Monday, November 21, 2016

National Neighborhood Day

Did you know that National Neighborhood day is the third Sunday in September?  To be honest, I didn't know this day existed. My feelings throughout this election season is that so many decisions, actions, and protests are fear based.  Perhaps this fear comes from not knowing our neighbors on a first name basis. 

I wanted to start a movement to encourage people to get to know the others who live in their immediate vicinity, whether it be a neighborhood, an apartment building, or the street where you live.  Growing up, I knew all my neighbors, had been invited into their homes, had meals with them, played whiffle ball in the street with them. I felt comfortable talking and visiting with the neighbors.  We were there to help when needed, lend tools or baking ingredients, and support each other. We went to different houses of worship, came from different backgrounds, and attended different schools, but we all knew each other.

When I was 10 or 11, there was a horrible car accident on our block. My best friend's younger brother crossed the street to call on a friend.  She couldn't come out to play so this young boy rode his big wheel down the driveway and into the street being hit by a car. It was tragic to watch all the parents, friends, and siblings. All of the kids on the street went to a neighbor's backyard while the adults helped and supported the family in any way they could. That is how neighborhoods should work.

These days many of us don't even know the names of the people on our street. There was a tragedy on the street here I live a few years ago.  I wanted to help and support the parents but didn't know what to do or how to help as I had never spoken to them previously.  I have also had to call the EMTs a few times but have never called a neighbor to come wait with me.

I think that if we leave the fear behind and get to know our neighbors without judging their political ideology, their religious views, and their ethnicity it would go a long way toward a kinder world.

Visit the website  and start a movement in your neighborhood. Think about the benefits to the world and to your own life of knowing your neighbors.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

You Can't Please Everyone

Educators have to answer to many different groups of people. Sometimes it will make your head spin if you try to please them all. It is a feat an expert juggler would find challenging. Many of these group want outcomes that are polar opposites.  It is said that teachers have to make more decisions in a work day than any other profession, many times in a split second.  It is no wonder many leave the profession after a few years.

First we have the school administration.  The focus of the administration is how the whole school functions and how it looks to the public. Teachers must be mindful of keeping the school at a "high functioning" level. This includes ensuring good test scores on standardized assessments, differentiating instruction for the multitude of learning styles in the classroom, handling student discipline, meeting standards, and attending meetings and training sessions.  Each of these requirements are met with varying degrees of success by individuals according to their strengths. However, keep in mind, the school administration is counting on you to do all of these things in order to be considered "adequate" at your job.

We are also judged by the other teachers and staff members. The judgement of the faculty targets your ability. When a student moves from one grade to the next, you know they are judging you on the students you once had. Questions such as "why doesn't this student know how to do x?" or "how can these two children be put into the same learning environment?" come to mind as a teacher is trying to normalize her classroom.  The faculty also looks at your success with types of students. "She did so well with the child who was behind in that subject, let's put all the kids who are failing that into her class?"  These types of questions can disadvantage teachers by stacking the deck against them.

The parents of your students can be particularly judgemental.  Of course their child is the focus of their need to give the teacher advice and criticism. I have had parents tell me they never get any communication from our class when the truth is, we update our website every Friday, we send home a text reminding them to check it, and we often send hard copies as well.  I have had parents tell me that their"gifted" child should not have to turn in any assignments. I have met parents of second graders who are struggling with reading tell me their child was meant for other creative endeavors and should not have to learn to read. Many parents make excuses for children instead of holding high expectations of the child.  Parents expect that you see their child as the most special one, and will instantly know what this child needs to be successful.

Let's not forget the students. Their focus is their immediate needs. "I need help, a pencil, a band aid, a drink, a tissue, another math paper, the bathroom..." The list is endless.  As educators we must answer questions, take care of needs, keep students safe, and on task. Even when they feel sick, are hungry, scared of something, dealing with the death of a pet, having a disagreement with another student, or just having a bad day.  We are expected ro have all the answers, stay focused on the common core, and make everything better.  Not always an easy job.

Our most stern critic and judge is often ourselves.  We stay up late and spend time over weekends and vacations, planning, evaluations, strategizing, buying supplies, reading the latest journals, meeting with parents, and thinking about our kids.   And they are "our kids." We care about the well being of each and every one of them.  We often replay our days wondering if we had the right words to help and inspire the future leaders of the world. We often think that we must find new ways to reach these precious lives.

The truth is, this is a balancing act.  If we look at all these different factions as part of our team we begin to work together to benefit the students.  All of these groups come as part of the package in education. Don't try to go it alone. Use all of the judges on this court, learn who you can count on to be in your corner. Finally, take care of yourself. You have to come to the classroom as a functioning adult. Do what you love, nourish your soul, open your mind to new things, and above all remember, the most teachable moments may not be on the lesson plan.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Work or Play?

 If you ask a child if they would rather work or play, most of the time they will chose play.

"Play is the work of childhood."
In the Montessori learning environment we use the term "game" to describe many lessons.  We have the stamp game, spelling games, grammar games, geography games, and science games. 
"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap, the job's a game." - Mary Poppins

The term "work" has a negative connotation and therefore children resist doing things that fall into that category.  For example, take Legos, I know children who will spend hours, days even, building incredible Lego relations. The child sees this as "play" but it truly is work.  Children are using trial and error, imagination, planning, building and many other thinking skills. Why do we look at "play" as frivolous and "work" as industrious and virtuous? Let's shift our mindset and consider all of it as play.

It is easy to make any learning experience seem like a game or like play, especially in this day and age.  Using manipulatives, hands on activities, and technology are tools that help our children enjoy practicing skills.  Including arts activities and music appeals to the child's imagination and aids in memory.  Arts education should not be removed from the curriculum because without creative experiences, imagination stagnates. And without imagination, new discoveries, technologies, and ideas cannot de elop.  where will that leave the human race?

So I have decided to change the students work plan into a game plan.  Why not?  It will appeal to the students and encourage their educational journey.  The educators will post a variety of lessons (games) and the students can choose the ones that speak to them.  There will be lessons, which we will call "coaching sessions", and daily activities such as reading, warm ups, and math practice which we will call " the triple threat". 

I have high hopes for this shift. anyone want to try it with me? Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Help From Debbie: Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion

Help From Debbie: Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion: Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi Those of you who think you have found the one and only path to God, please STOP reading now.  I don&...

Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion

Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi

Those of you who think you have found the one and only path to God, please STOP reading now.  I don't want to offend anyone but there are many divides I think we can unite if we think about faith, spirituality, and religion in a different way.

There are so many religions that have the same underlying principles.  Be kind, do your best, and work hard.  Treat others with respect, especially your elders. Appreciate silence whether it is through meditation, prayer, or introspection. Contribute positively to your community.  Encourage children to become balanced adults.

I see faith as believing these things are right and should be how to conduct a positive life.  Spirituality is acknowledging that there is a higher power, whether it is God, the universe, nature, or your soul.  Religion is a set of man-made rules that have divided us into the "right" group and the "wrong" group.

I have to go with John Lennon in this case.  Countries are divided by imaginary lines called borders.  Religion divides us with imaginary lines called hatred, bigotry, racism, and other uncomfortable words.  I see from the news on TV and in the newspaper how religions are preaching competition on the path to God.  You are going to hell if you are gay.  You are going to hell if you get an abortion. You are going to hell if you eat meat on Fridays, if you use birth control, if you don't support the church.

These divisions don't make us better people.  They don't promote problem solving and conflict resolution.  They force us into feeling superior to others and to engage in conflicts, even though they all preach the same things.

So what if we got rid of the man-made rules?  What if we all lived are lives being the best, most helpful, and courageous people we can be.  Allow people to celebrate and worship God, the universe, the soul, nature in any way they choose,  We should be able to tolerate diversity.  Actually we should celebrate it.  Learning from differences rather than condemning them.

I have faith in others, even when they disappoint themselves.  There is always another chance.  I believe in spirituality, the higher self, the universal idea that we are all united and here on earth to make a positive difference.  I have to say that I don't believe in religion and the rules you must follow to be a "good" parishioner. Look at the animal kingdom.  They do not attend church,  They protect their children, they help the herd, they kill only for food.  We have no reason to kill for food, so what are we killing for?

I apologize to those who may be offended by this, I don't discount history or Bible stories.  Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus were teachers.  What if we all taught love instead of "My religion is better than your?"

I can only think it would be a better world.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Travels Within, Travels Without

I have always loved to travel. The world offers adventures and experiences. It deserves to be explored.  Every year Bill and I would load up the car and set out on a road trip. I have seen most of North America because of him. I am grateful that we had the chance to explore everything from the deserts of the southwest, the coastline of California, Victoria BC, the Canadian Rockies, Across to Maine, down to Florida and everything in between.

This year I ventured to the beautiful country of Italy. I went with a friend and we explored from Lake Como to Verona, Venezia, Pisa, Firenze, Assisi, and Rome. I could not have packed more into the trip if I had stayed there for 3 weeks on my own.  I appreciate the expertise of Insight Travel and our wonderful guide, Chris.

I have to admit, it was scary to venture out without Bill.  We enjoyed planning and taking trips together.  Every time I do something by myself that we used to do together it takes my breath away for a minute and I deeply feel his absence.  So although I traveled without him, the trip was one of travel within myself and learning to trust my choices when out in the world.

I am grateful for my friend, Sany, who came with me on this adventure.  We were two widows winding our way through the world.  Talking about the husbands we missed and having memorable adventures on  our own.
So what do I take away from this trip.  We made new friendships, experienced laughter and discovery of new vistas, inner strength, inner peace, and self actualization.  All the things I hope my students take away with them at the end of each year.  So as I get ready to start another school year, I will remember that we are on a journey in the classroom together.  Let's make it memorable and let's discover our hidden strengths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What's Your Purpose?

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop that helped me define my purpose in life.  I found this a valuable exercise.  There are so many people who are wandering around day to day, moment to moment without a true purpose.  This gives me pause. Are we doomed to randomly live our lives like two atoms floating in space until we bump into each other in order to fulfill our true potential?

Part of the job of the educator in a Montessori environment is to guide her students to move with purpose, to be intentional about their choices, their associations, and their movements.  Much of this work happens in the Early Childhood three year cycle.  The Practical Life lessons help a child develop her will, her focus, and her readiness for future learning.  These lessons give the child a gift. The gift is that each activity results in an accomplishment of which the child can feel satisfaction.  Shouldn't our lives be filled with accomplishments in which we find satisfaction?  It is that simple, having a purpose and living your life in pursuit of that purpose is the way to intentionally reach your true potential.

As an educator of older students, I was able to encourage each of them to start defining their purpose in life.  I was in awe of some of their ideas.   All the statements began with "I want to contribute to a world where..."  The students took this lesson to heart.  Some expressed wanting to contribute to a nonviolent world. Others focused on a world where children and animals have happy homes. A few of the students expressed their wish to contribute to a world where there was peace between all countries.  I loved reading their work and was so proud of their thoughtful responses.  Wouldn't you want to live in a world where all children felt purposeful. It gave me confirmation that I am on the right path. I know that my purpose is clear and I am working toward fulfilling my potential.

What is my purpose? I want to contribute to a world where children are educated to be self actualized humans who take care of the earth and it's living things and to have fun while I do so!