Saturday, December 12, 2009

Classrom Design

The classroom that I have been working in for the past three months is a young school, with a strong tradition in meeting the special needs of all learners.  This is a school filled with caring teachers, who understand (and remember) what it's like to be a student teacher.  As a result, this has been a great place to become introduced to the teacher profession.  I have been teaching second and third grade, under the tutelage of a veteran teacher of 16 years.   Both the school and my cooperating teacher have a strong emphasis in understanding the conditions that best foster learning.  Topics like social justice, equality and individual learning plans are common discussion threads at this school.  The students in my classroom are between six and nine years old. 

The Classroom Redesign Assignment is a challenge to write about because, for the most part, there is very little I would change in my current classroom.  The materials are all available and accessible to students.  The room is open and children are not assigned a specific desk, which encourages creativity and a fresh atmosphere.  The schedule is clearly mapped out and discussed consistently.  I notice that the students come in and the schedule board is the one of the first places they check.  This consistency provides the student with an element of safety and their awareness to the schedule changes hint at the importance it holds to them. 

Although the room is designed beautifully, there are a few changes I would make.  The first is a welcome board.  The kid’s respond so clearly to the schedule board, I would take advantage of this and offer a question, or graph or diagram that invites the students into a self-directed activity.  There are many ways to take advantage of the opportunity to engage students through the use of questions.  Throughout my take over, I welcomed the students with a quote or invitation or offered them a question to write in their journals.  For example, "Welcome to Tuesday!  Please take out your journal and tell me three things that make you happy that you ALREADY have in your life".  Another day I constructed a Venn diagram and asked the students about their weekend activity.  The following week, I heard more than one student inquire about the message and questions, and if we could do them again.  The next day, one of the students, arriving early, made a Venn diagram by himself, asking the kids if they liked video games, hiking, both or neither.  After the students filled in their response, we had a great discussion about how we could verify if everyone in our class participated.  We then restated our data in a different format to understand the groupings in a different way.  From that format, we had a great discussion about fractions and percentages.  Finally, we constructed a pie graph showing our results and percentages.  (Anytime you find these win-win situations in your classroom, they should be recognized and continued!)

Another changed made during my takeover was the notification for using the bathroom.  These students are responsible enough to use the bathroom by themselves and I wanted to encourage this autonomy.  Writing their name on the board, in the 'bathroom' box, was introduced to them as a way they could manage the use of the facilities by themselves, while still maintaining a safe environment.  Upon their return, they clear their name and someone else would know that option is then available.  This empowers the student and encourages responsibility, while reducing the demands on the teacher.  This is another change that has been continued past my takeover.

The last change I made that the students continue to respond to is the use of a small bell that students can ring to gently remind other students that the noise level has exceeded acceptable limits.  Anyone can ring the bell.  Students have used the bell responsibly to successfully reduce the noise level while increasing the focus for their classmates. 

These are all minor design changes that have benefited the room, the student’s growth, and the teacher’s happiness.  However, there is one major design change that I would put into effect, if this were my classroom.  The use of technology in this room is limited and I would change that.  The use of a document camera and a centralized computer with a solid sound system would increase the capacity of entertainment and information available to the students.  It would also reduce the amount of paper being used in the room. 

We are living during a time of great change where students will graduate from high school with a relationship to information much different from their graduating counterparts twenty years ago.  Because any piece of information is now readily available via the internet, the focus of education must respond by asking students to understand the implications of the information.  Perhaps one simplified expression could be that the educational focus up until recently has been on acquiring knowledge, whereas now, we are asking our students to comprehend, process and apply that knowledge in the most responsible way.  Being able to synthesize, correlate, extrapolate and reduce complex data sets into meaningful and relevant topics will be a skill set that successful high school graduates will possess.  I am not putting forth the idea that all second graders should have a laptop and all lessons should be streamed onto their personal IPOD’s, which they can remotely access from any place on the playground.  However, I am suggesting that teachers should re-orientate themselves by integrating tools now available, to help facilitate and encourage these skills that our graduates will some day need to possess. 

During my take over, I took advantage of the use of BrainPOP.  This on-line animated video site, featuring light-hearted characters, provides educators with a plethora of topics to help inform and entertain.  They are a great way to introduce, reinforce and provide an access point for those students with a visual intelligent focus.  Personally, I have learned a great deal from these video lessons.  Most of the videos are less than eight minutes in length, but still provide powerful information, with a social justice focus.  For example, who knew that an unhappy slave-owner hit Harriet Tubman so hard with a brick, that for the rest of her life she would spontaneously collapse and fall into a deep sleep for extended periods?

I am also a big fan of the document camera.  The link to the internet, and its abundance of learning tools, combined with the document camera’s ability to illustrate and highlight any text with your entire audience, provide teachers with a great tool kit from which they can communicate from to (and with) their students.  Due to the inclusion of a document camera, projector and laptop, I have noticed a physical change in many classrooms in the last ten years.  In various forms, educators can help connect students with the powerful combination of access and inclusion by utilizing these tools.

An ideal set up for a classroom, in my humble opinion (and hypothetically unending flow of financial support) would include a ceiling mounted projector that is able to connect to at least one student-accessible computer, in addition to the teacher’s laptop.  This will enable students to find resources they can share with the class.  Research and presentation skills are part of the California Standards, and this opportunity would provide a natural way to help promote these skills. 

Also, since sound often dictates more than half of our experience when watching a video, I would make sure that proper sound was available and easily adjustable.  The use of a mobile microphone dramatically changes the experience of a read-aloud.  Having students use a microphone to amplify their voice encourages them and others to hear the words they are reading, which reinforces their reading ability and comprehension.  Not only is using the microphone fun, but it can be used to focus a team.  The use of sound can also be used to play music, which can enhance the environment during work time or transitions. 

Finally, I love the idea of accessibility in a classroom.  Teachers who are able to quickly reference materials produce a classroom that is flexible, engaging and fun.  Once I witnessed a teacher search and find a great interactive tool that kept track of the migration of turtles from northern Canada to the Caribbean based on an informal conversation the teacher was having with his students about migratory patterns and the speed of turtles.  Students where able to form teams, pick a turtle and spend the week “racing” along with their team’s turtles.  The students personal connection, and therefore the level of learning, was dramatically higher because of this experience and only materialize as a result of this teachers classroom design.  This kind of symmetry and synchronicity are only possible in a classroom that is prepared for it. 

One of the great aspects of the current room I work in is the skill the teacher has at providing choices for her students during work periods.  This is a skill that I wish to develop and include as a professional teacher.  Being able to have a focus and then a series of options, help clarify what is expected of the students, while giving them an element of choice.  They know when the main task is complete they will have the choice to do something different.  I believe this promotes autonomy and the chance for students to feel empowered about their learning.  Having almost two hours for language arts would be a drag, if it were not broken into parts that help the student focus and engage in learning.  Having these options built into the design of the classroom is something I will continue. 

The last change I would make (again, in the most ideal scenario) would be the inclusion of stations students can use at any time.  Taking from the wisdom of Montessori, I would develop stations where students could play in self-directed learning areas, any time they have the option to explore.  Good teaching is the result of meaningful interaction.  Meaningful interaction is different for each child.  Therefore, no matter how great a lesson plan is, there will always be students who struggle, and others who find little challenge with the lesson.  With the intention of maximizing the opportunities for differentiated learning, I would design a series of stations that both GATE and emerging students could benefit from.  GATE students could find activities to further their investigation and emerging students might find an activity that could be used to scaffold themselves to a higher level.  All students start at a different point, and it would be my hope, through the use of powerfully designed learning centers, to level the playing field by providing an access point for every child.

In conclusion, I feel confident that given a great deal of money, enough time and staffing, combined with a powerful paradigm shift that integrates our worlds changing methodology of communication and inter-relatedness, with the wisdom of great educational thinkers and activists, one could easily produce the perfect classroom!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Caring Learning Community Plan

As the class returns from their weeklong holiday break, I am expecting there to be some re-adjustment back into the classroom on Monday morning.  All children crave consistency and disrupting their schedule by offering them a time to celebrate Thanksgiving is sure to produce some emotional disturbance.  What they will be asking for upon their return is for clear boundaries to be set.  I will honor their request to define their boundaries and to reassure them that they are in a safe place by starting the day off with the well-know and loved "brain breakfast”.  This will give all of us fifteen minutes of a known, non-stressful activity that will start our day off on the right foot.  The second adjustment is that I will be the only teacher in the room.  This is another change to their schedule that I am sensitive to.  Because of these factors, I plan on taking the next 25 minutes to sit down with them and explain the schedule of the week with them.  During this time, I will facilitate a conversation with them where we will start to produce an agreed-upon set of rules, which our class can utilize throughout my take over. 

I have a strong belief that all students respond in the best light when they know exactly what is expected of them and they have the possibility of success.  In some ways, having a student teacher take over the room from their permanent teacher has the potential of being in conflict with this ideal.  Different teachers have different goals, objectives and expectations.  I believe taking time on the first and second day to share what they want from their classroom and what agreements they want to make with each other and their teacher will set the common connection that we will utilize throughout the week.  I want them to know that each student plays a critical role in the development of their classmates’ education.  I want them to articulate their wishes for what they think makes the best learning environment and agree to those shared values by signing they names to the agreement.  Each day I plan to review these agreements with them.

Instructional groups and how they are used and formed:

I have incorporated groups into many of my lessons, as it is my intention to teach social skills along with academic skills.  "Getting alone with others" is by far the most important skill a person can develop and I want to explicitly coach them on what makes a good classmate, friend, coworker and playmate throughout my week-long take over.   During my math lessons, the groups I use will reflect a careful matching of academic and social skills.  There are some good dynamics between particular pairings, and I wish to take advantage of the results made by developing and nurturing these connections between our students.  Paring and grouping is a fine art.  It is my intention to continue my constant observations, in an effort to utilize these pairings, while making any necessary adjustments, as needed. 

How students get water, materials, bathroom break.

I am a big fan of water!  Many studies have documented that most Americans are chronically dehydrated.  Other publications point out the beneficial effects of drinking water, especially as it related to brain activity.  Drinking water helps you think, as well as develop cognitively, so it is my intention to encourage water drinking more than other teachers may.  Because of this, my classroom might have more requests for bathroom breaks.  This is acceptable and provides another opportunity for discussion about social skills and managing personal needs. For example, when my kids come in from recess I will encourage them to visit the bathroom before my math class starts.  As I excuse them to recess I will encourage them to drink water before they exercise.  As a rule I will not let more than one student out of the room at a time, unless they are desperate. 

I will explain to the students that they are becoming more mature and gaining more opportunities for responsibility.  One way I can show my trust in their capacity is to honor the ability to take care of their personal needs.  From this intention, if they need to use the bathroom, I will let them sign out of the room by placing their name on the board in a designated area, and the time they left the room.  I will inform them that only one person at a time is permitted to leave the room. 

I will continue to use the system we currently have in place for dismissals.  Every day one child is responsible for dismissing, as well as taking the attendance chart to the office in the morning. 

Transitions into and out of the classroom.

We have a pattern of rotating students that act as 'class helper' for the day.  One responsibility they have is to dismiss students.  I will continue this tradition.  I will also continue to encourage them to use hand gel.  When students arrive in the morning, I greet every one of them by name and expect that they say hello, while looking at me.  This is another social skill that is easy to practice.  When students arrive back from recess I often have them meet as a group before we enter the room for a minute of stretching and breathing.  This ability of checking in with ones body and mind can mean the difference between a good math session and a great one.

Another technique I have been developing with the class is the idea of making silence. 
The students’ day is cluttered with business and taking a moment to relax and regroup can have great benefits.  Even taking just one minute out of our day to sit in silence is enough to ground oneself and lay the groundwork for positive cognitive and social development.  I see school as a place where people learn strategies.  Some of the strategies are mathematical, where we learn that knowing multiplication is a more efficient way to count groups.  Other strategies are social, such as knowing how to take a different perspective on the problem, or simply to take a deep breath and restructure the problem. This can be the difference between failure and success.  I believe we owe our students every opportunity to develop strategies, both academic and social that will help them develop a life that is both successful and enjoyable.

Getting students attention

I plan to bring in a chime to play when the room gets too noisy.  I will allow any student to ring the bell when they hear the room is too loud.  I have heard many times from the students of this class that they learn best when the room is peaceful.  I plan to provide such an environment by allowing them to signify when it has moved from quiet to noisy. 

I also plan to employ non-verbal clues such as holding a finger up, asking them non-verbally to follow my lead.  This has worked somewhat effectively and I hope to come to an agreement with the kids on the first day to address what I can do to recapture their attention.

During clean up times, I will play music as a way to signal that we are all cleaning up together.

How students are expected to respond and get help. 

I will hand out 'calling cards' to students.  This card enables the students to get my attention and non-verbally communicate to me that they need help.  I will be initiating this procedure before my takeover in attempt to maximize its potential and to create a routine.  Each student will receive a card with his or her name on it.  When they are in need of assistance from myself, they will hand me the card without any verbal conversation.  This will ensure that the student I am working with not experience the frustration of being interrupted (sometimes multiple times).  This will also honor the requests made from the student asking for assistance.  They will feel secure knowing, that together, we have created an equitable way for me to know whom I am responsible to help next. 

I will make an agreement with the student that when I am done working with the other student I will visit them.  Each student has the right to learn uninterrupted.  Learning is jeopardized when you are interrupted (for both the teacher or student) and this limits the effectiveness of the interaction.  I will therefore ask my students to manage their calling cards and use them when they are in need.  I will also encourage them to work with their classmates to solve their problems.  I will ask my class to make the assumption that we are all on the same team and that many times there is another student who can answer their question without the assistance of the teacher.  I often say, "ask your teammate for help".  My students are used to me using this term and it is my hope that they adopt this philosophy and develop a commitment to helping their classmates when appropriate. 

Dealing with interruptions.

Working with interruptions is a challenge.  There are several methods to meet this challenge ranging from authoritarian and threatening to cajoling and begging.  I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes.  It is my intention to develop a management style where the students and the teacher work together to form a copasetic relationship where educational, emotional and even spiritual development is possible.  One key element in meeting this lofty goal is developing trust between all parties involved.  Developing this trust takes time and experience and for this reason I put a lot of emphasis on laying the groundwork before I engage in teaching.  My experience with the students before my takeover is being used, in part, to lay that mutual foundation and to build trust.  The students who have the most potential for disrupting my class have had three months to work with me almost every day and already we share a great deal of common understanding.  It is my hope to build on that understanding and common ground on the first day, as we lay out our shared agreements.

During this school year, I have participated in practice fire and earthquake drills at the school.  The procedures and appropriate actions are clear to me in the event of similar drills or actual emergency event.  In the event that a student is late for class they will be required to obtain a ‘late slip’, which tells me they have signed in with the office to register their tardiness.  If a child needs to go to the office due to illness, I will fill out a notification telling the office about the students needs. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The day I learned to read

It's a funny thing to think that there was one day when I became a reader.  However, this is the task I was given last week.  This is is what I came up with.

A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised.
 -Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume.

It makes me smile remembering Maggie Mackin telling me, "Oh, man, ya gotta read this.  This guy has written a bunch of great books, but Jitterbug Perfume is the best!"  I was in my second year at college and Maggie had just arrived on campus from a year abroad.  Maggie was an artist, cute, funny, and a world traveler.  I thought if I read the book and could talk to her about it, I might sound really impressive.  Sadly enough, this reflected my sole motivation to read the book.

In turns out I loved the book! I mean I really loved it.  Not just the story, but the characters, the voice I could hear from the author, the feeling that I could write like that someday (oh the naiveté!), the passion, the way the author wove multiple segments of a plot together in the end - that was both obvious and terribly clever at the same time.  This book started my reading career and when I was offered the opportunity to reflect on the time when I became a reader, this is the memory that instantly sprang forth. 

Jitterbug Perfume provided me, for the first time in my life, the passion and craving to know more, and understand that books could be used to satisfy my desire.  Slightly embarrassed from starting so late, I was able to develop a sense of urgency to explore the world of written expression since then.  This passion has only increased over the years.  I cannot image my life without the hundreds of books I have read.  When I meet people, I always want to hear about the books they have read. I read over 2000 books to my son - before he entered kindergarten.  My wife laughs at me because I keep a list of all the books I have read.

Robbins taught me the incredible freedom that fiction provides. Barbara Kingsolver has made me smile, laugh, cry, rage and marvel at what can be learned and expressed in a book.  Noam Chomsky has opened my eyes to the power of documentation and that critical research-based analysis that can diminish the affects of the powerful propaganda machine that surrounds us. Thich Nhat Han has written words on a page so simple in form and so profound in meaning.  And to read Jack Kornfield makes me think it is possible to gain enlightenment and finish my laundry all in the same day.  Joe Simpson and Shackleton propelled my idea of what adventure could mean.  Anne Rice convinced me that she has been a vampire!  The Lovins, from the Rocky Mountain Institute, taught me that we already have the technology we need to save our planet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught me that doing so might be a good place to start.

These words have opened up new worlds to me and I know my life is profoundly richer because of the efforts of others to inform, create, entertain and provide a medium for connecting all of us to them, and them to us.  Part of my joy of reading (and writing) comes from the fact that neither has come easy for me.  I suspect that I would have benefited from support that recognized that I have a minor form of dyslexia.  This challenged manifests if I am tired or if I lack concentration when I am reading.  Spelling has also provided me a great opportunity to learn and grow.  Until I took ownership of my reading and writing, my relationship with books, reading and written expression reflected the challenges and failures that I experienced throughout my elementary and secondary education. 

As an educator, I hope that others can better themselves and create more love in their life from their relationship with reading and writing.  Having had the challenges of reading and writing provides me a valuable perspective to address all beginner students and finding the joy within reading and writing allows me to give voice to the motivation that others can benefit from.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Weekly Reflection : My week as a student teacher

The highlight of this week was feeling more comfortable at school with the kids.  I feel a bond forming that seems to be the result of the time spent working with the kids.  They are starting to trust me.  I can see how important building trust is when working with people, at any age.  In the future, I will spent time with my kids at the beginning of each year constructing a plan with them in an effort to clarify expectations and to start building trust with my students.

This week I spend more time during Writers Workshop working with students as they developed their individual stories.  During one of these conversations I asked the student if they knew what the purpose of a paragraph was.  After a long pause he said, "I don't know".  I said, "Good answer, thank you".  After he had time to process this idea, he interrupted me and said, "It was good that I didn't no know the answer?"  I explained to him that his answer was the most appropriate and honest and therefore the best answer.  His smile reflected both the cleverness of the statement and reviled the positive affective conditions created for both the teacher and student.  It was just a moment, but creating this positive atmosphere will impact his future relationship with my class and his ability to learn.  When people (kids included) feel safe in being wrong, they will try to learn.  Scared people will do the opposite.    
This week I visited a classroom in Santa Ynez where I watched a fifth grade teacher seemingly perform magic.  What some could consider an illusion, mature educators would recognize as trust and respect between this teacher and his students.  I spent the whole day with this teacher and he never raised his voice.  Any corrections he made was either inaudible to other students or said with such firm kindness that any ill affects seem to be non-existent.  Yet, his students remained engaged and joyful the entire day.  When he said good morning to the kids their happy replay was "good morning Mr. teacher!"  At one point during a transition he said calmly “ok, ill choose the quietest group to start”.  Within three seconds (I counted) the room was near silent and almost all twenty kids had their fingers in the air.

When ask how this alleged magic can take place, this seasoned teacher talked about the importance of building trust and bond is with each student.  He starts his year building that base of trust and consistently delivers what he promises to the kids, expecting the same from them.  Clearly, they seem to respond accordingly. The pledges they created together are listed on the bottom of this sheet.

In my classroom this week I ran a simply lesson on synonyms and antonyms.  It was my first chance to work with a formal plan working in language arts. All students could easily grasps the concept and give good examples of both, meeting all the assessments I set for this lesson.  I did learn the importance of having good handouts to work from and how visuals learners may suffer from poor ones. 

I made two observations during this lesson. The first was that kids who are below average at reading and writing excelled at finding a different word that shared the same meaning.  I believe the reason for this is that kids who struggle with words have to develop a different strategy with forming and understanding words.  Fore example, if one is unable to spell “somersault”, one might substitute the word “roll” in it place.  The result of this process would be an increased understanding of vocabulary.

Another note I made was with my student who is studying English as a second language.  She had had, by far, the fastest answers to the synonyms and antonyms questions.  She exhibited the most flexible understanding of what word could mean than any of her peers.  For example, many students had a hard time producing the synonym and antonym for the word “play”.  (Perhaps this is because work and play are still so linked for kids at their age.)  This student however, quickly found alternatives her peers were unable to find.  I am assuming this skill is a result of her understanding of language, in which she has twice (or more) references of words than her peers.  She has developed a deeper level of ambiguity in her understanding of language that allows her to see other possible connections to words. 

We also finished the math section and finalized our assessments for them.  It is such a powerful tool in math to ask the students how they arrived their answers.  Knowing what processed they used reveals so much about their level of understanding, that in some ways, seems as important as the correct answer. 

On Wednesday we enjoyed a class field trip to the Sea Center, which went swimmingly (not literally). 

Friday, September 18, 2009

When students teach


Forgive me for not seeing the genius in you.

Forgive me when I made you stop touching all the books
            slumped over, daydreaming, wasting time.

Forgive me for wishing your handwriting to looked better.
How frivolous that must seem to someone who is
            decoding literature
                        producing prose that mesmerize.

Forgive me for thinking it was important for you to match colors
            on your self –portrait.
Your eyes now stare back at me and I know how busy you must be. 
how silly of me to think
            I knew better.

Your eyes stare back at me and I now see what reality must be like;
            so perfectly present and distorted by clarity.

Patterns must stand out to you
            that others cannot see.
            Vibrant, off-color and begging for attention.
They must scream for recognition and yet
                        I do not hear them.

Forgive me for interrupting.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conflict Resolution in Schools

If you understood everything I said, 
you’d be me.    
                                                  – Miles Davis
The practical methods that I will employ as a teacher include conflict resolution techniques, Councils and class meetings, I-Statements practice, developing a feelings’ board and finally, creating a peace corner. In addition, I will integrate the practice of stretching (to calm the body) and meditation (to calm and focus the mind). The goal of all of these methods will be empower the children to become independent problem-solvers and to help develop their self-awareness and communication skills.

As a teacher, I make an assumption that all people want to be happy and that all of us have an intrinsic ability to find happiness, assuming the right influences and environment. If all have a divine-like perfection that exists within us why then do so many of us fail to find happiness? One component to finding happiness may be that there are some specific techniques or skills that need be developed in order to reveal the qualities that help us find happiness. Since we are social beings it makes sense that getting along with others is one characteristic that happy people seem to master over time. This quality of playing nicely with others is a skill that takes time, good teachers and practice to develop. Helping students develop and perfect this skill is one motivation I have as a teacher and I plan to implement the use of I-messages, talk-it-out strategies, a Peace corner, and short writes about issues of social justice, equality and self-awareness to meet this intention.

Attitude plays another critical role for people when developing happiness and learning to work as a team member. One tool I will use to help others develop a great attitude is to help them understand that how they “listen” will have a great impact on what others have to offer them. Elbert Hubbard once said: “We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them”. What he meant by that is that people respond to what others expect of them. There is data that shows clearly that the perception a teacher has for his students produced results that mirror that expectation. For example, if a teacher is told that a group of students has learning challenges the teacher will treat them like they do and the results are will be lower than average measurements. The opposite result will manifest if a different teacher is told that the same group of students has exceptional skills. Somehow, in obvious and subtle ways, we humans affect each other based on the judgments we have for each other.

As teachers, I believe we have a responsibility to help students clarify what judgments they have and how those judgments affect their personal interactions and helps to shape the world around them. Consequently, helping students develop a powerful way to interact with others will be another intention within my teaching. One measurable way to help students with this is to have them become aware of what they are thinking or feeling. As students develop clarity about their feelings, teachers are able to engage them in conversations via Council meetings that help examine the cause and affect of certain behaviors. For example, in a conversation about the affects of bullying, we can come to understand that the people who are the victims are not enjoying it, the people who are the bystanders are not enjoying it and even the people who are doing it fail to develop a long term beneficial reaction from it, especially when they can see the harmful results of their action.

A third tool that is available to teachers is helping students articulate their intentions. Involving students in developing class rules or agreements help to empower the students. This exercise can teach them that they are capable of defining a safe and equitable environment. It also holds them to a different level of accountability when upholding these agreements, since they are the people who have created them. Another example of empowering students and helping them understand their intentions is to facilitate common ground during a Talk-it-Out session. This method of resolving conflict has the participants first agree on some shared intentions or common ground the two party’s share. For example, if two kids on a playground want the same ball, when both parties can acknowledge their predefined goal of sharing, they then have the option to resolve the conflict. In this case, one resolution they my brainstorm and both agree to might be “When I am done you can use it” or “Let me play with it for ten minutes and then you can play with it after that.”

As we help our students listen for others in ways that help illuminate the shared values of their classmate and encourage them to identify their own needs, we are able to provide for them a framework to create the optimal classroom (and the happiest of students). However, powerful listening and self-awareness alone is not enough to produce all qualities we should expect from our students and our classrooms. We must offer our students a platform through wish to communicate via class meetings, regular input when developing class rules and the use of Councils. We must also give them skills so that they may develop into independent solvers of conflicts.

One exercise that can help understand feelings is to have students brainstorm what feelings are. Starting with a feeling like “happy” students can expand the definition to further understand the complex components within the feeling of happy. While the teacher writes on a board, students can call out words that describe what it means to be happy. Words like “content”, “joyful”, “silly” are all words that can help students understand that happy can mean a variety of different feelings. These words can help to identify, understand and provide reference during the practice of using I-statements in the future.

Another great technique that I will offer my students is the use and practice of I-statements. Informal and impromptu practice of the use of I-statements using random situations (perhaps created by the kids or pulled out of a 'conflict hat') will help to solidify the process of use using I-statements during calmer times. As conflicts arise and the intensity of the situation increases, students are then able to utilize the tool of social justice by using their I-statements to resolve a conflict.

I will also incorporate the Talk-it-Out method to resolve conflict. Good instruction of this method plays an important role in the results students will have with them, as will practice and the environment in which to practice. As important as these elements are in producing good results, I think it critical to emphasize that the awareness (and motivation) the students bring to these exercises plays a significant role in determining the results of the experience. Other environmental factors can also influence the quality of interaction between students. If the child cannot sit because he hasn’t had proper opportunity for exercise or if she hasn’t had proper nutrition during the day, neither student will be able to properly asses their own feelings or work with others to resolve conflict. Similarly, if students have little understanding of their own needs or emotional state, than how can we expect them to control them? Offering children time to reflect when needed by extending to them access to a peace corner, the use of written reflections in a shared or private journal, giving them simple secular mediation skills and time to simply be will result in a child who is much more self-aware and available to work well with others.

How can we know if these methods are being effective? Ask the older teachers! You can also ask the kids: “What have been the affects of these practices? Do they think they are better able to achieve academic success after developing these skills and practicing these methods? We can develop formal testing techniques and spend millions of dollars but a simpler way is simply asking the parents, the kids, and the teachers: “Is this helpful?” Our world is so filled with access to information and technology that can measure mind-boggling amounts of data that sometimes I believe we forget that we have an amazing computer and the access to transformative wisdom right between our own two ears. As educators we use every appropriate means to understand what is effective in our classrooms. Proper training, constant personal and professional growth and a desire to benefit the kids should be a requirement for all teachers. Additionally, teachers should never loose sight of the wisdom and understanding that already exist within each of their students.

I think that the biggest challenge all teachers face is how to incorporate all the beneficial ideas, knowledge, wisdom, methods and techniques that we think all children should have into the time we have with our students. The demands are vast and the time is limited for teachers, therefore, we must make concessions and practice flexibility. In addition to the physical constraints, there are the emotional demands of constantly being the focus of attention and the burden that can come with being responsible for the emotional, intellectual and physical well being of your students. As a result of these demands, teacher must employ a strategy to remaining calm, centered and available to their students. One proven method that is available for education to meet these demands is the tool of meditation. Given the amazing expectations placed on teachers, combined by the job requirements, teachers must employ some method of self-reflection, relaxation, and a mechanism to enhance and develop one’s focus and mental acuity.

If educators are interested in providing a solution to the many demands placed on them through meditations, as well as provide the practice to their students it will behoove them to take into account our society’s general understanding of what meditation is, and its negative associations with religion. As we engage others or as we develop programs that encourage change in our schools, I would encourage those wishing to affect change to concentrate on scientific data and concrete evidence that illustrate the positive affects of meditation, especially as it relates to academic achievement in schools. Using different language such as “deep and daily reflection” or “relaxation and stress-reducing techniques” can help others understand their relationship with meditation in a different way, which will help to facilitate change in our schools, and our students.

The personal growth I have made in the last two months incorporate many of the techniques I have discussed here. Knowing that there are teachers and administrators out there practicing these techniques and methods gives me both the courage to practice them, as well as the confidence knowing that these methods are effective. I realize that the acceptance (and perhaps the understanding behind them) is not the norm in every school. However, reading about people who have incorporated them in the curriculum and to learn of their success gives me the inspiration to do what they have done - offer people the opportunity to learn skills that will help them develop their happiness and ability to work with others

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Language Policy for the Oppressed

“The more you can increase fear of drugs and crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all the people.”

~Noam Chomsky

During this section we studied the political implications of Language Policy in the United States. As you may have guessed, I was not pleased.

This section was really difficult to sit through. Wishing to remain respectful to the class, I did not get out of my chair and yell out in frustration listening to the litany of injustices that have taken place during our country’s history. These injustices seemed to be based on fear, motivated by profit or simply to maintain the unbalanced control of power in this culture. This section helped clarify and solidify my understandings of the political aspects of language. Language policy is one tool used by the powerful to control, manipulate and institutionalize racism within our culture.

As painful as it was to listen to, I was pleased that we took time in class to document the consistent efforts that have taken place in regards to our language policy during our short and fearful history of the United States. When our corporations needed access to inexpensive labor (with non-existent labor rights provided), we allowed Chinese people to build our railroads. When these laborers asked for fair pay or wanted to extend their stay after the completion of the railroad, we developed laws to push them out. German was the protected language of this land because the people who stole this land descended from central Europe. But when Germany was viewed as our enemy, any associations with that culture, or its language, were viewed as unpatriotic and no longer enjoyed its lofty status. As our fear percolated into a crescendo of mistrust for anything foreign during the 1950's we created the Immigration and Nationality Act that limits access to our country simply based on associations with any country that was outside the Western Hemisphere. Here in California, if the price of food reflected its fair and ethical price, taking into account fair wages for workers who enjoy the minimal standards of safety recognized throughout the world (not to mention access to proper health care), most people could not afford it. Instead, we rely on access to inexpensive labor to maximize profits for the elite few. Our powerful corporations are working hard to carefully manufacture access to cheap labor while at the same time, continue to limit access to any social services for the people who work these farms.

One exception to that rule is access to education. Here in California we provide access to education for all people living here, regardless of legal status. However, we have constructed a language policy that severely limits the affects of any education offered. This policy ignores the vast array of data and the experiences of other countries that illustrate that providing bilingual education is by far the most effective way to insure that academic achievement is maximized, that respect and understanding for the culture of origin lay intact and, perhaps most importantly, the student's relationship with school, education and self worth is left to flourish.

As teachers who work in the public sector it is imperative that we understand how racism is in the culture has been institutionalized. Furthermore, it is our responsibility is to utilize this understanding as we provide equitable education system to a diverse group of students.

Friday, August 21, 2009

None of us are free until we are all free

During the short write exercise in class I wrote the following statement: "I have experienced oppression living in a time where war and fear are the underlying prescription for the economic expression throughout the world. I am oppressed by the limited understanding of love and compassion manifested in my world community."

The words seem to come flying out of my hand and I put my pen down, somewhat shocked at the honesty that had come from me.

I feel blessed at my background, which I reflected on my short write about privilege: "I have experienced privilege in my life by being born as healthy, white, male, to educated, loving parents who saw me as someone who is both lovable and important. I was born during a time that was free of war and disease (for me), and where access to information and wisdom have been readily available." I know how much has been offered to me, which is why I was surprised at my writing about oppression.

All of us have developed a strategy to deal with the inequities that exist in our world. Some become bitter or hateful while others are able to find a level of acceptance. Members of the ruling class must come to grips with that fact they have much more than others. It seems unfair to say that their burden is greater than those in the minority, but the point is that we all have some pain associated with the unfair fact that some are born in to wealth and others into poverty. These questions of what it means to feel privileged and or what it means to be oppressed is relevant to all people of our global village, even our children.

The emotions that I became aware of during these practices all surrounded interdependence (empathy, oneness, understanding, acceptance and community). The insights that I can take from these exercises into my classroom all have to do with the idea of fairness and that we all cope with inequality and unfairness differently, given our diverse background. Sexual orientation, race, wealth, gender and political background all play critical roles in developing a framework through which we see the world. As important as the physical traits of the individual, the emotional capacity and wisdom of a person also helps to create one's relationship with their surroundings. For example, someone with a high degree of empathy will have a different reaction to injustice in the world than someone who may share those person’s same physical traits, but differs in their emotional intelligence. Regardless of our personal construct of the world, as teachers, we should encourage the constant examination of students and the world around them. Using the discussions of Labels or what it means to be oppressed is to encourage self-examination and the ideas surrounding equity and fairness. I see these discussions, and the wisdom behind them as part of the set of tools that I am developing to help others empower themselves.

Reconsidering Homework

Information Guide and Homework Policy

Dear Parents,

Any homework given to your child will reflect our intentions to promote two goals: high quality learning and the desire to keep learning. When homework is given it will reflect activities that are naturally suited for home. For example, we encourage reading together from a book of your children’s choice every day. Cooking, board games and puzzles are all activities that can be done together at home that can act as a compliment to the work we do during school hours.

Homework is a chance for your child to learn by making mistakes. The point of good homework is to learn, not to prove that they have already learned. Therefore, when homework is given, it will not be graded. However great care will be given for proper feedback about what the student is learning.

Any homework given will be offered with the following qualification:
If homework ever interferes with any family activities or extracurricular activities such as music or sports, simply make a note of it on the homework and we will waive it. The same note should be made if any student is struggling with the homework.

All of us want our children to be successful and happy. As teachers, it is our intention to work with you to find the balance of school, play and home life. We look forward to (and need!) your feedback. You are your child’s best teacher and often times only you can help us understand your child and what is best for him or her. We encourage you to find out more about the affects of homework (both negative and positive) and look forward to any suggestions or comments you may have so that we can work together to help form the best learning environment for your child.

Information Guide and Homework Policy

Please take a moment to find out what current research has shown about the effectiveness of homework in Elementary schools.

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing
Kohn, Alfie. (2006) First Da Capo Press.

“There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.”(p38)

“Correlation doesn’t prove causation. At best, most homework studies show only an association, not a causal relationship.” (p. 28)

“The conclusions of more than a dozen reviews of the homework literature conducted between 1960 and 1989 varied greatly. Their assessments ranged from homework having positive effects, no effects or complex effects to the suggestion that the research was too sparse or poorly conducted to allow trustworthy conclusions.”(p.25)

“The proportion of six- to eight-year-olds who are assigned homework is now almost the same as that for nine- to twelve-year-olds.” (p.7)

Negative impacts of homework: Burden on parents, Stress on children, Family Conflict, Less time for other activities, Less interest in learning. (p.10-17)
American School Board Journal, (v183 n10 p48-51 Oct 1996)

Researcher Harris Cooper examined studies on homework and student achievement and found that homework substantially raises high school students' achievement; in junior high, homework raises students' achievement only about half as much; and in elementary grades, homework has no discernible effect on students' achievement.

National Foundation for Educational Research

* There is a positive relationship between time spent on homework and achievement at secondary school level (especially for older secondary students). Evidence at primary school level is inconclusive, because fewer studies have been carried out at primary level and results have been inconsistent.

* Time spent on homework explains only a small amount of the variance in pupils' achievement scores, even at secondary level.

* There is a disappointing lack of reliable evidence on 'what works' in terms of homework assignments, procedures, marking and feedback.

Sounds that make me smile

After 100 hours of classroom attendance and writing about 10,000 words, my school deemed me fit enough to work with kids. The State of California requires many other benchmarks including two tests, which took me about 16 hours to take and other smaller requirements, including fingerprints and a LIVESCAN. Livescans and fingerprints are now standard procedure for anyone interested in working with the public, especially with children. During this process you admit any violations of law taken place since one's birth. So after months of preparation I have been placed with in an elementary school as a student teacher.

Do I feel prepared? In some ways, yes and in another way - I am scared out of my mind! I am guessing that's an appropriate reaction to student teaching. My tension was greatly reduced when I met my Cooperating Teacher (CT).

If your goal is to be properly trained as a profoundly great teacher, my CT is everything you could hope for. For proper training I am guessing (since I am just starting this process) you need three things: A great school to train you, a great school to practice in and about 10,000 hours of practice. The fact that I have two of them is not lost on me. [Picture Sean staring at a big box with a giant red ribbon on it].

But wait, it gets better.

Rejoice if you interview your cooperating teacher and she talks like this: "Why do I teach and take on student teachers every year? I know I have a lot to offer and I love the interaction with the younger teachers. It keeps me current and I love the interaction with them. I don't mind being called out if I am wrong and I expect that you will engage me if you think I can do something better."

I pointed out the irony that the degree to which one is secure in their understanding of something, is the degree to which they able to question it and grow their understanding. It's clear that she is very secure with herself as a teacher and her understanding of how children should be treated and encouraged to grow.

Also rejoice if your cooperating teacher says that the most important thing a teacher (at any level) can develop is to continually search for the balance of finding empathy or compassion for a child while setting high expectations for them.

Today, I am rejoicing.

Breathing in, I am aware of my joy.
Breathing out, I am taking care of my excitement.

Monday, August 3, 2009

First Language Acquisition

What I hear is who I am.

First Language acquisition refers to the process in which we form our ability to communicate with others. In the past sixty years biologists, behaviorists and linguists have developed theories that help explain the learned and innate abilities humans may share and the role culture may play in the development of first language acquisition. Although each theorist has their merits, it seems logical that the truth of how we develop language falls somewhere between the idea that we have an innate predisposition to absorb certain language properties and the idea that we are solely shaped by the personal and cultural influences.

Watching my children acquire language had an important and lasting impact on me. Any person who has spent time closely interacting with an infant can tell you that from day one they are ready to learn. The children’s ability to know their parents’ voice and respond to them after birth tells us that they have already been listening before birth. The children’s ability to mimic also happens within the first few days. Although human vocal chords do not fully develop until age two, studies show that infants of only a few days are ready and able to attempt repeating what is said to them. This ability, though limited, and the desire to communicate with the people around them is the first step in the child’s acquisition of language. Similarly, the holophrastic and telegraphic phrases young learners use also indicates an early ability (and deep desire) to effectively communicate with those around them.

My experience teaching sign language to my children also influenced my opinion that humans have an amazing ability to communicate, even when they lack the physical functions of voice. By the age of nine months (we started signing at six months) my son was able to start repeating signs and within 6 months knew over twenty-five signs. The first sign he repeated was “more”, as in “Dad, please toss me in the air again. More!”
After many times repeating the sequence of throwing, catching, signing “more”, pausing for his response, he mimicked my hand motion. The notion that he could do something that directly influenced his surroundings was not lost on him. He knew, perhaps for the first time, that what he did affected others.

Reflecting back on the experience of seeing the joy on his face and sharing in his communication, I realize that first language acquisition has two functions; to be able to communicate with others and secondly, to develop a relationship with oneself. If we examine the experiences of learning a first language compared to learning subsequent ones, we see many more shared experiences (comprehension, grammar, repetition, imitation) but the one that stands out with first language acquisition is the idea of the development of the self or sub-conscious. When we learn our first language we learn about our world and this becomes the first and most important framework we use to construct our own self-image.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Playing Nice with Others

After three weeks in class i feel like i have hit my stride. I know what's due and when. My classmates are familiar to me, I even like most of them. I can see the great potential in all of them, which is inspiring. The manageable workload is even fun and knowing that someone has to read my writings makes it even more enjoyable.

I know enough about blogs to recognize the negative effects they can have. One of my favorites ( was written by a women who ended up loosing her job because of her writings about her coworkers, even though she never mentioned the names of the people or the company she worked for. Of course, there is that temptation to talk about all the people in my program, what bugs me about them... you know general gossip. As tempting as that is..., that will not be happening here.

As this blog evolves I am hoping to highlight some great examples of teaching. I like the idea of finding the happiest teacher in Santa Barbara. I figure that if I find the happiest one, they will have some great insights into what makes an effective, production and loving teacher. Does anyone know a happy teacher in Santa Barbara?

This week I wrote about the results of listening powerfully to people. Here is a sample:

Listening Powerfully
It is my commitment to listen powerfully for my classmates. I wish them the best and listen for them as teachers who already positively contribute to their students. Even if members of our cohorts are not currently working with kids, we are developing the skills and knowledge that will contribute to future benefit for others. As we lay the groundwork for future benefit for others, we are involved with an extremely important part of our teaching practice. When interacting with my teammates I attempt to keep this thought present in my mind, body and speech.

I believe that there is a result to listening for others in the best light. I know when people respect me, even if they do not agree with me, it is easier for me to communicate and get my point across. "Active Listening" is a great place to start when communicating with others. However, in some respects it fails to appreciate the important (but subtle) judgments we make about the speaker. We either have a supportive opinion about the person speaking (or their situation) or we have an unsupportive opinion. Either way we can affect the outcome of the speaker with the subtle judgments we make about them. The degree to which the speaker feels safe and respected is the degree to which they will be free to come to their best conclusions. That does not mean they will be able to solve every problem, but at least they will have the benefit of having been truly listen to by someone whom they feel respected by and seems to have their best interest in mind.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ubiquitous Philosophy Paper

I guess every young graduate student gets a chance to express their opinion on what it means to be a great teacher. I got mine last week and I took it and ran. I have been thinking about these ideas for years, I guess every parent does, or at least the ones who want to be good at it do.

I have been so blessed to have had many great teachers that I hope I can do them justice when I talk about what it means to give back to our kids and communities.

The Way You Do the Things You Do

This paper will examine the values and philosophy I have about education, what philosophies support these values, how children learn, and the role the teacher should play in the classroom.

Values of a Teacher
My Philosophy about teaching starts with the assumption that all people seek happiness. Animals seek pleasure and avoid pain and almost all organisms seek to find a balance in the surroundings in which they exist. In our quest to find happiness humans use knowledge, reason and the process of education to develop a sense of joy. It is through this formal education process as well as our individual informal and reflective assessment, access to different principled ideas, personal experience and relationship to others that helps us define who we are and what makes us happy.

Our motivation to find happiness leads us naturally to question our world and how it works. This leads to my second assumption about education; people want to understand the world around them. As a teacher, making the assumption that children want to learn can change the entire dynamic of the class. Smith (2003) points out in his book, Conscious Classroom Management “There is an invisible covenant between Teacher and each of her students. The student covenant says: “Please teach me appropriate behavior [and content] in a safe and structured environment. I may act out, I may behave in ways that suggest I am not interested, but in truth I really want to learn appropriate behavior [and content] and I won’t be satisfied unless you are holding your ground teaching this to me.” Teachers who hold this assumption and effectively facilitate learning can help form the framework that people use to develop their personality and sense of self.

As we develop our personalities we are at the same time manifesting certain assumptions about the world and either reinforcing those assumptions, questioning them, or changing them based on the continual flow of influences in our lives. If the variety of influences is low, assumptions are harder to question or analyze and tend to become solidified and reinforced. However, if one has the capacity, willingness and opportunity to question our reality, one can develop a stronger understanding of the surrounding world and create tools that can lead to long-term happiness in and around them. Good teachers who can understand the interdependencies and intra-dependencies in the world are in a great position to impact students with whom they work.

In an attempt to deepen our understanding of our interdependence with each other Thich Nhat Hanh (2002) has a created the term Inter-being. Inter-Being is the idea that people do not exist in a vacuum but develop as individuals based on the relationships they have in their lives. The manifestation we have in our lives is a result of these relationships that, in turn, affect others in our lives and the kind of future influences and relationships we have. Happy people draw others into their lives that seek the same, and in doing so, further increase the likelihood that they will help others find happiness. Conversely, those who find themselves surrounded by violence and ignorance tend to repeat the examples shown to them. In both cases we are the results of our influences. At times humans seem to be able to escape the influences in their lives: children of abusive homes can develop loving relationships, and those raised in poverty can escape it. I would claim, however, that in every example we would find a significant person that was able to support, encourage and facilitate this seemingly impossible transformation.

How People Learn
Both children and adults learn from playing. The educational process is a highly personal activity and to become an effective learner (or a teacher facilitating learning) it is necessary to have a context or relationship with the content being learned. Play is the key component giving context and meaning in our lives. I would argue that people only learn something when it has relevance to them. Giving meaning and relevance to a teaching is the role of both the teacher as well as the student.

Vivian Paley writes in her book The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter (1990) “The fact that all children share this view of play makes play, along with its alter ego, storytelling and acting, the universal learning medium. Children, of all ages, expect fantasy to generate - indeed they cannot stop if from doing so - an ongoing dialogue to which they bring a broad range of intellectual and emotional knowledge at a very early age.”

As ego-centered children, our play provides us a sense of power by generating an opportunity to have control over our soundings. In addition, as our skill sets of body control and language grow, we gain the reinforcement and acceptance from our parents that we so clearly desire. Finally, play provides us a medium to work out concepts, which are not clearly understood. As we grow we also develop a deeper sense of balance and can understand that our happiness and joy cannot exist without the context of those around us. We still seek personal pleasure through the mastery of skills and acceptance of others but we widen our definition of joy and play as we widen our understanding of our place in the world. We are then able to delay gratification as we set longer-term goals. For example, some high school students may develop a mastery of mathematics, not for an affinity for the subject, but because she knows that this will lead to a college degree and a job in the future, which may bring about eventual happiness. Younger learners vary in their relationship with delaying gratification and understanding the long-range consequences to action taken, but the motivation is the same, which is to seek out happiness and understand the world around them.

There is no one piece of knowledge that is most important when discussing how we learn or what we teach but rather it is our relationship with learning that should be at the forefront of learning and teaching. Making a subject relevant to the learner is a far more important tool than any body of knowledge. Wisdom can be defined as the balanced application of one's knowledge. As critical as it is to understand how things work, far more important is the application of that knowledge. Being able to prescribe the correct action for a given situation is the domain of wisdom and I would suggest it is the most important component of learning.

Role of a Teacher:
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
~ Buddha

It is critical for instructors to be both a role model for their students as well as someone who can provide the tools of critical examination, understand the interdependence that exists throughout our world, and facilitate the expanding definition of play that can be utilized during a student’s lifetime. For the teacher, this takes proper motivation, a sound understanding of the subject matter being taught as well as an intuitive psychological appreciation for the learner's needs.

Although the sweeping generalizations made by Piaget's Stage Theory have not withstood rigorous scientific scrutiny over the years ( I believe his underlying assumption that people do progress in stages is sound. To be a good teacher requires an accurate assessment of the child needs and abilities followed by the understanding of the next appropriate step for the student. This is the art of teaching where great teachers can gracefully combine expectation, theory and practice (and a bit of cajoling) to facilitate growth in the student.

The Ayurvedic modality of healing includes the idea that an organism operates at maximum efficiency when its individual parts are in balance with its surroundings. Humans are healthy when their elements (earth, air, fire and wood) are in balance with the forces in and around them. The role of a healer in this tradition is two-fold. The first is to understand the patient and apply activities and remedies that will facilitate balance throughout their system. The second is to act as a role model or mentor to the patient. For the healer (as well as the patient) being able to manifest the expression of health is the result of applied wisdom and a true understanding of this type of medicine. Reflecting this flagrant lack of wisdom for balance in our lives, doctors in the West face some of the highest rates of addiction, stress levels, obesity and depression.

I think it would be prudent to apply some of the wisdom found in the philosophy of the Ayurvedic philosophy when defining the role of the modern teachers. There is much in common when comparing the healing modalities of the body to that of the mind. As teachers, we must also understand our patient, that of the student, and know what information they need. To achieve this we must know where they are and where they are going. Furthermore, we have the opportunity to provide for them an example of what it means to incorporate that knowledge, perhaps even wisdom, into their lives. No doubt, this is a tall order. Luckily, we are blessed with the examples of great teachers and tools that can help us meet this challenge.

Meditation is a tool that teachers should use on a daily basis to counteract the stresses of teaching and for guidance in potentially chaotic situations. The ability to develop an “inner authority” (Smith, 2003 p27) is key in maintaining a calm and safe environment in which to learn. Having the ability to stay calm yet firm in a stressful situation is the result of practicing, watching one's mind and being able to control its reactions (either physical or verbal). Understand the relationship we have between our mind and body is also important. A relaxed mind facilitates a healthy body. Those who develop a balance of mind will find corresponding joy and balance in the body.

It is important to take into account our society’s attitude and understanding of what mediation is, and its negative associations with religion. As we engaging others or as we develop programs that encourage change in our schools, I would encourage those wishing to affect change to concentrate on scientific data and concrete evidence that illustrate the positive affects of mediation, especially as it relates to academic achievement in schools. Using different language such as “deep and daily reflection” or “relaxation and stress-reducing techniques” can help others understand our relationship with meditation in a different way, which will help to facilitate change in our schools, and in our students.

A prerequisite to understanding the subtle and profound needs of students is an understanding of oneself. Teachers work in a high pace and demanding profession. Teachers who search for balance in their lives must incorporate tools like daily meditation into their lives, both to meet these demands gracefully and perhaps more importantly, to gain a greater understanding of how all minds work, what needs all people have and thus develop a greater capacity for understanding and empathy towards our students.


Paley, Vivian Gussin (1990) The boy who would be a helicopter.
First Harvard University Press p10

Smith, Rick (2003) Conscious Classroom Management.
California, Conscious Teaching Publications, p13, 26

Thich Nhat Hanh (2002)
No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life
Riverhead Books (P. 41)