Having a Ball

“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.”

Penelope Leach

I believe school should be fun.  When did learning become such serious business?  It seems as though we have forgotten how to play and laugh, smile and maybe even get dirty. How many times a day do you smile to your kids?  How many laughs do you share?  I noticed when I came to my school that it is rare that a child looks up at me when I pass by them in the hallway…even rarer that they smile and say hello.

“Children engage in such (free) play because they enjoy it–it’s self-directed. They do not play for rewards; they enjoy the doing, not the end result. Once they get bored, they go on to do something else–and continue to learn and grow.”

Sheila G. Flaxman

It takes months before classes loosen up and laugh.  Using humor in a class is a valuable skill.  It is scientifically proven to increase student achievement.  Have you heard about that one person who did his thesis on “Using humor in the classroom?”  Yep, that was me.  Humor goes hand-in-hand with play.  Do you play in your classroom?

“In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles. No mind or heart hobbles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises. No goals. No relationships. No worry. One is completely open to whatever drama may unfold.”

Diane Ackerman in Deep Play

Laughing and playing allows a class to bond.  It allows for shared experiences.  And yes, it releases some killer chemicals into your body that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  Somewhere along the line we have come to believe that learning is serious business.  That school prepares kids for work. Work is serious.  You are supposed to be “serious” and not supposed to laugh while working.  Therefore, we should not be laughing and playing in school.  Even when we create “fun” projects, it is done with an adult perspective.  Adults’ sense of what should be fun for kids has been warped by decades of people telling us to grow up, act more mature, get serious and stop being foolish.

“PLAYING SHOULD BE FUN! In our great eagerness to teach our children we studiously look for ‘educational’ toys, games with built-in lessons, books with a ‘message.’ Often these ‘tools’ are less interesting and stimulating than the child’s natural curiosity and playfulness. Play is by its very nature educational. And it should be pleasurable. When the fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning.”

Joanne E. Oppenheim Kids and Play, ch. 1 (1984)

We spend so much time trying to get them to act and behave like us.  Wonder what would happen if just for a day, we acted like them.  What a grand and wonderful perspective of the world we would get.  Imagine if for a day we dropped all of our adult baggage at the school’s front door and entered with the heart of a child that we all once possessed.  We need to forgot many of the random rules that govern what is and is not acceptable.  Walk down the hall “flapping our wings,” hop on one foot to get across the hall, and try to juggle the oranges at lunch.

“Innately, children seem to have little true realistic anxiety. They will run along the brink of water, climb on the window sill, play with sharp objects and with fire, in short, do everything that is bound to damage them and to worry those in charge of them, that is wholly the result of education; for they cannot be allowed to make the instructive experiences themselves.”

Sigmund Freud

Somehow we have been taught to scrutinize our every action.  We have put limits on our fun, our laughter, our spirit.  We have created rules about having fun that include where and when, how and how long, why and with whom.  They are self imposed? school imposed? culturally imposed? limitations on our play.

“When we play, we sense no limitations. In fact, when we are playing, we are usually unaware of ourselves. Self-observation goes out the window. We forget all those past lessons of life, forget our potential foolishness, forget ourselves. We immerse ourselves in the act of play. And we become free.”

Lenore Terr in Beyond Love and Work

So I would like to invite all of you to play with the same spirit of your children.  Sometimes it is very hard to walk into school with a smile. We teach in buildings in which fun, smiles, and laughter are extinct—and eventually our school days tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.  Remember to bring your own sunshine, smile daily, laugh a little more and teach like you are having a ball.

“For since most of our living is unconscious, play is like matchstrokes in the void, bringing into light the structures we behave by, illuminating for us, however briefly, our deep meanings.”

M. C. Richards

Dear Administrator,

Scott McLeod has a call out to folks to “blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, etc.”  It was due two days ago, but I am pretty sure I can change the time stamp on this post and sneak it in 😉 After reading many of the other #leadershipday09 posts I think you will find mine…ummm…a bit different.  I am one of those people who could cut the electric wire leading to my house and live happily ever after.  I could easily live in a shack with an outhouse 500 miles from the nearest road.  I could go 3 months without ever opening my cellphone.  That usually surprises people because we infuse technology into every unit that we do.  While my post might seem a bit anti-technology, between the lines it is very pro-technology.  I am for using it to make things, not do things.  I am for giving it to kids to improve learning, not to improve teaching.   As I look around, I see too many people recommending using technology to make things more interesting so the kids will be engaged and more interested in “learning.”  It’s how Juan Bobo would use technology if he became a teacher. For a list of other #leadershipday09 posts please see Karen McMillian’s list that she has complied.

Dear Administrator,

I don’t like being known as the teacher who uses technology to motivate their students. I don’t like people looking at the products my kids produce and only focus on the technology we used. I don’t like it when someone suggests that kids like my class because of the technology, or that we are a computer class first, a social studies class second. I have never inserted any piece of technology into a unit to make my class more interesting, engaging, or fun.  I did not start using technology and web 2.0 tools to help my units become stronger, more conceptual, or more authentic. I did not start using technology to put the STORY into our hiSTORY class. I did not start using technology to increase my kids desire to learn, grow, and become more independent.  That was all happening before we started using technology.

I do not use technology to coerce students into learning.  I don’t include a backchannel to make a boring movie more engaging.  I don’t make their presentations more interesting by recording them for a podcast.  I don’t have them blog so that they become excited about sharing their summary of chapter 6 in a post with someone in Fiji.  We don’t skype with people across the world so we can listen to THEM talk to US.

Technology does not change the way I teach or how I plan my units.  Without any technology we were making products for authentic audiences, thinking deeply about solving problems, and realizing that we can change the world.  We dreamed big, walked tall, spoke-up, listened carefully, interviewed professionals and collaborated with one another well before the first computer entered my classroom.  Believe it of not, I don’t need to use technology to get a group of 13 year old digital natives eager to come to class everyday.

Technology is not the answer to the problems facing the educational system.  When it is placed in the hands of traditional teachers in an average school it reinforces the institution.  Spending $4000 in that type of school on a Smartboard will just stunningly reinforce a unit that has no concept, no goals, no connection to the kids life, and is not authentic, problem based, or performance based.  Moving to 1:1 laptops will improve teaching, it just won’t improve student learning.   It is not about what kids are doing or what is being done to them, it’s about what they are making and creating.  It is not the “answer” to why my kids leave at the end of the year ready to build a better future. 

I don’t want to be known as the class that uses technology because technology is not the not the answer to raising test scores, motivating students, and creating “life long learners.” Technology is just tool. If you give a tool chest to someone who can’t build a house, they are still not going to be able to build a house. We can use technology to build a solid foundation of learning for our kid’s future, but first we must recognize that it has to be put into the hands of folks who know how to use it, or how to let their kids use it. Technology must be used to get the kids to be more independent of the teachers, not increase dependency.  Where I live, new building technology is being used to create massive areas of McMansions. I hope with all the technology being infused into education that we don’t find in ten years that all we have built with it are massive numbers of McSchools.

So before you go and invest all those 1000s of dollars in IT, maybe first send a little bit of it to “PD.”

Yours truly,


Saddness, suffering, wisdom, and my dog

Every man has his secret sorrows that the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.

I have 100 students.It is very easy to cruise through the year without ever getting to know many of them. That is the reality of an in and out 45 minutes a day schedule. I have quiet kids and loud kids. Kids who do extra work and kids who hand in nothing at all. Kids who talk all through class and kids who are barely audible. Kids who are very happy and kids who are very sad.

It is hard to tell which ones are happy and which ones are sad. You might think that is a silly statement, but what you see is not what a kid is feeling. The book bag the kid brings to school is the tip of the iceberg of the emotional baggage they might be carrying. If you think about it, we make plans for our class based on the assumption that each kid is happy. We give grades, due dates, and comments to kids assuming that everything in their life is fine. And even if it is not fine, even if their life sucks, we still hold them accountable to the dates and guidelines that we set assuming they were fine.

Over the last decade I have become more in tune with the emotional well being of my classes. I realized that there might be a week or more when a certain kid does absolutely nothing because all they can think about is being evicted from their house. I realized that for two weeks a kid might just need a safe place to come in and sit and not have anyone getting on his back about anything. I realized that just because your parents divorced 3 years ago, doesn’t mean it still isn’t painful…especially after father’s day. I realized that a kid yelling at me doesn’t need me to yell back or to be given a detention to teach them a lesson, but needs a sign that someone in this world still loves them.

I didn’t realize how any of the pain my kids were feeling impacted their school life until I had periods in my life that made me suffer with emotional pain. Every period of suffering in my life brought more clarity to my understanding the plight of the kids whose suffering I had never noticed. While good times made me happy, suffering made me a better teacher. If you made a list of the events in your life in that you gained the most wisdom from would they be sad or happy? I did not gain wisdom from buying a new car, but gained a lot from driving around in a car that always broke down. No wisdom from having plenty of money, but a lot of wisdom from having none. Some wisdom from having a baby, but a whole lot more from the death of one.

With each struggle that I go through, I use it as a reminder that out of 100 kids many of them are also struggling. Struggling with things that they have no control over, and living a life they have no control over. They still have to meet the same deadlines that everyone else has to. Before someone says “well that’s how life is,” it’s not. During each struggle in my life I was able to ask for extensions for deadlines, delegate parts of my job, and when it was really needed…I showed a movie.

Last week my dog died. She was my buddy for 15 years. I was very, very sad. It gave me a wake up call to keep in mind the struggles that my kids are going through. Unfortunately when my life is good, I forget that not everyone elses is good. My dog’s death reminded me to keep alert for sadness that might be disguised by a smile, or sadness that is represented by a missing assignment. I know my kids were certainly surprised last week when I made every kid sit in their seats silently during bus announcements after two kids were found in the hallway. I overreacted. I was not reacting reasonably; I was reacting out of my pain. Not one kid could say something because I was in charge so no one could “punish” me for my outburst and mistake. I was reminded that most kids misbehave for the same reason. They are reacting in reaction to some pain. Sometimes it is as obvious a stake through the heart, but other times it is a small sliver that is undetectable. Sometimes it is with a frown, but many times it is with a smile. Sometimes it is followed by an I’m sorry, but the one that gets teachers the most and makes us forget about the kid, riles our emotions, and causes us to react instantly to the action is when it is followed up by an “I don’t care.” “I don’t care” is the phrase kids use when they care deeply, but don’t have any words to express the emotions behind their actions.

We should all look at our “classroom management plan” that we have established in our classes. When we implement rules that are created to stop actions and ignore the pain, we are basically creating a system set-up to suppress emotions. Bottling up pain, just leads to more problems. Is your “system” built to suppress actions? Or solve the underlying cause of them? When a kid says “I don’t care” is your system set-up to punish, or support. Coerce, or connect.

Every student has their secret sorrows that the world knows not; and often times we call a student a bully, lazy, dumb, uninterested, careless, unmotivated, stubborn, trouble, rude, difficult or needy when they are only sad.

Schools Are Mirrors, Not Windows (Stilll seeking sugestions for a title!)

By now you have probably heard someone who was talking about changing education refer to how we still teach like we are in the 19th Century.  By now you have probably read many articles, posts, and tweets about how to change schools.  It is something that I have intensely thought about in the last year.  Lately I am just so stuck on why things that obviously work are rejected by other educators in lieu of more traditional tools and practices.  It seems so obvious why we should stop grades, coercive management plans, move to PBL, and integrate technology.  Yet so many people will not even consider any of those for a second.

Consider things you can easily change someone’s mind about.  Where to go out and eat dinner?  A title of a new book to read?  Type of laptop to purchase?  Where to shop for clothes?  You could met someone and sway their decisions on those questions probably within minutes.

How about these– Switch religions? Become pro-choice? Homeschool your kids?  Convince your boss to change the dress code to shorts at work? Don’t get married before kids?

The first set of questions is easy, the second set hard.  The reasons for some of the questions in the second set might seem to you as obvious as the answers in the first set.  Why you should buy your clothes at Walmart might be as obvious as why one should be pro-choice.  Yet why would another person be capable of being easily swayed to try and buy clothes at Walmart, but never consider becoming pro-choice?  It is hard to change what makes up one’s culture.

Maybe its hard to change schools because what one would be trying to do is not just change tools and techniques, but a society’s culture.  School’s did not rise up in the 19th Century and then shift the ways Americans thought and how they lived.  They did not rise up and change our views on children and how one should learn and be taught.  Our culture is not a reflection of our schools, our schools are a reflection of our culture and it is that 19th Century reflection that still dominates our educational practices because it is still those 19th Century views that dominate out 21st Century American Culture.

In the early 19th Century a change occurred in American culture that later influenced education and is still with us today.  Women started to lose economic importance.  While once integral to the family’s financial status, factory goods and specialized farming took much of their responsibility away. Homes were becoming separate and cut away from society.  There was home, and then there was work.  Women began to “raise” children as a separate job.  Originally the whole family was involved in the economic fabric of the house and community, now it was no longer part of the economy.  That meant that kids’ daily activities no longer were apart of the economic fabric of the family, or society.  A disconnect between childhood and adulthood began to grow.  Children became no longer meaningful to adults.  They were to be raised as emotional beings–emotionally coerced into doing things that seemingly had no connection to their day, the families success, or society’s success. This is when many books on how to raise your child started to be written.  No longer were parents the expert. Raising children became stressful, with parents responsible for how their kid turned out and increasingly seeking advice on how to raise their kid and allowing others to “take over.”

Schools were set-up and continued this line of thinking.  Children were buckets to be filled, they were to be taught to be ready for work “in the future.”  They were not to be empowered.  They were not capable of taking on responsibilities.  They were taken away from society for more and more years–now it is quite possible for a kid to be in school away from the economic fabric of our society for 13 years before being expected to go out into the world and contribute.  19 years for those college (BS/MA) graduates.  Schools were built and educated kids in a manner in which our culture determined.

So that leaves me with a question in my head…If we were able to change a few schools would that lead to a cultural change?  Or should we be working on changing our cultural values…

We still live in a culture which does not believe that a kid can contribute value to our society.  We still live in a culture in which it is OK to have a kid contribute nothing of value until after “graduation.”  The problem with our 21st Century schools is not our 19th Century methods, it’s that we are teaching with 21st Century cultural values that still harbor the essence of our culture from almost 200 years ago.

In 1820, a kid living in my town could go to sleep at night knowing that what s/he did during the day was vital to the families well being, and connected to the fabric of the well being of the community.  In the next school year I am going to spend a little less time wondering how I can change schools, and a little more time thinking about making sure that the results of my students’ projects add value to the community.

10 Things I want to do before I die

Amanda, who is one of my students, started a meme last week that she hopes will sweep through the blogosphere.  She writes in her post:

I know mostly everyone has heard “well what things do you want to do before you die”. There’s books that say 100 things to see before you die or 50 things to do before you die. But I’m wondering right now if you had to pick 10 things to do before you die what would they be and do you have reasons why?

I think is is more interesting that the “7 Things you don’t know about me” meme because it shows a little bit about about who we want to be rather than who we have been.  I have been finally tagged by Herky and so here is my list:

10 Things I want to do before I die (In no particular order)

  1. Climb K-2 I Love to climb mountains.  I have done a bunch 12,000 ft and higher, but would love to climb a mountain that is not only tall, but one with a great history.
  2. Volunteer more at Old Sturbridge VIllage I simply love role dressing up in my 19th Century farmer clothes and going up to OSV.  I think it is a great place and way to introduce people to history
  3. Buy a quad to help with farm work.  I am getting old.  I need help!
  4. Commute each day to school on my bike–or better yet this one. I was able to commute for about two years and it is so relaxing plus I get in great shape.  Hopefully once my daughters are old enough to let themselves into the house after school I will go back to biking.  Or if I get that bike I would be able to beat their bus home and start earlier!
  5. Become famous in education for something…not sure what…a book, podcast, hmmmm  I admit it, I do want 15 minutes of fame, maybe more.  Since my dream of becoming a rock star is probably over, I would say this is the next best thing.
  6. Grow all the food I eat during an entire year.  We come pretty close each year to growing all of our own meat.  I would love to also do all of our own produce.
  7. Retire from teaching as early as possible…which is connected to…
  8. …Become a college professor in a Department of Education.  I love working with in-service teachers.  I am committed to creating an army of virtuous PBL student centered teachers!
  9. Buy my wife a hot tub.  She deserves one.  Someday I hope we can fit it into the budget.
  10. Hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  This is what I want to start doing the day after I retire.  I love being outside.  I love doing back country off trail stuff, but there is something so relaxing about just going in a straight line following a trail.

Honestly, I have spent a quite a bit of time reflecting on my list.  For some reason it really surprised me.  I won’t include my self-psychoanalysis here…

I am going to change the rules a bit.  Amanda originally tagged 10 people.  Howabout if we change the rule to at least five! Please tag your blog with 10tdb4id so we can keep track. I tag the following bloggers:




Meg Griffen

Nicole Hill

And here is a an extra challenge for you.  Tag at least one person that you have never had any correspondence with and who’s blog you have never visited.  Someone outside of your normal PLN.  After searching around I found a blog written by Dana Huff.  She includes many posts that reflect back on her week.  Dana, hello, nice to meet you I’m Paul, can you reflect forward for me and tell me “10 Things that you would like to do before you die.”

Fix the hole, not the peg

A few years ago I was very lucky to have David in my class.  David has Autism.  I have had students that have had autism before.  What made David different was that during the year he was in my class I opened my eyes to a different way of teaching kids, especially special education students.  I realized that every PPT I sat in on was all about how to get kids to conform and succeed in a traditional classroom.  It was the kid that had to change.  It was the kid that would need a IEP, drugs, or checklists.  It was all about taking a square peg and figuring out how to shove them into a round hole.  The meetings focused on fixing the peg, not changing the shape of the hole.  It was very rare to actually get any input from the kid.  We never knew what was going on in the mind of the student.  We seem to enter these meetings with an angle of what does the teacher want the kid to do and how do we make the kid do it.  We sometimes just treat the kid like a lump of clay, and everyone at the table pokes and prods it with suggestions to shape them into what a student should be…in their opinion at least.  Too often we look at the kids weaknesses and try to fix them.  We don’t look at their strengths and try to build on them.  We take a kid who is already frustrated with school, take the things they have the most trouble with, and find ways to convince the kid that sitting in a chair for 55 minutes at a time, taking notes, studying for a test, and doing homework everynight will be the key to their life long success.  We spend a lot of time and money trying to make kids conform to our sytem.  Crazy…

I would like to leave you with a letter written by David for one of his college classes that his mother has shared with me and I have received her permission to share with you.  David was much more than just a lump of clay.  I know that now.  And thanks to him, I will stop trying to mold my students, but instead create an environment in which they can shine. David will shine, as long as he is not forced to become a round peg just to fit into our society’s black hole.

I am David, an individual who possesses autism. My disability makes it difficult to for me to understand the nuances of social conduct. Instead of instinctively knowing these facts, I have to learn them from scratch. For instance, I don’t know when to interject my thoughts into a conversation or when everyone’s interest of my opinions starts to waver. While I have gotten better in many areas, I still have trouble knowing when to speak and how to interpret people’s expressions. I’m still not very good at making eye contact as it’s like getting stage fright, and I am sometimes not aware of my tone. I am also not very social. While I do enjoy talking to people with similar interests, I dislike crowds and extreme extroverts. Being in a packed stadium of exuberant people would be a nightmare for my sense of space and hearing. The situation would overwhelm my senses and make me very unhappy. I prefer a more quiet, controlled environment. I also enjoy my solitude, where I can think in peace and pursue whatever interests me. As a fan of, among other things, Japanese monster movies and anime, I find it difficult to find those who share these interests and so I turn to the Internet. I enjoy reading discussions about them and will, on occasion, join in to add my thoughts to the equation. I also read fanfiction, fan written stories based on copyrighted properties and I often get ideas for tales based around my favorite shows. However, as with with my original story ideas, I procrastinate a lot and have trouble finishing even a story’s plot outline. I hope to overcome this and be able to publish stories about action, adventure, and interesting characters. Many of my tales can get very dark and push a protagonist’s psyche past the breaking point. For instance, I have a story in mind where a very sheltered superhero fan manages to become one and his sanity gradually unwinds when he sees how low people will go. However, that same character will learn to cope with that and still find that people have the capacity to do great and wonderful things. In my own fiction, I’m too idealistic to concede to downer endings.

Are you a teacher or a trainer?

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” (Michelangelo)

If a kid does not do their homework and they get a detention, what do they learn from the detention?
If a kid gets yelled at and lectured in front of the class, what do they learn from that?
If the kid loses points because they forgot their homework, what do they really learn from that?
If a kid fails a test and has to have a silent lunch, what do they learn from that?

When a kid does something “inappropriate” in your class, do you teach them, or do you train them?
Do you coerce? Or do you guide?
Do you punish? Or assist?
Do you give them less interaction with you and peers? Or do you provide more support?
Do you tell them what to do? Or do you ask them why they did it?
Do you push them away to the corner? Or bring them in close?
Do they learn what to do? Or why to do it?
Do you assume you know why a kid did something? Or get the full story before reacting?
Do you make decisions based on emotions? Or do you wait until your head is clear?
Do you close your mind? Or open your heart?
Do you try to crush a spirit? Or rekindle one that is dying?
Do they learn what not to do? Or what they should do?

Training is easy. Teaching is hard.
Having a list of rules that applies to everyone is easy. Treating each kid as an individual is hard.
Having a consequence for an inappropriate behavior is easy. Finding what triggered the behavior is hard.
Yelling at a kid during class is easy. Taking them aside and speaking softly to them after class is hard.

Be careful when you discipline your kids. I know it is really, really hard to talk with them instead of disciplining them. It might take 50 times. But each one of those attempts will be better than coercive management. For advanced teachers I recommend something even more drastic. Pull the kid aside, make like you are going to talk to him but don’t. Just sit on your butt and listen. There is no more powerful classroom management tool in world than listening with an open mind. Never do anything that will damage your relationship with a child. If you do, you can sit down and listen all you want, but you won’t hear anything.

Train your dog, teach you kids.

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” (Michelangelo)

Brrrrrr…..I feel naked

dsc00564.jpgSomething very strange has happened to me this year and I will give all the credit in the world to the wonderful blog posts of my students. Their posts have inspired me to do more writing.  This is the first time in my life I actually want to write. I used to HATE writing with a passion. I despised, loathed and despised and loathed and and…I did not like it. I think part of it was that I know that I am not a naturally talented writer. I struggle. Another part is that I lacked a passionate voice. I never really wanted to write about anything. Well finally this year I wanted to write, I have a passionate voice inside me but now I am scared. What if I can’t put into words what that passionate voice inside me is saying? What if my blog ends up in the suck pile. I worry about starting a serious blog that tries to be meaningful but in the end falls flat of that goal. I do not want to write for myself, I am very motivated by the possibility of having an audience, but what happens if no one reads it, no one comments. Looking back at my previous posts I noticed that only one had any passion in it. The others were “safe” posts. No risk to my ego. So do I attempt to unleash the writer in me and try for a meaningful blog that might be read by other teachers and students, or do I just keep posting slide shows of other people’s pictures.

This is the post that made me realize just how hard it is to blog — expose yourself to the public. I suddenly feel naked. Brrrrrrr…….