Sunday, October 2, 2016

2nd AEROx Conference a huge success!

The second annual AEROx Regional Conference was a huge success! 

Over the weekend of September 30 - October 2nd,  38 youth and adult participants from Northeast and Mid -Atlantic at came together at Earthlands preserve in Petersham, Massachusetts.  

Peter Berg, Jerry Mintz, and Larry Buell 

This rustic, natural setting provided the perfect backdrop as participants collaborated, networked, learned from each other and brainstormed around the idea of humans as natural learners.  

Last year's event was a such a success that going into this year we didn't think we could match it. Happily, we were wrong ! This year things got rolling as AERO Staff began preparing for participants to arrive.  

As soon the first guests arrived the excitement and electricity in the air were palpable.  Almost instantly guests and AERO staff were immersed in sharings that set the stage for the rest of the weekend.  

As the evening and weekend moved on we connected with old and new friends, we caught up, engaged and learned about our collective vision.

Larry Buell, from Earthlands, officially kicked off the event with an opening circle that helped us get connected to our sense of place and give gratitude.  

Larry Buell getting us ready for the opening circle

Shortly after we sat down to the first of many wonderful meals prepared by Earthlands staff.  As we nourished our bodies, we also nourished our souls with conversation, laughter, and sharing. 

One of our many meals
After we filled our bodies and spirits we watched the documentary 'Mother Nature's Child'   which explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development through the experience.  Peter Berg and Jerry Mintz engaged the group in a discussion about the film.  Many thoughts were shared that were the springboard for many discussions that lasted well into the early morning hours. 

This amazing group of people represented such a wide array of perspectives and experiences that I find myself wishing that I could have recorded all of the discussions.  

One of the many profound ideas that we left off the night with was scripted vs. non-scripted experiences especially with respect to learning in the outdoors.  

We picked up right where we left off the previous evening during our morning meal.  The presentations by Kelly Taylor From Parts and Crafts and Leo Fahey were the perfect start to the day as Leo engaged the group in inquiry around the idea of universality of adults as natural teachers, and Kelly had youth and adults alike making catapults and many other creations. 

Parts and Crafts doing their thing

After a short break, Alison Fornes took the group through an engaged empathy process designed to get us in touch with our intuition through empathic intelligence.  This was such a perfect part of the weekend as it opened up space for us to connect with our internal knowing. 

Alison Fornes getting us in touch with our Empathic Intelligence

The Group Engages with Alison Fornes

After another nourishing meal, Megan Mills - Hoffman and Jagger arrived to deliver an inspiring workshop based on her work with Learning Choices Network in Buffalo, New York.  Megan and Jagger inspired us to establish a community network while accessing our local resources. 

Megan and Jagger going local 

Megan and Jagger 

Ernest Cooley demonstrated Fundamental Properties in the Storage & Transmission of Energy in Capacitors and Transmission Lines These demonstrations made clearly evident phenomenon which are not explained by conventional electro-magnetic theory.  It was fascinating and sparked much conversation.  

Ernest Cooley getting the group ready for the demonstration 

As late afternoon approached, we were all enthralled in Peter Gray's keynote.  Peter took us through his idea of self-directed education, how humans have naturally learned for millennia, and how we can support the type of learning that humans need in today's world.  

Peter Gray delivers the Keynote

Peter Gray continues the char

Peter kindly stayed for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening to chat with us and even took time to do a short interview with a youth participant.  

Peter Gray being interviewed by Wyatt Laprise from the New School

Peter Gray chatting with participants after his talk

Peter's chat was followed by Kumari Patricia Younce and Larry Buell discussing  self-directed Higher Education with a focus on preparing all to live and learn sustainable, regenerative, and socially just lives in the 21st Century.  

Larry and Kumari talk Higher Education

Sidney Morris Explored ideas with our group for unschoolers when staying home is not an option. Called the Wanderbus the idea would use local libraries as "bus stops" and research resources, the and investigate all manner of community treasures, landscapes and institutions. 

All of these presentations, workshops, and chats filled us with ideas, and the need for expressions. While we were filled in this way, we still needed to fill our innards, so we sat down to our evening meal.  

Impromptu Discussion 

This meal was especially lively as all the events leading up to it were processed, dissected, and shared.  Though we were filled up with nourishing food, we were hankering to be filled with more ideas.   

The group chose to watch the documentary ‘Class Dismissed'  which follows one families journey through their decision to homeschool.  The group had a brief discussion about the documentary sharing thoughts and ideas.  This was a perfect segue into the evening's networking and discussions which again lasted well into the early morning hours.  

Jason St. John, Wylie Kuhn and Jerry Mintz chatting

For the second morning in a row Mother Nature greeted us with rain.  This did not stop us as indeed we went outside to uncover the concept of  The Natural World as the Catalyst for Learning.  We were able to stretch our legs as we explored simple ways to use the natural word as the catalyst for deep, personalized, learner driven discoveries

Next Jim Flannery showed us his idea for PeerSchool and how youth can create learning content to be shared with other youth. This tied directly into a dialogue about the need for more local AERO events and what they may look like in the future.  

The event came to a close with participants sharing their takeaways from the weekend, another nourishing meal, closing thoughts, see you laters and wishes for safe travels. The most difficult part of this weekend is that it had to come to an end.  Many came away inspired and energized.  

As one of our friends put it "I feel reinvigorated now, I am so glad I came". Another said " We have to do more of these events."  

I was amazed at how seamlessly everything came together, how people from a variety of backgrounds who came to the conference for different reasons, and the workshops all were in synchronicity.  The rain that stayed with us throughout the weekend didn't dampen our spirits as we learned, shared, laughed, ate together and made new connections.  

No event happens in isolation. This weekend was made possible by the amazing youth and adult attendees who brought their passion, openness, willingness to share and collaborative spirit to the weekend.  As I said to the group in my closing remarks.  You are what makes AERO, without you this wouldn't be possible.  So thank you! 

As always I left this AERO event, feeling inspired and recommitted to the work I am doing. Leaving with the knowledge that there are places and groups of people out there that have created the space to support the idea of humans as natural learners. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Leadership - All of Us, Everyday

     Today, in a graduate class I am teaching called Integrated Leadership which has become more like a critical friends group. We talked about living in integrity, and authenticity, what is needed for transformational leadership to happen and how we do that. 

     We worked through the idea of naming what is happening, to expose ugly truths when it's needed and to in the words of Brene Brown, "don't shrink, don't puff up, stand your sacred ground".  

     Right now we are desperately in need of leadership of the everyday and the transformative kind.  I like to use a phrase called "situational leadership," meaning that we all find ourselves in leadership situations if not daily then almost daily, in other words, everyday leadership.  Let me explain. 

     Suppose you are out with a loved one having dinner at a nice restaurant, in a quiet atmosphere.  At the table, next to you is an infant who is crying and making a lot of noise. In that moment you have some choices, you can choose to roll your eyes, get annoyed and make it known or you can smile at the baby and get on with your dinner.  Of course, there are other choices, but you get the gist.

     The idea here is that others in the restaurant may take their cues from you. Sure everyone has free will, but research shows that people are likely to respond in a similar way as the individual closest to the situation has responded.  

     That aside and more importantly is that we find ourselves in leadership situations often, especially if we spend any time on social media.  I don't need to tell you about what is happening in the world since you already know.  

     We all have to decide whether we want to embrace the leadership situations we find ourselves in, to decide whether to live in integrity and authenticity, to act in a way that truly lines up with who we are and what we know deep in our souls.  

     And so here on social media, in your words, in your actions, in your everyday life, your leadership is critical.  I think we all have to ask ourselves whether the things we are posting, saying, doing are really in line with who we are, and what we know.  

     To take recent examples I have viewed memes on social media that have tag lines like "they can only protest because they don't have jobs", "only criminals protest criminals getting shot", and others aimed at refuting actual evidence with false evidence that perpetuate known falsehoods. 

     The question then becomes whether furthering these sorts of ideas line up with who we are? Whether this is how we live in integrity, and authenticity, whether in the moments that we can lead that this is how we want to do it?  

     If you're convinced that your leadership moments should be taken up with floating the idea that only people without jobs protest, or that the only people concerned over citizens being shot by police are criminals then by all means use your time in that way. 

     If floating these ideas and ones like them are not really who you are, is not you living in integrity, and authenticity. Then consider using your leadership moments to "stand your sacred ground," to act, speak and share in a way that honors, and values who you are and what you know to be true.  

     Your leadership in those moments, those everyday moments that sometimes we forget are important, have the power to be transformative.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

First Ever AEROx Regional Conference

     This past weekend marked the first AEROx Regional Conference at Earthlands preserve in Petersham, Massachusetts.  Over 30 youth and adult participants from all over New England and the Mid -Atlantic came together in this rustic setting to collaborate, network,  learn from each other and to move the practice of humans as natural learners forward.

Jerry, Peter & Larry at AEROx

     As this event was the first of its kind for AERO there was much excitement and as with any first-time event a bit of uncertainty.  By all accounts the event was a huge success and expectations were exceeded setting the stage for future AEROx Regional gatherings. 

AERO's traveling bookstore 

     The weekend began with a member of the AERO staff arriving early to meet with Earthlands staff and to get familiar with the grounds and facility. Immediately it was clear that the missions and energy of Earthlands and AERO were in sync.  Many conversations with the Earthlands folks followed as they shared their grand vision for preserving the space as it teaches and heals. 

Earthlands Folk, Gen, Michelle & Nikomo 

     During the opening ceremony old and new friends greeted each other and described the path they have been on and how they came to be at the event.  As folks continued to arrive, we sat down to our first of many wonderful meals prepared by the Earthlands staff.  Meal times were especially lively feeding our souls as well as our innards (which were well-filled thanks to the Earthlands staff ).  

Jerry & Wylie filling up 

     Shortly after we watched the documentary ‘Class Dismissed'  which follows one families journey through their decision to homeschool.  Jerry Mintz engaged us in a brief discussion about the documentary and some thoughts that arose as a result before we made our way to the campfire. 

     This set the tone for the rest of the weekend where participants who represented a variety of educational paradigms including public school, free school, unschooling, and homeschooling connected over many important ideas.  

     One important idea brought to the group by Chris Mercogliano suggests, that "teachers teach who they are" and with that the theme of how that plays out authentically with students continued throughout the weekend.   

     The presentation topics by Linda Aronson and Sidney Morris early the next morning flowed seamlessly from the night before as Linda detailed the self-directed, learner driven Full Circle learning model while highlighting actual student experiences and school journeys. 

Linda leading the discussion

     Sidney led us in drafting a plan for growing a local learning resource network that is vital in empowering learners to seek their own direction. 

     These clearly connected topics gave rise to enthusiastic discussions that spilled over into the next part of the day. The gathering continued with Mark Jacobs and the youth who joined us from the Longview School in Brewster, New York taking us through a moderated discussion exploring the range of learning approached between required curriculum and student freedom.  

     Jed Stamas rounded out this part of the day with an eye-opening presentation regarding the Eurocentric history of science and how educators can use a well-rounded view of science to explore integrated topics. 

Jed opening our eyes to the history of science 
     While the conversations continued over the afternoon meal AERO staff discussed plans and criteria for future AEROx Regional Events.  Interest in these events is growing and will provide more opportunities for the AERO network to expand and have more intimate, focused gatherings. 

     The youths from the Longview School demonstrated their conflict resolution process designed to encourage moral reasoning, and problem-solving to kick off the second half of the day.  The used an actual example as they took us through and included us in the process.  

Mark starting the discussion on Longview's conflict resolution process 

     Kumari Patricia Younce involved the group in a discussion about the experimentation and radical pedagogy employed at Goddard College that results in a learning by doing model.  Learning at Goddard is truly a self-directed, learner driven practice that is often a good match for students who have left or have never been a part of the conventional education system.  

Kumari Patricia Younce describing  Goddard's learning model

     Jerry Mintz worked with a small group of folks who were interested in starting their own school or learning resource.  The interests varied from a homeschooling resource to a democratic school.  The group supported each other with suggestions and connections with resources.  

     The evening was filled with the continuation of conversations from the day, chats with the Earthlands staff about a possible collaboration, dinner, music, relaxation, and contemplation amongst the howl of the resident Coyotes.  

Students & Staff from the Longview School
     Our last day was filled with a collaborative discussion led by Lisa Cooley and Leo Fahey. Lisa presented the vision of the Catalyst Learning Network that offers learning programs, support, and resources for parents and teens who are interested in replacing school with learning.  

     Leo invited us to think about how what he referred to as the Adult, Child and Family cultures impact intentional learning communities and what it looks like when they interact and play out in real time. 

     The event came to a close with a meal, a wrap-up and reflection time where the remaining participants shared their thoughts and takeaways from 2.5 days, and see ya laters.  As one of our friends put it "It was so much more to me than the usual conference."  Much excitement has been generated by this event for future ones to be held throughout the country.  

Sharing a meal 
     Perhaps one of the most articulated sentiments is to design future events less like a conference and more like a gathering where conversations, networking, topics and actions plans spring up organically. 

     I was struck by how easily the event flowed, how the discussions / workshops all fit together though there was no theme or previous discussion about making it so.  I was particularly moved by how a group of youths and adults mostly unknown to each other quickly became engaged in learning from, and supporting each other in their goal to offer an accessible variety of learning choices to all.  

Discussing a vision for learning

     While the venue and landscape shaped much of the spirit of our discussions the success of this event would not have been possible without the amazing youth and adult attendees who brought their passion, openness, willingness to share and collaborative spirit to the weekend

     As with any AERO event, I came away from this weekend inspired and recommitted to the work I am doing, knowing that I am not out there alone and that there are places and groups of people out there that have created the space for learner driven discoveries.  

Two Generations of AERO Staff
I invite anyone who is interested in AERO events to contact Jerry Mintz or Peter Berg .   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Leading from Who We Are: Part 1 ~ A Catalyst for Transformation

Leading from Who We Are Part 1
A Catalyst for Transformation 

Leadership is more than just a title or job function.  Leadership can come in many forms and at different times.  

Leading from who we are is the idea that our leadership principles come from our authentic selves; from a place of thought, personal reflection and awareness and with openness and conviction.  

I am often asked, “What if who that person is is a jerk, should they lead from who they are then?” My answer is that they have likely not examined one or more of the aspects of leading from who we are. 

This doesn’t mean that we all need to share the exact same values; however, if you value hurting the planet or the beings who live on it for your own personal gain, I would suggest re-examining those values. 

There are times we are thrust unawares into leadership situations and there are other times when we choose to march headlong into a leadership role.  

I like to explain a leadership situation in the following way. Suppose you are at nice restaurant with a loved one enjoying a meal.  At the table directly next to you is a couple with an infant who begins to cry uncontrollably.  

Since you are the closest to the table, many eyes fall upon you to gauge your response.  

How you respond will impact the response of others.  If you choose to respond with visible annoyance, others are likely to do the same. If you respond with a smile or a kind word to the infant or couple, others will likely follow your example. 

There are those who would argue this premise, stating that one cannot influence the behavior of another. While there isn’t a guarantee your response in a leadership situation or role will influence others, there sure are many examples that would point to this being likely.  

Whether we find ourselves in a leadership situation or a leadership role, leading from who we are can be a catalyst for transformation.  

The following is a brief description of a few aspects of leading from who we are that can lead to transformation.  All of these aspects are connected as are all aspects of what we do and who we are. 

Vision of Leadership - What is your vision of leadership?  

     If you’re not sure, don’t panic.  That’s a good place to be in, as part of leadership 
     is the willingness to change your vision in the light of new information and

     To help define your vision of leadership, ask yourself some basic questions.  Do you believe that        leaders never act alone and that collaboration is key to leadership?  Do you value and utilize    
     diverse ideas while drawing on the strength of the community and the wisdom of the indigenous 

     Do you view people  holistically, taking into account all the aspects that make up a human being? 
     What does your vision of leadership look like when it is played out day to day?  

Path to Leadership - Take some time to examine your path to leadership.  

     Your experiences and circumstances have prepared you for leadership.  What did you learn from 
      the leaders or leadership situations you have been exposed to?  

      The people whom you admire and emulate and the values you learned and embraced along the 
      way are all part of your path to leadership and have shaped your leadership style. 

Leadership Style -  What will your leadership style to be? Will it always be the same? 

     Context is important. Be conscious of the context, as not every leadership situation requires the    
     same thing. What might work in one context may not work in another. 

     For instance if the room you are in is on fire and someone in the room knows the way to the 
     nearest exit, it would be best if that person just told you the way using an autocratic style rather 
     than ask everyone for consensus.      

     That being said, there are few instances when an autocratic style is best; it may be necessary in a 
      crisis or an emergency or needed for a very short time, but is not sustainable or effective over the 
      long term.  

      Live your values, know what you value, make your values known, lead from those values and be 
      authentic. If you value kindness, then be kind.  If you value collaboration, then collaborate.  If 
      you do not value gossip, then don’t gossip.  

Authenticity - Do you make it a point to be authentic?

     Authenticity requires consciousness, knowing who you are and understanding and responding to        the needs of the situation, yourself and those around you.  

     Leading by example is an action unto itself and is part of your authenticity.  While your values            form the foundation of your leadership, so too does humility.  Without humility, it is difficult to          lead.  

Trust your intuition - How often do you go with your gut?

      Are you willing to make leadership decisions based on your intuition?  Leading from your   
      intuitive self is just as or more important than leading from your logical, analytical self.   

      Do not be afraid to bond emotionally with those around you and genuinely care about and 
      consider the emotional position of others.  

      Value relationships and people; connect with those you lead.  Relationships help you and those 
       around you be authentic and may be the most important aspect of leadership and transformation. 

Transformative Leadership - Transformative leadership is derived from your authenticity.  

     It requires all of you and everything you have.  The transformation must be authentic, and while 
     there isn’t any one path to transformation, it usually requires every aspect of an individual or 

     Transformative leadership comes from knowing your higher purpose and spiritual self. It helps to 
      have an easy-to-state, clear purpose and mission.  

      In general, your leadership purpose should be boiled down to one word. For instance, the one 
      word that illustrates my leadership purpose is service. 

What is yours?

     Transformative leadership is a process of continuous growth fostering creativity, innovation and 
     imagination.  Transformative leaders also serve as advocates for the type of transformation they 
     are seeking.   

Social Justice & Sustainability - Leading from who we are would be incomplete  without a responsibility for social justice and sustainability. 

      Some of you may be thinking my leadership role at work has nothing to do with social justice or         sustainability.  While this may be true, at least as it relates to your day-to-day responsibilities, 
      remember that leadership is not just confined to a role or title. 

      How can you show leadership when it comes to social justice and sustainability?   Showing 
      leadership in this area begins with Respect for everyone and everything and is responsive to 
      culture and the role the dominant culture plays in the path to transformation.  It also addresses 
      issues of equity and sustainability, particularly with regard to cultural and environmental 

      What are some partnerships you can create with the community, whether that community is your
       workplace or beyond, that will help address issues of social justice and sustainability? 

Social & Educational Transformation -  This comes from all situations where leadership occurs. 

       How we lead sets the tone, what we do and say becomes important and influences the culture.  
       What do you do and say? what do you make important? If asked, what would those around say is

        Transformation comes from leaders who are comfortable with and know themselves well and 
        who are humble.  It comes from leaders who do not try to find flaws in everything but rather 
        find the common ground. It comes from leaders who have the courage to frame the 
        transformation from their authenticity and who will lead for transformation. 

How will you lead from who you are and be the catalyst for transformation?

“Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.”  - Lao Tzu

Anderson, L. (2009). Advocacy Leadership. New York: Routledge 

Berman, S. (2011). Leading For Social Responsibility. Leadership for Social Justice & Democracy in Our Schools (pp. 123-145). Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Chopra, D. (2010). The Soul of Leadership. New York: Harmony Books.

Njus, Richard. (2010) Creating A School With Soul.  Encounter: Education for Meaning Spring: 1-5
Poutiatine, M. (2009). What is Transformation? Nine Principles Toward an Understanding Transformational Process for Transformational Leadership. Journal of Transformative Education, 7(3), 189-208.

Robinson, K. (2001). Out of Our Minds. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.

Rooney, J. (2010). Remember The Children. Educational Leadership, 67 (7), 88-98

Townsend, J. (2009). Leadership Beyond Reason. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Filtering Education’s White Noise

We have unprecedented access to information and ideas.  In education there seems to be no end to philosophies, ideas and prescriptions.  Indeed, it is difficult to tune into any form of media without running into someone’s idea of what everyone in education ought to be doing.  

In the time that it takes to read this blog post, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, more blog posts, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, Tweets, etc., etc., telling us how we should go about our craft.  There is no dearth of ‘new’ educational paradigms, each professing the way forward as in the focus on ‘data-driven instruction,’ which many consider a new spin on old idea.   

This post does not argue the merits of the plethora of pedagogies, philosophies and prescriptions, many of which are not new, but rather a repackaging of old ideas. 

I am guilty more than I like to admit of contributing to education’s white noise. With so much white noise out there, how do we know if we should spend our energy sifting through the seemingly endless static?  

I offer the following tips to filter out educations’ white noise.

1.  Trust Your Intuition - If something seems off or not quite right, pay attention to that 
feeling.  Human beings, in general, are intuitive and can tell if something is amiss. You have probably had the experience while reading a piece or listening to a speaker of that ‘uneasy feeling,’ even if you can’t explain why.  Your intuition is throwing up a caution flag often for a variety of reasons.  Trusting your intuition in these instances at the very least will afford you more time; you can always reconsider the ideas put forth by the author or speaker at a later date.  

2.  Consider The Source Are the ideas put forth by a single author, multiple authors or a particular group?  Groups or individuals with a particular agenda or political affiliation often spend their time defending or singing the praises of their position.  While offering a particular point of view can add to our collective knowledge, when these views promote a limited way of thinking, they can become problematic.  

I also like to consider whether I feel the author is authentic.  This is partly about trusting our intuition and ability to sniff out a fraud.  Moreover, it’s about considering whether the author is credible.  Have they spent time in the situation?  Have they effected any actual change or implemented their ideas?  Is their own brand of white noise theory-based with little real application? 

Of course, if you somehow know the source, perhaps you have met the author(s) in person or know them through other means, this can help you determine whether there is authenticity. 

We all suffer from our own brand of hypocrisy and have our do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moments.  The type of inauthenticity I am referring to here is not a temporary lapse but rather a true disconnect between idea and practice. An example would be promoting democratic education principles in theory but shutting down any kind of democratic discourse behind closed doors. 

3.  Room for Dialogue - Does the author present the information in such a way that if anyone should dare to disagree with them, they are ridiculed or accused of ‘not getting it’?  Do they use jargon and ‘cited sources’ to paint any counterargument into the corner of bad practice? Do they respond to questions and critique with real discourse or cling desperately to their view?

I sometimes find that if the author is unwilling to have a dialogue about the ideas put forth, the ideas themselves may be flawed, the author isn’t that knowledgeable, s/he wants to come off as the expert or it’s a sham to sell something based on faulty research.  Clearly, these are not the only reasons an author does not engage in dialogue; sometimes it’s more a reflection of time than of unwillingness.  

4.  Beware of the Self-Promoters - If you buy my book for $49.95, you’ll get to be part of the enlightened club, so the sales pitch goes. There is nothing at all wrong with having resources for sale; I do myself.  There is a big difference between creating resources that are 
designed to add to our collective knowledge and creating products of little value designed to sell quickly using multi-tiered marketing schemes.  

We have all encountered the self-promoters.  They have seemingly become ubiquitous in our   society and the field of education is not immune.  Again, I point out the difference between bringing attention to resources one has created, experiences and personal musings and using the same platforms to inject an egocentric, narcissistic focus on the same.  The self-promoters interact very little with others in field and are mostly interested in what they have to say. 

I remain wary of the come-see-what-I-am-doing idea rather than a focus on the issue or resource. An example would be an author who solely focuses on taking pictures of themselves at an event and/or their role in the event or issue, so the focus becomes about them not the big picture.  This can also be a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to brand themselves as the expert on a particular topic. 

5.  Beware of the ‘Experts’ - We all have our particular expertise.  Many of us have spent a good deal of time and energy, usually at great sacrifice, building our knowledge base and honing what we have to offer.  We live in such a wonderful time where we can easily share our collective experiences.  We also live in a time where just about anyone can brand themselves as an ‘expert’.  

The time spent in the attempt to position themselves as the expert takes away from time that might be spent listening, understanding and realizing there is always more to learn.  Sharing our experiences is important, sharing knowledge is important, reflecting on our experiences is      important.  Doing all this adds to our field.  What takes away from our field are the self-proclaimed experts who are only interested in their position.  I have always believed that once we think we have mastered something, that’s when it’s time to start worrying. 

6.  Tune Out - It may be that sometimes we just need to tune out and put the white noise on the side for even a short while.  Tuning out from education’s white noise can open up time to focus on reflection and practice.  The freed-up time also presents an opportunity to look          inward and reengage with other learners.  Knowing ourselves well and taking time to notice what is happening in our particular niche may be exactly what we need to find and hone our capacity as guides. 

7.  Take Your Time - It seems to be human nature to want to get to the latest information as soon as possible.  In our attempt to stay current, we can get sucked into education’s white noise because we want to be informed and don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn something new or to consider a new perspective.  If the ‘newest’ idea has merit and is well-grounded, it will be around for a while and there will be time to engage with it.  

As is often the case, it will make its rounds on social and print media, as well as a variety of education circles.  It’s okay not to take everything in and okay not to have heard of the latest trend.  By slowing things down a bit and not worrying about taking in every possible bit of information, the result often has a self-filtering effect, as the gimmicks and unsound ideas fall away. 

There seems to be no end in sight to the bombardment of white noise. While we are fortunate to have such easy access to a wealth of ideas and information in education filtering, its white noise may become a necessity rather than a luxury.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Importance of Investing in Public Education

The public school system in the United States has become synonymous with incompetence, frivolity, mediocrity, corruption and more.  There is no doubt that in some ways the system is broken and needs to be fixed.  We hear constant cries that we are failing our young people, pushing them out into the world lacking the skills needed to lead a productive, fulfilling life; yet, there is evidence to the contrary (see The Myth Behind Public School Failure  in the current issue of Yes! Magazine).  

This doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, because we sure do. Perhaps the work we need to do is more about understanding how to truly meet the educational needs of our citizens while having the will to do so, and not so much about rankings.  The how’s and what’s of course are important, and those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I have shared some  thoughts on the how’s and what’s in previous posts. This post, however, is an appeal for all of us as a collective to invest in our public education system from early childhood to adulthood. 

Why invest in public education:

We need a strong public education system that offers choice and meaningful learning options that are accessible and equitable to all.  There exists a plethora of data which shows that a well-educated populace is paramount to the sustainability of a society.  A society that invests in   a well-educated citizenry is more likely to have opportunities for social mobility, a skilled labor force, a representative democracy and a drastic reduction in the crime rate.  

Investing in the education of individuals across the entire lifespan has been shown to raise the national income, increase the GDP and is strongly related with overall life satisfactionInvesting in public education is an investment in an equitable, fair system that  helps citizens find meaningful ways to be masters of their lives and make positive contributions to society, regardless of socioeconomic background, political ties, religious affiliations or family history.

Education & Economics:

Income level rises in proportion to the educational level one achieves.  While this true on an individual level, it’s also true on a national levelFor individuals, this is paramount in maintaining a livable, sustainable lifestyle. As one’s income level and ability to meet their basic needs goes up, more of their time is freed up to pursue life-enhancing interests and experiences. For a nation, it is critical in its need to stay globally competitive, provide vocations that pay a livable wage and in creating innovations in technology and production. In order to do this, citizens must have access to equitable, affordable education. It does little societal or individual good if only a select few can afford a high-quality education.  Taking a solely profit mindset, if citizens are not educated, at least to the level where they can understand how to operate the products being sold to them, they will not buy them. Manufacturers and designers then have to figure out how to make their products easier to operate, often at the expense of quality.  

Education & Health:

  The link between education and health has been well-established, as one’s education level has an impact on their overall health.  It would stand to reason then, that investing in public education is also an investment in the overall health of our citizens. Well-educated citizens tend to make better decisions regarding their personal health and have a higher regard for the health and well-being of others.  The idea being that a well-educated populace understands the importance of personal and collective health and has the capacity to make health a priority.  Healthier citizens also spend less money, time and energy on minor health issues, which allows health professionals to focus on more serious health issues. Not only does this help by redirecting resources, it reduces the financial burden that comes with addressing minor health issues.  

Education & Information:

When a populace is well-educated, they know how to access and sort through a wide variety of information. They understand how to apply newly-acquired information in many contexts.   In order to maintain a populace that can apply newly-acquired information, there needs to be a public education system that is designed for acquisition and application.  The public education system can provide the space for citizens to develop the skills to find an objective truth and reflect upon that truth in light of new information.  Changing or reevaluating what we thought we knew in light of new information is an important aspect of a well-educated society. The public education system can serve as the catalyst for a society that is in search of objective truths, uninfluenced and unbiased by political agendas or the desire to cling to old paradigms. 

Education & Patriotism: 

It’s difficult to understand the call’s for patriotism by those who fail to see that  the benefits of investing in a strong public education system is indeed patriotic; perhaps the most patriotic act a citizenry can undertake.  While there is conflicting evidence  as to whether education level influences political participation, we have to decide whether we want those who do participate to be discerning, knowledgeable and fair.  Often the media is filled with laments from adults that our young people are not well-educated and lack the skills necessary to contribute to society in a meaningful way.  

A strong public education system can go a long way in providing young people with the means and desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way.  As a patriot of your country, wouldn’t you want our citizens to be well-educated and highly skilled?  If so, we then have to offer an equitable public education that provides the space for all citizens to be the masters of their own lives.  

 Education & Social Responsibility:   

We have a responsibility to each other as individuals and as global citizens. Our responsibility, at the very least, is to safeguard human rights and dignity.  Education is more than just acquiring skills or preparing for the next step, it’s about understanding our place in the world and our ability to contribute to a democratic, just and sustainable world.  One’s education level has an impact on the ability and inclination to be socially engaged and responsible. In short, well-educated people tend to understand the need to work for the benefit of society at large and participate more readily in socially-responsible activities; whereas, less-educated people tend to do so less.  

With this higher purpose in mind, public education then becomes a vehicle for the elevation of humanity, social justice and social responsibility.  Thus, it is imperative that we have a strong, equitable, sustainable public education system in place.

Education & Sustainability:  

The sustainability of our planet, and ultimately, our continued existence, is dependent upon how well we apply our understanding of ecological concepts.  We are running headlong into the limits of the industrial revolution, and ignoring this reality or turning it into a political or ideological battle is folly.  As David Orr states, we do not need more research to show us that we need to do something about the sustainability of our planet and species. We need innovative and practical solutions coupled with political will.  A public education system that provides a strong foundation for innovation, truth-seeking and problem-solving is what will serve as the foundation for the sustainability initiatives we need for the 21st century.  

Public Education for the Future: 

A strong public education system is the foundation of society. Without such a system in place, it is almost impossible to have equitable educational opportunities and choices.  With that said, educational choice is important, and there still needs to be educational opportunities that are part of the private or independent sector.  Educational choices must be equitable so that a citizen who chooses public education will have the same quality and depth of instruction and have the same opportunities for employment and further education as those who choose non-public options.  Societies with a strong, just public education system are happier, more productive and socially conscience.  

Part of government responsibility is to provide a quality public education system so that its citizens are educated well and can be the masters of their own lives. Citizens also have a responsibility to advocate, support and sacrifice for such a system.  The future of public education hinges on the ability of our citizens, regardless of occupation, race, age, political or religious affiliation, to recognize its place in ensuring a free, democratic, just and sustainable world.  We must also realize that public education needs to prepare citizens to think for themselves, which often creates a difference of opinion, but that is part of public education, that citizens understand the value of being able to have and express divergent opinions.  

Ensuring that a strong, accessible, equitable public education system is in place may seem like a lot of work and comes with a high price tag. We need to look no further than the statements made by Clive Bundy and Donald Sterling to see the higher cost of ignorance.  A robust, dynamic public education system will give us the best chance of eradicating ignorance and ensure a vibrant, healthy global society. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Meaningful Learning

      Perhaps no other field is subject to so many proposed changes, gimmick programs, shotgun strategies and steadfast adherence to damaging practices all in the name of progression than education. There are various interests competing for attention, time and a financial inroad into the field of education. From the freelancers and consultants, to the private corporations with their replication models, there is no dearth of ‘expert’ ideas on how to best promote ‘meaningful learning,’ whatever the motivation may be.  

     Recently, a colleague of mine posed some questions in a Facebook forum focused on what students loved and didn’t love about school and tossed in a question geared to ascertain thoughts about flipped learningI was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to sit with a group of high school students and pose these and other questions to them about learning.  While I won’t post what they said here verbatim, it was significant to me that these students wanted meaningful learning experiences and could articulate what they felt meaningful learning entails.  

     When it came to the idea of flipped learning, the following is what they had to say.  This is neither an indictment nor an endorsement of flipped learning; it is merely a report of students' thoughts and questions.  I'll post most of it here verbatim. “Flipped learning can be just as bad as any other way of doing it, if it's just about teaching stuff that doesn't matter or isn't interesting.” “Flipped learning can be a good tool if used in the right way.” “It would be like doing homework or would take about the same amount of time.” “If you did all the lessons that way, it would take forever.  You might have hours of lessons to listen to at night.”  “I don't really have a great computer or internet connection.  Wouldn't I need that to do the lesson?” “I like doing lessons with the teacher because we can discuss it and ask questions right there.” “Might be able to do this sometimes, but I don't think you can do this a lot.” “Interesting, but not everyone would like it or would want to do it.” “Do teachers really want to do this?” “Couldn't we just make the what happens during the day fun, meaningful and what we're interested in?” 

     Perhaps what this tells us is that students are conscious of what is happening to them in the name of education and are not just passive receptacles. What struck me about what they had to say is that they asked critical questions, were honest about their thoughts, asked that what they are expected to do be meaningful, and they didn’t buy into something simply because it was ‘new’ or a ‘different’ approach. Because something is new or different, it doesn’t necessarily translate into having meaning. 

     The conversation kept coming full circle to the notion that learning can and should be meaningful.  
Meaningful learning, according to the students, is learning that is relevant and connected to something bigger; they want to know that what they are being asked to do has a point and is going to help them realize their dreams or at least give them the ability to chase them. The students suggested that meaningful learning happens when you feel something while you’re doing it.  “You can almost feel that you’re learning.” 

     It isn’t so much about not having tolerance for mundane tasks, it’s about having a low threshold for doing things that others tell you have meaning when they really don’t.  Students understand that they have to trust that sometimes the meaning in what they’re doing isn’t immediately apparent.  They accept that.  What they don’t accept is when everything they do is a wait-and-see exercise.  ‘Just wait; when you get older, you’ll see how taking all these tests were meaningful.’ 

     Really, why should they be okay with spending their days doing things that have very little meaning? Why should anyone be okay with that?  We hear over and over that young people are lazy, they don’t want to work hard or sacrifice and they want everything now.  This is blamed on everything from the Internet to ‘passive parenting.’ There a few problems with this mindset.  For one, it isn’t true of most young people, and even if it were, it still wouldn’t make spending their days enveloped in meaningless tasks justifiable.  

     It may be that having the freedom to explore interests and go deeper into that area of interest is what creates the opportunities for meaningful learning. Many have written about and have explored the fact that when students are working on topics that interest them and have meaning, they will learn the three R’s and many other important life skills.  In fact, this type of learning is deeper, longer lasting and makes it more likely that there is a personal investment in the learning.  

   Taking a brief detour to the standardized test way of measuring learning, when students engage in meaningful learning while at school, they tend to perform better on standardized tests, since meaningful learning tends to connect many different sets of skills and ways of being and doing.  Meaningful learning can be a true partnership between adults and young people, where knowledge is shared and built upon.  

     Unfortunately, this is not how most young people spend their time at school.  Most young people have the ‘sage-on-the-stage-type' learning to contend with.  This is where they have little say in what they learn or do and spend their time listening to an adult tell them this and that. Used in conjunction with other ways of getting ideas across, this can be effective; used as the sole way of ‘learning,’ it’s -- at best -- ineffective.  

     Listening to those who have their own self-aggrandizing, ego-driven, financial agendas that have nothing to do with meaningful learning is, in part, how we ended up here. When it comes to meaningful learning, we have to listen to our young people more often, trust them to make good decisions and make sure there is the freedom to explore interests and ideas so they can 'feel the learning' and ‘make what happens during the day fun, meaningful and based on student interests.’