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Educating the "Whole" Teacher

Posted by on in Professional Development
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"Teaching is a Creative Art: Call It Human Rocket Science" --Jeffrey Pflaum

I'm not their mother, father, guidance counselor, social worker, or therapist. I'm a teacher. I teach: that's what I do. You hear that from educators, now even more so with CCSS, multiple standardized tests, and all sorts of assessments looming over their heads. You can't blame teachers for wanting to avoid nurturing students because they have enough on their hands.

But then I read an article in The Washington Post (5/19/15), "Poverty, family stress are thwarting student success, top teachers say," by Lyndsey Layton. The title says it all: obstacles to doing well in school are not always about classroom life. It's anxiety related to home, economics, which, in turn, can create learning issues and psychological problems. Surprise! Surprise!

There are missing pieces in teacher training programs. I believe schools of education are getting the message. Just as we talk about educating the "whole child," we need to do the same for our future teachers, neophytes first entering the profession, and veterans alike: educate the "whole teacher."

I had little education background in 1968 when I began teaching in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY, except for the Intensive Teacher Training program. I walked into the classroom knowing nothing about how and what to teach, but was rescued by talented teachers who taught school workshops in reading, math, social studies, and language arts, while also depending greatly on teacher guides.

One day I woke up realizing that in my fears about not knowing how to teach, students weren't listening anyway and not in present time. We were in the same boat of unawareness. After my epiphany, I started to make up original curricula. I thought: How bad could it be compared to traditional approaches I followed in class lessons?

My projects expanded kids' self-awareness, self-motivation, and interpersonal communication skills, which is really emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning. Through non-academic lessons I got their attention without demanding it: it came from the inside out and changed students and the classroom environment.

I wrote an article, "The Creative Imagination and Its Impact on 21st Century Literacies" (New Jersey English Journal, Spring 2013), based upon 34 years as a teacher-researcher-developer-experimenter, where I described my original curricula and how it led to suggested education and PD courses to develop creative, reflective, contemplative, and self-aware teacher communicators. Link is: http://www.njcte.com/n-j-english-journal/2013-issue-teaching-english-language-arts-in-and-for-the-21st-century-what-and-how

The following hypothetical, utopian courses would produce creative educators, communicators, coaches, and mentors equipped to teach skills for learning and real life. Examples of the new required courses in my teacher education program might be:

(1) 21st Century Literacies and Emotional Intelligence

(2) Group Dynamics: The Teacher as Communicator

(3) Social and Emotional Learning: Character, Values, and Society

(4) Creativity and the Un-Creative Teacher in the Classroom

(5) The Creative Imagination and 21st Century Learning and Literacies

(6) Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Experimenting, and Innovation

(7) "Prerequisite Fundamental Skills" for Learning and Learning How to Learn

(8) Mindfulness, Meditation, Contemplation, and Reflection for Teachers and Students

(9) The Socratic Dialogue: An Inquiry- and Passion-Based Approach

(10) Poetry Reading and Writing for Teachers and Students

How did I come up with these potential courses to create the "whole" teacher? I experiemented with innovative curricula for many years in the classroom. Some projects are:

(1) "Contemplation Music Writing": Introducing Inner Experience to Students

(2) "Concentration Workouts": Focusing the Mind

(3) "Reading-and-Imagining": Language as Art

(4) "Word-Bridges": Words to Live By

(5) "The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series": A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

(6) "The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Project": Journey's End into 21st Century Literacies

Contemplation Music Writing uses music, contemplation, writing, discussion, and self-evaluation to lead children on peaceful journeys of self-discovery, -motivation, and -education. Students listen to music, contemplate inner experiences, and write about and discuss them with classmates and teacher. Music listening and contemplation change kids' lives in and out of school.

Cocnentration Workouts teaches students to be there in the now and focused. Practice lessons help them concentrate using novel activities like the "staring game": two kids stare at each--eyeball-to-eyeball--without getting distracted. These fun exercises allow students to understand and appreciate the "ins" and "outs" of concentration.

Reading-and-Imagining is about the visualization process in reading. Lessons start with visualizing words and continue with 2-, 4-, and 6-word real and absurd sentences, longer, more complex sentences, paragraphs, and whole pages. Students record mind-pictures, feelings, thoughts, and experiences associated with their reading, improving attitudes and motivation. In my approach, kids morph into avatars naviagating the inner landscapers of reading worlds where reading, ideally, becomes a 3-D, holographic, virtual reality.

Word-Bridges lessons get kids to value words, their connections to other words, and words triggering ideas, meanings, emotions, images, and real-life experiences. Words are more than "black-on-white" on a page. The activities end with the one-time popular TV show, "Password," an entertaining and educational word-association game.

The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series presents pictures/photographs/cartoons from magazines and newspapers, poster prints, and artworks to develop creative- and critical thinking via brainstorming ideas to a given question. Responses can be serious or silly. Students make something up from nothing, learn to think, and enjoy themselves in thought.

The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Program applies contemplation, creative thinking, visualization, reflection, recall, and experiential skills learned in previous projects to poetry writing. After introducing poetry reading, via the "poetry reading sheet," pictures, posters, and/or photographs are taped on the board and students are asked, e.g., to describe the image and brainstorm ideas in the form of titles for potential poems. Next step: poetry writing.

Internal education and self-motivation projects help children inspire themselves to learn from the inside out and can be implemented in the classroom if teachers "become whole" through radical new coursework on undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe. Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”). One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM. Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record." Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum. Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul.

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