the new success

“To ask, “What’s best for me” is finite thinking. To ask, “What’s best for us” is infinite thinking.”  -Simon Sinek

In the era of Greta and #metoo we need a new success.

Instead of cooperation and collaboration, let’s embrace interconnectedness and reciprocity.

Instead of skills we need for jobs, let’s focus on skills we need to thrive as fully actualized human beings.

Let’s stop competing to be the most successful and instead, figure out what conditions will allow all to experience their own success.

Let’s embrace each child as full and complete.

In the era of fake news, complexity, and uncertainty, let’s be 100% certain about what really matters.

Instead of creating checklists of skills, let’s check with the children in our care: what gifts do they bring?; what are their hopes and dreams?

Instead of defining success for them, let’s ask them what it means to be successful and support them on their way.

Let’s stop offering simple solutions to complex problems and being surprised when they fail.

Let’s embrace our uncertainty about the future. And be okay with it. Failure isn’t an inability to predict the future. Failure is the inability to accept that you can’t possibly predict it. 

In an era of limited resources and environment, let’s spend time, significant time, determining how to use the resources we have, to advantage all.

Instead of sacrificing limited resources in the name of success, let’s define success by how we use these finite resources.

Instead of viewing success as a ladder we must climb, let’s see it as a way to add more rungs.

Let’s stop throwing resources at trendy projects for short term wins and instead fund projects that aren’t about winning or losing, but are about including all.

Let’s embrace that no success comes without failure and all failures help to define our successes.

It’s time for a new success.

Inequality Exists in Education. Pedagogy Isn’t Gonna to Fix It

alone

At-risk children who reach school without basic skills are 25 percent more likely to drop out, 40 percent more likely to become teen parents and 60 percent less likely to go to college.  -Claudia Miner

There are 3 of us, all teachers, planning an upcoming Grade 2 literacy unit.  We know the class to be diverse, in terms of skills, needs, and interests. Sitting here in the office, pedagogy seems to be the key to meeting these challenges head on.  Game day comes and we are PREPARED! And excited and scared. We want this to work because, well for one, this is our job and failure hurts, but primarily, it is our chance to put our theoretical “best practices” to the test.

The maze of school is designed for those with privilege

The first lesson goes well.  All students are engaged and on task.  But as the days and weeks go by, it becomes abundantly clear that that we are not meeting the needs of all learners in the room.  It’s not that we can’t engage the children, or get them to line up, or get them fully involved in a meaningful learning experience.  It’s not that. It’s not that at all. It is glaring realization that we can’t fill in the gaping holes of missing skills. Our very best pedagogy can’t make up for the lack of life experiences, the missing meals, the missing mother, the incarcerated father, or the missing love.

No lesson, no teacher, no team can give them what they don’t have.  Our best practices can’t provide them with privilege. 

School does a great job with students who arrive with these skills in place but not so much with students who don’t.  It’s as if there is an invisible, immutable leveled maze. All students enter the maze but some quickly fast track up to the next level.  For those who get lost on the first level, they get stuck there. To get them out you have to trace the maze back to where they are. At times you can see them but they are just out of your reach or in the moments you find them another situation will take you away.  Imagine how it would feel to be trapped there, all alone. 

Some schools have more privilege

“high-achieving public-schools are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around.” –Nick Hanauer

Months have passed since our time at this school and I still think about it, trying to wrap my mind around this complex situation.  It’s nobody’s fault. Not the school’s, not the teacher’s, not our’s. Perhaps though, we all are a little complicit in taking our privilege for granted and ignoring all that it has afforded us.  We need to talk about and recognize privilege as a force stronger than any pedagogy we might put in place. And it is not that we should give up the ghost on pedagogy, but maybe we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the pedagogy basket and be surprised when nothing really changes.  Maybe we need to diversify our energy and focus, and look privilege in the eyes. 

What if these children lived in another neighborhood, say one up the hill?  What if they attended a less vulnerable school? Would their schooling be different?  Instead of being one of many, would they be one of the few and receive the attention they deserve?

It’s time to share privilege

“How am I supposed to feel about my children’s success when I know, deep down, in my heart of hearts, that the world around them would be a better place if more children like them won fewer of the spoils?” –Will Reitch

And what of our hopes and dreams of empowering all students in the journey towards becoming fully actualized humans and citizens?  Do we mean this only so far as our own privilege and that of our children stays fully in tact?

Education asks students to conform to it’s maze, the one biased towards those with privilege, what might our system look like if we rebuilt this to meet those outside of privilege?  Wouldn’t we all benefit?

How might we begin to imagine and create feasible programs that support the needs of all students, not just those who show up with privilege?

How might we share privilege?

 

 

The Value You Bring

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“Try not to become a human of success. Rather become a human of value.” 
                                                             ― Albert Einstein

 

The value you bring does not come from:

  • your title.
  • your position.
  • the buzz words you use.
  • your ability to schmooze.
  • your willingness to play political games.
  • the size of your ego.
  • the number of people you know.
  • the number of people who know you.
  • the number of presentations you have made.
  • the conferences you have attended.
  • the titles of books on your desk.
  • the number of compliments and acknowledgments you have received.
  • the hours you work.
  • the number of projects that you take on.

The value that you bring does not even come from the money you make.

Or even, the year that you were great.

________

The value you bring comes from:

  • your empathy for others.
  • your ability to leave your ego at the door.
  • your willingness to embrace the complex and say: “I don’t know.”
  • your resolve in determining, clarifying, and articulating (so everyone can understand) what matters.
  • the time you spend doing what matters.
  • the occasions you spotlight others and step back.
  • the alignment between your words and actions.
  • your willingness to roll up your sleeves and do the work.
  • your ability to say no. No, that doesn’t align with my beliefs.
  • your authentic vulnerability.
  • your willingness to change your opinion.
  • the tenderness of your heart.
  • the value you place on feedback and reflection.
  • the times you say sorry and mean it.
  • the moments you are completely present.
  • your willingness to reach across divides and hold your hand patiently.

The value that you bring may not even be noticed. But rest assured you are valuable.

________

What value do you bring?

Just Learning

 

 

walking_in_circles
“We have to change our schools, but if that is not preceded or accompanied by a change in our thinking, in our preconceptions, in how we regard what and where children are, in our imaginativeness and boldness — absent these changes we will again confirm the maxim that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
 -Seymour Sarason

In the rush to update education, we often confuse new for innovative and conflate old with outdated. We look at what is trendy to guide our decisions. Trapped in the tyranny of the urgent, we don’t have the time or energy to consider the complexity of the problems we are trying to challenge. Instead, we throw around terms such as inquiry, agency, and learner-focused with the same effort entailed in putting a slipcover over an old couch.

Peg_Core

The terms in of themselves, do not change the learning. Do not change the learning environment. Do not change our roles. Do not change how we view the curriculum. The “slipcover” hides the real work to be done. we need to strip bare our language and reveal what we really mean. What we are really talking about. Get out from under terms that are the right mix of ambiguous and politically correct.

I don’t know EXACTLY what you are talking about but it sounds about right…and I have heard that term a lot lately… I’m in!

From there, you know how it goes.

New templates and organizers. more sessions. new books. And of course, new stuff. Cause that really proves if we are doing something different.

I sure like what you’ve done to your classroom! I should do that, too! Like I can just order all this stuff from Amazon? Cool.

Bada-boom-bada-bing, you are in business. The business of keeping up with the Jones. The business of being cutting edge. The business of catching up with the bandwagon before it leaves town.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I love new stuff. We need items for classrooms. New materials and books can be a catalyst for the change process. But it’s just not that simple.

simplevs complex

A slipcover alone is a simple solution to a complex problem. We might have to save for a new couch. We might have to learn how to recover the old couch. Both will take time. Both will take patience.  Both will take unwavering focus on what really matters.

…but I really wanted a quick fix. I wanted to just get on with it. Like let’s get it done. NOW. 

This world moves fast. Every answer is just a couple of clicks away. It’s understandable that we want educational change to feel exactly the same.

What if we stopped “slip covering” and were really brave. Really brave like Greta or like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Standing up for what they believe. knowing what they believe in.

What if we were brave enough to start from our beliefs? To speak of our beliefs. First. To stop and stand in our beliefs. Brave enough to ignore the siren call of sameness.

what_really_really matters

What if we started with clear and straightforward conversations about what we believe about learning? No fancy terms. No new books. No new templates. Just learning.

What if we stubbornly and patiently stuck with just that? Just that.

“The phrase ‘what matters’ is shorthand for our capacity to dream, to reclaim our freedom, to be idealistic, and to give our lives to those things which are vague, hard to measure, and invisible.”       -Peter Block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Example

sharing
When someone shows you who they are, believe them. -Maya Angelou

Your energy is soft and light.

When you enter a room, you smile, but don’t demand attention.

You don’t hesitate to give your support and move into action.

No request is too small for you.

Garbage duty, finding a band-aid, and setting up snacks, are part of what you do.

Come with me, you say. And off you go, with the student in hand.

Even when it is crazy busy. You are fully present.

You go unnoticed in a class, as you sit side by side with students.

You greet each student by name, with sincerity.

Your ego is small but your beliefs are big and bold.

Positive behavior is noticed and commented on. In detail.

You treat everyone with respect and dignity.

You don’t use power to change minds. You make time for conversations. Then make more time.

Your words and actions match.

You believe people can change.

To you, everyone is equally important and valued. There is no hierarchy.

You put the spotlight on others.

When a child approaches, you bend down and greet them. At their level.

Your example makes me think about my example.

 

The time trap

dots
How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.    -Annie Dilliard

Don’t waste your time
Hurry up! We are running out of time!
Time’s up!
Sorry, we don’t have time for that today.
We need to make up for lost time.
Keep your eye on the time.

How often have these phrases left my mouth? Too often!! And when I say them aloud, I feel the physical urgency to move into super-fast-every-second-counts-mode. I feel the grip this pace takes on my nervous system. It squeezes out every human instinct: I forget to hydrate, eat, and even go to the washroom. Time is the boss of me.

Why are we obsessed with time and how we spend it? Is our fixation with time connected to a deeply held cultural belief around productivity and efficiency? Is usefulness measured by the number of “widgets” we can produce in a day?  The more widgets we can produce, the more productive and efficient we are. Time is the boss.

Is learning like churning out widgets? Is learning about efficiency and productivity?

It can be tempting. We have x number of pieces of curriculum and to make the quota, we must produce x amount of learning per day. Perhaps, unknowingly, we have transposed pieces of the curriculum with widgets: the more pieces of the curriculum we cover in a day, the more useful and successful we feel. The learning fits into the time.

What if the small pieces of the curriculum are unrecognizable to our students? Sure, small pieces might be easy to handle and plan for. But does the convenience make the piece meaningless (both to ourselves and our learners)?

We ask our students to keep on, keeping on, and don’t mention when the pieces will fit together. We sledgehammer the curriculum into pieces so they fit neatly into 5-minute stations but in the process lose sight of the story we are trying to create. Time is queen.

What if time wasn’t the parameter we defaulted to? Let’s zoom out to see 5 years in a child’s life. What matters here? Zoom out a bit more and look at the child’s life over 12-years. What matters now? Finally, zoom way out and look at the story of this child over an entire lifetime. What matters? What patterns, stories, and experiences do we hope to see? Perhaps joy, hope, self-knowledge, love of learning, connection, and curiosity (this is not exhaustive)?

Let’s zoom back in to look in the minutes and hours. Where and when are these big sweeping stories present? Are these hopes and dreams manifested in every moment or just some? Can we see the big themes within the small?

When the pieces become too small, maybe it is time (haha) to escape the time trap.

p.s. I am not implying that knowledge acquisition is not important or relevant. When we break knowledge down into small unrecognizable bits it is hard to see where it fits. I am suggesting that knowledge acquisition could be in service of something greater than the acquisition itself.

Privilege

blindspot                                                                            Shared on flickr by Thomas Hawk

We all have a blind spot around our privilege shaped exactly like us.
                                                                                    -Junot Dias

I am white, straight, married, middle class, and neurotypical. I could go on. Basically, I am privileged. I have privilege. Privilege, like the air around us, is omnipresent but invisible and easy to forget. We take note when it is low supply.

Before last spring, I hadn’t given much thought to privilege. While listening to a series of youth give their TED talk, I had a moment of what I call “clarity and truth.”  These students were exploring their own privilege or lack of privilege, and how they had created authentic, unique identities. Wow! Mind blown! Here were these teens who recognized their own privilege. Somehow, I had moved through life without even considering it! Blind spot alert.

Throughout my life, I had been aware of situations when I didn’t have privilege (like in university when every science prof was white, male, and middle-aged). These big moments of no privilege were easy to spot. Just look to the news to see this how lack of privilege stands out. When a women wins a Nobel Prize in Physics (only the 3rd women in 117 years!) it is headline news. Yet, in the very same week, we hear a Cern physicist announce that physics is a field for men (not women), because it was designed by men. How crazy is that? He got the second part right!

It is easy to recognize situations when there is a huge lack of privilege (just think of #metoo) or when there is a lot of privilege (Bill Gates type privilege). It becomes more challenging when privilege is more subtle. I had missed the subtle areas of my life where privilege was present and how it manifested.

As I listened to these youth describe how they had forged an authentic identity, without privilege on their side, I began to realize that I had taken my privilege for granted. I hadn’t been aware of how I could use my privilege to make space for others to create identities for themselves.  In the months to come, I reflected that the materials, books, movies, and paradigms that I relied on in my classroom were not as diverse and inclusive as they could have been. I accepted that my lack of understanding of neurodiversity had caused me to create learning that was incredibly biased towards neurotypical learning. Most ironically of all, I recognized that I had presented science as status quo truth, while ignoring other world views. My privilege was not only invisible to me, but it was a set of blinders that kept me looking at a very small slice of the world

I had to look at my privilege (even the ugly parts) and say: I see you privilege but you don’t own me, I am not yours; I see you privilege but I can topple you; I recognize that you are part of me, but you are not going to define me; I am not going to work on your behalf and keep your status quo.

Privilege, I see you now.

_____________________

Keniesha, Tor, and Hannah: thank you for the moment of “clarity and truth”, thank you for teaching me so much about the world, thank you for being role models, thank you for your bravery and wisdom.