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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Betterment

As I stare out the picture window at the windswept snowflakes crisscrossing in front of a myriad of trees laden with a fresh coat of beautiful snow, I'm thinking about betterment--what can I do to better my work, my home, my school/system, and community? After watching the violent film, Silent, last night, I am struck by the fact that the way we spend our time matters--what we do each day in the aim of betterment makes a difference. In Silence, I couldn't get past the heartless cruelty and violent treatment used in the name of religion--how horrible. Yet today, this still exists--those thinking they have the monopoly on truth impose violence, hate, disrespect, and cruelty on others in the name of religion. No religion at its heart is about hatred, violence, hurt, and despair, and all religions as I see it at their core reach for truth, justice, peace. Though I've heard that thought debated, and will pay attention to those debates. In the meantime, I'll hold onto the truth that religion is human-made which means, like humans, no religion is perfect and all have flaws of one kind or another, and no one anywhere should use religion as an excuse to overpower, hate, kill, demean, and hurt others. If one can use religion to further his/her journey towards truth, justice, peace, and love, then by all means, follow that path.

How can we use religion, our time, others, and experiences for betterment--to improve, and to go to our graves with the sense that we made things better, we mattered, we made a difference small or great? Why does that matter?

What is life like without a will towards betterment for ourselves and others? How can we work together to further rid our world of selfish pursuits and greed, the kind that snuffs out the lives, livelihood, and good living of others? How can we further our efforts towards betterment?

When you ask this question and truly look around, it's limitless what each one of us can do? We won't always know exactly how to act, but with good intent and collaboration, it's beyond imagination what we can do.

Each word, each act, each effort matters--and the more we are cognizant of that, the better we will be. Onward.

Focus: Empower Students

To give our students power over their world is the best we can do for our students. To give them power or to empower them, in my opinion, is to give them the capacity to make decisions, create success paths, find their passions, build good relationships, contribute, develop confidence, and live a good life.

To give them this power is not only to make them feel good, but to help them develop the skills, perspectives, knowledge, ideas, and overall capacity that will fuel their ability to live good lives. How can we do this?

First, we can give them a really strong and facile foundation of knowledge, concept, and skill. This strong foundation gives students strength for all areas of future pursuit. When students have strong, flexible, and fluid abilities with numeracy, literacy, and a broad knowledge foundation, they are ready to pursue passions, interests, and needs.

Next, we can teach students how to learn with confidence, strength, and ability. If students understand how their brains work, what resources they're able to access, and the attitudes and behaviors that power them up for successful learning, they will be better learners. Just Friday a young man sat next to me continuously sighing as he tried to learn a new concept. He often got the wrong answer and had to ask me many, many questions. I said, don't worry too much as you're forging a new brain path and that's like making a new path in the woods. I asked him if he had ever made a new path in the woods, and how when you do that you get scratched by branches, step into muddy wet holes, rip your pants, and struggle. I noted that it's the same way when you're forging new brain paths--it takes time and struggle to learn that new material. I think he understood the metaphor and continued to persevere--I was so proud of him. The more we let students know that we're all capable of great learning, and learning-to-learn is our path in that direction, the better students do.

After that we can help students know themselves and their world. They need to understand where they are strong, and where they face challenges. They also need to understand where the world supports them, and where their world may set up walls to their success. Understanding the supports and hindrances empowers students. We have to be honest about our world. For example students were asking me about my religion the other day, and I responded that I typically don't say much about my own religion as it's a public school and I want to honor all the religions students celebrate. In public school we don't promote one religion over another, but instead respect all religions. The children who listened to me, children of multiple religions, were comforted by response.

I want to think more about this topic in the days ahead since as I think of my teaching focus at present it is to empower students in my charge--that's my main focus. What would you add to this discussion? How can I develop this intent?

Promoting Educator Voice, Choice, and Leadership

For years I've been advocating for greater teacher and student voice, choice, and leadership in education. I've felt that the predominance of top-down hierarchy and leadership models have stood in the way of better schools and greater capacity. I have urged systems to promote educator voice, choice, and leadership with greater distributive models of leadership, models where educators and students do lead education in ways that matter.

Lately I've noticed much greater teacher voice, choice, and leadership in the system where I work and in the greater education community too. I've noticed this in multiple ways including the following:
  • The new superintendent in our system has invited educators to share their impressions and thoughts about the school system and to serve on a focus group related to their ideas and perspectives. This is positive.
  • Our new local union president is reaching out to enlist the ideas, perspectives, and efforts of the membership with regard to important issues and ideas that affect the work we're able to do. This too is very positive.
  • Curriculum directors are reaching out to educators for their ideas about scheduling.
  • The local foundation continues to reach out to educators to write grants for innovative ideas. 
  • Decisions have been made to enlist greater educator voice with regard to their evaluations too.
  • Faculty meetings have included greater teacher presentations and ideas.
This is all very positive, and has given me greater time, energy, and ideas to move my practice forward. I hope that this positive emphasis continues, and I hope that educators will become more and more comfortable and active with regard to speaking up, sharing ideas, and leading our profession close to home, at the state level, nationally, and globally too. This will result in better schools and better service to every student and family. Onward.