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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What Elementary Schools can Teach High School Communities Part 1

What Elementary Schools can Teach High School Communities Part 1

It has been two and a half solid months since I have made the switch from High School Vice Principal to Elementary School Counselor and the culture shock has finally started to wane.  I know that I have made the right decision - as painful as the process to make it has been – by the way I am exhaling with greater ease and by the fact my beloved twin declared, “I am glad to finally have my sister back” and the occasional, “You look ten years younger now!” comment that can only speak to the fact that who I am and what I do are more closely aligned.

Although I am hardly qualified to qualify myself as an expert, in fact quite the opposite, I believe my beginner’s mind and eyes have some quality observations to share with the general public. This transition offers a wonderful opportunity to share my top 10 list if you will, of things High School Communities can Learn from Elementary School. Enjoy.


1.    High Schools Need to Operate More Like Kindergarten Classrooms.

Yes, you read that right.  Much of what happens in Kindergarten classrooms is all about enculturating young beings into routines that will ultimately make them better people.  Sit in your spot on the magic carpet.  Say good morning, please, thank you, I’m sorry and welcome when needed.  Wash your hands.  Don’t pick your nose.  Wash your hands.  Wait your turn.  This is what your day looks like.  Everyone gets to try a few of these pumpin seeds.  Now try some that have a different flavor.  Everyone has to try at least one.  Okay, so it is overt in Kindergarten, but the value of embedding manners, social rules of engagement, please and thank you, should not be overlooked, even in a Physics 12 or PreCalculus  Advanced Placement class.  It matters.


Cure For High Schools

2.    Teach Children Not Subjects.

Elementary schools are set up to do this, and High Schools are structurally set up to  teach subjects.  Nevertheless, the value of seeing a person learning a subject versus a subject needing to be learned cannot be underestimated.  This is another big fat plus in the Project Based Learning models as it helps high school structures move towards the student and the student’s experience of the subject.

3.    Routine, Structure, and Consistent Boundaries are More Critical Than Ever in our Age of Distraction.

I know this sounds like a contradiction.  How can I say yes to question based curriculums and at the same time, ask for more “rules and boxes”?  Because we need both, and the more chaotic and unstructured our way of learning becomes, the more we need some structures and rules of engagement.  They go hand in hand, literally.  It is the structures and consistent expectations we set up in our classroom and school cultures that provide students with the direction and context and practice needed to move in the world of Wikepedia, Google and Twitter.

4.    No Amount of Skype, Texting and Angry Birds can Replace the Contact of Human Connection

We are all about our bodies.  I am all for technology, and I see the incredible value which technology in the form of notebooks, educational apps and Smart Boards bring into educational settings.  I also see how quickly children connect and desire to work in a digital setting.  Without taking that away, our evolving brains, still need physical experiences of play, face to face practice with communication and conflict, lots of experiences of human contact, appropriate touch and, physical practice with learning.  We must teach to more than our brains for any of this stuff to stick and we have to practice that learning from cradle to grave.  I know it is already my broken record mantra, but boy oh boy, can you ever see the benefit or the deficit, much more acutely in children.

5.    I See You – Being Seen Means Everything.

These elementary school students are not shy about asking for attention. They are eager to connect.  They have not yet been beaten down by the artificial constraints of our industrial model based schools.  They are not shy to let you know, they want to be seen.  Much of my work in developing connections in schools is about letting people know they are seen.  I see you.  I knew this as a VP.  It is an altogether different experience when I am looking in the face of an eight year old.  It is easier for me to put my wants and needs aside and listen and pay attention.  Same goes for our parents and teachers and adult members of Elementary School Communities.  Same goes for me and you. My new job reminds me to go home and remind my loved ones, I see you.


And there is more.  Next blog post, I will throw down my last 5 on my top 10.  I bet you have your own.  I would love to hear what you have in mind…