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The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
(President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013)
President Obama “Channels” Lincoln and King
When teaching high school history classes I thought it was important to celebrate and approach Black History Month as a part of American History, not as a separate historical unit “reserved” for February. Black History Month gives teachers an opportunity to reaffirm and synthesize historical issues and themes that should be explored all year. These include: expanding democracy, weighing issues of race and immigration, growing the economy, coping with the effects of slavery and war, and reflecting on the struggles that individuals and families face in the “pursuit of happiness.” This particular February teachers can use President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address as an historical document well suited to approach these issues. It is rare to have an historical document that is literally “newly minted.” We should seize this teachable moment! Further, since this 21st century presidential address celebrated the spirit, ideas and words of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King teachers can use the inaugural to stress that principled ideals are eternal. Words matter.
Teachers can frame the inaugural address within the context of our nation’s historical journey and struggles by raising essential questions about our core principles. The following essential questions represent two approaches (among many!) that teachers can take using the president’s speech as a primary document.
1) What core beliefs bind the people of the United States?
2) What core beliefs have the people of the United States struggled with, and pursued, to create a more perfect Union?
By examining the inaugural address along with pre-selected quotes from the works of Lincoln and King (or quotes found through student research), classes can draw individual or group conclusions about our nation’s values and principles. Depending on the grade level or class, questions related to the gap between our principles (theories) and realities (practice) can certainly be explored to enrich the teaching and learning experience.
Let’s examine two excerpts from President Obama’s speech to address our essential questions and the impact that Lincoln and King had on the president’s speech. The first excerpt,
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
These two sentences were certainly influenced by Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech given on June 16, 1858. Lincoln used that speech, and the biblical reference to a “House Divided,” to accept the Republican nomination for the Illinois Senate seat. Lincoln stated:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.
President Obama’s speech was also influenced by the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Students can explore these speeches (or excerpts) and draw their own conclusions about core beliefs related to our national journey and the question of equality.
Consider this second speech excerpt from President Obama’s Inaugural,
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Certainly this excerpt from President Obama’s speech was greatly influenced by Dr. King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech.” But, when examining this particular excerpt with students consider the ideas in relationship to the following words from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963. In that letter Dr. King responded to a group of white clergy who maintained that King was an “outsider” interfering in Alabama’s affairs. King wrote,
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Black History Month and Our National Identity
President Obama also weaved into his speech solemn principles and phrases from the Declaration of Independence (e.g., “All men are created equal.”) and the Constitution (e.g., “We the people”). By celebrating and examining all of these documents teachers and students will gain a greater understanding of how today’s 21st century challenges are tied to our nation’s founding principles and the crises faced by our 16th president, and our most prominent civil rights leader. Considering these issues during Black History Month provides our nation’s classrooms with a unique opportunity—using a real time historical document from our first African American president to explore the roots of our nation’s values. As a result, teachers and students can gain a greater understanding of yesterday, who we are today, and what we hope to be tomorrow.
I think we have reason to thank God for Abraham Lincoln….With all his deficiencies, it must be admitted that he has grown continuously; and considering how slavery had weakened and perverted the moral sense of the whole country, it was great good luck to have the people elect a man who was willing to grow.
(The abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, in Eric Foner’s, The Fiery Trial, 2010)
The Mission: Preserving the Union Through Emancipation
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The commemoration has renewed interest and debate about the document, Lincoln’s intent, and what the Emancipation Proclamation actually accomplished. However, one fact is rarely disputed: Lincoln’s overriding goal upon signing the document was to strengthen the position of those dedicated to preserving the union. He certainly knew the document was not perfect. Before issuing the proclamation he must have pondered: Will this act strengthen or weaken the nation? The proclamation would affect the perceptions of those on both sides of the conflict. Frederick Douglass noted that the plight of the slaves “and the cause of the country” were now in unison (Foner). Some northern soldiers were pleased with emancipation; others thought that the war aims should not have been broadened.
A President Willing to Grow
Lincoln continued to receive criticism from all sides. Opponents accused him of being an undeclared abolitionist. Others stated that he was timid and conservative on abolition. Lincoln did not let these critics determine his actions: he kept his eyes on the prize. Importantly, Lincoln’s ideas on extending freedom evolved based on events on and off the battlefield. These events included the courageous performance of Black soldiers. Battlefield actions inspired Lincoln to issue a letter in August 1863 that was specifically written for wide distribution. This excerpt is prophetic,
And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.
Events in 1863-64 were moving the nation toward a more perfect union. For example, during the 1864 presidential campaign Lincoln supported a Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. This certainly was not an 1861 war aim for Lincoln! The national mission expanded as battlefield events changed hearts and minds—including the heart and mind of President Lincoln. The founding principle that “all men are created equal” emerged as more than just a vision.
Today’s School Leaders: Learning From Lincoln
It is presumptuous and dangerous for leaders to believe that they alone can trigger a series of specific events and outcomes. But the ability to view and analyze events in motion, seeing both the narrow plain and broad landscape, and then taking the right action is a mark of exceptional leadership. Ineffective leaders miss opportunities and act imprudently. In his prize winning book April 1865, Jay Winik reflected, “As every historian well knows, in the end it is not brilliance but judgment that separates the great leaders from the routine.”
Obviously today’s school leaders cannot always determine the issues, initiatives, or policies they would prefer to tackle. But just as Lincoln was driven initially by the question: What must I do to preserve the union and the nation’s founding values?—School leaders must ask: What must I do to implement the nation’s founding values, especially those related to equality? Pursuing this question mandates that all school leaders—administrators and teachers—follow social justice goals, “such as closing the achievement gap, academic excellence for all, educating worthy citizens, pressing for gender equality, tackling the high school dropout crisis, reducing school bullying, and educating the whole child” (Alvy and Robbins, Learning From Lincoln ASCD, 2010).
Lincoln’s pursuit of the nation’s founding principle that “all men are created equal” helped to bring ideals closer to practice. This is an ongoing challenge, the “unfinished work” of the Gettysburg Address. School leaders who seize opportunities and pursue social justice goals for their students help make Lincoln’s vision a reality.
Establishing a thriving learning environment is instrumental in students obtaining personal success. We must be strategic in how we develop our classroom communities at the beginning of a new school year. The setting must support the whole child, adapting to the needs of the group as everyone settles in for the yearlong learning journey. The environment must specifically be designed to support the health and safety of our students, strengthening the emotional well-being of each individual. While providing an atmosphere that supports learning endeavors from every angle, students can be offered many opportunities to be truly engaged and challenged.
But how do we guarantee that we WILL develop a solid foundation that supports the whole child?
I recommend intentional inspiration:
1. Engage- Find a meaningful way to reach your learners. Identify colors, symbols, and a motto that supports the yearlong learning theme. Allow this inspirational concept to reach learners from all avenues. Use this theme to connect learners’ thinking and experiences across the content areas. Infusing a foundational concept that motivates students to rise to the occasion will make an incredible difference and establish the tone within your learning community.
2. Connect- Meet your students where they are. Take the time to get to know each individual. An understanding of their academic strengths and challenges should be balanced with a knowledge base regarding their personalities and interests. Consider specific entry points that will capture their attention and allow them to make authentic personal connections to the classroom community’s learning theme. Establish a daily routine with significant rituals that build camaraderie and celebrate the diversity within the Student Learning Community.
3. Personalize- Allow the environment to rise up and greet your students each day. This space should be their home away from home, truly providing a comfort in resources that will meet their personal needs. A foundation should be established for the development of independence by way of individual goals. Each child should have a personal map to guide them along the path of their learning journey. Daily experiences should motivate them to celebrate their strengths and attack challenges. Above all, your students should deeply feel and believe in your promise of providing them a personalized learning experience.
4. Empower- Embed the 5 strategies of choice, reflection, self-assessment, students as teachers, and voice in all aspects our your daily routine. Inspire students by allowing dependable rituals to exist, but ones in which their thinking is stretched and enlightened by engaging processes. Provide unlimited opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and design plans and activities that help them reach their own goals.
5. Believe- Take a step back, genuinely let go, and believe. They will ultimately rise to the occasion when they have been inspired to be themselves, and when a solid platform has been built to allow them to stand strong. A real sense of trust develops when you have provided a variety of resources, and then you allow those options to be accessed with their own discretion during the learning process. A huge part of trust is when students know you are there to catch them when they fall. So step out of their way, but do so with your arms wide open.
By embracing this initiative, students will identify with themselves and make authentic connections to their peers, teachers, and the world around them. They will recognize the role they play within the learning community, and how the environment will meet their needs as learners. Seeking out resources that best fit themselves will become second nature, because they will truly understand the purpose of the learning process. Actually meeting students where they are on their learning journey signals to them that we are advocates for their personal growth, success, and well-being. We want them to aspire to be amazing each and every day as an attentive learner, an incredible thinker, and a thoughtful collaborator.
Intentional inspiration is the potential key to creating an atmosphere that fosters the personal development of each individual. Using these strategic ways to inspire students will establish a foundation that reaches the whole child, while revitalizing the learning environment and supporting the success of all individuals.
***This blog post has been cross-posted at Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
The term Supportive Learning Community is significant. The definition of each word in itself is influential. Connecting them as a joint expression makes a statement, one that infers a unified body of individuals working together to advocate for students along the path of their learning journey.
As we share the responsibility of student success within our school environments, do we take the time to allow students to be a direct part of the equation? Is establishing a Supportive Learning Community something we do FOR students or something we do WITH students?
When students walk through our doors into their learning environments, they should be greeted with buckets of smiles, personal connections, and empathy. Acceptance should be encountered around every corner. They should be able to walk with a light-hearted step, confident posture, and a positive glow. We want their home away from home to be a reliable place with consistent expectations and genuine relationships.
We must be mindful, though, to welcome each student into our community rather than demanding their presence. What are their ideas? What do they have to contribute? Allowing them the opportunities to share their voice, from even the youngest of members, can enlighten a community and provide the chance for everyone to learn and grow.
Every person needs to feel a sense of belonging to truly be a member of a community. They must identify with being a part of the group, clearly being able to label the contributions they are able to make and the security they feel. To ensure our students associate themselves WITH the Supportive Learning Community, we need to reinforce the following:
Acknowledgement- Every student should be greeted each and every day with personalized communication and connections, from several people within their community, throughout the learning day.
Acceptance- Every student should feel understood for who they are and confident in their abilities. They must see diversity being celebrated and honored.
Appreciation- Every student should identify that their voice and opinions are treasured, ideas and perspectives are recognized, and positive contributions are respected.
Do we take the time to reflect on our students’ understanding of themselves as community members within our Supportive Learning Community? Do we know without reasonable doubt that they each feel valuable and are secure in understanding that their voice makes a difference? Are we ensuring that our interactions through the day make students feel like a star with awe-inspiring uniqueness? Students should each experience their importance with the community, like a bright shining star in the vast sky. Taking for granted the brilliance that shines around us would be a shame, as we would be missing so much. Students are amazing for who they are. Their voice matters and amazing things occur from taking the time to acknowledge them, accept who they are, and appreciate the perspective they have to offer. It could make all the difference in the world.
***This post has been cross-posted on Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Meeting students where they are is key to their social, emotional, and academic success. A piece of this puzzle is to allow them to be empowered in the learning process. We want to ensure that we are teaching the Whole Child and providing each student a learning experience that meets their personal needs. Who knows the child better than themselves? They are aware of their likes and dislikes, their own opinions, the things that they feel confident with and the things that challenge them, as well as the dreams they have.
Sometimes we need to step back, let go, and empower our students to take charge of their own learning. The following 5 strategies will prove to be powerful when utilized with any age.
1) Choice: Do you allow students to choose the goals they work on each day? Do they choose their materials? What about their resources? Are students allowed to choose the path they take to reach their academic goals, for instance in a Project-Based Learning environment? Do they choose where they sit to experience learning, or who they work with? All of these factors can be crucial to a student's learning. Take the time to establish routines and model expectations, but then step back and offer opportunities for students to make choices during their learning. Let them be their own guides. Misfortune may ensue, but true learning occurs through mistakes and the correction of them. This is empowering in itself.
2) Reflection: Are students reflective in their learning moment to moment, or passive? Is time set aside for reflective purposes or pushed to the wayside when time runs short? Is reflection a part of the daily routine? Students must actively engage in the learning process and reflect on their own personal contributions, knowledge, and connections. They need to be allowed time to process their learning as a step of retention. Reflection allows for closure to a situation, conversation, or lesson, empowering students to make sense of their learning.
3) Students as Teachers: Do students have opportunities to articulate their knowledge? Are the given the chance to help others understand a concept? Do they get to demonstrate their strategies and assist others with a similar learning style? By allowing students to teach students we enlarge the learning platform. We suggest to them that there are other experts present in the learning environment. Teaching empowers students to demonstrate and share knowledge, deeping their own understanding.
4) Self-Assessment: Are students aware of their individual goals? Do they have the ability to assess themselves according to specific criteria? Can they provide effective feedback to others? Are they an integral part of the assessment process? When given opportunities to self-assess their own progress towards specific goals, students' growth will soar. They can also be given the chance to positively impact others' learning by offering feedback. Peer conversations regarding student work is a powerful thing. Again, it provides the clear message their are other experts in the learning environment. Allowing students to engage in these conversations expands their academic awareness. Students clearly understanding their own strengths and challenges is empowering.
5) Student Voice: Do you ask the students for their opinion often? Is their voice used to make decisions in the classroom? Do you allow them to provide you feedback? Is their feedback honored? The most valuable voice in the learning environment is that of the student. They are the consumer of the knowledge and can provide feedback regarding their needs being met. It is important to ask for input on a regular basis regarding structure, routine, systems, rules, responsibilities, etc. Taking their ideas into account for lesson planning/design and instructional strategies can also prove beneficial. You never know the possibilities unless you ask. Seek out their voice, you may be surprised. Honoring their ideas builds trust and empowers them to think critically.
These strategies can be integrated into any classroom, as they are all simply built upon conversations. Empowering learners begins with discussion and the building of the Student Learning Community. Students and teachers working together creates a powerful learning environment that fosters the success of all. We want our students to be engaged, challenged and supported everyday they are with us. Empowering our students to take charge of their learning opens doors in all directions.
***This post has been cross-posted to Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Well, I’m sure everyone has heard that Ann Ottmar and I have the best dance moves around. Seriously, how could you not know about them when our students’ are shouting about our insanely cool moves from the rooftops! Thanks to our students’ endless encouragement and amazing growth we show no shame as we frequently dance our socks off to celebrate their progress. We have perfected some pretty interesting dance moves this year, including the Dougie and some kickback moves from the 90s. The choreographed routine we are the most proud of, though, is the Carousel.
The Carousel is an instructional strategy we have utilized throughout the year since it ties so well to the Perfect Storm, our philosophical approach behind the development of our 3/4/5 Multiage Program. This “dance of the minds” is an interactive experience that addresses the needs of all 50 individuals within our classroom, while focusing on a particular topic or content strand.
Every amazing choreographed dance has a few common factors: purpose (Why is the dance important?), location (How should the stage be set?), costume (What should it look like?), music (What should it sound like?), and moves (What should it feel like?).
Here are these elements within the Carousel, as it is used within our classroom:
Purpose- Identify the Message of the Dance:
Location- Set the Stage:
Costume- Dress the Part:
Music- Hear the Beat:
Moves- Feel the Beat:
To us the Carousel is more than a content-based experience, but rather a necessary instructional strategy in the 21st Century. It creates an opportunity for authentic communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. A Carousel is a learning experience that allows for rich dialogue, thinking, vocabulary, and action. At each rotation students do not encounter problems with the purpose of seeking out one right answer, but rather they approach a situation or scenario that will cause reason to utilize the 4Cs. Students should be expected to record their thinking as evidence for learning, for the next step in the process.
After the dance is done, so to speak, we gather together and discuss each of the rotations encountered during the experience. Students self-assess their recording sheets, analyzing their thinking. They then identify their “got it” targets and “need it” targets. These become their goals for future individualized learning.
We have used the Carousel in a variety of ways:
The Carousel has become our “go-to” strategy because it allows to use to meet every child where they are, as we provide an entry point for a range of levels at each rotation. We carefully craft/select the question, scenario, or project to allow each child an opportunity to explore the content at hand. Through collaboration and communication students are empowered to self-discover new knowledge to later apply to other situations. Real-world examples and connections provide authentic learning experiences. This is more than a differentiation tool for us, it is a way to provide students with an genuine way to interact, problem solve, and relate to the world around them.
Our classroom is known to be quite loud during a Carousel. As 50 students are conversing, the voice level increases. The timer chimes and students immediately rotate, which causes a quick bustle of movement. Laughter can also be heard, as students enjoy the interactions occurring. But what could be more powerful than true excitement and engagement within our SLC? Sometimes you just have to dance….
***This blog has been cross-posted at Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
As Ann Ottmar and I were starting to feel our “Entry Tasks” becoming mundane last year, we began searching for a better way to establish our mornings. We have spent a lot of time researching about the brain and how to teach so students will retain the information. We absolutely knew we wanted to begin the day in an inviting, engaging way. Our students assisted us with refining our morning routine to establish the Brain Breakfast. We now implement cognitive activities that expand on the knowledge we are exploring, but also motivate our creative juices.
The activities used during our Brain Breakfast initially stimulated from Comprehension Connections, by Tanny McGregor (2007), which provides ideas for integrating the arts with comprehension strategies. In our classroom, we refer to comprehension strategies as “Thinking Strategies,” and students are encouraged to use them throughout the day within all content areas, topics, and conversations. McGregor’s book provides a wonderful platform for teachers to teach the specific strategies in a natural, engaging way that allows students to transfer the skill in an authentic manner.
Here is a list of ideas used commonly for our Brain Breakfast:
The direction we take each morning is based on our students’ needs. We choose a topic, theme, or idea in which we want to reinforce or explore through intentional conversation. Our purpose is to keep our Brain Breakfast within 10-15 minutes. Students get about 5 minutes to reflect using their Thinking Strategies, as we encourage them to engage in using/practicing as many as possible through these activities. We then spend 3-5 minutes with a pair-share moment, and then 3-5 with a whole group share out & discussion.
At this point in the year, many students are beginning to create their own quotes and metaphors during the Brain Breakfast. This precious time is valued by all and has allowed them to start the day with a creative, thoughtful experience. They are always eager to get into the room and see what Breakfast is posted! After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day… and our Brain Breakfasts have the right nutrients for students to become focused, centered, engaged, and ready to start the day successfully.
I encourage you to try beginning the day with a Brain Breakfast and would enjoy hearing about your experience. ~Celina
Over a decade has passed in the 21st Century and technology continues to advance at an unpredictable rate. Conversations are occurring everyday regarding ideas, strategies and theoretical approaches for teaching and learning as we move forward in this digital age.But the challenge is trying to keep up with and integrate all the amazing approaches for creating a student-centered learning environment.
Back in June 2011, Ann Ottmar and I took on an exhilarating task: create a 3/4/5 Multiage Program that meshed our school district endeavors, PLC Goals, and 21st Century Skills.We worked together closely over the summer and thought deeply on how to communicate our research and perspective with our students, parents, colleagues, and community members.Clearly we understood that visuals would be the way to go, but we took it one step further to create a 3D model within our classroom.This giant display explains how we merge expected state standards, higher-level thinking, and the affective domain within our multiage community.Our over-arching goal is to essentially empower students by providing them with a direct role in the learning process and explaining to them the key elements in education.And so begins our metaphor of “The Perfect Storm,” a synthesis of elements for student success.
Our students’ needs and development have guided us on the path through this storm, allowing us to add elements along the way and describe the development of our Student Learning Community.We have pieced our metaphor into stages to explain “The Perfect Storm,” essentially creating a plan for developing a 21st Century Learning Environment.Each stage was introduced to our classroom as the “Storm” developed through the progression of the school year.Here are the “sketched” stages:
Stage 1: The Social Foundation
The soil resembles the environments (physical, social/emotional, and cognitive) that the seeds (students) are planted into in the fall.These environments are necessary to develop our Student Learning Community.Thinking of Maslow’s Hierarchy and the work of Marilee Sprenger, we were strategic with the time set aside to create this foundation to ensure meeting the needs of each student.
The sun resembles the literature/text that surrounds us on a daily basis, as with every corner we turn there is a variety of media shining upon us.The clouds remind us of the content areas [Science (Health), Social Studies (Economics, History, Geography, Civics), and Mathematics], as they can sometimes be cloudy and vague.As they overlap and integration occurs, the 21st Century Interdisciplinary Themes can be addressed.The sun is always attempting to break through the clouds to offer sources of information to support the content skills.
The umbrella in the metaphor represents the imperative use of Thinking Strategies throughout the day.The umbrella helps to reduce excessive amounts of sun (text) and prepares for the potential of rain (content). Using the thinking strategies allow students to process the literature and content information they are exposed to. The sun and rain must “interact” with the umbrella as the thinking takes place, and the hook at the bottom of the umbrellas catches these powerful ideas.
Stage 4: The Learning Processes
During learning there are a variety of active processes that occur.The raindrops represent the active processes of reading, writing, using technology, listening to music, creating art, and physical activity.The lightning bolts represent the abstract processes of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration (the4Cs from the Framework for 21stCentury Learning).The rain breaks free from the clouds as active learning occurs and the lightning bolts are the sparks of magic as the clouds bump together and cross-content connections are made.
Stage 5: Student Empowerment
For us, this is the key stage.We take the approach of personalized learning within our classroom, but that requires students to understand themselves as learners and citizens within the learning community.The rainbow appears during the storm once the student feels secure in the environment.The rainbow represents the Whole Child Tenets.The pot of gold represents individual goals, and each student has their very own pot of gold.Goals can be reached in a safe environment, when the child is healthy, engaged, challenged and supported.
Stage 6: Levels of Learning
In our classroom we do not use letter grades or points to score student work.Students actually self-assess their own learning, but they also receive descriptive feedback from their teachers and peers.We focus on the academic standards based on readiness. Standards Based Grading (our district’s grading system) is used to guide students to understand where they are on the learning continuum with specific content standards.So in continuing with the metaphor, a Level 1 would represent the roots of the plant, anchoring itself within the environment.A Level 2 would be the stem, gaining enough knowledge to begin to establish self-support.The bud of the plant would be a Level 3, ready to BLOOM! And finally a Level 4 would be the flower displaying its prominent beauty. We also connected these levels to Bloom’s Taxonomy, explaining to the students that when you are at a Level 1 or Level 2 you are in the "Understanding" Phase of a concept- which we relate to the bottom 2 tiers of the Bloom’s Pyramid.Level 3 would be the “Doing” phase, or the middle 2 tiers of Bloom’s Pyramid. The top 2 tiers represent the “Making it Your Own” phase, or a Level 4. We use these resources so students never feel that being a Level 1 or 2 is a negative thing; it is just the beginning of the learning process. But it also gives them a concrete way to self-assess their progress.
Stage 7: Cultivation of the Five Minds
The petals on the flower represent each of Gardner’s Five Minds: Disciplined, Synthesizing, Creating, Respectful, and Ethical. As the foundation for these is being built through the development of the Perfect Storm, we did not make it a part of the metaphor until the end.As Ann and I agree that these minds are required in order to be successful in the 21st century, we could not find a way to explain them to students until the other stages were understood.Students will now have an anchor to reflect upon as we move forward to this stage.They will be able to connect the respectful mind to the soil and the rainbow, the disciplined mind to the clouds and sun, the synthesizing mind to the umbrella, and the creative mind to the rain and lightning.And as Gardner (2008) discusses one not being able to conceptualize the ethical mind until adulthood, we have laid the groundwork through our work regarding citizenship and global awareness (p. 162).
As the students are the flowers within this metaphor, you may be asking what the teachers are? Well as we facilitate the learning process within our classroom we take on a variety of roles. We become Mother Nature and attempt to balance the elements. We act as the gardeners tilling up the soil, planting the seeds, pulling the weeds, and providing resources as necessary. We are also the leprechaun making the pot of gold available.
Where are we in this process? As you can see in the photos, the flower (Stage 6) is not yet a part of our 3D model.Thus, the stage we are currently developing.Students have been using this language during discussion since the beginning of the year, but they are finally to a place where they can articulate their goals, learning, and progress in a way that is concise and spot on!They know who they are as learners, and now have the skills to map their way through their learning journey.To us it is essential that they go into the world with more than just content understanding, but rather the ability to thrive on their own and brave the future storms that will come their way.
Ann and I have realized through the school year that there are ways to expand this metaphor in all directions.In fact, our students add to it often in ways that inspire them during learning moments throughout the day.We are in a place where we recognize the importance of each piece of this puzzle.The effect this process has had on student learning is astonishing.We marvel at what they are able to create and the level of their thinking that occurs in this personalized learning environment.
I think it is important to add that “The Perfect Storm” is a model for all classrooms and all students. It is certainly not inclusive to multiage, but relevant for the present and the future of education.Within this framework, students are given the opportunity to reside within a structure that allows them to bloom at their own rate.And as the storm passes and the sunset appears on the horizon, students will soar to new heights and celebrate the growth they have accomplished.
The stages have been presented in sketch form at our blog: Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Gardner, H.(2008).5 minds for the future.Boston, MA:Harvard Business Press.
This school year I set out with several personal growth areas: Science, Brain-based Learning, Student Book Clubs, and Formative Assessment. I can proudly say that I am making strong gains in all 4 areas, as I devour literature on these topics any chance I get and apply my learning directly in my classroom with my students and alongside my teaching partner. But one additional area snuck its way into my daily life through my own personal growth process; Digital Literacy is now on the forefront of my mind. In my professional life, as well as my personal life, I am now “connected.” I finally feel like I understand our present technological world, and I am more prepared than ever before to face the future advances that technology will have to offer.
So what does Digital Literacy mean to me now?
I would define Digital Literacy as “the ability to use technological tools to compose ideas, research information, reflect, communicate, network, create, and collaborate.” I also believe it involves using tools in a variety of venues and for a variety of purposes. When one is literate, in regards to a topic or skill, that knowledge is naturally incorporated into one’s daily life. It no longer feels foreign, but rather essential. I relate it to learning how to read… when the skill does not exist we learn to cope, but when we finally learn how to read many doors open. And then when we become literate in thinking strategies we are able to explore literature at a much deeper level. At some point we consider, how could I ever live without this skill? The same goes for technology. Many of us are skill coping with living in this Digital Age, but as we learn new skills we realize the possibilities. I personally have said aloud many times recently, “I do not know how I could ever live without my iPhone!” It truly makes my day to day life so much more efficient and organized.
So what would Digital Literacy implementation look like in the classroom from my perspective?
Technology should be a part of the daily routine. Students should have frequent access in an authentic manner. They should have their hands on document cameras, digital cameras, and video cameras as tools to promote and share their thinking. Access to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel should be at the students’ leisure to meet their own learning needs. Students must have the opportunity to use the Internet as a resource to extend their knowledge, research topics, and practice skills. Classroom websites and Blogs should be used to aid in collaboration within the classroom and networking with the world. Students should be encouraged to email as an additional way to communicate their learning with their teachers.
In addition, teachers should be efficient in utilizing these skills from a personal standpoint, in order to truly serve as experts and guide students on their journey through the 21st Century. Creating a professional Blog, and surfing others, extends one’s own PLN to continue individual growth. Next on my to-do list is finding resources that will allow me to get Netbooks or iPads in the hands of my students. I am currently also researching potential Apps to use with these devices that would assist me with efficient formative assessment, as well as foster student learning.
Allowing the tools to be part of the natural classroom environment rather than a planned schedule of use is essential to promoting digital literacy. Again, going back to using reading as a metaphor, effective reading teachers have learned that offering students a library FULL of books from ALL genres/levels and allowing CHOICE based on interest/needs is how our students exponentially grow as readers. Students should not have limited access to technology as it stifles their growth. Instead we need to provide a variety of tools and allow choice based on their independent needs/interests, as well as freedom to access the resources.
So what do I think of Digital Literacy in terms of Professional Development?
First, I think the message needs to be clear regarding utilizing technological tools: If the teacher is the one accessing the tool, it is mainly helping with improving instruction and adding novelty to the lesson. For students to personally benefit and become literate in this area the tools need to be in their hands. I think the second message must be that technology needs to serve as a resource that is naturally integrated into the learning environment, not a separate entity.
To assist teachers in embracing technology, professional development opportunities must be available. Many teachers feel hopeless at times with the rate that technology changes and advances. It can feel daunting to even consider “catching up”. However, if we switch our outlook to believe it is achievable, we feel less intimidated to take the steps to attain literacy in this area. Sometimes a simple conversation, or even an arranged collaboration time, is all it takes to diminish the feeling of impossibility. When we have others to lean on and learn beside our mentality can change.
I think effective instruction can be possible without making the switch to a digital learning environment. Nevertheless, our mindset needs to be providing and modeling effective tools for the 21st century. Technology is our students’ present and future, to ignore this is just plain ignorance and a disservice to our students and our own future. We must be ready to welcome the advancements and make them a part of our own daily lives. By immersing ourselves in the digital tools, language, and environment, we will become literate. Don’t we immerse our non-readers in a language rich atmosphere, attempting to expand their vocabulary and provide them access to a variety of resources in an environment that appreciates books?
So what is next for me with my Digital Literacy goal?
The most humorous part of this whole reflection to me is that I had always considered myself a “techie,” so to speak. I have stepped up for professional development on this topic in my district, solved tech related dilemmas for my colleagues, incorporated technology into my lessons, allowed my students to access technological resources, and generally felt literate in this area. However, my greatest growth this year has been recognizing that what I was doing for myself and my students was not enough. As I researched and dug deeper to fulfill my PD needs within my 4 targeted areas, technology was front and center. I found myself learning that to meet my goals I needed to incorporate additional technology tools to facilitate learning, and my students needed to be directly connected to these tools. Exposure is not enough. I no longer want to be behind the times, but instead desire to create an environment that aligns with our 21st Century needs. So as I know good readers expand themselves by reaching out to unfamiliar genres, collaborating with peers, and stretching their minds with thinking strategies, I plan to do just that to develop my digitally-literate self.
My favorite article on this topic, Digital Natives Digital Immigrants, was written by Marc Prensky (2001). His words were published over 10 years ago, but the content is more relevant now than ever! Prensky coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants,” right at the turn of the century as we entered a generation buzzing with technology. As teachers, we can choose to take a negative perspective on technology as digital immigrants, but when we do it only makes the digital natives in our classrooms feel uncomfortable in their own world. We must look for ways to develop our skills, learn 'the language', embrace the diversity, and celebrate the opportunities awaiting us and our students. We need to use technology as a way to inspire our creativity, promote individual growth, and connect our students and ourselves with OUR world. A variety of resources surround us, what are we waiting for???
***Any additional ideas, websites, and suggestions to further my own personal journey in our digital-era are appreciated. I will grow, and in turn my students will benefit!
***This blog post has been cross-posted on Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Prensky, M. (October 2001) Digital natives digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).
Professional Learning Communities are the topic of many conversations within education: the culture that is imperative for success, the goals we choose to focus on, the protocols we should follow, the structure that must be in place, and the realities that we face. There is an abundance of research I have read to support how PLCs are necessary in improving students’ learning. I myself belong to an amazing PLC (as well as many micro PLCs within my PLC). But my thoughts lately have been on how to take the characteristics of successful PLCs and apply them within the walls of the classroom for students.
How do you create a Student Learning Community? And by that I don’t mean by way of just classroom management, nor do I mean learning time that is strategically organized by the teacher. These are just general necessities within a learning environment. I am now in search of the next level of a learning environment; a classroom atmosphere that will support 21st Century Learning. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011) advocates for a learning environment that encompasses the Learning & Innovation Skills and Life & Career Skills demonstrated in the Framework for 21st Century Learning . So I constantly ask myself, what are the essential characteristics of a Student Learning Community that would be needed to foster these types of skills?
This Framework is frequently on my mind as my teaching partner, Ann, and I strategically implement new strategies, ideas, and content discovered through our collaborative efforts within our PLCs. As Ann and I heavily value personalized learning and individual learning goals for our students, we send the message everyday to them that, “We are in this together.” Ann and I strategically plan learning endeavors that will grasp our students’ attention, establish essential questions that will provoke critical thinking, and collaborate with students to identify individual goals and continuously monitor their progress. Thus, we are finding five “must-haves” within our productive Student Learning Community, as they seem to have a direct positive impact on student progress. These “must-haves” also seem to be facilitating an environment that allows us to naturally integrate in the 21st Century Skills, as we discover ways to do so.
5 components for Student Learning Communities:
I have witnessed these components to be beneficial and aid in the success of each and every student within our classroom. Through offering one another respect we can encourage each other’s growth. Thus, supporting the overarching objective of the community to retain information, whether it is regarding content based knowledge or the use of specific strategies, in order to build our knowledge base and collectively grow. While on the journey for retention, each individual in the classroom must recognize their personal responsibility to the learning community and themselves. They must understand that our choices can positively or negatively affect others, but the choice is always our own. As students work towards meeting their goals must be aware of the resources around them and take every opportunity to self-sufficiently utilize them, yet share them with others within the community. And finally, students must be mindful of the reality they are facing within the world today and feel a sense of urgency to collaborate, work, and create within a diverse community.
Overall, they need to believe in and act upon the message, “We are in this together.”
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Book Groups.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Accessed at www.p21.org on December 1, 2011.
Sprenger, M. (2005). How to teach so students remember. Alexandria, VA: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Over the past week I have read numerous blog posts regarding perspectives on grading procedures, along with several articles on the topic from Educational Leadership’s newest issue, Effective Grading Practices. I have thoroughly enjoyed the candor expressed within each intentional word spoken about the topic.
In my teaching partner (Ann) and I’s world of Multiage, we have naturally changed our own perspective as the year has moved forward. In our building/district, we are in year three of Standards-Based Grading. Even though we have been focused on scoring student progress as a 4,3,2,or 1 rather than letter grades of A,B,C,D, or F for several years now, truly understanding Standards-Based Grading sinks in over time. It is a process you have to become accustomed to since a shift of thinking is required. You must focus on their progress towards a standard and record where their progress is at each grading period, rather than their effort and graded work averaged over a chunk of time. This transition, though, has been a very comfortable process for me. I like how it is black or white in nature; a student either has it or doesn’t. Simple.
And this year Ann and I have really been able to take it to a new level. Our students have the ownership of “Meeting Standard” or “Not-meeting Standard”. (Again, they either have it or they don’t-very simple for them to understand.) We are very open with the students about the standards they are to learn, introducing them within our Target Walls, but also providing students with their own Mini-target walls that are building blocks based on their individual needs, not their grade level. Standards-Based Grading allows for the flexibility to move at the student’s pace, based on the student’s individual needs. It’s what I love about it the most- it allows for “no ceiling, no floor” during the learning process.
The way that we have instilled our grading practices are non-threatening in nature. Students are not working for an extrinsic motivator, nor competing against their peers. They have specific goals, work towards them, “meet standard”, move on to the next building block, and set new goals. Then they repeat the cycle while understanding that they MUST continue rehearsing, reflecting, and synthesizing their knowledge base as learning continues in order for long-term retention to take effect. They understand the true learning process. It isn’t about a grade, or a meeting standard mark, but building their own intellect- because that’s the real purpose, right?
So filling out report cards can seem tedious in a process that is built in this manner. (Our students could have filled them out on their own, had we let them, because they already know these facts about their journey. Every day is about their own personal progress.) Formal report cards are an extra step, but it does allow for a documented trail of learning: where the student has been, where they are now, and where they are going. Tracking learning is something to treasure- one should have a way to appreciate their hard work and courageous effort.
Regardless of which stance you take concerning grading, please remember that any type of grade labels a student. They should not be blindsided by the marks on their formal report card. Formative assessment along the way should have involved the students to allow them to clearly understand themselves as learners and where they are on their own continuum. The feedback they receive is essential to their growth.
The questions we should continuously be reflecting on often, through our own learning journey regarding this issue, are: How often do I provide my students with feedback? Is my brain doing the work during the correcting process, or is theirs? Do my students have specific information about their own learning profile? Do they set their goals, or do I do it for them? Do they choose their path each day, or do I make those decisions?
Ann and I allow our students to teach us every day, and because of this mindset we have grown exponentially with the use of daily formative assessment and student self-assessment. In the end it isn’t about the final grade, but the learning path you walk together.
Lincoln’s distinctive mark, one almost unique in the history of war leadership, was his refusal to indulge in triumphalism, righteous, or vilification of the foe.
(Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 1992)
The controversy concerning President Obama’s decision to withhold from the public the graphic death photos of Osama bin Laden has sparked a discussion of leadership behavior during moments of triumph. Initially there was a public outcry to see the photos. On “60 Minutes,” when asked why he decided to withhold the photos, the President stated, “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.…We don’t need to spike the football.” Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans now support President Obama’s decision. Interesting.
As this controversy played out in the media I could not help but think of President Lincoln’s behavior during the Civil War—and what present school leaders can learn from watching and reading how others respond when emotions run high (and low!). In A. Lincoln: A Biography, historian Ron White (2009) reminds us that when President Lincoln was about to deliver his Second Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1865, many in the audience expected a triumphant and vindictive speech, demonizing the South, and celebrating the imminent Northern victory. Of course, the Second Inaugural is viewed by many historians to be Lincoln’s greatest speech, precisely because his tone was measured. Consider this section of the speech:
Each [side] looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astonishing. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other….The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.
Seeking revenge or remaining angry, often limits one’s ability to act thoughtfully. Daniel Goleman (1995), in his landmark book Emotional Intelligence, reminds us that “…people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought” (p. 36). Consider Lincoln’s response to the embarrassing Northern defeat at Bull Run in July of 1861. Many in the North were convinced that watching the battle would literally be “a day in the park.” Civilians rode out on horseback and carriages to observe the military action, carrying picnic baskets, just waiting to celebrate a victory. As the afternoon turned tragic, the revelers became somber as they looked on, seeing wounded and dead Union soldiers carried on wagons and carts back to Washington. Few leaders wanted to take responsibility for the shocking defeat. “As accusations swirled in Congress, the press, and the public, Lincoln refused to indulge in any finger pointing. If there would be any responsibility for defeat, he would bear it upon his broad shoulders” (White, p. 435). Lashing out at others during this time was a natural response for many politicians, but Lincoln was more concerned about the mission—preserving the Union. Lincoln knew that an angry or arrogant response, especially toward those with whom he worked most closely, could distance him from his most trusted advisors—his team. Successful leaders must remain approachable and accept responsibility. (Harry Truman was right, “The buck stops here!”) Remaining calm and approachable, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions enhances team trust. Emotionally intelligent leaders act thoughtfully and take responsibility precisely because reason and logical decision-making maximizes the possibility of sound judgment. On the other hand, when anger, frustration, and revenge take over, reason is “hijacked,” often leading to irrational decisions (Goleman, p. 14).
School leaders today—from administrators to teacher leaders—face enormous challenges. Just mentioning the phrases “budgetary constraints” or “limitations of standardized tests” arouse an emotional response among many educators. However, if we let frustration, anger, and despair get the upper hand, as we try to address today’s challenges, our human capacity to find solutions is diminished. I am not suggesting that we should ignore the enormous constraints facing educators today. However, to capitulate when faced with challenges, or disregard the human capacity to persevere and solve problems, because we are anguished or angry, discounts the power to act with emotional intelligence. Ideas flow freely when we feel comfortable among colleagues and are encouraged to engage in risk-taking in order to find solutions. Anyone who has experienced the benefits of synergy can attest to the satisfaction one feels when new ideas emerge from working together with others in a culture that supports inquiry and learning.
Often, we cannot control events. However, whether the events are satisfying or sad, our emotional intelligence gives us the capacity to make sound decisions in response to the events. Leaders affect culture, and set a tone for those decisions. Leaders set a personal example that others notice and follow. When assessing how others viewed Lincoln’s character, British historian, Richard Carwardine (2006) noted, “Most of those who dealt with Lincoln recognized a political confidence that never spilled over, through vanity or a misplaced dignity, into arrogance or self-glorification” (p. 311). Today we call Lincoln’s behavior emotional intelligence.
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you, unless you first assail it. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.
(Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861)
Who is Most Qualified to Lead this Nation?
On the morning of April 12, 1861 at 4:30 am, one-hundred and fifty years ago today, Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was bombarded, “And the war came.” The fort had been maintained by Federal troops, so the bombardment by troops loyal to the South became the first salvo of the war. Although events leading up to the Sumter confrontation are complicated, they provided an early glimpse into the kind of president Lincoln would be. As an inexperienced executive, with little military training, many civilian and military leaders questioned Lincoln’s ability to lead the nation (Learning From Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success, Alvy and Robbins, ASCD, 2010). Among those most “concerned” were Secretary of State, William Seward, and Army Commander, General Winfield Scott.
For today’s school leaders, the first few weeks of Lincoln’s presidency provide valuable insight into the difficulty and reality of beginning one’s leadership tenure—it is lonely at the top! Regardless of how much previous experience one has, or advice one gets, or how hard one may work to invite diverse opinions, final decisions often rest with the leader. And, gaining the confidence and trust of others takes time, during a journey one must often take alone.
The Fateful Decision
Many historians believe that Lincoln’s first few weeks in Washington were the most difficult ever faced by a U. S. president. Seven states had already seceded from the Union, and several more were threatening to do so. Upon becoming president Lincoln was shocked to learn that Fort Sumter had only six weeks of provisions left. The Fort had become a symbol of Federal power in Charleston Harbor, in what already was perceived to be the heart of the Confederacy. So a question emerged for both the North and South: What should be done about Fort Sumter? General Scott concluded that the fort should be evacuated since it had neither the troop strength nor enough provisions to sustain the Federal soldiers for an extended period. Secretary Seward’s position was even more complicated for the new president, and the nation. Seward, no doubt, was still displeased over losing the Republican nomination, and the presidency, to Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. After all, Seward was the leading Republican during the nominating “season” and had served as governor and senator of New York State. Upon accepting the Secretary of State position in Lincoln’s cabinet, Seward was convinced, initially, that he should lead the cabinet and serve as the nation’s “Prime Minister” (Burlingame, A. Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, 2008, p. 98). He engaged in domestic and foreign policy intrigue during the first few weeks of Lincoln’s presidency (usually without the president’s permission), in order to avoid a confrontation at Fort Sumter. Yet, Lincoln felt that he needed Seward’s advice and stature, thus the President had to assert himself with the Secretary of State several times as the Sumter events escalated. Lincoln also worked hard seeking the opinion of other cabinet members. Twice during the crisis he asked the cabinet to write down their views on what should be done. Lincoln read their suggestions, realizing that the decision he was formulating was a minority opinion. The events also took a toll on the health of the new president. Mrs. Lincoln recalled that he woke up ill and stressed by the crisis. Yes, leadership can be very lonely.
But the president persisted and eventually devised a minority plan. He would not abandon Fort Sumter, and decided to reinforce the troops with a shipment of provisions only. Additional troops and armaments would not be part of the rescue mission. Thus, Lincoln had rejected the advise of both General Scott and Secretary Seward—two men of great power and influence. When Fort Sumter was fired upon on the morning of April 12, many in the North believed that the initial act of war was unprovoked, and they rallied to the Union and the President.
Most historians agree that Lincoln had threaded the needle, and had shown his mettle by acting with courage, determination, and thoughtfulness. And, Secretary of State Seward realized that he had misjudged the new president: In June of 1861, merely two months following the fateful decision that led to the attack on Fort Sumter, Seward said to his wife, “Executive skills and vigor are rare qualities. The president is the best of us” (Burlingame, p. 129).
[Lincoln] was not born king of men, ruling by the restless might of his natural superiority, but a child of the people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, and patient effort, and dogged perseverance….There was probably no year of his life in which he was not a wiser, cooler, better man than he had been the year preceding.
(Horace Greeley, in Holzer, Lincoln as I Knew Him, 2009)
Credibility: Without It Change Will Not Occur
During last week’s ASCD Annual Conference in San Francisco I had the honor of presenting a session titled, “Learning From Lincoln: Bold Actions, Powerful Ideas, and School Success,” with my co-author Dr. Pam Robbins. Looking out at our colleagues during the presentation we stated, “We are all attending this conference to learn new ideas, and reaffirm or gain a better understanding of ideas we believe in, to make a positive difference in the lives of the students and teachers we work with every day. And, when the sessions end, all of us will be eager to share, what we have learned with our colleagues back home, so that together we can implement successful change. However, unless our colleagues believe in us, and are willing to listen to us, as credible and reliable administrators and teacher leaders, change will not occur. What we can all learn from Lincoln is that if change is to succeed, a key ingredient is personal example.” Our message during the conference was straightforward: People need to believe in us as leaders, in order to be moved and motivated, to implement and sustain meaningful change.
A Lesson From History
We stressed these points at the outset of our session because it is too easy to think of Lincoln as an historical figure, who has little to teach us today about change. But, when we ignore lessons from the past, we commit ourselves to present and future failures. For example, consider Lincoln’s enduring words to Congress on December 1, 1862,
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country.
Exactly 31 days after stating these words Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation. During the first two years of the war he came to realize that fighting for the Union and Democracy, without emancipation, was an empty promise to the people of the United States and other nations. Lincoln recognized that his personal example—through words and actions—and the example the United States was sending to the world during the Civil War was hypocritical, unless slavery was ended. For many in the North Lincoln had not moved quickly enough on emancipation. Horace Greeley (quoted at the top), the editor of the New York Tribune, and Frederick Douglass were two of his severest critics. Yet, both Greeley and Douglass slowly came to realize that Lincoln’s heart was in the right place, they just disagreed with him on his timing (Learning From Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success, Alvy and Robbins, ASCD, 2010). In the end, Lincoln made the right decision on emancipation, and the moral force of his work and words is an enduring legacy. Lincoln also gained credibility by telling the hard truths: the nation was on a long and difficult journey, and perfection was still only a vision. Thus, in the Gettysburg Address he noted the “unfinished work” to secure the union and democracy. Today, his words and actions inspire those of us who seek to expand opportunities for all students by closing the achievement gap, reducing the drop out rate, and pursuing other social justice goals. We need to aim high and do the daily work necessary to make a difference.
But, making the changes necessary to improve schools, begins with the personal credibility of the individuals and teams—the administrators and teacher leaders—that seek to implement change. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”
“The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
(Abraham Lincoln, Dec. 1, 1862)
Reflecting on a Teachable Moment
About six weeks ago I shared ideas about the “teachable moment” in Egypt as an “opportunity” for educators and their students to explore the historical events taking place in the Middle East (Egypt and Democracy—A Teachable Moment). That blog post focused on the human spirit and desire for freedom. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable describing the events in Japan as a teachable moment “opportunity”. Often, we perceive opportunity as a pleasant occasion, one that “opens doors” to exciting possibilities. This is a different kind of “teachable moment”, but one that must not be ignored in our schools and classrooms. School leaders, from principals to teacher leaders, should help guide the way, ensuring that students do not miss hearing, seeing, reading, and engaging in discussions, about the fast-moving events in Japan. Twenty-first century skills related to global awareness and collaboration, problem formation and problem solving, creative solutions, ecological and alternative energy resource awareness (i.e., advantages and risks), curriculum integration, and economic literacy, can all be addressed in classrooms to understand and learn from this tragedy. In addition, teachers and students can explore essential questions, such as: How can the resiliency of the Japanese people be explained as they continue to cope with this triple disaster of a 9.0 earthquake, 500 mile an hour tsunami, and nuclear calamity? What health-related and moral issues have surfaced during this tragedy? What critical thinking issues and problem solving considerations emerge when comparing the Haitian earthquake with the Japanese tragedy? Japan is a leading economic power, what is the responsibility of other nations—both rich and poor—to assist Japan at this time? What can we learn from this tragedy?
Heifetz and Linsky: Technical and Adaptive Challenges
The Lincoln quote that opened this blog post reminded the people of the United States in 1862 that to resolve the Civil War, “we must think anew, and act anew.” The triple disaster in Japan certainly requires out of the box, “anew”, thinking. Each day’s news reports cover desperate measures taken to address the nuclear calamity, and getting help to 500,000 people who have lost their homes as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. To complicate the situation, these citizens live dangerously close to nuclear plants, that are failing and leaking radiation. Thus, the Japanese nation must weigh existential questions and issues related not only to temporary shelters in the local area, but to evacuation outside of the local area—but where to? What should be done? What actions should be taken by the Japanese government to help their people? How much should we ask of nuclear plant workers, firefighters, police officers, and military personnel who are working within the dangerous radiation zones? How can other nations assist? These questions poise new scenarios. When discussing these questions, issues, and scenarios, the ideas of Heifetz and Linsky in Leadership on the Line (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) can be used to enhance the classroom conversation. Heifetz and Linsky distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges. They describe technical challenges as problems or dilemmas faced previously in which we “have the necessary know-how and procedures” (p. 13). Adaptive challenges, “require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments” (p. 13) not just from organizational leaders, but also from a host of other individuals in the organization. Heifetz and Linsky do not suggest that technical challenges are any less important than adaptive challenges; they do suggest that, “the single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify…is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems” (p. 14). They note, for example, that the events of 9/11 required leaders to think differently about how to address terrorism. Certainly the events in Japan require both technical and adaptive thinking and solutions. Sharing these two concepts in class can provide teachers with interdisciplinary “opportunities” related to science, social studies, math, English, and health education. School leaders should encourage elementary school grade level leaders to work with their teams, and middle and high school department chairs to come together, and consider how to address these issues concerning Japan. The concepts of technical and adaptive challenges can help get the conversation started.
The Human Tragedy
As the events in Japan are addresses, it is vital that the basic human elements of the tragedy are not overlooked. Yes, it is critical for classes to examine diagrams of nuclear plants, reactors, fuel rods and containment shells—but it is equally critical to note, that as the death toll rises, each death, injury, destroyed home, and job lost, is an individual, family, national, and global tragedy. The stories of families looking for loved ones, and the highs and lows of finding or not finding family members, must be discussed along with the technical and scientific information related to natural and man made disasters. Drawing connections between the consequences of natural disasters in one’s own community and the events in Japan, can help students realize that these events are not just abstract problems about a nation far way, these are real events, and involve our human family.