Thursday, February 8, 2018

Aspiring to Inspire

Recently, while at a workshop I was struck by the claim of a participant that our focus in education must be to design schools for those who want to learn and that some students have no desire or capability to be successful in their learning.

I've always struggled in articulating what my heart wants me to say in moments like these. So now as I reflect, I know precisely what I would have spoken up and said, "Sir, you are 100% correct. Students will aspire to the expectations we inspire!!"

If we already walk into our classroom and assume that only half of our students are capable. You know what, half our students will seem like complete duds no matter what they do for us. Don't set the bar low for students...see the greatness in each and every one of them. Inspire them to that inner greatness. Yes, I'm an idealist and I'm unrepentant of that fact. Yet, I also recognize that the only aspect I can directly control in a students' life is my attitude towards them.

The students who walk through that door are in the process of becoming masterpieces for a work we truly have no conception how dare us assume we know (oh how stained is my guilt of this!!).

Our students arrive in this world as blocks of the finest marble and we are entrusted as Michelangelo, but fleetingly in their life. Let the mark we leave be a chip towards helping them realize their masterpiece, not a brazen whack that splits the whole.

Okay, thank you. I really needed to get that off my chest! :)

A few quick blog housekeeping notes:
1. I'll wrap up later this week the last Paradigm series post.
2. Look for a #CompelledTribe blog post about evaluations before Feb. 15th (First official #CompelledTribe Theme post).
3. Working on the introduction of a monthly series entitled 'Profiles in Learning' to start in March.

Have a wonderful rest of the week and let us aspire to inspire those around us! 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Paradigm #4 - You Don't Get It

Of the five paradigms that I've spent the past few posts exploring, this one stands out as the most dangerous pitfall for those involved in preparing our youth. It's easy to develop a 'bunker-like mentality' in the roles we play because of the isolation of our roles.

As parents, we are isolated in our parenting at of course no one gets what we have to put up with especially those teachers who complain about my child, but they don't see the mounds of homework piling up after sports practices, all I want is to raise a good and honest child.

As teachers, we are isolated in our of course no one gets what we have to put up with especially those administrators who add more layers of paperwork, but they don't see the hours I'm putting into a part-time job so I can pay for my family's bills while still planning lessons that will inspire my students.

As administrators, we are isolated in our of course no one gets what we have to put up with especially those parents and nagging teachers who feel entitled in telling me how to do my job, but they don't see all the decisions I have to make that are going to have a financial impact on our school and district to help our students.

As policy-makers, we are isolated in our ivory of course no one gets what we have to put up with especially, those pesky administrators who try to always explain why our ideas won't work, but they don't see the countless efforts poured into researching these options and the nights left awake thinking about how to best help students succeed. 

When we entrench ourselves into our roles and refuse to credit the perspectives and values of other stakeholders in this journey of educating our youth, we all lose. Generally, those involved in the work of education view it as a calling, a strongly held conviction...why then are there so many turf wars over the basic concept of education (maybe it is due to the extreme variety in strongly held convictions)? If the African Proverb that says, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," is true, then why in many educational settings have we adopted a "we vs them" mentality?

In the beautiful book, The Choice: In Teaching and Education, by The Arbinger Institute. There are two applications drawn from Principle 4 - I Build Community, that I would like to quote below that are directly tied to this paradigm:

"Application 4.3: Building Community with Families

Compared to other educators in the lives of those I would teach, my educational role is small and insignificant. The people with whom students spend most hours of every day are the ones who most influence learning. 

So if my Objective is to inspire learning, as best I can I help father, mother, or others as well. No one should feel more welcome in the halls and rooms of a school than those whose homes are the center places of learning." (p. 66)

"Application 4.4: Building Community with the Community

A community is an organism -- some parts old and others young. All parts beholden one to one another. For the oldest and wisest among us is so because he has learned in the presence of others. 

Education is the lifeblood of a community's continued existence. We have an obligation one to another. There are many in every community who feel this call. They should be involved in the educational endeavor. 

As mentors, as tutors, as men and women to be admired -- there are so many roles that need filling. Every school and every classroom should be community space, for it is the community's future that is learning. 

There is much goodwill among people today. So many who will willingly help. Collectively their learning so far exceeds mine, I'd be negligent not to ask for their help." (p. 68 & 69)

We have a choice in this educational endeavor...we can seek to understand or seek to be understood. By seeking to understand the heart of all those involved in this great process of learning, we will discover that our goals are all closely aligned. We all seek to better our next generation, we view it not only as our duty, but an honor and privilege to be engaged in that undertaking.

Let us seek together to create win-win dynamics in our education system by looking beyond our self-created bunkers and envisioning a community dedicated to learning that will raise this generation.

Teacher Challenge: Bring in a community member who could serve as a guest speaker and bring to life a topic area you are exploring in class.

Learner Challenge: If you are in a season where you are looking for a mentor in your educational journey, seek one who is serving in a different role and capacity than you. Seek to understand their role, perspectives, and associated values to deepen your understanding of the connective web of education and learning in our world.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Paradigm #3 - Conditioned to Compete

As we survey our cultural landscape it is hard not see our world without the lens of competition. It dominates the airwaves as political parties clash for votes, sports teams become the pillars of entertainment, and it even seeps into the very fabric of our educational system and our classrooms. Our society has conditioned countless generations on the psychology of competition. This paradigm of scarcity, benefits no one and self-imposes limits on a pie that does not need to shrink.

Competition is not bad in all contexts and is certainly not bad when held in healthy perspective. What has become fearfully apparent is the utter failure of a forced, contrived competitive mindset into our educational system. Accountability, as word in education, over the past two decades has become synonymous with competition. Competition is peddled as a cure-all to the ills facing our education system. Competing for school funds, competing for students into our school district, offering school choice, etc... I'm all for accountability, I use it in my mentorships as way to ensure mutual growth...not growth at the expense of others. The false narrative around the oxymoron 'competitive accountability' continues through the remaking of teacher and administrative evaluations today tied to student success on standardized assessments. Creating a system based on 'extrinsic competitive' motivators is easy to do and the results are plain; winners and losers.

Yet, is our education system designed to produce winners and losers? I hope we can agree that is not the case... Learning and education are both relational enterprises, a relationship built on the foundation of mutual cooperation for mutual growth. Competition's place in this equation should be in a private form, where we push ourselves, personally, to grow in our capacity as a learner, not try to prevent the growth of another.

Creating a system that expands the pie of opportunity for all students, all parents, all teachers, all administrators, all policy makers, all businesses, all stakeholders in the future of our country must be our goal, we should hold ourselves accountable to nothing less. This is a tall, utopian task we may never see fulfilled, but it starts with us. It starts with a shift in our paradigm, from one of scarcity to one of possibility fulfilled through mutual cooperation that generates societal synergy.

Over this past year I was deeply convicted about this paradigm as I think about the agricultural education program I'm involved in guiding. We recently, passed a significant bond that will create huge enhancements for our specific program and we have been planning for these improvements and new building for the past two years. After I visited with elementary school stakeholders during several public bond meetings over the course of the semester I quickly came to realize how narrow-minded and honestly competitively-minded our bond vision had been for the fulfillment of our specific agricultural education program vision and needs.

These conversations during the public bond meetings, caused a deep shift in my paradigm. We could definitely construct a new agricultural education facility, but how can we ensure that we maintain a level of retention of our young families in the community and continue to attract new families who will keep that facility filled with eager learners? It was then I decided to become active in our local PTO as a future father and offer my sweat and service to fulfill desperately needed improvements for the elementary school that was not offered through the bond. My biggest takeaway from this experience, the pie only gets larger when we cooperate. When we see others less as competitive rivals for the same piece of the pie and begin discussing ways to make the most of the pie we have, its amazing at how quickly we can acquire the ingredients together to make a new, larger pie.

Reflect for a moment to our classrooms and schools. Where do we need to change our mindset from one of 'competitiveness' to one of 'cooperativeness'? How can we infuse that shift into our own daily life?

Teacher Challenge: It is easy to create a "competitive" review game. Change it up and try to design a cooperative challenge that forces students to work together and not against. 

Learner Challenge: Understanding the psychology of competition is important. Dive into the link below for a quick primer on the topic:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Paradigm #2 - Education is Viewed Transactionally

As I reflect on my time as a student both in K-12 and college, I'm struck at how pervasive this mindset was for me. I often obsessed more about the grade than the learning. There were moments I choose not to take an academic risk because it didn't fit the rubric. I think about what I may have lost in the pursuit of a GPA.

Now being an educator, I'm faced with the dilemma that grades don't truly encapsulate the complete learning process. It evaluates a product of learning, which in of itself is not bad, but it becomes problematic when the student feels there is only "one" proper product of their learning. True, there are historical dates, scientific laws, and certain mathematical problems that do have only one correct answer and there is a place for teaching and learning these concepts for foundational knowledge. Yet, education is filled with many more topics and problems that do not have such a linear answer or end product. In life outside the school walls, this holds true, where there are almost no clear answers to the daunting issues facing our world.

The danger now is the expectation that once I have submitted "this proper product" I must receive the grade I desire or that now I will increase my earning power. Culture has created the expectation that we must receive immediate tangible results for the effort we put forth. This transactional paradigm towards education leaves many without an understanding that learning is a continual process that does not end with the submission of a project or the entering of the grade. How can we begin chipping away at this deeply entrenched paradigm? Below is a phrase from Mark Reardon, a learning facilitator trainer:

"We are what we honor."

Honor rolls (GPA-based) and Valedictorian (GPA-based)...these are not bad things, but we must consider if these are what we will choose to honor above all else. I don't know my answer to this question yet, but I'll pose it anyway: How could we honor the learning process more in education, more in our classrooms? 

Teacher Challenge: How might you be able to create intrinsic motivation to complete an upcoming project or assignment without using a tangible extrinsic reward?

Learner Challenge: It is crucial we challenge ourselves as learners to see multiple sides of an issue. Below are two articles that challenge my views on this paradigm. After reading the articles, how do they change, if at all, how you interpret this paradigm?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bus 02 Adventures - Wintery Teamwork for Student Success

Thank you to all those who drive buses in the horrid weather conditions we have gotten recently! These past few weeks have been stressful at times as I've scouted various approaches to the icy hills on our rural bus routes. As a school bus driver there is a tremendous responsibility in transporting students to and from school. We are the first faces that students see that will set the tone of the day and the last school staff that says good bye.

It takes a team to make a school work and bus drivers are just one of many essential players. If the weather is poor and the busses keep pushing sure to thank those at the wheel who make getting our students to school safely and on-time!

Take care,

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Paradigm #1 - Relationship of Economic Performance and Education

If you were to research the academic literature related to educational policy, you would find that a main talking point is the correlation of education to economic progress. Though I do not disagree with the main premise of this position, what is disconcerting, is the obsessive focus on using economic performance measures to make assumptions about both the quality and aim of our educational system. This by no means is a new paradigm, hark back to the landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, to see that this paradigm has existed in some form for the last several decades.

Currently, within the field of economics they are confronting an internal debate about the very validity of the economic measures we have staked our educational futures on. What a growing chorus of economic scientists are insisting is that the economic performance measures used today may not only be inaccurate, but may be mismeasuring our lives to a point that social and policy decisions made based on the economic data could lead to harmful, unintended effects on society as a whole.

Where does that leave us in education?

There is strong research to indicate that, yes in fact, education provides a strong basis for economic progress. Yet, should that be the aim of education, to provide for economic progress? Or is economic progress simply one of many beneficial corollary effects of a robust education system? What happens if education becomes laser focused on one of the corollary effects?

Let's use the natural process of the honey bee to explore this concept of corollary effects further. To survive, a honey bee collects pollen and nectar to provide energy stores for the rest of the hive. In the process our honey bee transfers pollen caught on its hairs to other flowers pollinating them to produce fruits and seeds. The benefits of pollination are a corollary effect of the bee's efforts to gather its hive's energy stores. However, in our fictional world, the bees suddenly decide that they really want to just focus on pollination because they like to see the fruit and seeds grow. What happens then? They'll probably pollinate quite a few flowers...for a little while, but they will die and so will the hive. No one would argue of the benefits provided by pollination, yet can we not see the insanity of the bees if that was their only focus?

Therefore, we must urge for caution in getting too caught up in calling for massive 'reform' of education to pursue what is simply a corollary effect. That will leave us in no better position. The time is ripe for a reframing and a sincere dialogue about the aim of education in our country. The process of reframing this paradigm can start in our classrooms.

Teacher Challenge: Think and reflect about what you feel the aim of education could or should be? Each of us has a stake in the future of education and we must practice the art of articulating our visions for the moment we are asked.

Learner Challenge: Let's challenge ourselves to learn more about how we measure economic performance. I was amazed at how little I knew as I started to dig into this paradigm piece more. Below is a small smattering of accessible resources you could read for additional learning.

Additional Reading:

Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shattering Paradigms

On Tuesday January 16, 2018 an important conference was held for educational policy makers entitled: 'Bush-Obama school reform: lessons learned'. At the conference the hope was to uncover what were the highlights of a fairly heated and deeply controversial era for education that effected all corners of our country. Honestly, I'm not too concerned with their findings...we have spent the last century of education in America rehashing the same battles with different technology and different names at the helm. If we look at the paradigm shift graph, that translates to us having been in phase two for quite some time.

What concerns me is the deeply entrenched paradigms that exist about education in our society. These if not addressed will continue to wreck havoc on any attempt to 'reform' education. Yet, lest we forget, the 'reform' we truly need is a heart and mind check in how we view education, learning, and teaching in a broader societal context. What are these paradigms?

Below is a short list that I have pondered and reflected on throughout my very, very (strong emphasis on the very) brief time engaged in this education journey. As others reflect please let me know of others you see or have experienced. Remember, we are at stage two...the exciting part of the journey may just be around the corner, but it will never take root if these paradigms are not addressed in a sincere manner. My hope is to take a few of my future blog posts to flesh out the thesis of each paradigm. 

1. Education is about economic advancement for without a strong education system we will fall behind as a nation: Almost every measurement metric and accountability methodology is based in this paradigm. What happens if education is about creating better people? Then could we accept that the metrics and methodologies we use are inadequate for that purpose?

2. We have conditioned a generation to think transactionally: I will do this for an 'A'. I'm doing this right now because I've been told to do it and I want that etc... Why has an unhealthy social media relationship arisen with this generation? These tools fulfill the desire for an immediate transaction. That quick like or snap. Can we condition for internal motivation? The human spirit is capable of many things...why not desire for something greater?

3. Everything is limited, therefore we must compete: Students compete against one another for recognition...schools compete against one another for funds...teachers compete for kids in their programs...policy makers compete to be the next thought leader in education...compete...compete...  

4. Bunker mentality, all around: Everywhere we look it is an us vs. them mentality. Look at the screens on television that depict the modern teacher and student dynamic, unfortunately it is usually never in a positive light. I've heard in more professional development conferences than I can count that when parents are brought up in conversation the room becomes charged and there is an obvious change of state that would make any parent uncomfortable. Then I've been engaged in parental groups that quickly seethe at teachers and how deeply they are failing their kids. Then, we have policy makers so far and away disengaged from the classroom that it causes distrust by educational stakeholders. The list could continue...   

5. Siloing of education and broader society: We have created academic silos and it has seeped into our broader society. These knowledge silos are stifling a lot more than just political discourse. It may be hindering innovative advancement for society...that is where the true danger lies. The greatest moments of historical transformational change in society, science, education, medicine, and all other areas can be traced to the cross-pollination of existing knowledge which has borne fruit into groundbreaking advancements. 

I'm excited to dedicate future posts to further exploration of these paradigms. Today have I helped entrench these paradigms in my classroom? How will I shatter them? 

Curae (Take care),
Agimus tibi Dominus (Anthony Meals)

Mr. Meals Notes:
Recently, I've officially joined the #CompelledTribe in their educator blogger community. I'm excited at the opportunity to grow with this great group of inspiring educators. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the tribe!  

Works Cited: