Community Conversations: Education

 

This year I have decided to take charge of the plans I’d like to see completed, rather than just talking about how I want them to happen. As an educator and parent I see our current public education as a system which has good intentions but many holes through which many students continually fall. Rather than just continuing to research and plan on my own, however, I’m reaching out to my community.  If you have a moment – consider being part of this conversation – the more perspectives, the better able we will be to move forward toward providing education in effective and meaningful ways. Let’s change the culture of the educational community – maybe change or redirect the focus – and at very least, have a fantastic conversation.

If you received this via email, no need to respond twice, I am posting here to reach people who might be interested, but to whom I might not have talked previously. 🙂

Thank you!

Dear Friends,

   Many of you know that I am interested in the prospect of opening a school. I have begun preliminary research into how to go about starting a school and have also begun to outline what educational goals the school might have, and how it will fulfill needs not currently addressed within public education (as I have experienced it). While all this planning is well and good, I recognize that education systems are not something that one person can plan and change or create, but a system which  – because it should create and support community flourishing, also requires community involvement.
   So, I write to you as a part of my community and as people who care about education as educators, parents, community members, and friends. Using digital communication at this point, because it is the best and fastest way to contact the greatest amount of people, I ask you to please respond by answering the attached poll which will let me know whether this conversation is one in which you would be willing to entertain and engage.
Also, if you know anyone who may be interested in discussing education, please feel free to pass this or my contact information along.
Thanks so much friends!
Rebecca
Advertisements

Sensory overload

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rose colored world where I live.

Daily rhythm

dishwasher

laundry machine

-fingers tapping keys –

And the smooth, vibrato sound of molasses dripping from a muted horn.

A  minor seventh barely resolved

A minor movement of fingers and breath.

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rooms, in the space in my mind

Where I dream and remember and strive and forget

Waking only to dream again.

Words written and removed

pour forth like laughter

like tears

Making sense only to the one who pours

forth life into death and grace into darkenss

And light at the end of the day.

The twilight passes quickly here

rose colored world and rooms aside.

Darkness tinged with too-low lights

stars lost in the artificial glare, moonlit

darkness comfortable and quiet

but the darkness cannot stay.

 

 

Mission: Mindset

Discussions in the current education sphere have a huge focus on student mindset as a gauge for student motivation and eventual success. Given the research presented by Carol Dweck about Growth vs. Fixed mindset, and the additional research by Angela Duckworth on mindset and grit as a source of intrinsic motivation for students, teachers of all grade levels have begun to implement growth mindset strategies in their classrooms. These are great strategies that encourage focus on progress rather than perfection, gained understanding rather than perfect scores, and overall learning as a continuous spectrum of possibility rather than a means to an end. In my own classroom, I have engaged growth mindset strategies from the beginning of the year. I have attempted to have students make and gauge progress in various goals set both by myself and by each individual. I have encouraged students to adopt the motto that practice makes progress, not perfect, and I am constantly encouraging students not to compare themselves to each other, but instead to each student’s individual standard – somewhat of a personal record for English class goals. I will say now, however, that I feel that I am failing – losing battle before it is begun because the Education system as it is currently set up, does not recognize progress, but perfection.

First, I would like to define that I am not talking about my school not being supportive, nor individual classroom spaces nor other schools nor districts, but the entire system as it moves forward from Elementary to Secondary to Collegiate level study and the process by which students are passed through the various levels of this system. My school and district actually encourage growth mindset and attempt to instill the idea of lifelong learning and knowledge seeking in each student as he/she grows up in the district. However, as Educators, we are hamstrung by the need to grade students. Not only at quarter or progress report, not only on big exams and higher level work, but on everything that they do in a classroom. Grades are a symbol of success and not progress for most students, and for many students entering Middle and High School, they have never received an A-F grade and do not attach any progress related value to these symbols, but instead recognize a D or F as their inability to understand something (for some, a C), and an A, B, or C as a symbol for their success in a subject. Could a student start out receiving a D and move forward throughout the year to gain an A within the same subject – theoretically yes, however, most grading systems are cumulative and so, rather than receiving an at the end of a quarter because they’ve made progress in a particular subject, students receive a lower grade that has been averaged with their original scores in that class. The end grades in a specific subject, then, reflect not what the student knows at the end and is therefore not a real reflection of how they’ve progressed or their abilities in that subject when those grades are passed along to the next grade, school, or college.

So, this is my struggle and my question to you friends –  If you ever get the chance to speak with an educator who values growth mindset as a strategy in his/her classroom – or maybe you are one of these educators, I would like to know this: How do you balance growth mindset with grades and reporting grades not only to the student, but to his/her parents and other teachers?

I have a vague idea that perhaps we are beginning to better understand how the young mind works and grows and how mindset affects students academics as well as lifelong learning, perhaps we need to adopt a system of grading and goal setting that aligns with those ideas. If, for example, we replace grades rather than have a cumulative system of reporting, wouldn’t that give a better picture of how far students have progressed rather than averaging their not-knowing with their knowing?  Anyway – Saturday musings, I’d love your thoughts.

November Darkness

Well, it finally happened.  I guess it was bound to happen at some point in my blogging life. I finished a post. I kind of loved it, and when I hit published, all words disappeared and seem un-bring-back-able. I’m a little sad, so this may not be nearly as clear as what I had hoped, but here goes:

IMG_3187.jpg

November’s darkness is comforting. I awake each morning to darkness and enjoy the feel of my the cold floor as my feet touch ground. I enjoy the quiet darkness. It gives the morning a feeling of stability, a blanketed world, safe and serene. It is a little unnerving since daylights savings time, however, to leave the house as the light is fully out. Low but brilliant, it lights up the damp greens and yellows, the orange and rusts. All of the light mixing beautifully in the wintering sun that seems so close sometimes, but feels so far away. The insane similarity of standing still on a cold morning, peering through a stained glass window and expecting the yellow light to be warm when it kisses my face.

November feels like insanity. Not a negative madness that is unstable, but more of an unrequited optimism which is never negated, but never fulfilled. Not the definition you might find in a dictionary, but more of an insanity often attributed to Einstein, and sometimes Mark Twain – that insanity that is a doing something over and over again and always expecting a different outcome. The world of November feels cold and steady, as if each attempt at something new is met with the dirge of day to day, and any expectation of momentum is lost on seemingly unchanging, frustratingly solid work, school, education, and life in general. Like beating repeatedly on a granite wall with a soft ad pliable mallet meant for bells. The granite, as expected, doesn’t give to such a weak, albeit steady, attempt at change. The mallet may break before the rock does.

This sounds as though I’m discomforted or depressed in the darkness of November, but in reality, I find it comforting. Instead of being frustrated and losing hope that change will ever happen, I feel as though November is a darkness meant for building strength and stability – for providing a safe place to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail again, without ever losing hope. I’m comforted by the closeness of the dark, the softness of the sun, and the beauty of the colors. I have hope in the repetition.

So, as I return to my November: A month for me of writing a novel (#nanowrimo) in which I am desperately behind word count, of beginning to plan for speaking to adults as well as students, of attempting stability at home and at work, of planning for the quickly arriving holiday season, of reflection and refocus in the midst of failure and hope, I’m just going to keep swinging this mallet. A mallet meant to evoke long lasting tones that fill the darkness and space inside our souls. Perhaps somewhere in the granite, I’ll strike that bell and the ground beneath my mallet will initiate the earth quaking ring that resounds in my soul, and the dark world will reverberate with the change.

Keep swinging friends, and take comfort in the waiting and foundations being built in the darkness.

Defining Individuality

As I planned to teach John Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Mice and Men”, this year, I struggled with how to approach the desperate, devastating and disgusting story therein. A story in which, to his credit, Steinbeck accurately depicts the struggle of human kindness and cruelty, and the thin, often broken, line that runs between the two. I am not a Steinbeck fan (I know. How can I even claim to be Californian?!), but I do recognize his genius ability to transport a reader directly into the real life of people living in the Great Depression. I do value this in his writing, because I think it absolutely necessary that people understand not only the world around them and the people with whom they will come into contact, but also have at least the ability to sympathetically and with real empathy connect with the stories of people throughout time. Even with this admission, I struggled to plan on teaching this novella to 14-year-old kids who, up to this point in their lives, might assume a happy ending to a novel and/or may have experienced loss or grief which the novel might stir up within them. Thank goodness for teachers who have come before me. I found on the New York Times Teaching Blog a Text to Text lesson focused on the friendship themes in “Of Mice and Men” and how a student might compare those themes to his/her own life.

Through this tool, I was able to teach “Of Mice and Men” with a focus on the theme of friendship and more specifically, as proposed in Todd May’s article “Friendship in a Time of Economics”, the economic value our current society places on friendship. As I annotated and read, however, the truth of May’s article was so convincing that I, after drawing circles around phrases, hearts and exclamation points in the margins, and attempting to write a little of my own thoughts on friendship. I placed all of my notes and pens on the empty passenger seat of my car. To reassure you, the car was’t moving, by the way -I was just taking advantage of the hour that my son spends at jazz band once a week and working in the cul-d-sac in my car) In any case, I put all of my lesson planning down and called my good friend.  A true friend, according to the article, with whom I hadn’t actually spoken since January.  It was such a restful and renewing conversation. We laughed and shared what is happening in our lives right now and made some near future plans.  Just a short phone call allowed some frenetic energy to just let go – made me pause and ask myself, why do we make ourselves – as a society/culture – too busy to enjoy each other’s company; to enjoy life as individuals in community.

Fast forward a month and I have read the Todd May article 6 more times (2 times in each English 9 class), and while the need to stop and recognize our true friendships is still clear, his identification of friendship in economic terms becomes what I can’t stop thinking about.  As I question not only our economy of friendship, I apply the same idea to the system of education in general…

…My entire mind seems wrapped lately in the question of education. Why we do education? Why it is done the way we do and is it achieving the end hoped for.  After my last two posts on this subject, I have been writing back and forth with a friend who has also questioned public education and after participating as an educator is now homeschooling her brood. She made a point about the goals of standardized education which communicated beautifully my up til then, only visceral reaction to the system as of late.  She claimed that while attempting to achieve an education that generates responsible and independent thinkers, the standardized system is completely undermining it’s own goals.  I wholeheartedly agree, individuality cannot be standardized – learning targets and goals and standards within a system define what a person “should” know or learn or be – and this is not individuality.

Our current education system has economized education, placing a high value on some students and a low value on others.  Not only students are assigned economic values, but the education they are receiving is economized.  Some subjects promise more success in college, some in career, the overall message that students and teachers receive is that while there are many pathways to achieving the standardized goals, the goals are the same for everyone, and if you are not attempting to reach those goals, you are considered “less than”.  This rhetoric of “not enough” exists in every aspect of our lives, and I propose that we change the rhetoric.  Let’s be the rebels we always relate to in the stories and movie – innovative in non-conformist ways. Self-reflective and analytical thinkers who are willing to engage in meaningful discussions about the future building of the culture we create and subsequently livein.

Centralized, standardized systems assume that people cannot actually take care of themselves.  These assume that there is one way to live a life, OR that if there are multiple ways, some ways/systems/people are better than others. This assumption automatically places an economic value on human existence; it creates an idea spread so adeptly that the people honestly believe that in order to be successful, a person must conform to the set-up systems – No rebellion, but more importantly, no creativity. This promotes the system and creates a false sense of communal conformity while smothering actual human creativity , growth, innovation, and the ability overall to transform a garden into a growing and changing city.

So, what are our goals as educators, as parents, as community members? Let’s work on some real goals; goals which allow real innovation and creativity rather than stifle them and conform them to an acceptable mold.

Steinbeck draws the broken line between kindness and human cruelty, and perhaps our current system attempts to draw a line between creativity for human flourishing and creativity which degrades humanity; but I propose that the line needs some erasing and restructuring and that rather than focusing on individualized success and responsibility, we begin to focus on an individuals ability to create and change a culture.

 

“The Woods Are Lovely”

….Dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.
 I made a promise to my son the other night.
He is struggling so much with 9th grade (still junior high here).  The tasks in class and assigned for home seem pointless, repetitive, and not at all related to anything he is in the least bit interested. Part of these feelings obviously stem from the fact that he is 14 and doesn’t know what he is interested in (forced societal stereotype…), part from his want to really do nothing but sleep and play video games (I think perhaps teenagers are a bit like cats – super super tired and really really jumpy all at once). Alternately, could his want for other outlets for creativity stem from there being absolutely no real time for him in his daily routine to explore any activity well, let alone creatively?  After 7 hours of school and 2 hours of homework, he has roughly 2-3 hours a day to eat, engage in some sort of commute to and from school/home, do some slight amount of chores like put the dishes or his laundry away, and perhaps play a little trumpet sometimes before getting things ready for the next day. I’d argue that within his extremely limited free time, video games provide the social interactions wanted and no longer provided by our culture of busy that focuses on predefined, individualized success.
Only interested in sleep and video games? Of course video games are appealing – these are games that require very little set up, have instant connection to other humans also playing, have easy to learn story lines and/or tasks that are productive in that they provide instant gratification to the player. The goal is to beat the boss; you beat the boss;  another boss appears, and some cool armor that you have some ability to customize. All of this within 5 minutes of game time. These games provide a creative social outlet in a world where texting has taken over real life friend communication, and his friends are too overwhelmed with homework, school, tutoring, music, and/or sports to have any time to engage creatively face to face.
This idea about video games is a bit of an epiphany for me, really; any one of my family members will tell you that I am the worst advocate of video games in the world – I pretty much remind all of my kids and maybe sometimes my husband, to turn them off and actually be a part of the real world.  It is actually only this moment, as I total the sum of hours available to my kids in a day, do I understand the games. I used to hide in the sycamore tree and read a book, they put on headphones and shoot some zombies, comme ci, comme ça.
In any case, I made my son a promise. I see him struggle with school and I know that rather than gaining vast amounts of access to knowledge, his relationship to school is actively shutting down his creative resources, his want to learn, and his ability to care about something for longer than an hour (bell schedule, don’t get me started). I told him that I felt his frustration and apologized that I need to work right now to pay off loans (otherwise perhaps home-school/un-school would be an option). I then promised that while it won’t effect him in this very moment, I will do everything within my power to change the education experience of students within my reach and perhaps I could extend that reach in a way that it touches his education as well.
A revolution perhaps – reform just ain’t cutting it.
My last post, “Edumacation”, attempted to throw out many of the thoughts and questions that I have been wrestling with over the last year or so. Some of these struggles are due to my experience as a teacher, some because of my experience as a mother who feels helpless to change the public education experience of my kids. I did not expect to get any straightforward – fix-the-system, answers – but ah, the start of good conversations has now taken place.  Maybe these will prove productive, maybe futile, but we’ll never know if they never happen. I want to talk to other educators, parents, leaders, and find out what it is about education that we find so important that it is compulsory. 13 years of our lives – 13 very influential years of our lives – when we are growing and becoming who we will be in the world, we are most influenced daily by our time in school. What is the underlying goal – the societal importance, and are we even aware of what education should be providing vs. is actually providing for our children and what it is not?
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep*
poem excerpt – Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Edumacation

There is a question constantly swirling through my life.  Partially because I am a teacher, partially because I am a mother of school aged children, but I think most strongly from a soul wrenching call to action that I’m trying constantly to ignore because I feel so unable to answer.

I see the need for change, for reform, for redoing the system, but I don’t know where to even begin.

So, just to include others in the conversation, I really would love to know your experience, ideas and responses…comment or email or text me – you can try to call, but I usually don’t answer…I’m better with text and I apologize now for that -I am, however, also good at face to face conversation, so if you would rather words pass quickly rather than in text and want a coffee (wine) meeting to discuss, hit me up!

Here is what I am constantly asking and experiencing:

Why do we educate children in the way that we do?  For what purpose?  and do THEY know why?  To go to college?  To get a job? To be independent when we’re making them dependent on bells and grades and standards they must reach? Is it useful to create a miniature army of humans who will do anything and everything they’re told?  Is it necessary that a child, beginning at the age 5 and continuing until adulthood, be taught how to sit still and focus??  What are we raising them to do?!  Do I think education is important?  YES.  Do I think it is important to read and write and be able to pay attention to the world around ones self?  To understand mathematical equations and scientific facts as well as method?  To know human history and to be able to analytically take in information and form an opinion based on knowledge, understanding and experience? Yes, yes and yes!  But what I don’t understand, even now that I am perpetuating the system by participating in the teaching population, is how or if at all our current education system is doing that. Furthermore, how, if independent, responsible, logical, self and community aware adults are the goal of education, are we teachers supposed to be the people to impart this information?

For the last two years I have had class sizes near around 30 students but because of the way the schedule fell, that meant I had 90 kids.  This year, I have closer to 160 students –  3 different classes to prep for, and I am in contact with those students for at least 4-5 hours per week – nearly my full work day 3 out of 5 days a week – Besides showing up to teach them how to become analytical thinkers and responders – to become good communicators and healthy, culturally aware and knowledge seeking citizens, this means I show up to dances, to games, to after school activities to show that I care for their persons outside of their academic world. Besides the interactions, I have planning and grading and planning and grading and planning and grading…. which – in order to give useful feedback and actually encourage growth, I must do outside of my hours at school.

Now – this rant can come off as a complaint about my current situation, but that is not how I want this to be read.  The amazing staff and faculty that I work with are dedicated to providing a meaningful education experience for the students at the school, and for the most part the students are actually quite receptive and want to be educated…..

What I want my readers to read is this:

Teachers work upwards of 60-100 hours a week……sometimes more – in order to create spaces for students to understand their individual worth. These students – still children – are in no way shape or form related by blood lines to the teacher. How can we realistically sustain a system of education that requires this of our teachers and the families to which they belong? What needs to change and how do we go about changing well?