My adventures with failure

When we consider our possessions and social status as the only measures of success in life then we have failed to see the big picture. In this post, my incredible niece, Hailey shares from the heart how she overcame a near death experience in her 20s to travel, experience, and photograph our world at a time in life where so many people are too busy chasing careers and things rather than discovering a world waiting for them to experi ence it.

Kean on Culture

I have put this blog off for more than a week. I have written and rewritten it 7 times. I have thought about it and gotten really confused and then emptied my brain and began to think about it again. How do you write about failure, about your own personal failure without embarrassing yourself or being a propagator of TMI? Bear with me. I’m going to write this the only way I can: honestly.

Now that I’m in my 30’s I feel this firm pressure to be at a certain point in my life socially and economically. This feeling becomes more prominent with every wedding invitation I collect, every baby that one of my friends’ pops out, every condo an ex buys and every job promotion one of my university classmates receives. I then realize that I don’t have any of these things and a shadow of failure starts to…

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Freedom

This is the second post in a series about freedom.

Is there any freedom in education? Would it be easily identifiable, as if through some sort of standardized test?
Could there be a way to quantify freedom? What about qualitative data to define freedom instead? Just ask some students and they’ll be happy to give you a piece of their mind.

As I shared in my previous post, I am wrestling with the idea of freedom. Here are some questions that have been flying around my mind: How about the sunflower in the header photo? How does it dare to defy its surroundings to stand out above the choking crowd of corn? Are we really giving students the freedom in their educations to rise above the systems as they learn?

I want the answer to be yes, but am well aware that freedom comes with costs. Costs to identity, creativity, and in many cases joy of learning. Think of how Sir Ken laments this is, to no small part, in Changing Education Paradigms (RSA version).

Shoe does not tell

That got me thinking about how much real freedom exists in our world of education? We want students to come through our doors everyday with smiles on their faces and boundless energy to pay attention, sit still and answer all questions asked. Frighteningly enough, this also implies that students will not be asking any questions themselves. Students are being asked to perform more like programmable robots, akin to a follow up generation from Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, let’s call them the Stepford Students who are programmed to conform rather than thinking and (inter)acting?

Another way of seeing this is very much like a new computer. It is given an operating system(education), a number of pre-programmed executable files(curriculum) and a hard drive to fill with personalized content. What the learner doesn’t realize is that the OS and the programs consume most of the hard drive and limit the computer’s potential to function at optimum speed and or intention.The Kids and the Computer

Where’s the freedom in education when everything is prescribed rather than inspired? (With thanks to Ursula Franklin’s Real World of Technology) Are we risking future freedoms in education for the sake of perfunctory outcomes? Will students be allowed to learn on their terms?

Much of education seems counter-intuitive to freedom. Schedules are set by bus companies, unions, school boards and governments. Don’t forget the publishing industry too. Curriculum is established top down with little consideration of student input or their various interests. Students who excel then, are usually still kept in the same learning line based on their year of birth rather than strength of abilities. In many cases learning seems to be in compartments with human management as the top priority. As I reflect through all of this it must be mentioned that these first world problems of freedom hold little weight compared to the global fight for equality and freedom to learn for over 100 million students.

It seems that there are lots of great causes for freedom in the area of education. None more prevalent, in my mind, than the #HeforShe movement and UNESCO’s Literacy for All. On a macro scale, gender equality and access to literacy for all are arguably crucial to reversing many of our global socio-economic problems. So how would freedom make the difference? Our youth must see a place for themselves at the table of the future. That means our youth need their freedom to be heard as they safely share their voices, hopes, dreams and needs without fear of violence, reprisal or loss.

Giving freedom to students around the world will not cost our economy, but rather allow it to grow. Plain and simple – education changes lives. Providing ALL learners opportunities and freedom(s) to alter the course of their futures will be the greatest legacy we can endow to our students.

Educate your students to possess the resilience of dandelions.

This is the first of two posts about freedom to grow in education.

I am wrestling with the idea of freedom. There are some questions floating around my mind like dandelion seeds: So in true randomly consistent fashion I go off topic from the start and into the thoughts below.

So I am cutting my lawn the other day. However, at first look, lawn is a generous label. Lawns according to most are explicitly intended to be pristine alignments of grass.

Stripes on the Lawn -EmmanuelMy perception of viewing a lawn much more as something  akin to a dandelion hosting site. And so thoughts about dandelions and education took root and sprouted…

Does the lawn tell the weeds where to grow? After cutting the dandelions this week, I know this is impossible. So why have we historically told students how, where and when to grow? If education is analogous to tending a garden, then our goals to sow, water, tend, prune, feed, nurture, and harvest are all in-line. However, how we deal with the weeds leaves me second guessing the process.

Dandelions possess a beautifully disobedient resilience in their ability to grow when and where scattered. To defy human chemistry, thrive, and stand above a crowd is admirable? They even provide delicious greens for salads. All the while being berated, maligned and removed. And yet, year after year, a new crop stands at the ready to take over despite all best efforts. These are the students who don’t fit the mould. Do we just cut them down? Do we not need variety in the garden even at the risk of losing perfection and conformity? Isn’t this the type of student differentiation and multiple intelligence theory is meant to reach and teach?

Are we altering the nature of our learners by planting them in infertile educational soil, asking them to perform a series of mundane tasks, and expecting unified responses? A recent Twitter post sums this up all too well.

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Are we really giving students the freedom in their educations to rise above the system as they learn? Have we offered them a place where they are safe to grow as they are able and equipped to do so? Are we covering them with weed killer and mowing them down? Is there room for something other than grass in our educational landscaping?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Does CoP mean Challenge of… Practice or Perfectionism?

Imagine sitting in a room full of high achievers? You know the types who can pore through 2879 open tabs on a web browser at light speed. These high performance types make multi-taskers look like the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian.

Photo by Jeremy Barwick Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Photo by Jeremy Barwick  Creative Commons

In many school staff rooms this is an everyday occurrence, and in the spirit of educators as lead learners, we hold meetings to share, set goals and grow. Like all schools, our meetings are done at either the corporate (Board or government mandated), school or personal learning levels. On many levels I feel that CoP is the new TLCP, as I shared in an earlier post.

At a recent gathering of our school staff, our team of 30+ worked diligently at defining the most pressing needs in our local learning community. To attempt this in a group half this size would be no small feat, and it’s being done in every school in the board. As our leadership team shared previous staff driven ideations, I could sense some anxiety across the room. It wasn’t fear or concern, but something more akin to uncertainty.

Failure-Quotes-21

The unspoken question that plagues teachers and students: What if I get it wrong? Am I going to embarrass myself? What immediately struck my mind was to remind everyone that if our CoP wasn’t perfect we could always revisit, reconsider and revise our “challenge(s)”.

Think of it in terms of mountain climbing. It’s tiring. It requires mental and physical toughness.There could be several routes to the top. You have to be prepared/acclimatized to the surroundings. At times you move sideways before going up. Occasionally, you have to descend to gain new perspectives and bring new people up to your base camp. Some days it will take every ounce of determination and strength to climb a little higher.

We have to remember that as teachers we need to take the time to try, make mistakes, get messy, reflect and learn too. As educators if we are to truly embrace a #GrowthMindset in our practice we must be willing to fail, fall and rise up again and again. If not, how can we ever expect our students to trust us and try new approaches in learning, or to grow their own mindsets?

So now what? A core of converts are already to climbing their next mountains knowing that there are still greater heights of which to ascend. However, it is crucial we do not leave anyone behind either. How do we help those still at base camp whose feet are on shakier, uncertain ground and raise everyone’s a(l)titudes? In short we need to encourage and engage each other.

Our failings are not faults if they occur in the process of learning. They are merely markers and steps of our ascent for ourselves and future climbers. Along the way we are not considering how to take the perfect steps.On the contrary, we must realize it is the journey that gives us the confidence, strength, and perspective in our practice.

Additional sources of inspiration:

From her TED Talk “Trusting too much on being on the correct side of anything can be too dangerous.” Kathryn Schulz