Monday, November 25, 2013

What High Schools Can Learn From Elementary Schools Part 2


 You cannot do great things. Only small things with great love. Mother Theresa

Thanks to everyone for the feedback from last week’s blog entry.  I am pleased to present the next five.

1.     Nothing like hanging out with primary students to help learn the practice of being in the present. Especially in primary, the moment is now.  Both in the good bad and ugly.  We get to carve this pumpkin and get the guts in our hand Ms. G! It’s raining and there are piles of big puddles all over the playground that magically turn into swamps, lakes, splash tag or something to be completely avoided.  Life is now and somehow, there is an invitation to savor it, taste it to the last drop and then move on. It seems to me, high schools can really benefit from including as many opportunities to seize the moment you are in.

2.     Kinesthetic therapies  (play, art, dance) are more than therapy.  As a High school drama teacher, I remember how much students would play out their stories under the protective cover of “character”. There is a value in working out the dark side, or the part that terrifies me or the part I am too afraid to let someone know.  The arts allow that unconscious process to happen.  We are now ‘advertising’ the benefits of play with a culture of kids increasingly more and more sedentary.  How are we providing more opportunities for play, movement and creativity in our classrooms?


3.     There is value in listening to the story, no matter how obscure the through line. This is a variation of the being seen mantra.  What I notice in elementary schools is the importance of allowing little beings to tell a story that connects back to what they hear me saying, or somehow find a way to connect the information back to them.  How do we help our students, as they move forward, have the same opportunities to connect the information back to themselves, back to their own stories?

Photo courtesy of Jill Philipchuk
4.     We need to explicitly teach and provide practice in resilience.  Programs like Mind Up are bringing this more explicitly into Elementary school curriculums. This is a growing conversation in learning in general.  And again, we are looking at some of the brain training deficits that take place in a growing practice of distraction.  We all need more practice at focusing our attention for the long haul, plugging into deeper feelings, deeper thinking, and deeper relationships.  All the brain training that comes with the practice of focusing our attention equals greater practice in resilience.  It’s a matter of practice and we need to find ways to incorporate this in curriculums from Kindergarten to adulthood.  

5.     We Teach People How to Treat Us. I have saved the most obvious and profound point for last.  Since September, I have taught a variety of units and have worked in 36 different classes from Kindergarten to grade 7.  It was a profound learning for me to observe and experience each unique classroom environment. No doubt there is a combination of many factors, such as the blend of students, the teacher philosophy, practice and expectations, the overall school philosophy and the community from where the school operates.  In my opinion, and it is from my own bias and beginner eyeballs, but by far, the elementary school teacher, sets the tone in the classroom.  His or her expectations and way of being matter.  Student expectations varied widely, and in general, my experience is that students would match the expectations set up by the classroom teacher.  We teach people how to treat us and in the microcosm of an elementary school classroom, it is clear to see how much the leader in the room creates the rules of engagement.   So, I wonder, how would I like to be treated? How would you like you to be treated? Look around and see how people are treating you and you will see your expectations reflected back. If you attract friends who champion you, admire your intellect and invite you to be a better person, congratulations, you are teaching people to treat you with respect and admiration.  If there is something else happening, the good news is that you have the power to turn that around.


So there it is, my final 5 of top 10 things High Schools can learn from Elementary school communities.  I am sure there is more, much more to come, but for now, I will continue to focus on trying to make a small difference, the drop in the bucket, that Mother Teresa once talked about, collectively becoming buckets of change.

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