Lifelong Learning Time Ignights Passions & Projects

Written by Matthew Manley, Humanities Teacher, Asia Pacific International School, Hawaii

At APIS Hawaii, everyone seems to be excited about Wednesdays.

“I really look forward to Wednesdays because I get to do my own thing,” said Soleil Worrell
(Grade 6).IMG_0743

“Wednesdays are my favorite,” added Chris Stapleton (ELA and social studies teacher).

What’s so great about hump day?

APIS Hawaii has created Lifelong Learning Time (LLT), a weekly time in which students and teachers partner to pursue projects that pique their interest and challenge them to learn something completely new. LLT began in the fall, when APIS Hawaii decided to make a commitment to a special type of learning that would take students outside the boundaries of the classroom.

“We always talk as teachers about how education should be lifelong, and classroom education does not always demonstrate this type of learning,” said Mr. Stapleton. “In LLT, you get to really take control of your own learning.”

The LLT period, which meets weekly for 150 minutes, provides a wide-open time for a huge variety of projects. Current LLT pursuits include app design, building shoe racks,
trailblazing, vegetable farming, and designing a campus zip IMG_9475line.

Experience in a certain area is not a prerequisite for choosing an LLT project. Never made home- made ravioli? No problem – Hannah Todd (Grade 6) practiced Italian cuisine, then made a feast for the whole school. Soleil used one six-week session in the fall to become CPR/First Aid certified alongside Shannon Todd (school nurse).

“There’s a lot more choice, and on your [own] path at your [own] speed,” Ms. Todd said of LLT.

There are only a few simple requirements for an LLT project: The project cannot relate to some- thing studied in class, it must sustain a student’s interest for six weeks, and the student must be able to show and explain their learning at the end of that time.

At the end of the six-week period, students and staff share their learning at a celebration with all students, parents, and staff. Last semester, John Kim (Grade 8) shared the film he directed, filmed, and edited with Andy Peeler (music teacher).

“It’s not like the answer was always right there, you’ve got to search for it,” John said. “We got close and learned together.”

Magnificent Kids and Their Flying Machines

My third-grade teacher wasn’t prone to irrational fear or unwarranted concern.  To be honest, I was a bit obsessed with the dream of flight.  I had been checking out library books on the topic, drawing up multiple plans for a variety of flying contraptions, and asked worrisome questions like, “How long do wings have to be to keep someone my size in the air?”  I think what prompted the call to my parents, however, was an incident one day at lunch recess.  Mrs. Smith happened to be on yard duty and wandered by the area where my friends and I were playing just in time to overhear a small business transaction between me and another student that involved the exchange of oatmeal cookies and an old pocketknife for a backpack frame with the straps still intact.  It wasn’t so much the exchange that bothered her, though.  I think it was more the robust debate we were having about the best method for attaching the wings to the frame.  To be fair to Mrs. Smith, I did eventually conduct a failed attempt to fly from the roof of our garage in one of my machines built from a long sheet of old corrugated tin and a sampling of bicycle parts and the backpack frame.  It was 4 seconds of exhilarating, terrifying wonder culminating in a spectacular combination of crunching metal, ripped blue jeans, and a flurry of dirt driveway dust.  I might not have achieved Wright Brothers success, but I didn’t die either, much to Mrs. Smith’s relief.  Such was my reality growing up in a small town in the 1970’s.

My childhood was wrought with tantalizing peril.  Our bicycles roared off homemade jumps as we imagined ourselves Evel Knievel.  Soda cans, small rodents, birds, and the occasional little brother were ready targets for BB guns.  We blew stuff up with fire crackers, chopped down trees, dug underground forts, swam in rivers and lakes, climbed things, jumped from swings and winced as mom applied Bactine or hydrogen peroxide to our various scrapes and wounds.  My childhood was also full of wonder and wild, unbridled opportunity to discover first-hand the laws of physics, the chemistry of fire, the aesthetics of nature, and the poetry of life.

Along the way there were some broken bones, stitches, and burns, but all in all my buddies and I emerged on the other side of childhood mostly intact and with minimal scars. Now it seems everything has changed.  There’s an empty spot on my old, school playground where the merry-go-round used to be, the monkey bar tower is gone, and regulations made the school lower the slides 10 inches.  Don’t get me wrong, things like bike helmets and car seats for toddlers save lives, and made my kids use such things.  But in a larger sense, I think we are bubble wrapping childhood to a degree that we rob our children of valuable learning experiences.  It is important for kids to have opportunities to experience reasonable risk, to face fears, push their limits, and suffer a few bumps and bruises.

Gever Tully, founder of Tinkering School writes: “The world is a marvelously complicated place, and simple rules are insufficient to protect kids from danger.  Let them engage with real tools and materials and they will learn to recognize and manage risk for themselves.  We, the adults, are all superheroes, endowed with the power of supervision.  Let us use our powers wisely and be amazed at what children can do”

While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for encouraging kids to jump off garage roofs in homemade flying machines, I absolutely believe they should have room to let their imaginations fly.  Kids should climb trees, wade in creeks, and learn to be responsible with fire.  There just isn’t a replacement for learning from experience.  Every kid should build things with real tools, take things apart to see how they work, and use their creativity to dream up new adventures.  It’s time to “unsanitaize” childhood just a little and peel back at least a layer or two of the bubble wrap.  It’s a risk/reward proposition to be sure, but properly managed, our kids will come out the other side much more resilient and better able to recognize and manage risk in their lives.  And as a bonus, they will learn a lot about the world around them and their place in it.  And maybe, just maybe, they will have a few great stories and fond memories of how they cheated death and really, really lived.

Assuming Positive Intent in a Divided World-Doorway to Critical Thinking

According to the Pew Research Center, 48 % of Americans identify as belonging to the Democratic party and 44 % identify as belonging to the Republican party.  So, the U.S, is fairly evenly split between these two parties.  If we believe what we see on T.V., read in newspapers and magazines, or look at our social media feeds, we would undoubtedly arrive at the conclusion that roughly half of Americans are bad people.  It doesn’t really matter which side of the political spectrum you agree with, the prevailing trend is to vilify those on the other end of the spectrum, usually through oversimplification of issues, stereotyping, hyperbolic absurdities in the form of social media memes, or outright fabrication of data or incorrect information.  Civil discourse targeted at understanding each other and finding common ground in the pursuit of real solutions to real issues has given way to personal attacks and vitriol.

If I believe what I see on any given day in my Facebook feed, I must assume at least half the people I know suffer from antisocial personality disorder – that’s what psychologists now use to describe sociopathic or psychopathic disorders.  Here’s the problem.  Most people I know are not bad people.  They’re certainly not greedy, self-serving sociopaths.  As a matter of fact, most people I meet genuinely desire to improve the world, for themselves and for others.  They just disagree on how we can do this best.

So as educators, how can we guide the next generation as they navigate our divided world?  Much attention has been given over the past few years to the idea that the 21st century requires critical thinkers who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve problems and come up with novel solutions.  All the while our children are watching the adults in their lives grow ever more divided and unable to collaborate and find common ground.  Well-meaning educators all too often fall into this same pattern of vilifying those who hold political, religious, or philosophical positions that differ from theirs.  It’s so easy to post a clever meme without considering how broad a brush it paints with or how oversimplified it treats an issue.  It’s so easy to forward/share that latest “news article” that showed up in your newsfeed without carefully vetting it for accuracy.  And on some level, we feel a sense of duty to post and share as a civic duty, fighting the good fight or standing up for those who can’t stand for themselves.  I get it.

But what if we started by assuming positive intent?  What if we assumed that half the population wasn’t sociopathic, but actually wanted to work to create the same better world we want?  What if we stopped throwing stones and arguing our point and tried to actually understand each other?  What if we taught our students to listen to each other and seek understanding?  I believe this is the doorway to critical thinking when it comes to controversial topics.

Years ago, I tried an experiment in my high school civics class.  I had my students brainstorm a list of 15 or so controversial topics like gun control, abortion, legalization of drugs, immigration, etc.  Then they had to create a fairly simple position statement for both sides of the issue.  From there the task was to begin by assuming positive intent and write a brief description of what positive outcome they thought each side of the issue was trying to accomplish.  What developed through this process was a rich discussion that helped us all grapple with the reality that someone could hold a position opposite to our own and honestly have good, positive, noble motivations for holding their position.

When such topics came up throughout the rest of the year, and students began to get emotionally charged, we were able to reference this work, and remind each other to assume positive intent until given a reason to not to.  I’m not saying this magically eliminated all discord and argument, but it did help us steer the discourse away from personal attack and keep it focused on the issue and working together from our differences to seek novel solutions and divergent thinking.  It helped us not take disagreements so personally.  It helped us strengthen our commitment to understanding each other rather than just tearing each other down.  Sometimes discussions led to interesting ideas for how to find common ground and work together and sometimes when the dust settled folks just had to agree to disagree, but we were able to do it with a higher degree of respect and tolerance for each other’s positions.

I know we won’t all agree on everything, but wouldn’t it be great if we could at least disagree respectfully?   Let’s expect our students to be willing to listen to each other and consider the possibility that they might develop more positive solutions together than they would isolated in their own little political camps where the information they are fed rarely, if ever challenges preconceived ideas and philosophies.  Let’s get serious about teaching students to think critically and creatively.  In the end there is far more that unites us than divides us, and the world will be a better place if we believe this and act accordingly.

Want Your Students to Learn? Build a Positive Relationship With Them.

I’ve always been keenly interested in building relationships.  It’s what drives me in almost every arena of my life, and looking back over the years, always has.  Because of this, I found that relationship was always at the heart of my career in education.  As a teacher, I made it my mission to find ways to connect with students and build a positive relationship.  I didn’t have any data to back it up, but it seemed indispensable to fostering intrinsic motivation in my students.  If they liked me and knew I cared about them more than my subject, my paycheck, or my peace and quiet, I reasoned, they would want me to be proud of them, they would trust me to be there for them, and they would be more likely to give it a go in my classes.  All in all, I observed this to be true.  Students seemed to do better when we built good relationships.

As I moved into administration, I took this belief with me and searched out ways to promote this in my schools and throughout the faculty.  In hiring, I always search out educators who demonstrate a sincere love for kids more than a love for whatever academic area they teach.  My mantra is that we can teach you better pedagogy or improved unit planning procedures etc, but if you don’t genuinely have that love for kids, I probably won’t change that – it’s who you are.  Here again, I would say my experience bears this out to be true.  The teachers who come at education from a place of genuine concern for kids, and have that burning desire to build relationships and make a difference in the lives of their students, tend to be the most successful in guiding kids in academic growth.  But that’s just my experience.

Here’s the thing though.  Brain research now backs this hunch up with research based findings.  It turns out our brains really do learn best in the context of positive, relationships that attend to and support our students’ emotional health.  In their study, We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education,  Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio assert:

Recent advances in the neuroscience of emotions are highlighting connections between cognitive and emotional functions that have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of learning in the context of schools.  

…In teaching children, the focus is often on the logical reasoning skills and factual knowledge that are the most direct indicators of educational success. But there are two problems with this approach. First, neither learning nor recall happen in a purely rational domain, divorced from emotion, even though some of our knowledge will eventually distill into a moderately rational, unemotional form. Second, in teaching students to minimize the emotional aspects of their academic curriculum and function as much as possible in the rational domain, educators may be encouraging students to develop the sorts of knowledge that inherently do not transfer well to real-world situations.

As teachers, with ever increasing pressure to deliver measureable academic results, I think we can become hyper-focused on the cognitive side of our profession, pushing for higher and higher levels of academic performance and content mastery from our students.  While this is not an incorrect goal for our students, we need to remember that we will be most successful in reaching it if we also attend to the social, emotional, and cultural needs of our students.  This, I contend, is nearly impossible outside of attending to the building of real, healthy interpersonal relationships with our students, and guiding them in developing real, healthy relationships with their peers.  Immordino-Yang and Damasio conclude their paper writing:

After all, we humans cannot divorce ourselves from our biology, nor can we ignore the high-level sociocultural and cognitive forces that make us special within the animal kingdom. When we educators fail to appreciate the importance of students ’ emotions, we fail to appreciate a critical force in students ’ learning. One could argue, in fact, that we fail to appreciate the very reason that students learn at all.

 

Skills for the New Pacific Century

Rows of students maniacally zipping along frothy waves on boogie boards, grinning ear to ear, provides a stark contrast to the rows of silent children that most likely characterized education throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  For 15, glorious days, APIS middle school students traded in textbooks for a dizzying array of hand-on educational activities and adventures. They hiked jungle trails, snorkeled in clear ocean bays, dug in the dirt, built things with tools, laughed, and learned on the APIS Hawaii campus and all around the beautiful island of Oahu.

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The New Pacific Century Academy was an opportunity for middle school students from the APIS Seoul, Korea campus to come and work and learn alongside our local Hawaii campus students to develop important skills that will prepare them for success in the 21st Century.  In his book A Whole New Mind, author Daniel H. Pink writes that we are “moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.”  He argues that the workplace is changing and the skills necessary for success in the 21st century workplace are different from those needed in the 20th century. Pink notes that while the “defining skills of the previous era are necessary, they are no longer sufficient.”  This conceptual age Pink describes, led by Asia, abundance, and automation, is what we at APIS refer to as the New Pacific Century.  “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different type of mind,” warns Pink. Workers will need to build on the skills of the 20th Century by mastering a new and different set of skills in the 21st Century.  The APIS New Pacific Century Academy provides our students a strategically focused opportunity to practice these 21st century skills and receive targeted feedback to help them develop their skills in Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking & Creativity, and Cultural Citizenship.

The Academy was an action-packed time of exploration, hands-on learning, and personal growth for our students as they stretched both their intellectual and social boundaries.

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The grade six program was titled Hanguk to Hawaii.  Sixth grade students investigated Hawaiian culture through the question, “What does it mean to be Hawaiian?” This leading question challenged students to examine ways that people have maintained their traditions and resisted external influences (e.g. generational gaps, migration patterns, or globalization). Through a variety of activities exploring Hawaiian art, language, food, and landscapes, our students had the opportunity to discover and learn to reflect and inquire about their own identity — that is, what does it mean to be Korean, American, Chinese, or belong to any other ethnic or national group?

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The grade seven program was titled Outriggers to Internet.  Seventh grade students explored how innovations in communication and transportation transform a society from isolation to globalization. With its position as a global tourist destination, Hawaii was the perfect laboratory to examine this central question, allowing students to take advantage of great locations from the North Shore to Waikiki Beach to investigate the transformation of Hawaiian society and culture. Students engaged in hands-on experiences, such as rowing traditional outrigger canoes and building their own boats, to visiting a modern television news studio, to flying drones and designing and building model airplanes.  These experiences launched into the bigger understanding of how adoption of scientific knowledge and use of technologies influences cultures, the environment, economies, and the balance of power.

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The eighth grade program was titled Seeds to Citizens.  Eighth grade students explored each step of local food production from farm to table. Beginning with a critical analysis of the students’ own ecological footprints and consumption habits, students were tasked with researching and developing a proposal for building their own sustainable garden. They learned farming techniques by actually planting their own garden plot, and explored the symbiotic relationships between fish and plants at our aquaponics garden.  A highlight event included students constructing an amazing mural using recycled plastic cleaned up from beaches near the campus. Students also planned, cooked, and served a nutritious meal utilizing locally produced goods. Through these learning activities, students examined sustainable lifestyles and explored ways to nurture community identity committed to sustainability.

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Over the course of the academy our students learned a lot about culture, innovation, and sustainability, but more importantly, they had the opportunity to grow and develop the 21st Century skills we know will be important for their future.  For over two weeks, students lived and learned side by side, communicating, creating, thinking critically, collaborating, and considering how their lives impact the world around them.

On the final day of the academy, each group had the opportunity to present their learning experiences at the Learning Expo.  The 6th grade led it off with a mural of the different Hawaiian Islands, as well as individual presentations on Hawaiian culture.  The 7th grade followed up with seven, hands-on stations including a virtual reality experience, drone flying station, airplane building, postcard making, photo timeline competitions, tin-can-phone experiments, and a station to listen to the podcasts the students created.  The 8th grade then led tours throughout the campus on the different farming techniques used in Hawaii and what sustainability means.  They also presented the incredible mural created from micro-plastics they cleaned from the beach.  The 6th grade then ended the day with a concert, performing a song they composed using traditional Hawaiian instruments and then singing a farewell song in Hawaiian.

Growing greatness of soul – from my Spring 2013 APIS newsletter post.

Re-post of an article I wrote in the APIS Update 2013

In his book, Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning writes, “Hope knows that if great trials are avoided great deeds remain undone and the possibility of growth into greatness of soul is aborted.”

One of the great challenges of educators is to somehow encourage our students toward the path of great trials, to a place of welcome discomfort where their mettle is tested and their mental horizons expanded.  It is our challenge to guide students into a place where the risk of failure is mitigated by the reward of growth and deeper understanding.  I think sometimes the danger is that we so fear failure, that we continuously intervene, swooping in to save students from their toil and whisk them to premature safety before they have actually had the chance to dust themselves off and try again.

When our children are young, they will try just about anything in school.  When a teacher asks a question, every child is ready to give it a go and share their best guess.  But slowly, and surely they begin to learn that getting it wrong is not acceptable, and they become more and more hesitant to put themselves out there and hazard a try.  This is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy of institutionalized education.

Schools should not be measuring devices serving to categorize students and quantify intelligence or aptitude.  Schools should be living laboratories where wonder and creativity and experimentation flourish, where students understand the value of exploration and have permission to take an educated risk.

Albert Einstein wrote, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”  As educators we need to strive to create an environment where curiosity not only survives, but flourishes.  Faculty and administration need to be committed to designing a school where students risk the road not taken and move beyond the basics of rote memorization and fact regurgitation, to become intellectual explorers who seek understanding.  I envision a school where students and teachers come together as partners in learning and both hold each other accountable and hold each other up as we embark on a journey of growth and discovery.  I envision a school where people matter most, and together teachers and students risk great trials in order to grow into greatness of soul.

Opening the Portal of Curiosity

I think the exciting, yet incredibly challenging, task before us as educators is to balance the need for students to acquire some basic level of intellectual capital or requisite body of knowledge,…

Source: Opening the Portal of Curiosity

Opening the Portal of Curiosity

I think the exciting, yet incredibly challenging, task before us as educators is to balance the need for students to acquire some basic level of intellectual capital or requisite body of knowledge, yet move from a focus on knowledge acquisition to a focus on thinking skills, problem solving, and ability to create.  This quote I came across in my reading this morning hits on my thinking at this point:

“The factory, rather than a moral, learning community, is the inspiration for traditional models of learning.  When the factory was touted as the ideal organization for work and when most youngsters were headed for its assembly lines, making a mass public education system conform to the model of the factory may have seemed like a great achievement.”

(Battling for the Seoul of American Education – John Abbot)

The limitations of such a traditional factory model of education have become manifest and they are crippling.  The traditional model of schooling is incompatible with the idea that learning must be active, and that children learn in different ways and at different rates.

Schools will best prepare students for their future if we find a way to break free of the fact-centered, factory model of education developed in the Industrial age and refined throughout the information age, so that we can create schools suited for the challenges of the conceptual age where there is information abundance.  Our recent school reform initiatives influenced by NCLB have, I believe, focused too narrowly on content and skills, the recall or use of which are easy to quantify on tests, at the expense of unlocking student curiosity and ability and passion to explore, learn, and create.

Paulo Freire argues that the basis of a critical classroom is for teachers to understand the primacy of curiosity. Before teachers can entertain methods or pedagogical approaches for an engaging classroom, “the teacher must be clear and content with the notion that the cornerstone of the whole process is human curiosity.  Curiosity drives us to question, states Freire, “and to know, act, ask again, recognize.” Curiosity, then, motivates us to not only want to know, but to reflect and to act upon that reflection. Curiosity moves us to action.

“There could be no such thing as human existence without the openness of our being to the world . . . ” and what more important disposition or quality can any teacher have, then but “openness to the world” through the portal of curiosity?”

(Freire, Paulo (1998) Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp 79-84.)

At our school this year we created a two and a half hour block of time every Wednesday afternoon called Life-long Learner Time (LLT).  Each week during this time, teachers and students all work on a project, intellectual pursuit, or new skill they have selected on their own just because it interests them.  Some students and teachers are building things, some are learning a new language, some learning to play an instrument, some writing a novel or book of poetry, or screen play.  There are mini presentations along the way for all of us to share our learning journey, and there will be a larger presentation and celebration at the end of the semester where teachers and students will share their experience with the larger school community and our parents.  It is so exciting to see students and teachers across campus all diving into the opportunity to explore their own passions or curiosities each week!  And students are learning fantastic things, and, more importantly, learning how to learn and how to transit the portal of curiosity.  What will we do today in our schools or classrooms to stimulate openness to the world through the portal of curiosity?

The Educator’s call to Greatness – Part 2.

 

When I entered the teaching profession in the late 1980’s in California, U.S. public education was about to enter the accountability movement.   The theory of action for the accountability movement shifted to state and federal authority rather than individual self-interest as a driver for change.  By developing curricular standards and a set of aligned assessments, or so the theory goes, good schools can be recognized and rewarded, while bad schools can be identified for assistance or shut down.  Prior to the school accountability movement, U.S. teachers enjoyed a high degree of curricular and instructional autonomy.  That is to say, teachers made the majority of their curricular decisions based on state guidelines, the content of adopted textbook programs, and a fair degree of personal interest or opinion as to what is important.  While this often provided students with a rich and varied education, it also allowed some teachers the freedom to drift toward a path of mediocrity rather than rise to the pursuit of excellence.

Over the past 20 years or so, the accountability movement has sparked intense national debate.  How can schools best gather data on student learning and be held accountable for delivering results without inevitably focusing too heavily on high stakes testing at the expense of student engagement and the habits of mind so important to success in the 21st century?   While most people recognize the need for some level of accountability,  often absent from the rhetoric of the debate, is the reality that schools are comprised of people, not impersonal products that easily fit into an industrial quality control model.  Both teachers and students bring so many variables that are not easily analyzed on a standardized test.  And, while the accountability movement has certainly brought analysis of teaching quality out into the open resulting in many positive educational gains, I believe it is time for us to reemphasize the human element at the heart of education.  Just as some in education prior to the accountability movement demonstrated complacency or poor quality instruction with impunity under a system of little to no oversight or accountability, we still have teachers who demonstrate the same lack of instructional excellence and complacency.  The difference now, is simply that they can learn to play the game, teach to a test, focus on bubble kids, etc, and fly under the accountability radar.

The task before us now, as it was prior to the accountability movement, is to challenge those who have found themselves bobbing along with the current through the path of least resistance.  Jerry Jeff Walker wrote, “Every wrong direction began as a step in what someone once thought was the right one.  No one is foolish enough to go about the wrong things for the wrong reason.”  I believe those teachers or administrators who have become complacent are simply well-meaning people who unintentionally started down the path to mediocrity for some reason that, at some time, seamed like a good idea.  We compromise out of weariness, or fear, or any number of emotions or as a response to any number of external forces that conspire to rob us of our passion and leave us only with the will to survive.  We all know teachers who begin each year with the singular goal of making it to June.  It’s no way to live, and certainly no way to teach.  Those devoid of passion cannot inspire it in others, and inspiring passion is at the heart of education.

To provide instructional or curricular leadership, I believe it is imperative to empower teachers as leaders in our learning community.  In Learning by Heart, Roland Barth writes, “The lives of teachers who lead are enriched and ennobled in many significant ways.  Rather than remain passive recipients, even victims, of what their institutions deal to them, teachers who lead help shape their schools and, thereby, shape their own destinies.”

Teachers are still the brave souls who hit the stage each day and lay it all on the line to guide students through the learning process. When it all comes down to it, I believe schools are successful when everyone involved grabs hold of a personal responsibility and passion for people.  The challenge is to apply this commitment to people consistently, day to day, month to month, year to year.   As educators, we will achieve some degree of success and suffer some degree of failure in the pursuit of these ideals.   The goal is to never desert those ideals and wrinkle our soul, or the souls of those teachers and students in our care.  There will be considerable motivation to do so from time to time.  When that melancholy impulse to give up or give in does rear its ugly head, I believe it will probably have less to do with the state of education policy or finance or governmental bureaucracy than with the fact that education places us in dangerous daily proximity to people, and people are unpredictable, and messy, and alive.  That is what makes working with kids so terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.  In his book, Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli writes, “If I were to have a heart attack right at this moment, I hope I would have just enough air in my lungs and just enough strength in me to utter one last sentence as I fell to the floor: “What a ride!” My life has been up and down, careening left then right, full of mistakes and bad decisions, and if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depths of my soul, “What a ride!”

I hope I can apply this kind of passion for life in all its unpredictable glory to my position as an educational leader, and that somehow this open, honest passion might inspire those around me to do the same.  Passion is contagious, but so is apathy.  I hope I choose to infect those around me with passion whenever possible.

 

 

 

The Educator’s Call to Greatness, Pt. 1

General Douglas MacArthur once wrote,

Youth is not a period of time.  It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste for adventure over the love of comfort.  A man doesn’t grow old because he has lived a certain number of years.  A man grows old when he deserts his ideal.  The years may wrinkle his skin, but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul.”

Junior high and high school is the proving ground of the youthful soul.  It is a time of transition, of testing, of sifting, and experimenting with what it is to be.  It is a time when young people can spend all day trying to be grown up and cool, but still come home and just want to be a kid.  It is a time when the young enjoy perceiving the old as “out of our minds,” while still quietly looking to us for the answers to the million questions lying deep inside.  As educators come alongside students for this adolescent rollercoaster ride we shouldn’t be overly concerned that our kids don’t seem to listen to a word we say.  We should be more concerned that they watch everything we do.  The best thing adults can do to help kids through this time is to lead by example.

Each day educators have the chance to help students move closer to discovering their passions and ideals, so that when they have moved on from our care they will be men and women of courage, integrity, and intellect whose souls resist wrinkling.

The calling of an educational leader is to keep people rather than programs at the center of every decision in schools.  It is about helping students and staff unlock their potential.  It is about equipping and inspiring students and staff to strive for personal excellence and academic rigor without losing their passion or humanity.

When I began my administrative credential program, I was asked to write a professional goals statement.  At that time I wrote:

I became an educator because I felt it would afford me the opportunity to invest my life in something meaningful, rather than spend it in a career where the end goal was to simply receive a paycheck.  Education provided me the opportunity to touch lives and make a positive difference.  While I enjoy the curricular areas I have had the opportunity to explore with my students, my deepest commitment has always been to them as people, beyond the academic content.  While it is true that literacy, depth of knowledge, and the ability to think critically are the tools students need to achieve their dreams and be successful, contributing members of society, teaching these things has also given me the opportunity to be involved in their lives.  It is from this passion and commitment to young people, that I draw my excitement for education.  It is this concern for kids which has consistently driven me to get involved on my campus and seek ways to impact more than just my own classroom. 

To be a leader in education is more than a job.  It is, as the Army says, “An adventure.”  The challenge of educational leadership is to step out of our comfort zone and aspire to something greater than ourselves.  This is why we choose to teach, after all.  We choose to teach because we believe we can make a difference in the lives of the young people we interact with each day.  If not, then perhaps we’ve chosen the wrong profession.   In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell writes,

“The call to adventure … signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.  This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented… but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.” 

Education, though often viewed differently by our culture at large, is a noble endeavor.  It is a place of “Strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”  To make it less is tragedy, imagination killing, and soul numbing.

At one time, each of us in education made a conscious decision to step away from the drum beat of our contemporaries and do something that would make a difference.  The question I pose to those who have entered into this fantastic journey is, “Will we dig deep, summon our courage, and strive for the heroic?  Or will we fall into complacency and drift with the current wherever it flows?”  As teachers or school administrators, we must not settle for less than greatness.  I challenge us to step out into unknown territory and embrace the exhilaration of daring to dream great dreams and take great risks, so that our students would follow our example and do likewise.  I challenge us to make a difference in the lives of the students we serve.  This is the high calling of education.

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