A New Philosophy of Education

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What we need now is a new approach to educating our youth, that centers around their unique needs as individuals and as a peer group.  A philosophy that looks beyond the school day and shapes the entire education lifespan, from prenatal care and parental well-being through higher education.

Designing an integrated system that supports children from the time they are born so that they are fully maximizing the critical first five years of development through their traditional education years and into an appropriate post-high school graduation study such as vocational training, apprenticeships or college, and then into a path of lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

We need to re-examine the theoretical frameworks on which we’ve built our current educational practices to see if they are still relevant to today’s students and those of the future.  And we need to support, both through encouragement and funding, new research to support theory turning to practice.

Above all, we need to know that whatever new philosophical underpinnings we select now may become obsolete or in need of revision in the future.  The key for now and beyond is to be flexible in our approach to education as we continue to learn new information about brain development, social and emotional needs of children, youth and adults, and promising practices that can inform new decisions.

I submit that the new philosophy of education must move beyond the four walls of the traditional classroom, and outside of the box of our current rigid practices and one-size-fits-all mentality.

With the diversity of students, educators, family experience and individual needs, one size no longer fits all, if it ever did.  Trying to force all students through a single model, or even a handful of models, of education and somehow expecting that all students will then be successful is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

By focusing on leaving no child behind, we are leaving many behind in the name of school rankings and standardized test results.  Whether it is forcing out children and youth who are not succeeding in traditional education so they don’t skew the school overall results, or pushing children through grades because we’d rather someone else deal with them or are too overworked to give them the individual attention and instruction they need to succeed, it is difficult to claim that we are bringing all children along in the educational process.

Part of redesigning the system to be functioning, holistic approach across the lifespan requires the cessation of in-fighting and blaming among disconnected current systems.

Elementary schools are saying children aren’t coming to Kindergarten prepared and ready to learn, and want to push down their academic curriculum into the early childhood and preschool learning environments.  Colleges are blaming high schools for not having graduating seniors prepared for the academic rigor of college.

Businesses are lamenting the lack of a qualified workforce and the need to cast wider and wider nets to attract highly-skilled applicants for their positions.  And our baby boomers are steadily aging out of the workforce and retiring, but with little thought to the succession plan of the companies they have been running.

As the complaints of all trickle down, more and more pressure is placed on the earliest years of a child’s education, where the greatest development occurs and the least funding is supporting.

Many educators and organizations are beginning to embrace these tenets.  But our work is not done.  We need to consistently focus on integrating all levels of education and career so that we can support students to achieve their highest potential.

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Time for a New Model of Education

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Our current education system is based on an outdated need.  When education first was popularized and created as a public institution, we were smack in the middle of the Industrial Age.  At that time, the new model of work was the factory.

The popular working culture of hierarchy in a pyramid shape was born, with lots of workers at the bottom base of the pyramid, supervisors and managers mid-way up and a big boss at the top.  The workforce needed people who could come in at the bottom levels of the pyramid, do the same sort of work day in and day out, and follow the directions of the management.  If they worked hard, factory workers had opportunity to move up the pyramid to a shift supervisor or even manager position over time.

This model was working really well, especially with Henry Ford’s incredible creation of the assembly line.  The primary leadership style was authoritarian, and workers were expected to follow the orders of the upper management and not think too much beyond how to do their assigned tasks.  Each worker had their small scope of work in the larger machine of the factory.

Our education system was created to produce workers for this Industrial Age workplace.  Schools were set up in a hierarchical structure mirroring the factories, and children were taught the rules of how to respond to authoritarian figures such as the teachers and principals or heads of school.

Children were taught to complete the assigned work without question, learn information in an often rote manner, and to work hard and move up through the ranks (also known as grades).  Very little critical thinking occurred.

In fact, we viewed children developmentally as empty containers ready to receive the knowledge of more experienced and learned adults.  Those children who could stay in school through higher grades had a better chance of becoming the middle level managers in the workplace.

The early value of education was essentially to produce a workforce that could readily meet the demands of the job market.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this origination of education, and it was a huge accomplishment for public education to be made available to all children.  Before this structure, only children from wealthier families, and usually only the boys, were able to receive an education.

But in the years since the founding of our education system, the world has significantly changed.  We have seen more growth and innovation in the past 150 years than in the entire two millennia previous.  Statistics indicated in 1948 that all the available knowledge in the world is actually doubling every 30 years.  In 2013, human knowledge was doubling every 13 MONTHS!

We have moved out of the Industrial Age and away from the factory model in many ways.  Yet, our workplaces still exist primarily in a hierarchical, authoritarian format, and our education system has not shifted as a whole to move away from preparing children to be factory workers.

Yes, there are many promising practices being implemented in many school systems across the country.  But the philosophical underpinnings of “how” we educate as a nation are still stuck in the Industrial Age.  It is time for us to create a new philosophy of education that serves students in our current world circumstances and in looking to the future.  Check back next week for my thoughts on that new philosophy.

Child Development: The Missing Piece

A foundation in child development, and really, lifespan development, is a missing critical component in creating schools that are student-centered.

If parents and teachers all had a basic understanding of how development occurs across the school age children and youth, we would see much different, and more appropriate, expectations for children’s behavior as well as settings that support child development.  We are actually damaging children in ways that have lifelong effects through many of the current and common practices happening in our schools.

We crush creativity, stifle and medicate typical developmental behaviors, take away really important social and physical development times as consequences for “bad” behavior, and treat children like they are prisoners rather than young people.

Schools and families can work together to develop an understanding of why children act in certain ways at various developmental stages, and to respond in ways that are natural, logical and appropriate when we see behavior that is typical but not socially desirable.

We can begin to create the school as an environment that supports children through their developmental progression rather than stifling or even punishing them for acting in typically developing ways.

The most important thing about child development is that each child develops according to their own timetable.

While they will follow the progression through stages of development in their physical, cognitive, language, and social/emotional domains, they will progress through it at their own individual pace.

So all 7 year olds in a first grade class are not going to look exactly the same.  Neither are all sophomores in high school, or any other grade level.

When we understand both that child development has typical indicators at different stages that happen for all children, and that each child hits those indicators at their own pace, we can create responsive environments and interactions to support optimal development and learning for each student.

The World is our Classroom

One of the biggest mistakes we make in education is taking learning out of a meaningful context.  Research shows that when learners are engaged in a subject that interests them, they are much more likely to want to learn related information and to retain the learning they experience.

When we remember that everyone has unique interests, and that students want to learn information that will actually be applicable to their lives, we can begin to shift where and how we teach.  The world becomes the classroom, rather than the room inside the school building.

If we can engage children and youth in broad areas of interest, such as a career path or hobby, we can tailor our standard curriculum to be taught within that context.  The actual math, science, literacy and social studies lessons can be taught within the frame of reference of the career or hobby that already is of interest to the student.

This may look like project-based learning, field trips, internships in the community, or student exchange programs.  It can also look like traditional in-the-classroom learning with the larger context as the class focus for the period of study.

The key is to be aware of how we can engage students initially, teach them required content in ways that will be useful to them throughout their lives, and help them begin to see how general content can fit in their preferred contexts.

We begin to use the actual world–our community, our nation, our global neighbors–to support the growth and learning of students.  A side effect of this is that children and youth become global citizens, and develop a desire to be responsible for their actions and impact on the rest of the world.  They also become more fully engaged in the classroom because they see why what they are learning makes a difference to them.

It actually is useful information to help them be successful in their future.  As we see this shift, we will see students more likely to stay in school and graduate, to have more motivation to learn subject matter that tends to challenge them, and to go on to higher education or vocational/trade schooling to continue their growth and learning.

Education is Everyone’s Business

Being concerned about education and making decisions about education and reform is not the sole responsibility of people working in education (teachers, administrators, unions) or parents of children who are currently in the education system. The public education system in the United States is everyone’s business. It is your business.

Research indicates long-term effects on communities in terms of costs to taxpayers and businesses when the education system isn’t working well—higher drop-out rates, higher poverty rates and incidence of generational poverty, lower wages and unskilled workforce, higher rates of teen pregnancy and increased access to public health services such as WIC and subsidized health care, more transiency and increased isolation, higher juvenile crime rates and court and jail costs.

For the average citizen living in a community with these problems, you are likely to feel unsafe and have reduced access to fresh foods, good jobs, community services and support networks of family and friends. For the business owner in this community, you are likely to have difficulty finding qualified workers and the staff you do hire are likely to be more transient and have many life stressors causing missed work days and lower job performance.

For the parent sending your child to school in this community, you are likely to see negative peer influences on your child, lowered self-esteem and belief in his or her ability to succeed and a reduced interest and enjoyment in school.

Teachers and administrators working in this community are likely to experience burnout early in their careers, feel frustrated and lose their passion for making a difference for children and youth and focus solely on surviving—both in terms of surviving the school day and year with students and district politics and surviving financially.

No matter who you are or what role you have in the community you live in, a broken education system impacts you and the people you care about. That is why you need to care about whether the system is working and how to transform it into a system that works for everyone.

Give Grace, Especially to Yourself!

We spent the past week in the United States reflecting on what we are grateful for.  Now we move into the season of holiday rush.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday turn to Giving Tuesday, and we are aimed straight on to winter break!

It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of consumerism, gift exchanges, holiday preparations, getting those last few weeks of lesson plans completed, and managing the kids so we can actually get some teaching done in the midst of everything.

All the excitement, mixed feelings about holidays, our personal lives, and showing up to the classroom every day can create a lot of stress.  Tempers can flare, power struggles ensue, and we may end up feeling defeated.

What if something else was possible?  What if we focused on giving grace?  Grace is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another.” 

Give grace to your students.  Remember they are doing the best they can with the skills they currently have.  Where can you find a teachable moment to help them build their skills?

Give grace to your colleagues.  Give grace to the parents of your students.  Remember that most issues or conflicts that arise have nothing to do with you.  Where can you let something slide and know they really didn’t mean anything by it?

Give grace to your family.  Even though we manage to stay reasonably self-regulated all day at work, we sometimes let our control go when we get home.  Our loved ones may bear the brunt of our own unintentional challenging behaviors.  Where can you find a strength to compliment your family members on?

Most of all, give grace to yourself.  You, too, are doing the best you can in each moment.  If life happens and you do or say something you regret, apologize.  Make it right.  And then look for where you can be extra kind to yourself, rather than focus on the negative.

Be a bright light this holiday season.  Remember that your students are watching and learning from you, no matter what grade they are in.  We can all take a little extra time to connect with each person in our lives, remind them of their goodness, and say kind words.  Give a little extra grace, especially to those who you might not want to.

Those little actions, seemingly insignificant to you, may mean the world to someone else who is struggling right now.  You make a difference!

Getting What You Want

The only way to really get what you want is to decide what it actually is that you want.  When you think about your goals, you must have something specific to aim for.  One way to gain more clarity about what you want is to create an “I Want” list.  Think about all the things you want to do–the experiences you wish to have.  Then brainstorm the items you want to have–usually the material things in life.  And then, give some thought to what you want to be–characteristics you’d like to develop, roles you’d like to have.  If you can come up with 100 I Wants on your list, you’ve got a lot more clarity.

Then you can decide what is most important.  Usually, several of the items on that list will jump out to you as most important or a top priority.  Sometimes they solve a particular pressing need you currently face, or they most directly align with your life purpose and mission.  You can begin to prioritize which I Wants to work toward.

Some pitfalls to avoid in your quest for deciding what you want:

1. Don’t live someone else’s dreams.  These should be things you truly want, and can get excited about, not what someone else wants for you.

2. Don’t settle for less than what you really want.  You might get stuck thinking about how you’re going to get something and then scale back your dream.  Make your choice and stand powerfully in it.

3. Don’t waste a lot of time worrying about how.  The point of deciding what you want is to allow your subconscious and the Universe to know what it is you want help with.  You don’t have to know how you’re going to be, do or have something in order to put it on your list.

4. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your wants.  Lots of people mean well and will try to tell you all the reasons why what you want isn’t going to happen.  They really believe they are helping you, so you don’t face discouragement or defeat.  Say, “thanks for caring enough to share that with me.” And then move on, continuing toward your dreams.

5. Don’t keep your wants to yourself.  On the other hand, the more people who know about your wants, the more likely there is someone out there who can help you get there.  So share your wants, with some common sense and a thick skin, of course.

Good vs. Evil in the Classroom

I’ve always been partial to the Disney villains in animated movies.  I’ve also always been partial to the “naughty” children in my classrooms.  Coincidence?

Animated Disney villains have been traditionally shown as pretty flat, one-sided characters that essentially share the same trait of being evil.  My favorite Disney villain, Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s wicked stepmother), always attracted me because she was closer to a normal person but just had evil tendencies and was plain ol’ mean.

Over the past six years, I’ve been obsessed with Disney’s Once Upon a Time, a clever look at and remix of favorite fairy tales.  The series has examined the complexities of heroes and villains, who are traditionally thought of as good and evil, respectively.  However, for one of the first times, Disney digs deeper into the background of each character, as well as their ongoing choices, showing that they are really just humans with layers of both good and evil.  Their outward behavior may be labeled as evil but come from good intentions, and both heroes and villains alike engage in “evil” behaviors.

My favorite Once Upon a Time character, Regina/Evil Queen, grows the most throughout the series as we see her battle with her power-seeking nasty behaviors as she works to act more like a hero and allow the good within in her to shine.  Disney did a similar look at another famous villain in the live-action film, Maleficent.  We see how the villain became the way she was, and how the behaviors of others impacted her choices.  We also see how her behaviors were borne from the choices she made with good intentions.  Both Regina and Maleficent typically act from the best of intentions, with the resources they have in the moment.  And, for Regina, with the support of her friends she makes better choices and learns from her mistakes.

In the classroom, we often deal with children who have challenging behaviors.  Sometimes we slip into the labeling of “good” and “bad” children, rather than focusing on the behaviors we would like to see change.  I think I’ve been partial to children with challenging behaviors because they represent an opportunity to make a difference.

Just like Regina and Maleficent, these children are often doing the best they can with the knowledge and skills they have at the time.  That child who acts out to get more power and a sense of control is just telling us she feels out of control and maybe needs some extra attention.  The child who runs into or hits other children is letting us know he is struggling with entering into groups or that his body is growing faster than he can integrate.

Our children are people first, with all the layers of experiences, skills, feelings, reactions, knowledge, etc.  They may engage in behaviors that are undesirable, and it is our job to teach them how to use new skills to get what they need.  We have a wonderful opportunity to help children grow and learn as they manage their behavior and learn self-regulation, just as Regina had to practice controlling her learned impulses to use dark magic to get what she wanted and instead operate as part of a family.  When we get caught up in labeling children as one thing or another, we miss out on the complexities of them as individual, precious human beings.

How can you help children practice new skills rather than relying on old negative behaviors that have worked for them in the past?  How do you honor children as complex humans?

Love is All We Need

When you get right down to it, love is the essence of everything good, nourishing and uplifting in life.  So maybe the Beatles and Mary J. Blige are right–all we need is love.  I’m not talking just about romantic love with a partner, but the close relationships you enjoy with other family members and friends.  Love is more an experience, and a state of being rather than an action.  We often stop ourselves from giving and receiving love out of fear.  The fear of what another person will think, of being rejected, of getting hurt, and on and on.

When we let these fears rule our lives, we are pushing away love, holding it at bay.  We can choose to act lovingly towards others regardless of our fear.  We can even love another in the face of unloving behavior from them.  It all comes down to choice.  You have the power to determine how much love you want to receive by how much love you share with the world.  It’s time to move away from fear and insecurity and toward love.  Here are some tips to bring more love into your life:

1. Start by loving yourself.  If you can’t love you, how can you let anyone else love you?  Take some time today to appreciate who you are–the miracle of you.  Acknowledge the body parts you love and ask forgiveness from the parts you habitually criticize.  Love those parts instead.  Pay attention to your unique qualities, skills and knowledge that make you amazing.

2. Practice being loving, no matter what the circumstances.  Talk gently to people–the way you would like to be addressed.  Use kind words, stay positive and do small acts of service for others.  This demonstrates your appreciation of each person you interact with and starts a ripple effect of love.

3. Forgive people who aren’t acting loving toward you and move on.  You don’t have to condone their actions, or agree with them.  But don’t hold on to negative thoughts about them or about yourself.  It is  a waste of energy.  Bless them for doing the best they could with the limited skills, resources and knowledge they had in the moment.

4. Play with a dog.  Dogs are nature’s models of love–we can learn a lot from them.  Spend some time with a furry friend and relish in the joy and love they bring with them.

5. Be present.  Notice the world around you.  Look at the people you pass, the trees and bushes as you walk, the colors of the sky, the lighting and shadows in your office.  Just be in the moment and appreciate that you live here, now.

Bring some more love into your life, and spread the love to others.

Raise Your Vibration

What messages are you sending out to the universe?  Are you putting clear intentions out followed up by taking action, or are you living in fear and scarcity, cancelling out any positive intentions you set?  We are all made up of pure energy at the subatomic level, and this energy is vibrating at a particular speed.  This vibration varies based on the input–our thoughts and emotions–that are dominant in our bodies.

The lowest vibration emotions are fear, despair and guilt.  Even anger has a higher vibration than fear, because you are more likely to be moved into positive action when you are angry.  Disappointment, irritation and boredom and moving closer to center, with satisfaction, enthusiasm and excitement on the other side of center.  Passion, joy and gratitude keep moving up the ladder, with love being at the highest vibration.

The other thing to note is that you attract and are attracted to things and people who are vibrating at a similar level to you.  You can’t attract the things you want if you are not a vibrational match for them.  You can’t hang out with high-vibration people for long if you are not also vibrating at that high level.

So, when you raise your vibration by focusing on love and gratitude, you begin to shift the things and people that are attracted to you.  You can also raise your vibration by putting good fuel into your body in the form of high-vibration food as close to its natural, organic state as possible, and drinking pure water.

The point is to focus on being in alignment with what you want to attract into your life by raising your own vibration to match the energetic vibration of your desires.  So give up fear, despair, and anger, and move toward joy, gratitude and love to raise your vibration.