I sit at my computer this Sunday morning, writing my first blog post on my new website. The book that I have worked on for the past three years will be published soon and I am poised at the beginning of a new phase in my life. I'll call this phase The Summation because I am attempting to gather together my memories, my relationships and the insights that I have gleaned from my life experience and put it into words, always a daunting challenge.
What Are We Going To Learn Today? is about learning, - my continual learning curve as a teacher and the educational experiences of the vibrant young beings who shared their lives and passions with me over the years. I feel humbled by the task, but also passionately certain that this is an important, even essential, conversation not only for teachers and educators, but for all of us who are attempting to reconnect to basic truths and principles that underlie our human experience, principles that determine our place within the complex web of life that we have ignored at our peril. What we need is not more "material progress", it is a deepening understanding of our connections - to each other, to our communities, to our children and to the systems of life that have produced all of this abundance. Enough.
I am eager to share my insights and pleased that I can create a platform for an ongoing conversation. As a member of a generation that did not grow up with computers or the internet (we did not even have a television until I was fourteen!), I am also trepidatious. This is a new world for me, full of exciting possibilities, but also possible potholes and pitfalls with trolls and phishers lurking in the shadows. My grandchildren laugh at me as they leap intuitively forward in their efforts to teach Grandma how to move around the worldwide web with confidence. I'm still learning from children after all these years.
I will post relevant articles and links; please send them to me, especially if you have written them yourself. Send me your experiences, your stories. Tell me about your efforts to change our current education reform paradigm. Tell me what you have learned from the children that you teach. Let's build an on-line community of support and inspiration. Use the Contact Page for your comments and submissions.
Let's start then with Relationship. I'll post a story from What Are We Going To Learn Today? and a web connection to two Story Corps interviews that I heard last Friday on Democracy Now! I look forward to hearing from you! And so - we begin. . .
From Chapter Two: Relationship is the Crucible for Learning
"Jasper entered our class in fourth grade. His distress at having to change schools and to be in a group of unknown children was palpable. He concentrated all of his upset into an unblinking glare that he spent most of his class time perfecting during our first difficult weeks together. Jasper was obviously bright and capable, but declined to work. He was, however, willing to participate in artistic activities. He ignored my suggestions during his first attempt at a watercolor painting exercise and ended up with a brown mess on his paper. I looked at his painting and made the mistake of trying to reassure him. Jasper picked up the painting and rubbed it down his face and the front of his white shirt, saying, loudly “I’m going to kill myself!” There was a moment of shocked silence in the classroom. Then I smiled at him and said, “OK, but maybe we should wash your face first.” He looked up at me with a glimmer of a smile behind his scowl and followed me to the sink. Our relationship had begun.
What happened in this exchange that made it pivotal? Perhaps a better question is what could have happened. I could have become alarmed and reported Jasper to the administration as suicidal. I could have scolded him for making such a mess of himself and his desk. I could have sent him outside of the classroom, I could have called his mother to voice my concerns. The possibilities are many. Instead, I responded intuitively. Behind my words was an attitude that said, “I see you. I can handle this. We are going to get through this together.” I remember this moment because it was an ‘aha’ moment for me as a teacher. The tension in the room dissolved; the other children relaxed. I walked over to the sink and Jasper followed me and I helped him wash his face. He allowed me to touch him for the first time. This moment was the door, the way in, the beginning of a years long relationship that would always be challenging and full of growth for us both. This door is immediate, intuitive and personal. It can’t be codified or turned into a system or a How To Reach Difficult Students Handbook. It is the real work of teaching – to be present in the moment and to trust what comes through intuition.
When I react out of my own conditioning and allow my buttons to be pushed, I cannot be present in the moment. When I fall back on a system of consequences or rules without giving my full attention to the situation at hand, I am not present in the moment. Each day in the classroom is filled with such existential choices that determine the quality of relationship between students and teacher. A good practice for a teacher is to take time before sleeping to quickly review the day that has passed. Missed opportunities, responses that shut down learning rather than opening it up have a way of popping into consciousness. When I recognized and took responsibility for these inevitable lapses, I was often able to make amends and rebuild trust the next day, the trust that is necessary for children to feel safe and to become emotionally vulnerable, the trust that is the basis for learning."
The following stories last about five minutes and are both so wonderful they made my day.