purpose

On being more particular and purposeful

Too often I hear educators and education companies talking in terms of making whatever they are doing/selling “21st Century Relevant.” I see things on Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and Twitter (and my inbox happens to be full of) promises to freshen up the classroom, make things more dynamic with this new thing…usually technology or trend related. And then that thing gets shared by people. It spreads like wildfire. Everyone wants to be the first that discovered it and put it into their classroom (hello fidget spinner multiplication madness). It’s learning as a commodity.

But there is no intentionality there. No sense of: “we chose this direction, this particular thing that has meaning.” No sense of: “We got rid of that thing because it lacked meaning and chose this instead.”

Choosing to honor the identity of every student (the Student-with-a-Name) is to bring intentionality to every decision made. It means that you hold everything up to the light and ensure that it is meaningful and important to add to what you are doing in the classroom. It also means that, if it doesn’t do what it should, you aren’t so married to the idea that you can’t scrap it.

Honoring identity means that you are flexible and agile…with a purpose. It isn’t about following the next trend and tricking kids into learning. We must be more particular and purposeful about what we do in our schools. Kids can feel when things lack authenticity. When they are meant to trick them into learning. It cheapens the learning by making it a commodity.

What does authentic, purposeful learning look like? I’ve found that it’s more about questions than answers. More about journey than destination. I’ve found that it happens most beautifully when it is in concert rather than siloed into subjects. The truth is, learning in isolation is impoverished. When you learn in isolation it does a disservice to every other discipline because the truth is, all disciplines dance together. The beauty and the richness of learning is so much greater when disciplines are experienced together in harmony.

When you start understanding learning as bigger than the trend, bigger than memorizing facts, bigger than getting into the right high school or college, bigger than education debates, it can feel like the rugs been pulled out from beneath you. How long have we been sold that the purpose of school is to get us to the next step… high school… college… a job that will pay our bills.

When you see that learning is bigger, you start to wonder why no one ever shared how big and beautiful it really is. You can feel betrayed (I spent how many years and how much money on this inauthentic version?!). But once you see the beauty of learning in harmony, there is no going back. It’s like going from black and white to color. From a few disparate notes to a symphony, from two dimensions to unlimited dimensions. When you see learning as bigger everything starts to connect and you see beauty. Suddenly what has been sold as education feels so cheap, and incomplete, and wrong. The fidget spinner math worksheet feels like a trick.

Be courageous in doing the right thing for kids even when it isn’t the popular thing. The normal thing. The understood by masses thing.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Who we are > what we do #standagain #studentswithnames #coloradogivesday

Perhaps the most heartbreaking outcome of the current systematization of education is the way that it unintentionally dehumanizes. Reduced to scores, we too often become pawns in a global game of competition. We seek to be valued while forgetting that we are already valuable. Worthy.
There are a distinct collection of experiences in my own school journey that left me wondering if I was worthy. After educating hundreds, I’ve come to realize that I’m not an anomaly. Every child longs to know that they are valuable. This longing isn’t dependent on social economic standing, family, or history.
It is part of the human condition, this desire to be known and seen as valuable.

In first grade I received the first inkling that I might not be enough. In my school, kids were nominated by their teachers for VIP awards. Each month the whole school gathered in the auditorium for an assembly where students were called on stage and handed their VIP award, because they were a Very Important Person. What I didn’t know in first grade was that every child eventually gets this award. I waited every month to be called, waited to see my parents sitting in the back of the auditorium revealing that this would be the month that my teacher would notice me.

That she would really see me. Value me.

Each month that my name wasn’t called, I felt a little more invisible.

It wasn’t until the last month of school that I received my award, followed by some cookies and punch. I was assigned the “leftover” VIP award. In an effort to elevate students by labeling them “VIP,” the system failed to make me feel valuable. In first grade the leftover VIP award was proof that I wasn’t enough. That I would have to work harder, be more perfect so that I would be noticed. Worthy.

In second grade I was placed in the advanced reading group with 4 other children. Initially I felt important and superior in this group. I was allowed to read chapter books! Ralph. S. Mouse. A book burned into my memory not because I fell in love with the story, but because it was the first time I realized that I could fool my teachers. I often volunteered to read aloud because I was praised for my annunciation, my cadence, and the voice I put into reading. I focused on reading each sentence perfectly. The problem came when we stopped to discuss the chapter, I had no idea what the book was about or why my fellow “advanced” readers enjoyed it so much. I was worried that if anyone found out, I wouldn’t get to be in the advanced reading group. That I wouldn’t be important any more. That I would lose my value. I quickly learned the unspoken rules of the system. If I volunteered to read aloud every time, I wouldn’t get called on to discuss the content of the story. I would have already taken my turn and could delegate the heavy lifting to my “smarter” classmates. I had them fooled.
I could be valued as a good reader but felt like a fraud.

I wasn’t really worthy.

By the end of third grade, I had mastered taking tests, the bastion of the education system. My third grade teacher revealed that school was a game, and that if you understood the game, you could figure out how to win. We discovered that test taking was directly related to winning this particular game. We learned how to use glossaries to look up the bold words in our textbooks. To my surprise, the bold words are often the answers to the blanks on the worksheets. You didn’t even have to read the book to answer the questions! You could skip the hard work and go straight to the bold words, look them up in the glossary, and fill in the blanks. Instant gratification. I got to be valued as smart by my teachers, classmates, and parents. I discovered, that if I studied the answers that I wrote on the worksheets, the test was a piece of cake. This revelation was like knowing the cheat code for a video game. I could master the game and the test; I knew the secret. I could be valued as “smart” but still felt like a fraud.

Again the message, I wasn’t really worthy.

My passionate focus for the remainder of my school career became success. I ardently believed that success inside of this system was a worthy passion, and that belief was encouraged every time I got the praise, the “A,” the 4.0. I didn’t stop to consider if I was actually learning, that wasn’t my goal. I was the easy student working to survive in the system by aiming for the perfect score. Like all kids I was longing to be known, to be seen as valuable. I believed that if I played the game well enough that I could earn that value. Instead, I became invisible. Forgettable. I was left wondering if I had anything special about me. Any gifts or talents.

I was left wondering, am I worthy?

In the current education landscape, kids are routinely forgotten because the system isn’t really about them. The system values competition. It values being superior. But it doesn’t really know the individuals who comprise the whole. Embolden by being ‘the best’ it is blind to individuals. It exploits kids for the bragging rights of being at the top. We begin to believe this myth ourselves, that academic superiority (the best test scores) will make our country strong, that we become relevant in this global economy by touting our collection of high scores. We pontificate that this “race to the top” will bring us success and make us happy. All the while we lose.

We lose ourselves, our identity, our uniqueness, and our voice.

Apathy wears many faces. Some encounter this apathy as I did, in playing the system’s game. I believed that attaining the “A” was success, so when I achieved the “A,” my quest was over. There was no reason to push in, no room for curiosity or learning. The system told me that I was already “successful.” Already smart. So, even though I often felt like a fraud, I figured out the game and gleefully accepted my honor roll certificate. My apathy looked like a 4.0.
Apathy can also look like failure. It can be the student who tries hard, but hasn’t figured out the system. The one who gets so many red marks that they believe that it isn’t worth pushing in. These are the students who are convinced that they are stupid. Who believe they can’t attain success.
Then there are the students who fall somewhere in between. Maybe memorization comes easily for them, but they aren’t interested in playing the game and jumping through the hoops. Their apathy looks like rebellion. They have little interest of proving what they already know.
Apathy can also wear the face of defeat. Of beginning with a disadvantage because of the neighborhood you live in, the family you were born into, the expectations of your community.

Regardless of who you are, what your social economic status is, this is a system that breeds apathy. Feelings of fraud, being stupid, defeat.

Of not being worthy. Of not being valuable.

This is a system where we learn how to be students, but we have no idea how to use our minds. Many, like me feel like a fraud. We know how to win the game, but it feels like cheating. Every time we are called, “smart” we feel like a con artist. The system isn’t made to honor our humanity. It can’t bear our vulnerabilities. It can’t cope with our failures. Even in my ‘perfection’ of good grades, of playing the game and being the pleaser, there was a very real fear of “what if;” what if they find out? As William Deresiewicz says in Excellent Sheep, “we aren’t teaching to the test, we’re living to it.” And in the end, even if the United States sells it’s soul to perform higher than every other country on a test, we still aren’t competitive. We’ve just created a population of excellent sheep. The temporary praise of playing within the rules of the system can be intoxicating for a time, until you remember that none of them know you, not really.

In education, we are dealing with humanity. We are working with individuals who are unique in the whole of history. We are teaching those who have gifts, passions, talents, and purpose all their own in a system dedicated to making them all look the same. This focus on perfection and competition is at the expense of individuals with names and purpose in the world. Ignoring who a child “is” misses the core of what it means to be alive as a learner. The system is culpable in forgetting and overlooking that we are actually teaching individuals who have names. We’ve lost the plot in education and made it about competition with the rest of the world rather than recognizing that the population is made up of incredible individuals.
Who are worthy.
Who are valuable.

Penelope (not her name) was a student who believed the system when it told her that she wasn’t worthy. She struggled in school, was labeled as dyslexic, and was utterly defeated. You could see it in her posture and lack of eye contact. Hunched shoulders as if she was folding into herself. She wouldn’t speak up in class for fear of failure. If she dared to raise her hand, it was barely noticeable, tucked into her side with fingers hesitantly stretched up next to her ear. If you called on her, she would whisper so that the teacher could edit her answer before it reached the ears of her classmates. Penelope is BRILLIANT. She makes connections that others miss. She is kind, empathetic, and funny. She struggles to fit into a system that wants to use her to compete for top score. And so she believes it. She believes she isn’t worthy, that she isn’t valuable. You could see her wear this burden like a cloak. An amazing thing happened when Penelope learned that there was more to learning than the system. It was as if she was set free. As she discovered the beauty in her unique outlook on the world, her gifts and talents, that she was valuable, Penelope began to sit up straighter. She looked teachers and classmates in the eye. She spoke a little louder for others to hear. She challenged herself to break free of the fear and connect with others. She began to see herself differently. She embraced her worth.

At Anastasis, we have the audacity to step outside of the system that forgets the individual. We leave the perceived comfort of false data that tells kids they are smart if they learn to play the game. We recognize and know each individual. We honor them in their humanity and not as a means to an end to compete for top score. We know that they are valuable because they are uniquely created with gifts, talents, and purpose. Just like Penelope. We know that the world desperately needs the unique contribution that they alone can add. Kids are worth more than a score that contributes to the GDP. Learning as a human endeavor is too big and too beautiful to fit into the tiny, meaningless data battles we insist on to prove how competitive we are. At Anastasis we recognize all are valuable.
With that as our premise, we’ve created a school, a model that chooses humanity every day. We choose to know kids’ names and help them recognize their worth.
Anastasis is Greek, it means “stand again.” This is what we desire for students: that they would be able to stand again in who they are. We prepare students to engage the world from a place of worth. To find their unique purpose and pour into the world accordingly.

There is a sense of urgency to get this right, to make the best decisions for kids. The kids in our schools right now? They keep growing. Keep waiting to be seen as valuable and worthy.
We have a choice today, are we going to define kids based on scores and competition? Or, are we going to seek to know them?
Will we ask them to all look the same as a result of their schooling? Or, will we help them discover their identity and place in the world?
Will we make them feel defeated? Or, will we show them that they are valuable and worthy?

Anastasis Academy is here to pave the way as a champion of students with names. A model for what school looks like when it values individuals above all else. An example lighting the way for all of education to follow. This is a commitment that we can all make, a commitment to value and dignify the humanity of the individual over meaningless data. To show kids that they are valuable and worthy independent of their performance and scores. To help kids #standagain.

 

  • Your donation to Anastasis Academy (a tax deductible nonprofit) is an investment in humanity so that they can stand again in who they are, discovering their unique purpose in the world. You’ll make them unafraid to be learners for life, not just the next test.

    Take a look at what’s possible:

    Unique individuals: Your donation helps us empower students to discover who they are and how their unique gifts, talents, and outlook contribute to a world in need.

    Leaders: Your support helps students plug into their community as contributing citizens right now, they don’t have to wait until they are “grown-up” to enact change. Our students work as leaders to use their learning to make positive change right now in Colorado and the world.

    Achievers: Your donation helps us prepare students as long-term achievers who know who they are, how to self advocate, what to do when they don’t know, and how collaborate with others.

    Explorers: With your support, we expand our student’s worldview with weekly learning excursions that remind them that learning doesn’t just happen in the 4 walls of our classrooms. Learning happens everywhere, and there is always someone to learn from!

    Altering the education discourse: Anastasis Academy is paving the way for schools everywhere to make bold changes in education and rethink the purpose of school.

    Donate today through: https://www.coloradogives.org/AnastasisAcademy/overview

Soul Sighs, finding the online space that feels like home

Where good ideas come from

In 2007, I started an educational technology blog, iLearn Technology. When I started the blog, I did it for myself with little (read: no) thought about audience. I’ve always been a journal keeper. I write EVERYTHING down because I find that if I write it down, I’m more apt to remember it and to use it for something.

In 2004, I got a job as a technology teacher. There was a slight catch: I had never taught “computers” AND my degree had nothing to do with educational technology.

And yet, life had led me to a computer teacher position and a brand new iMac lab to contend with. Being the geek that I am, I went to the library and picked up “Mac OS for dummies.” Before the school year began, I endeavored to learn all that I could about how my new classroom worked. I also performed about a zillion Google searches related to educational technology. Incidentally, at the time, there wasn’t a lot out there, what I did find was exciting! I started a notebook (the spiral with lines kind) and would write down every URL I came across that I thought would be useful. Then, I color coded based on whether it was a site that I needed to go back to for reference or one that I would use with students. Soon, that wasn’t enough and I went back through my notebook(s) and added details about how I could use the site with students and what subject the site was related to. It wasn’t long before my small living room was covered in notebooks and pens. One day my husband came home, surveyed the damage of the living room and said, “I don’t know why you don’t just blog this stuff…at least then it would be searchable.” He walked me through the steps of setting up a domain name (iLearn Technology). The next day, I played around with WordPress until I had the basics down. I started adding my notebooks full of links to the blog so I could easily search when I was looking for something related to what I was teaching. I remember getting a text in the midst of this transfer from my husband, “see..all the hot blondes are blogging!” Attached was a link to iJustine who had broken into the blogging/live casting scene with her phone bill. When my mother-in-law (a third grade teacher at the time) heard that I was blogging, she introduced me to this amazing teacher online “Technospud” who was doing collaborative projects with Oreos. Soon, I was following Technospud (who as it turns out is Jen Wagner), she led me to David Warlick. Brilliance.  Other educators do what I was doing. Brilliance AND validation!

I’m currently re-reading Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From the Natural History of Innovation.” As it turns out, this thing I was doing with notebooks? It is nothing new. In the 17th and 18th century, people began keeping “Commonplace” books of quotations. This was a place where they would record learning and things they were pondering and quotations that spoke to them. This idea of, “lay a fund of knowledge from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.” My dad did this. He kept tons and tons of notebooks as I was growing up. I can’t remember a time when he was without a notebook of some sort that he was adding to. When I was really young, he would get up before dawn every morning with a pot of coffee and just write. Dream. Ponder. We had this wooden cube that he built that housed the notebooks until they were overflowing and needed a new home. As an adult, this practice resonates with me. I still keep hordes of notebooks. I still have a notebook nearby any time that I am reading something new or catch a hunch while watching TV, or in a conversation. In many ways, these have become my version of the “commonplace” books. Steven Johnson calls out an important feature of the Commonplace books of the 18th century, they were intended to be gone back through so that circling ideas might find a landing place.

As it turns out, I’m a technology geek. I had no idea how much I enjoyed technology and what it makes available until I spent the summer learning about it, used it with students, and blogged about it. It was a few months into my blogging adventure that I began to realize the point of blogging: audience. Prior to this, I was really just blogging for myself, so that I would have a way to search back through my ruminations about different sites.

That I could connect to others and share ideas with a wider audience? Nothing short of magic!

This connection with others and audience gave me additional purpose in my writing and led to sharing what worked (and what didn’t) with students. It caused me to grow as both a writer and an educator. I had to evaluate tools with a keener eye. I had to consider a lot of different students. I was laying a fund of knowledge that was reaching farther than my spiral notebooks. I felt a different responsibility.

It strikes me that Twitter, blogs, Instagram, and Google Plus have become our Commonplace books. The place where we share quotes and work to remember. That is certainly what iLearnTechnology became for me. This leaves me wondering, how often do we go back and re-read our own online work? How often do we use it as a place to reflect and allow for hunches to collide? This is common practice for me when I write in notebooks, I often go back to reread. I rarely go back and read through my Tweets, occasionally I’ll reread a blog post I wrote (usually when I’m looking for something specific.) I wonder how many posts we’ve written where hunches are waiting to collide if we would only go back and remind ourselves? I also wonder, how our online Commonplace books have allowed us to connect those hunches with a much larger audience? Amplifying and connecting ideas in ways that have never before been possible? I know that it was hunches colliding in personal and online space that led to the Learning Genome Project, and the same for starting a school. Without the collision of both worlds, I would likely be in a very different space.

I love that feeling of coming home. It is like this incredible soul sigh that just feels right. I feel it every time I walk into my house. It’s the lingering scent of my husbands cologne, the afternoon light pouring through the windows into the dining room, the celebration my dogs throw that I came back to them. In many ways, my scribbled notebooks give me this same soul sigh. They are a place where I record life. Where I remember things that are important and meaningful to me. They are the place where hunches are born. Digital space allows for this as well. My blogs feel like a place I can record and share life with friends. I use online social networking tools for different purposes. My blogs have become public Commonplace notebooks where I hope to allow the collision of ideas. Twitter is a place where I record quotes, top-of-the-mind thoughts, readings that resonate with me. Twitter is also the place where ideas get challenged and refined. Instagram is the place where my visual life lives. This is where I marvel over the every day amazing in nature and where I connect with others who love the in-between moments of life. The art. The fashion. The food. Nature. Family. Facebook is the place I connect with family and close friends. The place where I am often frustrated. The place where I am brought to tears. The place where I laugh.

It strikes me that so often we dictate the tools that students use to collect and share hunches. I try to imagine what that would be like for me. I wonder if the vulnerability and usefulness would be the same if the tools I used were dictated. While there is generosity in sharing the tools, and exposing kids to new things, I wonder how many “hunches colliding” moments never happen because they are forced to use a tool that doesn’t feel like home? What if instead of dictating what a student used as a Commonplace book, we gave options and let them find the place that felt like home? For some this might be a place where they can tell story and remember through images, for others it might be a blogging platform. Some might find 140 characters to be just enough. Some may not be ready for global vulnerability and the spiral notebook is enough.

“Lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”