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Posted by on in What If?

girl on monkey bars 500x250

How many times do you imagine a child hears an adult say, “Be careful!”? I suspect it’s a close second to them hearing, “No!” And, if it’s a female child, it may be the number-one phrase coming at them, as studies have shown that girls are cautioned far more often than boys.

This, of course, is a clear and persistent message that one shouldn’t take too many risks. That there are far too many hazards in the world. So, children learn to “stay safe.” They learn to fear.

But outright cautions aren’t the only way in which children are receiving those messages. When a school takes away all traditional playground equipment and replaces it with safe, sanitized (read: boring) plastic, they don’t need to hear the concern spoken aloud to get the message. When a school bans tag or cartwheels, children learn that it’s safer to be sedentary than physically active. When children aren’t allowed to walk – or do much of anything, really – alone, the not-so-subliminal message is that they need to be protected…from everything.

Our society – and its 24-hour news cycles – have generated so much fear that if parents and educators could literally bubble-wrap kids, I believe they would. But, as Lenore Skenazy repeatedly points out, we’re prioritizing fear over facts! She reported just last week that another school has banned cartwheels on the playground – not because there have been any injuries from cartwheels, but because the potential for injuries exists! (Does that mean we should no longer let children ride in cars?)

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Posted by on in What If?

This is the year that everything seems to matter— and yet no one knows if what they do day-to-day matters very much at all. It’s certainly the paradox of our time and especially for teachers. I think it’s important to reflect on our everyday practice and put into question our views about the purpose of education and how we engage young people.

Jacob Needleman writes about an all too typical experience:

“There they were, about fifteen boys and girls, there I was—talking, talking, talking. I couldn’t stop talking. Hands started waving in the air and I finally called on one of the students. But no sooner did she start to bring her question out that I steamrolled over it with an answer that left her absolutely no room for further questioning. I went on talking, amusingly, animatedly bringing in Plato’s cave here, the Upanishads there… Time flew by. The bell rang and suddenly the class was over. That was it, that was all. As the students cheerfully filed past me and I smiled to each of them, exchanging a few informal remarks, I began to realize in my gut what had happened. To be precise: nothing.”

This fiasco, as Needleman called it, propelled him to engage in deep reflection and eventually to take on a high school class in San Francisco after years of teaching at the college level. Later he writes, “My task is to engage that part of them that needs to achieve while calling gently to the part that dreams of Truth.”

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Posted by on in What If?

Happy Kids

I got quite the shock recently – and, for a change, it wasn’t an unpleasant one. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Let me explain…

In preparation for an interview with Tim Walker, an American teacher now working in Finland, I was reading his book, Teach Like Finland. There, in the last section of the last chapter, was the heading, “Don’t forget joy.” Turns out that in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented Finland’s newest core curriculum – in which joy is prioritized as a learning concept!

Imagine that! I suspect you may be as stunned as I was. I mean, what the heck? Someone actually understands that joy and learning are synonymous in childhood – and that if learning is to continue to be meaningful, it must continue to be joyful!

As I wrote in What If Everybody Understood Child Development?, we don’t have a lot of research proving that joy and learning go hand in hand. We do have the results of a recent study by two Finnish educators (yes, them again!) that points to several sources of joy in the classroom. They include

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Posted by on in What If?

1950s schoolchildren sitting at desks 777x388

One of my least favorite sentences in the entire universe is some version of “It’s always been done this way.” Just by typing it I can feel my blood pressure rise!

Why, I wonder, would anyone find that to be a suitable response to any question? In my opinion, it’s not a reasonable explanation for the continuation of any practice. And I find it particularly maddening when it’s used as an excuse – whether spoken aloud or not – for continuing to make children sit still to learn!

I imagine that when school was first conceived, the easiest thing to do was simply to have the children seated in rows, with the teacher at the head of the classroom. Mind you, I don’t consider “easy” to be a good-enough reason for much, either. But back then they didn’t have any research upon which to base their decisions. The same cannot be said for today’s decision makers.

Today, we know that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a time makes us tired and reduces concentration. We also know – thanks to the work of impassioned educators like Eric Jensen – that honest-to-goodness attention can only be maintained for about 10 minutes or less. So, how could anybody consider sitting for long stretches at a time to be ideal for learning?

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Posted by on in What If?

My first “official” day on the job was July 5, and before I could get started, I needed a work space.  I had taken a few tours of the facilities before, and I saw that my new office was on the third floor–the top corner office with a great view.  It was more like a penthouse.

And then I checked out the whole building and told the movers to put all of my belongings in the basement. You read correctly.  The basement!  My staff began to panic and wanted to know if I was okay.

I picked an office that is the size of a utility closet at best. No windows. No bathroom. No opulence resembling the typical superintendent ‘s office. Just enough room to hang a few pictures and my academic credentials.

Why would I do something like this? A few reasons…

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