Phifty – The Birthday Post

I have traditionally written a birthday post. I started this blog on my 44th birthday, thus the name. I have been consistently inconsistent in my writing over the last six years and, reading through my posts, the blog has gone through many iterations. There were periods when I wrote for the joy and tried to appeal to an audience and times that I wrote out of anger at the system and tried to appeal to an audience. The latest iteration is me writing as a reflection on my practice as an educator. I write to get ‘it’ out there whatever ‘it’ is but for me getting ‘it’ out there makes it real. No matter how few strangers or friends read it, I have put it out there irretrievably. That can be cathartic at times but it also forces me to own my reflection and work on my foibles. As I wrote in my last post, it’s hard sometimes.

Apparently my last post may have ruffled some feathers. Some things that I said were hard for me to get out of my mind. That’s what my blog is for: to cause me to reflect and use that reflection to make myself a better professional. If a casual reader reads my post and the content causes them to reflect, that is a bonus. Sometimes what we do is hard and hearing that we aren’t perfect is even harder. I’ve said before that I don’t believe there is any learning without reflection. Truthfully, that is not just my belief, that is a truism. You may know something but you haven’t learned it if you haven’t reflected on why it is important, how it fits into the schema of your life, how you can use it in the future, and on and on.

Honest, true reflection is painful and necessary. It makes us better. It makes our schools better and isn’t that truly what we want for our kids.

So today I’m fifty. That’s a big number! And as I reflect over the last two weeks I realize that I am better at 50 but still have many imperfections. I’m a work in progress and so are you. None of us are finished. I did fail to say in my last post that I’m guilty of some of those same things that damage our culture. But that’s why I wrote it. I reflect; I learn; I work on changing. I’m working. It’s  painful. It’s hard.

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Question this Answer

This is a response to a post by Jan Simson over at Inspiration Avenue.  His question, “how would you make the education system better?” is something that I have written about in a roundabout way over the last several months.  

I’ll start my restating that I think that what education needs is a reinvention.  Starting from a vacuum and determining the best way to teach kids.  When I think about this now I think about the times in our lives when we learn things without a teacher.  Take for instance walking.  Does anyone really ever teach us to walk or do we just eventually walk?  Sure there are encouraging words and opportunities to walk provided.  We reached out fora hand, leg or table for stability.  Someone buys us a decent pair of shoes to make sure that those first few steps go smoothly and if we’re lucky, someone sets us down on a nice, soft surface so that falling doesn’t hurt so much.  No one ever says, “Okay, in today’s lesson we are going to talk about feet.  Feet are your primary means of transportation.  Once we learn about feet we will go on to standard PK.1.2 and you will begin to understand how those feet attach to legs.” In there was definitely no side trip to the history of shoes and footwear around the world.

What if we took those same ideas and put them into practice in education?  Give students opportunities to learn about what interests them and encourage them along the way.  Provide students with the resources that they need to be successful in their endeavors.  And provide the support that they need along the way.

The truth is that in the 21st century there is no way that we will be able to teach all of the content that currently exists.  Our jobs must be to teach students how to access the content, think critically about what they find and to solve the problems that they encounter along the way. The fact is that the jobs that we believe we are preparing our students for won’t even exist in 10, 15 or 20 years.  The skills of thinking critically and solving problems will be necessary in any future job. The character traits of courage and perseverance won’t hurt either.

If I had to sum it up in a bulleted list:

  • Teach students to be problem solvers.  Really that’s why we learn to walk. To solve the problem of it taking so long to get to what we want.
  • Encourage students along the way.
  • Teach students to be critical thinkers.
  • Encourage them to take chances.
  • Provide them with the tools that they need to access content.

 

Sometimes it Takes a Vacuum

At times it has to be necessary to start completely from scratch.  To begin as if the problem you are solving has never been tackled before.

I had this thought while looking at my computer keyboard.  Why does it not sit vertically?  Why are the letters in that order?  Has anyone ever taken a shot at designing a key board from the vacuum stage?  I know other people have developed different key placements but basically its still the same thing.

Two examples I thought of are the 12 pack of soda and the orange juice container.  Someone at some point said the way that we design soda boxes is not congruent with the way they need to be stored.  So, somebody changed the shape.  Now try to find a 12 pack of soda that doesn’t come in a “fridge case.”  Someone also asked why after generations do we still fuss with that damn cardboard opening on the quart of orange juice.  So they put a twist off cap on them.  Now its impossible to sell a quart of juice without the twist off.

Now those examples may not be completely created out of a vacuum.  But you get my point.  Change is hard but sometimes the change is so beneficial that everyone forgets the predecessor.

Which leads me to this:  Pennsylvania is in the midst of “creating” an evaluation tool for educators.  Did anyone think of taking a blank piece of paper and writing down what makes a great teacher?  Looking at Clint Eastwood’s empty chair and picturing the most awesome teacher ever and finding ways to evaluate those characteristics. Hell, maybe that’s where we need to go with the whole education system. It’s been too long that we have been patching things together and hoping that it works.  It’s been too long that we have negotiated away a quality education for kids.  Give a little here and a little there.  Maybe we just need to put a twist off cap on this thing and dump it all out.

Times Change

There was a time

When that was home

And this just a house

Far away

Unfamiliar

Overwhelming

There was a time

When this was difficult

And that was simple

Straightforward

Comfortable

Uncomplicated

Then the time came

When the pendulum swung

To a house and a home

Far away but simple

Difficult but rewarding

Comfortable and complicated