Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Are We Afraid to be Silent?

We are all consumed with today’s media gadgets and programs. Whether you are in public, on transit, walking, jogging, in your car, in a mall, in a class or in an elevator we observe everyone being connected. Are we afraid to be silent?

"Silence," said Lao Tzu, "is a source of great strength." It is in silence that we steadily learn the language of art. "It is not the inert silence of a stone," said Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "but creative silence."

Adolescence is a time when young people discover their unique identities. They need moments of silence to reflect on their experiences—to discover who they are as individuals, what kind of relationships they desire, and what they value and believe about life. Tuning out the noisy world helps young people develop the ability to reflect and grow. 

When asking our young people to share their thoughts and feelings, we affirm the value of their experiences, help them see things through other eyes, and support the process of reflection. It is not necessary to text or email questions, but rather interact with our youth and each other.  J. Dewey wrote and published (1910),” How We Think” followed by, “Experience and Education” (1938). He lists five ways to foster self reflection in teens. It is worth the read.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201312/the-importance-silence-in-noisy-world

Talking to others - really talking and sharing or whether talking to ourselves  gives our minds time to pause, to reflect and to relax.  It is healthy.

Human relationships are high on the list, but we also need to guard against losing those other faculties that truly define our humanity.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: MacMillan
Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1910)
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.
How to foster self-reflection in young people.

Published on December 8, 2013 by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. in The Moment of Youth

Use it or Lose it ….Or… When Teaching Grows Tired….

How often do teacher’s and parent’s refer to these phrases?

There is hope claims Dr. Norman Doidges (Psychoanalyst) to rewire the brain. In his book, “The Brain that Changes Itself”. He gives many real life examples of what happens. Like a giant hard drive on a computer that's capable of filing stuff randomly, any part of the brain, including left and right hemispheres, can learn and unlearn. At times we have to disable parts of our brain to establish new connections and that is where we take a new route to overcome old tired procedures to begin again!

Remember the successes you've had and expand on them. When you have samples of students work try mentally to broaden what they've produced by being confident and not fearful. Ask for student input keeping you the teacher and students on your toes. Make learning more meaningful, more personal and fun.

Teaching in isolation seems a ticket to burn-out. There is an inherent social nature to the "act" of teaching; so it seems essential to have social interactions outside the actual teaching act and a group of colleagues that support each other in teaching. Seek them out.

Following the most recent unrest in BC education you might want to work on developing a new fresh agenda before the old becomes something you do by rote. It takes character and focus. 

Note: no matter what the media or government officials say about educators, you are involved in the most important work of our society. Remind yourself of that fact!

Use new material you can access by using the web or journals.

Here are some sites:

Classroom Leadership – Keeping me on my toes!  - Barbara Weaver

Keeping Teaching Fresh – A number of featured articles ASCD

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A High School Senior’s Perspective on the Teacher Job Action

A High School Senior’s Perspective on the Teacher Job Action

By: Farrah Khoo, 3rd Year Queen’s Bachelor of Commerce Candidate

Recently, many students have been affected by the teacher job action, and although I cannot comment on the situation of the teachers or the government, I can only tell a story of the strike from my perspective: as a student. Unfortunately, my peers and I were caught in the middle of teacher job action in 2012, which was my final year in high school.  Although the year was definitely a struggle, my peers and I managed to pull through with the help of administrative staff and by taking our own initiative to lead.

One day in summer preceding my Grade 12 year, I received a phone call from my vice principal. She was desperately calling me and many other students who were very involved with extra-curricular activities at school to help out with Grade 8 day and with homerooms during the first week of school in order to get organized. Unfortunately, the teachers were only allowed to do minimal work, and so me and a few other students had to take the initiative to help with organizational tasks outside of school hours.  The first day of school was hectic and busy but together us high school seniors banded together and managed to run the show with the teachers by our side during regular school hours.

Throughout the rest of the year, our struggles continued. The teachers moved into their different phases of their strike action, slowly stripping away their involvement in after-school activities, and eventually, being unable to stay later to help students with homework and answer questions. They did not talk much about it with us students, but despite our anger, we could do nothing about it except help ourselves. None of my peers wanted to sacrifice their school dances, sports teams or student council. Most definitely, the high school seniors did not want to miss out on a grad dinner dance, and other grad activities. At first, we really struggled to find out what to do. Our teachers, who we use to turn to for help and to sponsor our activities, suddenly could not participate or help even if they wanted to. We turned to administrative staff like our principals and vice principals, but they could only handle so many clubs and events. Eventually we began reaching out to parents to help chaperone school dances, and to meet with us weekly to run events such as dry-grad. Moreover, we desperately begged alumni to come back and coach teams, which they gladly did.

For me, my biggest stress came from my grades. I was working hard on my own to make it into the commerce program at Queen’s University, but I had no grades to send in to universities across the country until the very last minute. The hardest part about my Grade 12 year with the job action was blindly trying to calculate my grades. My teachers did mark my papers and I was able to vaguely calculate my expected grade, but unfortunately it was hard to track my progress and gauge how much harder I needed to work in order to make it into the program.  It was hard to judge if I could ease off from studying a subject and allocate my time to look into scholarships and applications. My peers, who also chose to attend university after high school, were also very unhappy about the situation. Luckily, institutions across the country understood what was happening to us in BC and made exceptions since we could not meet the grade deadlines. On top of that, I could not direct my questions to my teachers all the time because they were not supposed to answer questions after school hours. This was not as big of an issue, though, because most students managed to work around this by asking teachers during class or conversing with peers during spare blocks.

From my experience and from hearing the perspectives of my fellow peers during my Grade 12 year, the teacher job action was a huge setback. From our understanding, it was not that our teachers did not care about us, but it was what their union had decided, and we were caught in the middle of a fight. While most students were greatly disappointed about how limited teacher’s involvement in after-school help, grades, and extra-curricular activities, I like to think about how my peers and I had to really work hard to truly run our own school and take the initiative to get outside help. Despite the teacher strike, the greatest lesson I learned from this strike situation is that a group of people can really rally to demonstrate great teamwork. We had to help each other. My Grade 12 year started out uncertain, but my peers and I completed each task and eventually graduated much closer and friendlier than before, simply because we had learned to work so well together.

Friday, 23 August 2013

A Case Study: Facebook--Part 2 perspectives in depth

Belief Systems
It is stated that a person’s first moral language addresses where people come from, their differing moral places of origin, and their set of beliefs attained from their environment. For instance, if children have grown up in a home where a strict religious practice is adhered to, they are more likely appealing to the same principles of moral beliefs such as, thou shall not lie, steal etc. Many religions appeal to a similar set of universal moral principles, justified and agreed upon by all. Humans, for the most part, desire what is intrinsically good; however, you have to experience what is good so that you understand what it feels like. People do not learn a language of morality unless it is practiced.

In this case study, the old code about not telling is well known. This is a method used by bullies. This is the code that allows evil to develop and flourish. Schools are no place for such a code. In this instance, the bullies needed to be confronted. This mean group of girls creating the gossip, were at first, reluctant to speak about the situation until the implementation of all three moral languages were exercised in their dialogue sessions.

The advantage of appealing to belief systems and a schools code of conduct is that students need to understand that the school expects excellent conduct from them. Nevertheless, these same students often think that not doing unkind things is enough for us to be happy with them. It is not. Students need to understand their individual responsibility for making the school what we all want it to be, and demonstrate conduct that is morally and universally ‘right’. Their responsibility requires pro activity—not neutrality. That responsibility requires acts of kindness as we look out for each other. If we see someone being excluded, we should act to include them in the group, or start another group that does include them. If we hear unkind words, we should speak kind words. If we know of unsavory things on the Internet, educators should make sure adults know, too.

The disadvantage of discussing morals and beliefs is the danger one might not be open to nor understand the reasoning behind a person’s action. This is the limitation of appealing solely to ones beliefs. We need to look at other moral languages combined. Once people are invited into the public speaking arena universal concepts of morality and care can be found.

Public Speech
Public speech is the most common speech of a morally pluralistic society. The language of the majority prevails so that discourse can occur despite fundamental differences in people’s points of view. Opening the lines of communication through discussion is fundamental so that, in an ideal community, they can shape and reshape truths because judgments are open to correction.

Within this case study, instant recognition of degrading gossip is vital. Universally we know a student should stop the talebearer in mid-sentence. We ought to challenge our gossips with, “Have you confronted the person with this?” To give ear to a nasty tale will not only injure our spirit but also encourage gossipers to continue their destruction. We will either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Teaching students how to develop a solution-based thought process is invaluable.

We know for now, stealing is bad, truth is good, honesty is essential, integrity is crucial, good manners matter, all people are worthy of respect and rules should be kept. Whenever we are with children, our influence should be strongly in that direction. To act or speak in a way that diminishes a child’s respect for law, for good values, for property, for liberty, and for other people, and not to act or speak when we witness the child failing to respect these things, is to deny the child the chance of developing the best possible character. These aspects are best left with a teacher, counselor or administrator to deal with. Follow up is critical. In this specific case study, their advisor teacher should allow the students to discuss problems and confide in her.

The advantage of including parents in the overall decision-making process shows the concern to connect the home and school. It demonstrates an awareness and partnership between all parties involved. The level of the discussion should appeal to the moral principles I have described in this study: belief systems and codes of conduct, care, and public speech combined. The disadvantage of including parents into this realm of problem solving is that the communication becomes more complex as increasing perspectives and input are discussed.

Care is another moral language we discuss and share rather than seeing issues from a more technical perspective. I find I have always referred to the works of Nel Noddings and the ‘Care’ perspective, as it is closely tied to the way I view life situations. To share the lingo of ‘care and nurturance,’ Nel Noddings (1984) describes educators as the ones who “are in charge of children who need to be treated with kindness and compassion, who need to grow and mature”.

As a teacher or administrator, there is sometimes the temptation to say ‘Who cares?’ Care and public speech, as moral languages, are closely related in this case study. Certainly life is easier when a blind eye is turned, for one does not have to deal with avoidance, misinformation, downright lies, and angry parents. To do nothing, however, is to deny the students a most important aspect of education—the degree of personal responsibility needed to create, inhabit, and sustain a worthwhile society.

Facebook, Twitter, T.V., the Internet, Social Media, and lenient schooling have all been blamed. Certainly, these may have influenced things to go in the wrong direction. Adult influence of the right sort can, I believe, turn things around. We adults must realize further that young people are immature—that’s what being young is, after all. Left to youth, with no advice or guidance, they will sometimes make incorrect judgments. When the age of majority arrives, they are free to make their own decisions, their own judgments. Until that day, responsible adults must teach them many things and insist on some things—yes, for their own good. Using a caring perspective allows teachers and administrators to determine a fair, balanced solution to a problem.

In this case study, we arrived at a solution through the use of face-to-face dialogue rather than the technological phenomenon, Facebook!

Note: It is amazing to think that Facebook has been around since 2004, and these issues educators face are still prominent today. Although Facebook is a brilliant innovation if used wisely, it can however create social disharmony in some circumstances (as outlined in this case study). Since my own studies in University, I realize there are many theoretical perspectives we can use to help us with the decision-making process in tricky situations. As Administrators, teachers, parents and community members we cannot sit back as bystanders. We must be pro active and work jointly so that wrongs can become right!

A Case Study: Facebook, the technological phenomenon creating social disharmony amongst students in schools.

Who wrote on Sarah’s Facebook Wall, spreading rumors about her? Gossip tantalizes. We listen. True or false, gossip affects us. Every day, it seems, teachers hear of some act of unkindness directed from a group of girls towards Sarah—unkind words, exclusion from groups within her grade circle, threats of ridicule on Facebook, and the like. Every such act causes Sarah to feel sad, unhappy, and fearful.

Sarah and her close friend, Julie, have divulged printed Facebook conversations given to their teacher in person. They want their identities to remain a secret. They are looking for a solution to make their end of term at school a positive experience; however, each day, the ridicule gets worse. Both Sarah and Julie’s parents have no idea this is happening. If you were their advisor teacher and an administrative figurehead at this school, what would you do? When do you inform the principal? When do their parents have the ‘right to know?’

At what point do teachers, administrators, and parents, ‘have the right to know?’ Are we privy to the private lives of our students if they disclose information about things such as ‘Facebook’ gossip they engage in when they are not present on campus? The line of responsibility between home and school is not defined. This is an ethical issue, as Strike (2004) defines, “questions right and wrong—our duties and obligations, our rights and responsibilities.”  Additionally, it then leads us to question the moral languages used by various parties represented in the case study. Is there a universal language common to all? Whose perspective do we see value in moral rights and wrongs of the situation? Moreover, the ethics of right versus right and the short-term goals versus the long-term gains are the basis of consideration. What works best for each situation and those involved?

All problems present many variables and when we look at the facts, we try not to get caught up in the details themselves. Ethics and morals are more subjective than objective in nature. There are different paradigms and perspectives unique to individuals and groups; however, trying to find the nearest right (judgement based) for the circumstance presents moral dilemmas that are not mathematical and straightforward.

In our example case study, given the plurality of language, there are three moral languages to consider: belief systems, public speech, and care.

Preferred Response
The resolution to this problem, as this case study is based on a true story, does not involve one right answer, but a series of steps to initiate problem-solving and ongoing dialogue. This is my preferred solution. This case study delves into a series of moral languages.  As I recall moral and ethical issues are ‘relational.’ When we are concerned about the care of ‘others,’ as caring requires heightened moral sensitivity when issues arise we are better able to discern from multiple points of view; the intricacies of making a decision.

In making all parties of the situation responsible, it is how we deal with the more challenging situations of moral and ethical issues, and what we ought to do, when things fall apart a repeated learning process in our lives that truly determines effective moral leaders, students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Let’s remember to keep our lines of communication open. Let’s also remember the moral language we speak, and to whom we speak. Let’s also remember people need a public forum to speak, be heard, and the right to debate multiple points of view. Let’s be humble in our decision-making and recognize where people come from and their background of beliefs. Let’s try to meet at an ethical standpoint and agree to try our best to deal with a situation through our care for others. Education is a highly political, moral career!

Summary: In real life
All of the girls, bullies and victims, have all agreed to be a part of an ongoing weekly dialogue session with their teacher advisor and school counselor. Parents have been notified about the schools efforts to try and reignite and assist to mend these girls’ friendships. The girls originally confided in their teacher trusting her judgement and care. Once the situation had been exposed, all of the girls concerned also agreed to have their teacher advisor contact their parents on their behalf. In this situation, the girls belief systems are universal in nature, so making the appeal to a universal norm of what is ‘right’ and expected at school is the basis for rebuilding care and trusting relationships. The school’s core values help link reasoning with practice. The care perspective supports in almost all cases prove to be a humane ideal when dealing with tricky cases where a resolution is required.

To open the lines of communication, usually in the dominant language, allows for greater understanding and sensitivity to multiple perspectives. Freedom beckons a democratic process whereby people are heard. A disadvantage of public speech as a moral language is the inability, in certain cases, whereby those who speak a different language are ostracised automatically because they do not speak the dominant language. As an educator it is our ‘calling’ to try to recognize and appeal to higher ethical standards/principles including those who remain ‘voiceless.’ It is important to emphasize teachers must continue to work on ethics and make the children social justice activists themselves. There is no purpose in expelling or suspending a student if the behaviour is never recognized by the individual or group, and therefore, never gets resolved. It is like prison. Confining an adult to prison and releasing the individual to potentially harm again does no good.

What would you do?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Conversations for Learning—Part 2

Professional development gained through the sharing of teaching philosophies and practice has always been and will continue to be invaluable for me. Sharing of activities, viewpoints, and new developments presented at conferences or teacher professional development days allow teachers and administrators alike to question, challenge and look to implement new ways of thinking, learning, and leading in 21st Century educational institutions. Undoubtedly, collegiality and collaboration can be enhanced at any school to ensure teachers benefit from their experiences and continue to enhance their careers. Indeed, inspiration and development helps foster a vital connection between teacher development and school improvement.

A competing viewpoint involving school improvement resonates when collegiality means that shared decision-making, requiring extra time to collaborate, takes place. In some instances, leaders will have the tough role of realizing they will have to make a judgment for the rest to follow whether people agree or disagree. Leaders have a tough job.

In conclusion, shared decision-making is intended to foster change, which can, in turn, generate conflict. As teachers/administrators, we all agree that changes need to be made in order for our careers to reflect the professionalism we are entitled. In this regard, teachers must stand up for what they need. As, James Gorman, British Columbia Deputy Minister of Education stated, we need to continue to question and challenge the status quo because you don’t know if you can get away with it if you don’t try it; ask for forgiveness later. This statement is inarguable in light of the student’s best interest.

Conversations for Learning

As I completed my Masters of Education in Administration and Leadership degree, I had the privilege of hearing Bruce Beairsto speak about leadership in schools, as a "dance between a manager and leader". In my grad program we focused on "leadership," almost to the extent where I had discarded the role of a manager completely—I won’t manage, I will lead! This is what I would repeat to myself. Beairsto’s framework, the two faces of an administrator, clarified my understanding of the fine balance between a manager (masterful so errors and pitfalls do not occur; reliable the scripts at play for efficient running and operations of the school; certain making people feel confident; and boss taking charge of crisis(es) and managing well), and a leader (intimate-fully engaged in a personal way; playful-learning through their engagement and exploration; curious-unscripted behaviour and experimental in nature; and colleague-support). As a leader, I understood these two faces of an administrator to be a paradox—it is never going to be a simple or clear career, free of tension. In some sense this is a relief to know!

To know "the division of experiences along the continuum is not necessarily the point as much as embracing the tensions and complexity for better understandings and eventually professional growth," as stated by Snow-Gerono (2008) gives me hope and belief in the future. After digesting this helpful information, I believe collegiality, the working together of many to achieve the same goal, is the cornerstone, for future development in the educational realm. Working together, learning from experienced educators, sharing visions, and collaborating, enhances teacher’s attitudes and improves ones interpersonal skills used to interact in a more demanding society.