Category Archives: education

Think Outside the Box

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When given a practice standardized essay prompt “Write an opinion on whether conformity or individuality is better,” Jacob S. (Klein Oak High) wrote the following:

Jacob Spenser 10/2015

“Hook. Introduction. Thesis. Transition. Body paragraph. Transition. Body paragraph. Transition. Conclusion. Restate thesis. Call to action. All the predecessors and all the heirs of this composition have likely used this same mind-numbing
format. I don’t intend to waste your time or mine, however.

Even now, I draw closer to asphyxiation with every line, every word, every letter. My words sit cramped like sparrows resting atop horizontal prison bars, every note of every song snuffed and silenced before it can escape this maddening box. The Black Mamba slithers endlessly, inexhaustibly it tightens every corner, ready to strike any stray mark that wanders beyond it’s coils. Overseeing it all, the warden. The octagonal antagonist with an ashen face, tatooed with the only word in his lexicon. STOP.

You ask my opinion of conformity, but you don’t care, you don’t really care. Your own opinion is clearly stated in a comfy box all its own. Shrieking, screeching, screaming at all of us in capital letters.

STUDENTS MAY NOT WRITE OUTSIDE THE BOX

Conformity constricts. Conformity coerces.

Conformity Kills.”

This is a call to action for those of us in education. It is time to let students out of the box. Kids are not standardized beings and it is time we recognize and honor them as learning individuals. We have the ability. Change is hard but the cost of not changing is too high.

I know, I know some of you will invalidate this student’s experience with cries of “But we all have to learn to follow the rules!” Yes, this student clearly demonstrates he has learned the rules and has mastered them. Why are we still asking this student to prove he can conform and comply?

It is time to stop the standardized madness for all of us.

The Ukulele Parade

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The Ukulele Parade

*I know what you are thinking,”It has been a year since she posted!” Rub it in, why don’t you? Yeah, it has been a year since I wrote here. Let’s just chalk this up to not being a terribly prolific writer or ADHD or raising three daughters or some combination thereof. I had something really important to share and this is the best venue so I. Am. Back.

I had the opportunity to receive some perspective last week. A bit of background is necessary here: My daughters attend different schools because they are very different people and require different types of environments. My middle daughter attends our locally zoned public school, Wunderlich Intermediate. She enjoys the large, diverse school because it has many competitive opportunities. My youngest daughter attends The Banff School which is a small, culturally diverse, private school. She enjoys the ability to work with her teachers more closely and the fact that the school is multi-age/multi-grade allows her to work more at ability rather than her age/grade correlation. In her words,”I like that everyone gets their work done without all the drama.” No middle school is drama free but it is a more comfortable level for youngest. I am all for utilizing the environment that works.

Last Tuesday, I received a call from O (middle daughter) saying she had missed the bus through sobs of sadness. Now O is incredibly private and not one to cry easily so my alarm bells immediately began ringing and my inner Mama Bear was on the move. Upon arriving at school, I was fairly horrified to find out that a teacher (who doesn’t even teach O) had caused her to not only miss her bus but had also bullied and shamed her in front of another teacher for not being conversational. Important to note here, the incident she was referring to occurred at the local grocery store over one month before. O wasn’t rude, just chose not to converse which is her right outside of a school setting. O hadn’t done anything dangerous or broken any school rule yet this teacher chose to flex her authority and detain her. I was amazed to hear the assistant principal helped to stop O from getting on the bus and to hear him say that because O isn’t an adult she needs to learn to respect adults simply because they exist and are older than she. I reminded the assistant principal that respect can not be taught through fear and intimidation. You may reach compliance but that is far and away different from respect. Respect is earned and not just because you reach the age of majority. Respect is taught by modeling respectful behavior. We didn’t demand this assistant principal and teacher see negative repercussions, rather we asked they be trained in the research that we know to be true: Teachers who bully students are more likely to be bullied themselves. This Twemlow research shows the negative outcome of teachers and administrators who bully students. Please bear in mind, I do not think these adults were being malicious; I believe they were unaware.

Fast forward to Friday!

I received this photo in E’s (youngest daughter) school newsletter with the following caption: ‘The most exciting event of the week for 6th and 7th grade is a little hard to understand if you are not part of the Banff culture. If no one “signs the sheet” for an entire week in Mr. Crump’s World Culture class, he leads the class on a ukulele parade around the building.  Fun and quirky, but if it works…’

Ukulele Parade

I asked E about the Ukulele Parade and she says,”Oh! If no one has to sign the sheet (gets in trouble) then Mr. Crump takes us on a Ukulele Parade where we march, dance and sing through the school.” I couldn’t believe the timing of this information. You see, Mr. Joe Crump is doing something wonderful here. He is using a currency that is meaningful to the students rather than imposing his currency upon them. There is mutual respect happening here and the kids are responding positively. Now don’t get me wrong, I am aware that large schools don’t necessarily have the ability to have a ukulele parade but the teachers do have the ability to use currency which is important to the students. Then the teacher is part of what builds students up and not part of what tears them down or makes them feel inadequate or embarrassed.

I know many teachers practice positive classroom and student management. I love having the opportunity to showcase teachers doing awesome things. Mr. Crump renewed my spirit with his ukulele parade and I wasn’t even there.

We adults have the power to be a positive or negative influence on the children we are involved with. Childhood is hard; people can be mean. Be one of the people who builds up instead of destroys.

Go to Japan without leaving Houston

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Developing Talent – What should society expect from brilliance?

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I often find myself listening to conversations about talent development for gifted children. Now, I actually believe altruistic talent development is a great thing for kids: take their areas of strength and help them grow. What’s not to love, right? As with any altruistic notion, implementation and the need to pay for said altruism often takes away from the vision. What troubles me most is a sense of entitlement society seems to feel toward a child’s brilliance and how this entitlement infects the idea of talent development and twists it. I don’t mean holding high expectations of meeting your potential. I have high expectations for my girls but I don’t have expectations of what meeting their potential looks like or how they will “owe me” for supporting and helping them develop. I mean the notion that society feels ownership toward an individual’s intellectual gifts. For instance, it makes me pretty crazed when people tell my eldest daughter,”Don’t be a philosopher. You are so smart, you should be a doctor and cure cancer.” As her parent, my first thought is,”Have you ever seen her artwork or listened to her music? My goodness, I wish she would quit taking art off the table of viable career paths.” My second thought runs along the lines of,”You don’t own her intellect. Why are you telling her what to do? You don’t even know her well.” This is followed closely with the thought,”She has never been on the path to be a doctor and has shown no interest in medical research. Is she smart enough to pass the courses? Sure. Does she have the passion for medicine? No.” These “well-meaning” adults don’t realize the damaging message they have just given her: “What you want to do is meaningless. You owe us a cure for cancer because you are wicked smart. Any other path is a waste.” Now, if this had only happened once, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. It has happened a countless and depressing number of times. This brings me to my worry about the movement toward talent development with gifted children. If I felt like we wanted to develop talent because supporting and encouraging our children is beneficial for society then I would be the first passenger on the ship. That isn’t what the conversation has been, in the United States. The conversation is,”If we develop the talents of academically gifted children, imagine what they can produce for our society.” It is subtle but the message is,”In return for developing your talent, you owe us.” Our society has also begun to send a second message,”Artists and philosophers are not as important to society as scientists and mathematicians.” I beg to differ. There is balance in all things. The great minds of science and mathematics were often also philosophers and artists. We can’t separate out talents like we are separating the wheat from the chaff because art and philosophy are not chaff. They are wheat just like science and mathematics.

Here is my opinion: We should develop talent because it is the best practice for growing well-rounded children. It is the fertilizer for the seeds. We should be ecstatic for the wheat we receive but not become angry with the seed if it didn’t produce enough wheat or maybe wasn’t the variety we thought we wanted. We enjoy the wheat we have and are grateful. The same holds true for talented children. They don’t owe society their gifts and we should be grateful when they share their great gifts with us in whichever form those gifts take. My daughters don’t owe society another *Sputnik moment. Society owes my daughters the support needed for their growth with no expectation of what that result will be. When support is freely given, people feel more inclined to give back. When support is given with demands, people feel protective of their gifts.

Think about it. Won’t our society be better for creating happy, supported children over creating the next Sputnik moment?

*This post is somewhat in response to Paula Olszewski-Kubilius’ opinion piece in The Hill on May 13, 2012 but it is mostly an aggregate of things I have pondered over the years. The article can be found here: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/education/225289-stop-short-changing-our-most-gifted-children

The Solution Finders: Thanking the Creative Educator

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What? My first participation in a blog tour ever! Woot. Total writer’s block. Ever have those times where you know what you want to say but you can’t quite get it onto paper in such a way that it carries the impact it should have? Yeah, I’m there.

This week kicks off the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity guided by the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. http://www.world-gifted.org/ Needless to say, I am very excited to participate in the blog tour because supporting gifted and talented children is a huge passion of mine.

So why, why, why am I having such a hard time writing a post? I think I want to get it right. I want to create a post that celebrates all it is to be gifted and creative. I think it is probably an impossible task and therefore my brain has gone on strike.

I have decided I will just use one story and maybe not try to encompass all of our educator experiences in one blog post. Maybe I will write stories throughout the year celebrating educators who inspire.

Let’s start with our most recent experience. My younger two girls had always homeschooled until last year. We had the opportunity to travel a great deal with my husband for work and we enjoyed loads of cool adventures. As they grew up, they wanted to go to school and stay home and “be normal.” We felt as though this was a reasonable request so we registered for public school and began a different sort of adventure. To say we were a bit skeptical about what we would experience is probably an understatement.

My younger girls didn’t want me to push for them to receive gifted services even though we knew both girls had met gifted benchmarks all of their lives. I try to respect these requests when I feel no harm will likely come out of it and the reasoning was logical. *Here is a good place to add the caveat that I have been an advocate for gifted education for almost ten years. I speak at conferences and sit on committees and created a support network for parents when my eldest daughter was struggling with school placement. On the form for “Parent’s work”, I simply wrote “stay at home Mom.” E-mailing teachers? Remove my signature line. We went into last school year completely incognito.

On meet the teacher day, I knew I instantly liked Mrs. Angela Wrigglesworth. Well, first, let’s just say she has the greatest “book character” type name ever. She and my youngest daughter began talking and had many favorite books in common. I was beginning to feel pretty positive about the year to come. Upon speaking further, we found out that she had also been Ms. Texas Wheelchair 2004. http://mswheelchairtexas.org/angela-wrigglesworth-ms-wheelchair-texas-2004/ By the end of that first meeting, I knew I was going to like Mrs. Wrigglesworth a lot.

Fast forward about two months and I am in love with Mrs. Wriggleworth. She sees each child as an individual and realizes their needs are all different and individually important. She encourages them to be their own person and to be unique. She is an example of setting and meeting your goals. I’m thinking,”Cool! Even if youngest doesn’t really learn anything from class, she will learn a lot from her teacher about life.” I went into this with low expectations of what she would learn so I wasn’t disappointed. As part of district protocol, she tests my youngest’s reading level and runs out of tests to give her to accurately assess her reading level. I receive a phone call from Mrs. Wrigglesworth and she says,”Mrs. Taylor, I have never had a child read at the level your daughter reads. I can only borrow books from the middle school but that won’t be the right level. I was thinking I would start a book club for your daughter and I. There are books she and I both want to read and this will help her have books on her level in class and someone to discuss them with.” I was elated. I didn’t even have to ask for help. I offered to purchase two copies of any book they were going to read and she could keep them, for the class, as a gift.

Why is Mrs. Wrigglesworth an inspiration? She had a problem and she came up with a creative solution.

Creativity comes in many forms. When a teacher uses creative solutions to help a gifted child a definitive message is sent to the child,”Your needs are important and I want to support you.” What a validating affirmation to the child and their parents. Bonds are formed and community grows. We all want to be part of a supportive and nurturing community.

I was not surprised when Angela Wrigglesworth was announced as our district’s elementary teacher of the year. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

Thank you, Angela Wrigglesworth, for being a creative and inspirational teacher.

I encourage you to thank a creative, inspirational teacher in the comments. Let’s have a year of highlighting creative teachers of the gifted and celebrate the wonderful impact they have on our lives.