Churches’ taxonomy,  I still think the title and information document puts the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. As long as we keep our emphasis on the learning outcomes, the tools we use to get there can be varied.

They do not need to be digital.

Alternative Schools

Waiting to see what the new year brings us, like at a starting line, so many factors contribute to success - including being prepared to run the race.

Waiting to see what the new year brings us, like at a starting line, so many factors contribute to success - including being prepared to run the race.

I work in an alternative school. Actually, it’s an alternative program within a large school. We have a closed off area of the building with a separate entrance and run by a slightly different schedule – we don’t hear the bells and are just fine with that!

I am completing my first year here and am excited about continuing next year. What makes this program so exciting for me after 13 years of teaching? I believe it has to do with a few things, the biggest being the heightened sense of entanglement with my students’ learning.

There are an increasing amount of alternative programs across North America. Each one is different. They have to be because one of the purposes of an alternative program is that it is tailored to the needs of the learners within it. Though each school is different, studies show that they have basic elements in common (Boss, 1998; Johnston, Cooch & Pollard 2004; Quinn & Poirier, 2006) :

1. A focus on changing the educational approach, not the student.
2. A belief that all students can learn with high expectations for learning.
3. Teachers and administrators are caring leaders.
4. “Low adult-student ratios in the classroom are considered integral to successful outcomes” (Quinn & Poirier, 2006)
5. Ongoing PD for teachers in the areas of alternative learning environments and factors, as well as communication with students and families
6. Relationships at all levels are key – they are positive, trusting, and caring
7. Students are able to create a solid connection with an adult who believes in their success.

In our program, our class sizes are small. This year our 3 classes ranged from 13 to 18 students. We interview students who are recommended to the program and each and every one talks about the distractions of a large classroom, the need to connect with teachers who explicitly care about their success, the need to learn outside of the box.

Things will change a bit next year. We will have a new head teacher who has never taught in an alternative environment before. We are meeting today to talk about our vision for the program. I’m writing this post to remind me of key factors, what needs to be in order to do the right thing by these kids. They only deserve that – to be done right by.

Boss, S. (1998). Learning from the margins: The lessons of alternative schools.

Johnston, C., Cooch, G., & Pollard, C. (2004). A Rural Alternative School and Its Effectiveness for Preventing Dropouts The Rural Educator 25 (3), 25-29.

Quinn, M. M., & Poirier, J. M. (2006). Study of effective alternative education programs: Final grant report. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

Reflections on a PhD

Dave Sherman recently posted an interesting reflection on higher education called PhDo or PhDon’t? He considers pursuing a PhD but questions his motivations.

Convincing ourselves it is a good idea! Cartoon by Matthew Henry Hall. Click to view source.

Convincing ourselves it is a good idea! Cartoon by Matthew Henry Hall. Click to view source.

It stirred up some of my own stuff that has been lying under the surface lately around my own education. I went back to school 11 months ago, and I am questioning that decision. For real. Here is the comment I wrote in response.

Very timely post for me. I am in the first year of a PhD program and am re-evaluating if it is really what I want to do. Am I doing it because I like the idea of it? or because it is right for me? Not sure.

I do know that I work full time, with challenging students (which ones aren’t, really?) at a high school from 7 to 5 most days, and study part-time. Between those 2 things I do not have much time for anything else. Luckily I do love teaching and learning! But there is little balance with other activities (exercise, painting, personal reading, family…).

Also, I am finding the whole methodological approach of the PhD program I am in to be …. ugh. I am not interested in stats. Really. I am not interested in isolating variables, in considering things in isolation from anything else. I am interested in uncovering stories and relationships and I do not think that can be done in isolation. So maybe what I need to do is look for another program, one where I will feel more at home.

So…those are my 2 cents. Consider work/life balance, and consider the program that is the right fit. That’s where I am now. Luckily I go to school in Canada, where the fees are not outrageous, so I can afford to spend some time figuring out where I fit.

Whatever choice you make, make it right for you.

So. How do I take my own advice? Where do I go from here? These are questions that I am left with. Jon Becker wrote about the difference between the Ed.D and the PhD in his comment to Dave. Perhaps an Ed.D is where I need to look. Or perhaps I need to look outside of Education.

Things I know.

Oddly, though I am working in a new program and in the first year of a PhD, I feel stagnant. What the heck is up with that?

Lessons from a baby giraffe

I wonder if my students – 15-18 year olds – will find this as wondrous as I?

They didn’t know she was pregnant until they saw some hooves poking through.
It’s amazing, the things that go on and we don’t even know they are happening.

The mother licks the baby clean, caring for it, making sure it is healthy, then kicks it to help make it strong so it can survive.
Love isn’t all softness and comfort.


home page image from the Guardian.