21st Century Virtues in the Classroom

My last post was a re-post.  I hope it’s ok if I re-comment.  I keep coming back to this comment left by Brad Ovenell-Carter on a post a couple weeks ago and I think it is worth standing alone as a post.

Thank you for bringing us to what I think is the fundamental purpose of an education: the teaching of morality, which as you point out is necessary to citizenship. My friend, Ian Benson, writes in the UBC Law Review:

A deeper ground for moral education is both necessary to citizenship and largely missing from contemporary education of all sorts […Unfortunately,] what now stands for moral education is a series of disconnected concepts (e.g. “tolerance,” “equality,” “self-esteem” and “rights”) that are themselves obscured by a loss of historic understanding of such concepts as “virtue” and the rise of a superficial language of “values.”…If citizens (religious and non) continue to attempt to speak to surrounding cultures in confused language (such as…by using the pseudo-moral language of “values” when they mean an objective category of truth and meaning), they will never succeed in communicating those matters that are deepest and most essential to citizenship and culture.

I think he’s right. And he helps me illustrate a problem you will run into if you try to teach the values of tolerance, curiosity and so forth.

The problem is that tolerance and curiosity and the other qualities you mention are not values. They are virtues. Values, by definition, are elective. In fact, they are not really things at all. If I say I value this blog of yours, what I am really saying is that it is important to me, that it has some worth–as far as I am concerned. Likewise, if I say I value hard work, I mean the same thing. True, most healthy-minded people will agree on valuing the latter. But they have no more reason to take it as a thing of value than your blog. In other words, we can’t say hard work is valuable simply because most people say they value it. The laws of supply and demand don’t apply to ideas or concepts because they are always in infinite supply.

We need to teach virtues, not values. We can think of virtues as distinctive or essential, positive qualities of things: human beings are by nature tolerant, curious, loyal and so on. Now, if that’s the case, then it follows that we all ought to–I mean that in a moral sense–cultivate those qualities. Of course, we may choose not to cultivate them, but that is not the same thing as saying they are elective, like values.

Now we will soon run into another problem, namely that we derive virtues from our beliefs about the fundamental nature of things–our metaphysical claims. That is another, long discussion, and I’d be flattered if you’d have a look at a paper I presented on that subject at conference on the humanities at Columbia University to years ago. Send me an email and I’ll pass the paper on to you.

Cheers & thanks for resurrecting a topic that is near and dear.

Brad O-C

This comment has sent me on another wave of deep reflection.  And by the way Brad, my email is PBogush@wallingford.k12.ct.us  I would love to read that paper.

A post worth repeating…

Many times the things we do in a classroom at the start of the year to establish our classroom environment should be repeated at intervals throughout year.  All those “get-to-know-you” activities and classroom spirit activities usually are done and gone by the second week of school. By the end of the first week we assume that everyone knows everyone, each kid is comfortable in the space we have provided, and why would we need one more “get to know your neighbor” activity.

Several years ago I had a student teacher start in the middle of the year.  I told her to treat her first week at the end of January just like it would be her first week in September.   Wow…doing a “get-to-know-you” activity in the middle of the year had so much more power than forcing one upon the kids the first couple days of school.  It was fabulous, and resulted in a much tighter knit community in my room.  I have tried to keep up the tradition ever since.  Some things are worth repeating.

Way back in August Terry Shay wrote a post with some inspirational quotes to read to get his readers motivated for the start of a new school year. I just happened to bump into the post again.  After reading it, I thought not only is this applicable to the beginning of the year, but the quotes in the post are also worth remembering at the half-way point.  Some posts are worth repeating.

Quotes to start the year…

I love a good motivational quote…. I thought it would be good to start the school year with some I have stumbled on that made me think!

This is the time of year when school begins. . . and my thoughts turn to some very special people. The teachers who were such an important part of my life. I think of the way their special attention helped open the gates of learning. They gave so much of themselves. . . with patience and tenderness. And not all the knowledge was of the textbook variety. I also learned about life. Those caring teachers helped me blossom as an individual. . . and gave me a sense of self-worth that. . . even today. . . sees me through trying times. I can’t imagine a more precious gift that one individual can give to another.”

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
Jim Henson (It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider)

“A teacher’s constant task is to take a roomful of live wires and see to it that they’re grounded.” E.C. Mckenzie

“A college degree and a teaching certificate define a person as a teacher, but it takes hard work and dedication to be one.” Paul McClure

“I was at a meeting recently when a colleague told a story of being in India, where an educator there asked her, somewhat skeptically, “In America, you test your students a lot, don’t you?” She replied, “Well, indeed, the United States has a national policy that requires testing of all students in certain grades.” The Indian educator said, “Here, when we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant. We don’t weigh the elephant.”
Source: www.edutopia.org/1814

You should be a teacher…

Four years ago on one of the last days of 8th Grade I pulled a girl out into the hallway and told her she “You should be a teacher.”  It was the first and last time I have ever given career advice.  There was just something special about her.  She had that “thing” that “spirit” that “soul” that “mojo” that “spark” that just made her stand out.  She taught me so much about how to teach, what is important in a classroom, and how to look inside of each kid.  She is the kid that teachers wish they had a whole classrooms of, the kid that any parent should be proud of.   She has stayed in contact with me ever since, visiting a couple of times each year.  After each visit I reflect more deeply upon who I am as a teacher.  She leaves me with hope, and a little more courage to continue doing what I doing in the classroom.   It is one of my greatest joys as a teacher to have a student return to share with me what has been going on in their life.  When she came back to visit this week I could not help thinking through the entire conversation that I hope one day my daughters grow up to be just like her. She is a magical young lady.  I am so proud of her.

And…she’s going to become a teacher 🙂

21st Century Values

My students and I were amongst the millions of Americans that watched President Obama’s Inaugural speech today.  This part caught my attention:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

There is a huge focus in the blogosphere and 2.0 world on teaching 21st Century skills.  This blog was started to document my path in teaching my kids “21st Century Skills.”  Early on I pulled back on making that the focus.  From the beginning of my research into how to integrate technology into class I noticed that something was missing–values.  We could have teachers fully integrating technology into classrooms that lack values and we will successfully graduate a generation of students who lack the moral compasses to create a future worth living in.

Hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.

We spend an awful lot of time focused on teaching 21st Century Skills.  Should we also be focused on teaching 21st Century values?

Morning Announcements…a twist

If you drive down the highways in Connecticut you’ll come across signs in each college town stating what sport championships have been won by the local college team. When I see them all I can think about is each one is probably worth about 5 laptops.

Every morning in school we have announcements. There is the smattering of random school stuff, and then the listing of every kid that played in the basketball games and how many points they scored. Apparently it is more important to tell us about someone who scored 4 points in a basketball game than describing a student’s feats in the classroom. There is no mention of anything celebrating the actual reason why we haul the kid’s butts into school each morning.

Why not? Well first of all the re-cap of most classes would probably be pretty boring.

(Please use your best sports announcer voice)

Today Mr. Smith handed out 30 worksheets and watched the students read their textbooks as they answered the questions. 26 out of the 30 were handed in at the end of class. He also collected and reviewed the questions from chapter 3, and reminded the students to make sure you study for tomorrow’s test.

So I decided to write one up to be read this week.

Yesterday Mr. Bogush’s class played DJs presenting the story of Lewis and Clark to a live audience around the world. Ashley scored 97 points, Cameron scored 94, and Kristen was the MVP with 100 points. Joe made an incredible rebound after slacking off the first two days of the project to score 90 points. Anna started off strong, but missed nearly the entire 2nd half because she had to get her braces taken off. Rachel saved the day with an assist in the final minute stepping in to help a group that had a member absent. Bogush’s class will advance to work with the Raiders of Arkansas in a collaborative project next week.

Hmmmmm….I’ll have to work on it a bit more 😉

For now I am working on better opening to each class.  I am thinking of getting a really big spot light and doing something like what is in the video below.  Now this would be a great way to start class!


The Kid that No One Wanted

Last summer I found a video based on a book by Brad Engel that helped motivate me to get ready for the new school year.  As I was busy planning units and trying to stuff as much technology as I could into the year it made me pause and remember to say “welcome” to each kid that enters my room…and really mean it.  No matter who they were, or what type of reputation or label they had.

Andrew Jackson can wait…

I just returned from a wake for a student that graduated a few years ago. So many kids there were hurting. So many kids had no idea what was going on and what tomorrow would bring. Wednesday they will all go back to school. They will all sit back in their chairs and stuff their thoughts so they can take notes, tests, and have discussions on the merits of Andrew Jackson’s Presidency. Those that don’t do that will see their grades drop. I hope for all of them, that at least one adult in their life up at the high school will throw away the damn books for at least a day and help guide them through this. I hope that at least one adult will put a hand on someone’s shoulder and support them. Someone standing in line mentioned that his sister was staying strong through this. She was not being emotional or letting it affect her. I hope my students’ teachers are not as strong. I hope that at least for the next few days they are “weak” and talk to the students as they go through their own healing process, or if they were not affected, help talk the students through theirs. Just as students need role models for writing and behavior, they also need role models to learn how to deal with tragedies. So many kids are hurting. I just hope their tears are not ignored. Andrew Jackson is not gong anywhere. He can wait until next week.

Support Bloggers of the Future

Ines Pinto recently wrote a great post on her blog entitled The Bloggers of the Future.  She reminds us that it is important to just not follow and support adult bloggers, but also the bloggers of the future.

I believe that young bloggers are already playing an active part in the renewal of our era; that the fragile web they are weaving with their written words conceal the power to multiply and deepen friendly connections as the foundations of a different society: the one that will find its joy in sharing and thus will be healthier, more happy, more free.

When was the last time you left a comment on a kid’s blog?  After blogging with my kids I can tell you that a comment from an adult, goes just a bit farther than a comment from a kid.  It means that they have the respect of the blogging community.  It means that they impressed an adult just long enough to make them pause to become apart of their conversation.  I recently told my kids to stop saying “Hello, I am from Mr. Bogush’s class” whenever they leave a comment on an adult blog.  That they can consider themselves an equal contributor to the blogosphere and do not have to feel intimidated or anxious about entering a conversation on a blog.  Their words are taken from a perspective that adult bloggers no longer can see.  I think that they can bring a unique point-of-view to the blogosphere and should be supported by the community that they don’t hope to be apart of someday, but are a part of right now.  So please, take the time this week to visit at least one kid’s blog, whether it’s an individual blog, or a classroom blog, and encourage them to continue taking an “active part in the renewal of our era.”

If you have a class that blogs, please leave your URL in the comments.

And don’t forget to vote!   Polls close Tuesday afternoon.

The 2008 Weblog Awards

I make a difference…

Sue Wyatt tagged me with the meme  “Looking back on your life, what was the worst‘job’ you ever had, that ironically made you a better teacher?” I have to admit that I was tagged with this meme a few months ago by Anne Mirtschin and ignored it because I wasn’t comfortable giving the answer. I wasn’t sure how my answer would be taken. I was afraid to revel a little secret that I have held for so long.

When I was 12 years old I started a lawn service. It was very tough work. I worked up to about 10-15 properties. I loved that job. A few years later I started washing dishes at a mom and pop breakfast/lunch joint. Really hard work, but I loved it. A couple years later they moved me over to the bakery where I eventually moved up to opening and closing the place. Holiday weeks meant working 15 hour days, there was no such think as a break or lunchtime. I really loved that job. With those jobs going on I added in working at a BSA camp away from home during the summer. I led the Scout Craft and Nature sections. Really loved that job. Then I moved on to lead hikes to the Rocky Mountains. Really, really loved that job. Worked at a deli for a month—wouldn’t say I loved it after cutting off the tips of a couple fingers, but it was a great experience. Worked at a dairy farm for three years—loved it. I have been scoring beginner teacher portfolios for the Connecticut Department of Education for 13ish summers—love it. Worked in two different “natural food” stores for 5 years—loved those jobs. Started my own small farm—love that job. So that leaves only one other job that I have ever had…teaching.

I have had a love hate relationship with teaching.  There have been days that I could not imagine waking up and going in, and other days where I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  But something has begun to change recently–I no longer have those days in which I hit the snooze 5 times.  This was not the case for my first 10+ years.  For my first ten I was in a school that created a lot of pain and stress.  Every single day there seemed to be a new roadblock put in place to prevent a kid from getting an education.  There were many days in which I would have preferred to wash dishes instead of going to school…actually I would have preferred to wash dishes everyday.  I remember distinctly that it took 5 years before I was able to get in bed at night and fall asleep.  That school was so challenging, depressing, and full of anxiety that it made me deeply reflect on who I was and what I “should” be doing.  Teaching was at that point the worst job I have ever had.  That “worst” teaching position forced me to examine why I had to use a one-size-fits-all curriculum, enforce rules that were senseless, do things that crushed my students spirit in the name of school policy, give grades, adhere to a schedule that stifles creativity, not able to get the supplies or tools I needed to get my kids fully prepared,  work in an environment in which I might be one of a few who believes that a kid’s spirit should come first, and an environment in which my belief in integrating technology in a project based classroom might get me burned at a stake. Everyday all of that weighed on me. Everyday I couldn’t do what I believed in my heart was the right thing to do. I had learned to constantly twist and manipulate the “rules” and “curriculum” to make my kids learning journey a positive one. When I saw some of the things that kids were made to do, and some of the things that were said to them and how they got treated it broke my heart. I agreed with John Gatto. Teaching was at that point in my life the worst job that I ever had. I questioned whether I would ever make a difference.

That laundry list of things that have made teaching my “worst” job also drove me to figure out how to make my students time in class the most valuable of any they will spend in their life, and ironically have made me a better teacher.  I spent years experimenting how to overcome the obstacles. How to over come a traditional grading system? How to make school “real?” How to treat 100 kids as individuals? How to implement a classroom management system that is not coercive and does not strip kids of their pride and dignity? How to give kids freedom in their learning and allow their curiosity to flourish while still following the curriculum? How to get them to succeed in a classroom environment that is a paradigm shift from what they are used to? How to empower them even though they have to ask me for permission and a pass to go and simply pee? How to fully integrate technology into class so that it does not distract or mimic textbook learning, but leads to growth in creativity, collaboration, and communication? How to involve myself in professional development that is innovative and not just full of ideas that I have already read online or led by someone who has never used the ideas in a classroom? How to do all of the previous things in an school environment that does not support change, risk, creativity, or mistakes, and with colleagues that think I am nuts?

Some 14% of all new teachers quit after their first year; 20% are gone within 3 years; and almost 50% are gone within five years. For science teachers it is even higher – about 50% leave after 3 years and  67% after 5 years. Why do up to 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years?  I spent some time this morning researching the reason why and found out that they quit because of many of the obstacles that I have listed.  The only difference between them and me, is that I did not quit.  I knew in my heart that teaching was my favorite job, I just needed to figure out how to overcome the obstacles.

One by one I am slowly overcoming the obstacles and finding the answers to my questions.   It has been a long uphill battle but teaching is no longer my “worst” job.  I am really looking forward to Monday and Tuesday’s classes.  I am excited about the project we are doing next week.  I can’t wait to hear what went on in my student’s lives this past weekend.

Teaching is now becoming my favorite job because in the last few years I am sure I am doing something that I was not able to do before.

Everyday I make a difference.

Only a couple of days left to vote!
The 2008 Weblog Awards

Do you have pretty good students?

I have the greatest group of students ever this year.  I know that is tough to say, all kids are great and that sorta thing.  But this year I think that they are just a super group.  I have been questioning whether that has allowed me to relax, to sit back and maybe not push so hard.  I wonder if I have settled into just doing a pretty good job because the kids make it so easy.  Or is it that I have challenged them and they are just so good at dealing with a paradigm shift in classroom environments.

Those thoughts made me dig up a poem that I started messing around with to use in class at the end of the year.  It makes me remember that being pretty good, is not good enough.

Pretty Good, by Charles Osgood

There once was a pretty good student
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher
Who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing
Since nobody taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.

5+5 needn’t always add up to be 10;
A pretty good answer was 9.

The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school,
And the student was not an exception:
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town,
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob.

And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.

It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough,
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.

There once was a pretty good nation
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

I am working with the poem and changing the ending to create a video to show to my kids on the last day of school. A bit rough, would love suggestions.

Again, a big thank you to everyone that has voted for “Blogush” in the Weblog Awards. Remember you can vote once every 24 hours until Tuesday! Just click on the icon below and it will take you to the poll!

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Do your kids go to school in a “city” or the “country?”

Heather Dowd brought to my attention the article How the city hurts your brain…And what you can do about it By Jonah Lehrer.  I made an instant connection between my classroom environment and this article.  Here are some highlights from the article:

Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.

A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren’t distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception — we are telling the mind what to pay attention to — takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.

People who had walked through the city were in a worse mood and scored significantly lower on a test of attention and working memory, which involved repeating a series of numbers backwards.

This also helps explain why, according to several studies, children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings. When surrounded by trees and animals, they are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.

A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper.

…the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the “concentration of social interactions” that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists.

I used to have a city classroom.  Every inch of my walls and portions of my ceiling were filled with posters, odd objects, student work, hanging decorations and plants.  I thought I was being a good teacher by offering all of the stimulation.  I tried to make my class an exciting busy place where there was non-stop action, movement and exciting things happening to stimulate the kids.  Then one day I had a seat in one of the student desks to check out a new seating plan and had the same perspective that the students had.  Whoa…it made me stop and realize that I did not even know where to focus and my eyes went from picture to object to the board and all around and back again.  The next year the kids walked in and there was not a thing on the walls.  Everything was bare.  We slowly added student work as the year went on and I noticed that when something went up, kids actually stopped and focused on it.  As I used more technology and the kids turned in less “paper” my room was more “bare” for a greater part of the year and I like it. I think it has been especially beneficial to many students who have attention problems. Continuing the city/country analogy, I try to always make sure we spend a week in the country between projects and arrange the desks in a manner that focuses attention to one spot–a horseshoe for a single speaker or small groups for projects. 

It might just be in my head, but there is a huge difference in student performance when those changes are made.  When I run big mentally tough challenging projects back-to-back the latter one never seems to work quite right.

I now introduce our projects in the country, go to the city to plan and start work on them, and come back to the country to finish, present and reflect.

So where do you teach?

A quick thank you to everyone that has voted for “Blogush” in the Weblog Awards.  I really, really appreciate it.  Remember you can vote once every 24 hours!  Just click on the icon below and it will take you to the poll!

The 2008 Weblog Awards