Friday, March 23, 2012

The kindness boomerang

We live in an era when success at school is defined by many as achieving high marks in exams, or possibly on the sporting field.  We live in a society that boasts “life coaches” to help individuals achieve their personal goals. We live in a time where an unstated belief in “social Darwinism” is rampant - the cream rises to the top, the rest...well, they don’t deserve to be successful.  In short, we live in a society that emphasises individual achievement and success; perhaps this would be more palatable if the meaning of “success” was broadened beyond the limits of economic worth.

However, we rarely hear of the value of simply being a decent person - of helping someone else without  thought for personal gain.  For an antidote to this mode of thinking watch this wonderful video - the Kindness Boomerang.

From an educational view point this video is clearly worth sharing with students - even students from a relatively young age could appreciate this.  Those interested in helping to make the world a nicer place one person at a time (starting with themselves) might be interested in visiting the “Random Acts of Kindness” site for some ideas. This site also has some ideas suitable for using in schools.

This site also has some ideas suitable for using in schools.  Or you might enjoy reading this as an adult - especially if you appreciate the joys of a good coffee.

Teaching students that they can be people of worth regardless of their age (and income or “status” in later life) may just be one of the most important lessons we can teach them. As Martin Luther King is purported to have said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Those who enjoyed the video above might also like to view my post “Validate - it’s great”, which features another inspiring video well worth viewing. I challenge you to watch it without smiling...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Herding cats in the classroom?

Teaching is a challenging activity.  Keeping track of a class of students who are operating at a range of different ability levels, often from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, catering for a range of learning needs, dealing with any individual health issues class members may have, managing the administrative requirements of your school or system, attempting to match curriculum requirements to the needs of students in the class, dealing with “helicopter parents” or, even worse, parents who are as insubstantial as the abominable snowman, acting as a part of a team when your specific class requires focused and immediate attention, trying to make your lessons as interesting and engaging as takes a special type of person to do it well.
It is not unlike herding cats.

One thing we know about cats is that is easier to get them to come to you than to make them go somewhere that they don’t want to go.  With cats this is easy - entice them with food.  Although we do not bribe students via their taste buds we can learn from this approach - efforts put into developing student motivation is an important aspect of effective teaching. Structuring the educational environment to get students interested and wanting to learn through engaging and challenging activities where they value the outcomes of their efforts and feel secure as they explore their boundaries changes the educational process from that of herding cats to managing learning.
If teachers feel as if they are herding cats in the classroom it might be worth looking at what is on offer. Motivated people, even young ones, don’t need to be herded; they drive themselves.  The challenge for teachers is to guide student interest in ways that reflect the outcome requirements of the curriculum. And that is far from easy.  There are many sites and blogs offering advice or guidance in this area - a brief but worthy offering can be found here.
One important aspect of effective education is often overlooked however. Teacher reflection is an important part of becoming an expert practitioner.  Teachers need to find the time to think about what is going on in their classrooms and their educational practice - this is as important as thinking about the response of students to lessons. How else can areas for improvement be identified? Reflection is not a luxury, it is an essential part of personal professional development and adaptation.
For some personal reflection needs to be done alone - perhaps over a coffee whilst appearing to stare out the window. Others need guidance and stimulation.  Technology may come to the rescue for those in this category. Apple’s Itunes “university” section has FREE lectures on a variety of educational issues and subject areas while Harvard also offers free podcasts on educational issues.  Podcasts can be thought provoking ways to stimulate reflection - and can be absorbed during the daily commute.

To paraphrase Margaret J. Wheatley, reflection “ not just a nice thing to do if you have the time. It is the only way you can survive.”

video = commercial from
Embedded link via Larry Ferlazzo at Education Week.
Harvard and Itunes links go to original sources.
Margaret Wheatley link goes to source.