January 13, 2013

Unpacking Engagement

This week was a new beginning for me; I was excited for the arrival of a new semester and for the opportunity to work with 29 prospective teaching candidates.  I was especially excited to begin our work together with lessons were designed to help all of us think about ENGAGEMENT of the LEARNERS and to more specifically allow us to ponder the concept of CURRICULUM DIFFERENTIATION as a strategy for enhancing the level of engagement in a classroom.  I am incredibly challenged right now to learn more about teaching - and about renewing my teaching in ways that are more student centered and also more centered on individual learners as opposed to being centered on the entire group.  This promises to be a challenging journey.  What are the most important things for me to remember?

January 7, 2010

A new year. New beginnings. In a fit of resolution, I set about cleaning my office. It was slow going. In part, the delay was a very good thing. I enjoyed exploring my collection of books. Many reflect my long standing interest in the purposes for schools. I still remember, with astonishing acuity, the origin; on an October day in 1980 a struggling 7th grade boy, "Tony," demanded an explanation for why he had to go to school. My responses were weak and uncertain; as an individual who has always loved school, I had never seriously considered the possibility that school was not a good place for everyone. John Goodlad's answer, presented in 1979 in the book What Schools are For, was one of the first coherent explanations that I encountered. I sometimes ponder if I could do a better job of responding to Tony.

October 8, 2009

Arguing, Continued

I'd like to follow up on Dennis's post regarding arguing. The word "argue" is itself very interesting. Derived from Middle English arguen which is from Middle French arguer meaning to accuse or to reason. It seems like in current culture we're living up to the accusation aspect and losing the reasoning. I too believe that being able to take a stance and justify that stance with reason and logic is a critical skill that we all need. When one is accused (of evil intent, of stupidity, etc.) for that stance, however, the discussion quickly moves from one with a purpose of clarifying and understanding to something very personal. The challenge, especially when we feel strongly about issues, is to keep the discussion from becoming an attack on personal identities. How do we maintain our passion and keep an open mind toward learning--at least understanding perspectives that are not our own? The lack of interest in understanding issues deeply is very troubling to me. Instead, I see sides accusing each other in very personal ways.

October 1, 2009


I am currently reading a book, The Thirteen American Arguments, written by Howard Fineman (2008). A primary premise of the book is that arguing is a critically important American tradition. Fineman asserts that "arguing is good--in fact, indispensable." He frames this as a paradox: "The process that makes us so fragile also makes us durable. . . . Our constant challenge is to harness the often passionate energy of arguments to the useful deals that can result, without tearing ourselves apart." This perspective challenges me greatly. I've felt greatly worried about the possibility that contentiousness has come to dominate our political processes and I have also worried that conflict and violence (physical and verbal) have become progressively more commonplace. Perhaps my hopes for more kindness and peace and compromise were misguided?

September 16, 2009

We're well into the semester now. The meetings are piling up, with plenty of work to go around. As I think about this work, most of it collaborative, complicated, and long-term, I'm interested to think about ways people work with each other in tough projects. One of things I've appreciated so much about my work with the NNER (since 1995 or so), is that we are always working toward something, but working toward it in a particular way. NNER leadership programs always emphasized mixed groups using a simultaneous educational renewal strategy. One way of thinking about this is addressing the preparation of teachers with three constitutuencies: teacher education, arts and sciences, and K-12. More recently, some of us have come to see that the community is a key, fourth partner. Right now, much of my current work is around P-16 issues in a statewide context. That means pulling together participants from elementary, secondary, and postsecondary settings, usually within a disciplinary context like writing or math, sometimes something broad like reading. We're working on ways to improve the hard jump kids have moving from high school to college. Some people can't believe we even try it! Yet, I think about the simultaneous renewal strategy. We have good examples of the way it works, and people well-experienced in the implementation. Through these examples, and my own owrk, I see the strategy as one of the most effective and practical ways to practice democracy in school settings. In this context, I like to quote Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Open Space of Democracy. She writes that in a democracy, people work at solving their problems by talking to one another. To address P-16 issues, it's mostly about finding ways to talk with one another. Schooling's structural barriers make talking with one another harder than it sounds. I'd be interested in learning about examples from others, non-schooling examples, too. Thanks!

April 16, 2009

A thought on the American form of democracy

In the American form of democracy, we the people are given an opportunity to balance our own private interests with the public interests, the common good. Tension always exists between these two. It seems to me when either private interests or public interests move to the extreme, we are in a precarious state. We must always seek a healthy balance of our private interests with what is best for the community.