Constancy in the face of adversity

What can we provide for our students each day? Besides teaching the curriculum, we are the constancy in some of their lives. Many of our students have secure, safe and loving families. Others do not. Children in these circumstances often question their self-worth and exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. There is research to show that many of the children who overcome the odds stacked against them, had a significant positive adult in their lives. Those children who demonstrate resiliency in the face of adversity, tragedy or trauma typically had someone in the background providing a window into another way of living or support when all else seemed desolate.

If we truly believe words change worlds, why can’t daily interactions between a child-at-risk and a significant adult impact that child’s life? Lisa Bostock has said, “Positive relationships, at any age in the life span, can help improve poor self-image. People who take an interest, who listen, who care and love people, make others feel better. They bolster self-esteem.”

As you read this, I am sure you are thinking of a child-at-risk. Reach out to that individual tomorrow: say hello, ask about the weekend, show you care, value her presence. After all, “rain and sun are to the flower as praise and encouragement are to the human spirit.” Mario Fernandez.

Teaching in the age of Google

The idea of teaching has certainly undergone transformation in the last few decades with the onslaught of technological advances. In the world of Google, our students have the ability to access information, facts and data within seconds from the comfort of their desk, their bedroom or their couch.

I have heard the questions raised, “Is it necessary to teach our students information that they can now so easily access? Why bother? Forget the content and teach them the skills they need to function and survive in our world.”

As I ponder these questions and comments, I imagine a school in which only skills are taught – not content knowledge. My question becomes, in what context would we teach these skills?

In Language Arts, we teach the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. What will we read, write and speak about if we take away the content? In Social Studies, we teach the skills of mapping, critical thinking, debate and active inquiry. What will we map, debate or inquire about if not the content information? In Science, we teach the skills of inquiry, research and investigation. It is difficult to inquire, research and investigate ‘nothing’.

So yes, perhaps our students could access information about Magnetism, Trees and Forests, The Cultural Revolution or Child Labour on their own. But would they? If we took away this content within the classroom, our students would not necessarily be exposed to a wide range of ideas and topics. They would not necessarily have the opportunity for rich dialogue and debate about these issues. They would not necessarily push themselves to access information about history: past human failure and success. They would not necessarily have the opportunity to join the culture of shared experience. Our students would not necessarily learn to discriminate and scrutinize the information they gather.

Teaching skills is certainly important. But, despite Google – I use it often, don’t get me wrong – it is still essential we teach content knowledge. The skills and knowledge of our curriculum connect and intertwine perhaps more than we realize. We may be able to ‘Google’ information, but we can’t replace the classroom setting for the opportunities to interact, dialogue and explore.

Conformity vs Self-expression

I saw the Rocky Horror Show at the Citadel this weekend. It reminded me of the dichotomy of conformity versus self-expression. The traditional, conservative in opposition to the free-spirited expression of those sometimes deemed at the edge. I often think of my mother who taught high school for many years. Where others would notice and perhaps judge the differences – the attempts at self-expression – my mother did not. To her credit, she did not even seem to notice. She accepted all students for who they were.

Do we expect conformity in our classrooms?

Do we permit those experimenting with their self-expression to ‘try-on’ various personas and styles?

Do we allow students in our school to take risks or do we have an expected, required idea of ‘good’ or ‘model’ students?

Do we make assumptions about our students based on their behaviour or appearance, without considering their life experience?

Do we value our students for who they are… even when we might not understand them?

 

A white rabbit waiting for snow…

Last week I saw a rabbit: a white rabbit sitting on the dry, brown lawn. I marvel at the rabbit’s ability to adapt to the season, albeit a tad early this winter.

Being at a new school this year, I myself have had to adapt. It’s the same job, the same position and yet still it was necessary to adapt to the environment and current culture. And really, each year we begin with a new class, we must adapt to the needs, strengths and interests of our students.

At our meeting last Thursday, we explored some pedagogical questions. Many of you walked away from that meeting thinking about how you might adapt your planning and teaching. I suppose to be most successful, we should live our work lives in a constant cycle of plan… act… reflect… adapt.

This week is the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. As Multiple Sclerosis affected his body, he was constantly adapting to the limitations placed on him. Over time, he lost the ability to walk, work, care for himself, feed himself, talk and ultimately to move. And yet – somehow – he did not complain. He found ways to adapt to his changing reality and lived life to his last day.

If one thing is certain, our world is in constant flux. We are forced to adapt to our changing realities. We can never truly predict what tomorrow will bring. The rabbits are likely hoping for snow…