March Break is over. Packed up and checked off. For some it meant a week in sunny places or for others a chance to spend days with their family.
For me, it was 10 days of disconnection and isolation. I spent the break holed up at a cottage, with no internet, no television, a sketchy phone connection, alone.
It was the first time in a while where I was completely on my own.
It allowed me time and space to ruminate and reflect on the year that has been, but more importantly, it allowed me to develop/hone/enhance my thinking of what is to come.
It allowed me to organized myself, put myself in the proper boxes and ensure I’m ready.
It allowed me time to read, read read and write, write, write.
And so, I feel refreshed, re-centered, and ready to dive in to the murky world of connection and immersion.
But, when do our students disconnect and go into isolation? Is this only something we can appreciate as we grow older? Is the need for constant connection and immersion specifically teenaged?
My disconnection surely has me missing some Facebook status updates, lots of Twitter content, but generally, it is loads of information that is not essential to my self-concept. This is not the case for teenagers. Should we help them develop the ability to disconnect and to be comfortable in isolation?
We are incredibly social creatures, yet many of our deepest, most profound thinking is done solo. So, how do we foster this ability in our students?
I was disconnected and isolated for the past week and it has served me. When do our students get served this luxury?
What if we took a step back? We start with no previous idea of what school looks like. What if started over? We start by looking at the most natural form of learning that happens at birth.
A colleague recommended Frank Smith’s book, “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” to me as she knew I am interested in radical ideas, a revolution of learning, and was always willing to have my ideas challenged. Well, this book does that.
The most important element to the book is how we define learning, as I mentioned in my earlier post, Smith suggests,
“All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming.” (11)
He argues that the system that is formed on the need (or illusion) of control, missing the point that students are always learning something. The problem is, the system as it is, is making students learn that disciplines like science, math, arts, English are boring, separate and not for them.
He addresses the critics of a more holistic learning approach by stating,
“Teachers sometimes rationalize making learning unnecessarily complicated for children by saying they have to be ‘challenged’.” (27)
This is found in our worksheets, grammar rules, and seemingly inauthentic approach to teaching. We assume that the more control and ‘scaffolding’ we provide the more explicit the learning will be, when instead, we are teaching students that each of these separate pieces fit together, but only when we’re ready to show you.
And he lays out a few gems about teachers, in general.
On why they are resistant to change
“The difficulty in getting many teachers – or their administrators – to change their attitudes and their ways is not that they are ignorant, but that they are insecure. They are afraid their world will fall apart if they give up any of their power or claim their independence.” (96)
On what he would establish as the key role of the teacher
“It would be the responsibilty of teachers to ensure that opportunities to engage in interesting and productive activities are always available.” (98)
On the crazy notion that we can improve bad teachers
“External control, detailed procedures, and constant monitoring don’t make poor teachers better ones.” (100)
On what it takes to be a good teacher
“All the good techers I have known have been good organizers, arranging interesting experiences for their students and themselves, and protecting those experiences from officious interference.” (101)
This is a book that I believe every teacher should read as teacher candidate. Not because I think it is flawless and has all the answers, but because it leads us to asking big questions about the purpose of a public education system, the role of the teacher and the classroom, and it requires us all to start with why.
I read through the book twice, once just reading it, now it lays on my desk highlighted, circled, dog-eared, starred, copied. It reminds me that I am learning, right now, but what I’m learning is up to me and the people with whom I surround myself.
I am an avid reader, I like books that make me think and explore.
I have gotten a few e-mails lately from other teachers asking me to recommend some books for them to read to begin them on the path I’m on. So, here is the list that I usually send them.
These books have changed, altered, helped, nudged, pushed me into thinking about the role of education and the teacher differently. Yet, these are not about teaching.
Some draw parallels much more directly. Some are about the way we think or interact. Some are about how we market. The main thing is that these books push you. I have ranked them in order of influence and power.
1. The Element by Sir Ken Robinson – This book is the most likely to be considered a “teachers” book, but really it is about embracing creativity, searching for passion and ensuring we re-focus our lives on the important stuff.
2. Drive by Daniel Pink - This book has influenced my thoughts on marking more than any other source. Pink explores the nature of motivation and outlines the case for exploring student autonomy, mastery and re-discovering the real purpose of a public education system. The arbitrary number isn’t as effective as we thought.
3. Linchpin by Seth Godin – This book changed my way of thinking about my role in the system. Up to the point of reading this book, my thoughts always lingered to “getting out” and working alternative to the system. Godin makes the argument that people from within need to scratch out the place for themselves to “do their art”. It is tough, though it is most important. The revolution needs to happen from within for it to stick.
4. Start With Why by Simon Sinek – This book kicks the thinking into high gear and reminded me that every action, decision, relationship needs to be rooted in the “why” of my life. This means that every decision in the classroom should be rooted in the students. If life is made more difficult for teachers, but centres the learning for students, then that is the way it is. Always reframe the thinking to the why.
5. Mindset by Carol Dweck – Dweck explores the nature of how we think about ourselves and why some people are willing to more rigorously dig into the difficulty of learning, while others just give up. This book reminds me that students need help at the base of how they see the world and that this will influence everything.
6. In Pursuit of Elegance by Matthew E. May – This book is about removing the stuff that distracts from the elegance. There are so many parallels in education of the things that we add that don’t add to our why. May pushed me to thinking about simplifying everything.
7. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath – This was one of the first books that made me think about the struggle and battle of changing a system that is at times, unchangeable. It encouraged me to engage in the educational revolution.
8. Tribes by Seth Godin – All about finding your people, connecting and encouraging others (students) to find their tribe. This books has encouraged me to disengage in the negative and to join Twitter in an attempt to connect with people who will continuously push my thinking.
9. Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford – Simply a book about what it means to work and to disengage in the “storybook” image of what education looks like.
10. Outliers and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell - These two books explore the nature of re-thinking success and decision making. In classic Gladwell style, these books pushed me into being more aware of everything and taking less for granted when it comes to the factors that will affect student learning.
But this is my list, the list of books I’ve read. I’m ALWAYS looking for books that are going to push me. If you have a recommendation, please let me know.
For a complete list of the books I read, please visit http://books.mrkemp.ca.
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