Some days go along smoothly and stay that way. Others, not so much. One of the interesting things about working in a school is that there is seldom a dull moment. That may sound like things often go wrong, but that’s not the case. Things just go “differently.” A child who navigates assignments and social relationships nicely may hit a snag and need support. A teacher who is reliable and always on top of things may encounter a challenge that requires her to further develop her skills to best address the needs of one particular student, though these skills may eventually serve many. A well-designed schedule may be interrupted by a fire drill or an unexpected visitor. Things change, and we need to be ready to embrace the changes.Continue reading
I love the game of football. I’m also a huge theater buff. What do these things have in common? Throughout my lifetime, and I’m sure before, both this sport and art form have changed. They have changed in their presentation to the public. The rules of the game and the rules of theater have shifted. Theater and football today are clearly different than they were 30 years ago. Suffering penalties under the new roughing the passer rules in the NFL or attending a performance of “Hamilton” highlight some of these differences. Things change.
The same is true in schools. The best schools today are not exactly like the schools of our childhood. The educational practices, curricula and even the buildings do not look like they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They have been adapted and changed to reflect what we now know through research, science and practice. We now know much more about how learning occurs. There are fMRIs and studies in neuroscience that allow us to actually see how the brain responds to varying stimuli and ultimately how different areas of the brain “light up” during certain tasks. There are years of data that guide educators as they make instructional decisions for students. To put it simply, we know more now than we knew then, whenever “then” was – 30 years ago or last year.
Learning brings the evolution of thought and change. What educators embraced even 10 years ago in teaching may now be dormant as other practices have taken their place. The best thing that can happen in education is to make thoughtful shifts in practice that make learning more accessible for all learners. Everything we do must be with the students, how to best serve them each and every day, in mind.
As this school year gets underway, I have had the pleasure of working more closely with a few classrooms. This has meant everything from meeting about supporting students, to discussing potential field trips, to helping plan lessons. Though these are not my “typical” responsibilities as head of school, they are things I thoroughly enjoy. Getting closer to student learning is always interesting and energizing.
When many of us were in school, each teacher was in charge of his or her classroom. Teachers followed the textbooks given to them from the school and were responsible for making sure all of the topics within each subject were adequately “covered.” Coverage. We may think of that when painting a wall or protecting a passer in football. Does it belong in school? Is the goal coverage? Or is it something much more? Continue reading
I have done quite a bit of traveling over the past few months – nothing exotic, but each trip was a visit to a different part of the country. Some places I have seen before and others were new to me. I did some of the traveling alone and others with a co-worker or family member. Each place I visited held different experiences. When traveling, most of us expect a “different” experience or a change from our everyday routines and experiences.
As we return from a trip, we settle back into our homes and expect a return to our typical routine; it is comfortable. We are not seeking change or looking for new experiences. We do not look forward to something different happening each day; we mostly follow the same routine. This is often true of our work lives as well. We want the predictability of each work day and do not necessarily want anything to change.
However, we all know that sometimes change is necessary. Our world is changing faster than ever before. We need to adapt and change with it. It is often more comfortable to maintain the systems and routines that we have followed than to seek new ones. This is the time of year in the life of schools when things change. Students move up to the next grade or graduate to attend their next school. As the school year ends, there is the anticipation of all that summer brings. There are also questions about the future and what the next year may bring.
Change. It happens whether we are ready or not. How do you respond to change?
That just about says it all. We can never know everything about everything. It is simply not possible. Schools teach a body of knowledge striving to ensure that children evolve into literate and educated adults. No matter what is included in that body of knowledge, no matter what electives students choose as they move through school, and no matter how long they are in school, they will leave not knowing things. That is the paradox of education. We are in school to learn; we leave with more knowledge than we started with and even more things we don’t know.
Education’s purpose is not to fill young minds with information. It’s true purpose is to promote thinking, questioning and understanding. Children aren’t containers to be filled. Bill Nye the Science Guy says it all in the above quote. Everyone has something to teach us. We may not know what it is or what to expect, but we do know that we will learn something from each and every person we encounter if we are open to the learning. And if that is what we learn in school we will be held in good stead during our school years and beyond. What have you learned from someone today?
The Philadelphia Eagles are the Super Bowl champs! It was a long time in coming, but loyal fans have been rewarded with an amazing game, a wonderful team and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Before the game began there was a clip of future MVP Nick Foles saying he was going to just go out and play the game. He wasn’t going to overthink it but instead would respond to what happens on the field and initiate the plays they had practiced. He and his team did just that.
As I listened to him and later thought about what he said, I was struck by the simplicity of his plan. He was not watching and re-watching game tapes. He was not over-analyzing the routes New England used in past games. He was not absorbing the messages given by the media, letting him know his odds of winning this ultimate game. He reacted, responded and played. Continue reading
Learning is not a secret. Access to the facts we learn in school is open to everyone who is interested and able to learn. How do schools determine the best ways in which to present the information deemed important? How do they build student skills and improve their practice?
In industry, much of what comes to market is kept in labs and top secret files until it is ready to go public. Many iterations occur, each one slightly different than the last. Only the few people directly involved in a project are informed about the work. The edge that comes with releasing a new product is critical to a company’s success.
Schools operate differently. We learn from each other, asking questions of another school or offering information to questions posed online or in person. We don’t have to wait until someone lets the secret formula out to benefit from it. Most of what schools teach is open to others. Methods may adapt over time, research may be done, testing may occur, but in the end, anyone in education can learn from what others are doing. The difference is not typically the content or curriculum but the delivery. Teachers building relationships, honoring individual students’ learning styles and working on behalf of their students is the secret to learning. It’s a secret that is open to all willing to put in the effort. Most of us can recall a teacher who took the time to get to know us and make us feel important. Can you?
At many junctures in a child’s life, teachers ask parents what their goals are for their child. The purpose of the question is to understand what parents expect – what their hopes and dreams are for their child. Invariably, parents will say that they want their child to do her best and to be happy. We all want to raise human beings who are happy and well-adjusted.
Recently, many in the field of education have began to question the true purpose of school. Do we send children to school to learn facts, to be the “best” students or to question ideas that have withstood the test of time? Should an established curriculum be the focus, or is it important to learn to think and discover facts beyond what is taught in the set curriculum? What approach will best set children up for success in their future lives as adults in a rapidly changing world? Continue reading
Creativity of thought and action is something that is regaled in our society. Have you thought about what allows creativity to blossom? Where it comes from? How it is nurtured?
Diane Ackerman is a recognized author of books and essays about the natural world and human nature. In her latest book, One Hundred Names for Love, she has written about her husband’s stroke that robbed him of his ability to speak. They were a couple whose lives centered around language and words. The book shares their journey, and also Diane’s approach, which moved beyond the conventional path followed by others in similar situations. She was forced to employ creativity.
In the throes of creativity, a lively brain tussles with a mass of memories and rich stores of knowledge, attacking them both sub rosa and with the mind wide open. Some it incubates offstage until a fully fledged insight wings into view. The rest it consciously rigs, rotates, kneads, and otherwise plays with until a novel solution emerges. Only by fumbling with countless bits of knowledge, and then ignoring most of it, does a creative mind craft something original. For that, far more than the language areas of the brain are involved. Hand-me-down ideas won’t do. So conventions must be flouted, risks taken, possibilities freely spigoted, ideas elaborated, problems redefined, daydreaming encouraged, curiosity followed down zig-zagging alleyways. Any sort of unconsidered trifle may be fair game. It’s child’s play. Literally. Not a gift given to an elect few, but a widespread, natural, human way of knowing the world. With the best intentions, our schools and society bash most of it out of us. Fortunately, it’s so strong in some of us that it endures. As neuroscientist Floyd Bloom observes: ‘Schools place an overwhelming emphasis on teaching children to solve problems correctly, not creatively. This skewed system dominates our first twenty years of life: tests, grades, college admissions, degrees, and job placements demand and reward targeted logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills — all purveys of the left brain.’ (245)
Our children deserve a rich and creative environment. School’s purpose is not to squelch the desire to imagine, play with ideas, learn and question. It is precisely the opposite.
As we begin another school year, our obligation to the children we serve is to allow and further the creative spirit of which Ms. Ackerman speaks – to encourage “a lively brain that tussles with a mass of memories, and rich stores of knowledge.” It is creativity that has led us to places we never thought possible and may take for granted today. And it is creativity that will continue to lead us to solutions of problems that have eluded us so far.
At Wilmington Montessori School, we have moved slowly but surely from mostly using Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to using Google Docs and Sheets. Some embraced the move and did it quickly and rather painlessly. Others, not so much. Recently, I was asked how I learned to use Google Docs. My response was a simple one: “I made myself do it.” You see, if I were given a wishy-washy mandate to change from a familiar and comfortable and manageable system (for me) to one that I found time-consuming to work on and didn’t look the same or respond in the same way, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have elected to stay with the familiar. I knew the change was coming and made myself take the extra time to work in one system while not completely trusting it and also saving things in the one I knew. I doubled up for safety! But I did it.
Making changes such as these is not easy. There will be questions, unfamiliar interfaces, mistakes and frustration. Help will be needed. It’s there for the asking. As we learn new things, whether by choice or mandate, others are there to help us along the way. There will always be new things to learn and others to guide us and answer seemingly simple questions. Take the leap. Embrace change. Keep learning. You’ll be ready for what happens next.