10/31/10

Fearlessness

Fear
I have visited fear hundreds of times
seen its ugly face and heard it urging me to disappear
to shrink,
become nothing
fear loves you bowing to it
freezing, trembling, paralyzed as it slithers near
disappear, disappear, disappear

But like child's play
the game begins to lose hold the more it happens
you question its danger
will it injure me?
will it kill?
If I'm struck, will it hurt?
You experience that even in the darkest of darks good things arise
you learn
you grow

....and then suddenly
the fear, the paralysis, the trembling fades away
fear's repeated abuse of its own power
has taught you
that the result of all this pain
may not be a bad thing
in fact,
in may be great, good, just the same as before.

Then comes fearlessness.
Fearlessness is a result of hours of pain
and experience with
fear itself.
Fearlessness is the gift we get
from years of fear education

I have seen the gifts of misfortune and
know and trust that all will be just fine
for even the most unwanted of trategies bears fruit
to hope, beauty and growth

In all its ugliness, life is beautiful.....

Life turns all this ugliness into gold
if
if
if you trust the cycle of human growth and potential

I direct my words, actions and activities to proceed
only guided by my own inner compass.
Come at me with any costume, any form,
control
humiliation,
disrespect,
maliciousness,
it will not be the first time,
or the last ugliness that has come knocking

the door is unlocked and wide open



10/26/10

Can Social Media Activists Change The World?

I have had a couple of close social media friends cancel their social media accounts lately claiming it was taking too much time out of 'real lives'. This brand new wave of thinking about social media, blogging, tweeting and such has been increasingly bugging me for it came like a wrench to a system I felt had been close to flawless. their decisios have made me question the important of my own involvement in blogging, tweeting and Facebooking. Here are my musings and the thread of my internal struggles to redefine social media's place and significance in my own life.

Now let me get this straight. If and when I use Facebook, twitter or Blogger it's usually to share some funny incident that transpired with my kiddies, or to share an important article, thought or ideas which I feel might be of importance to most of my 'friends' and 'followers'. Social media, for most settled and married adults, no longer has a connotation or the stigma of a place to look for love and flirt with strangers. Especially for advocates of any sort or couch-activists, like myself, it carries with it the feeling of limitless potential that reaches far beyond what we could have accomplished just a few years before. As a self-professed 'whole child education advocate', for example, I find social media particularly helpful in connecting with other like-minded activists in the field.

These two friends abandoning social media for a so-called real life are not the only two experiences throwing doubt into my social media practice. My own husband, who used to be intensely, physically and personally involved in political movements as a young adult, does not see the strength or effectiveness of my social-media-couch-activism. He considers online activism as afar-cry, watered down versions of true activism. He even believes that believing and placing all hope solely on online activism actually helps to weaken any movement. To him, if it happens in virtual time it does not really count in real time and will never lead to real changes.

I think the answer lies in the middle there somewhere. As a mother of two young kids I don't think I will do much good going out there, getting arrested for any cause as if I had no other obligations. Yet, my hubby is also very right in that I should not be fooling myself into thinking that real change will come from signing online petitions, sharing key articles with semi-interested 'friends' or responding strongly to YouTube videos. I do actually have to get up, get off the computer, and make real changes in my life to see the fruits of my actuvism. I could use my money to 'vote' for companies that support causes I believe in, I could speak up about my beliefs amongst my real-life friends (yes, the ones I actually call and talk to on the phone) and I should participate in local politics whenever possible. I could also inform myself about the issues that affect me and my family directly such as education, foods labeling, and safety. I believe that making those changes alone can make a huge difference already for most Americans hardly scratch the surface of the most basic of these issues.

In spite of its overinflated promise of hope and world change, I love social media and do not plan on quitting my couch activism anytime soon. After much thought about its place in my world, I know I can maintain a fairly balanced approach to its limitations and possibilities. Though Facebook, tweeting and blogging I have found a community of women, mothers and teachers and the strength that comes from that is very encouraging. Through social media, for example, I have found that there are thousands upon thousands of teachers out there who are simple just as fed up as me with having non-educators running public schools. I have been able to connect, read and inform myself about the intricacies of the issues from the very shakers and makers at the very top. Through social media in my life, I have become much stronger at expressing, explaining and advocating as a mother, a teacher, a woman and a human being and that makes it a great tool for self-improvement of which I choose not to live without.

10/25/10

Spiritual Growth of the Difficult People

Sometimes you might run into a full fledged grown-up and based on their behavior you wonder about their self-reflective abilities and level of spiritual growth. I have recently stopped assuming that simply because someone is on this earth for a few decades that somehow they would have learned how to be a decent human being. In the not too distant past, I might have invested quite a bit of time and energy trying to figure out just why this person acted in such a manner or try to figure out just the right words or actions to bring them forward. I have come to learn the hard way that some of us need several lifetimes to get it together and most importantly, I have also learned to not wait around for people to change. This way of thinking has been incredibly liberating. It has released me from wanting anything from these people and has allowed me to able to coexist wonderfully amongst them without much suffering on my part.
So next time you run into a difficult personality. Do not worry about what to say, how to say it, or what way you could possibly do to influence this person in any way. Simply allow them to be just who they are. Allowing by no means is the same as tolerating. 'Tolerating' has a sense of 'holding one's breath'. Allowing, on the other hand, has a feel of mutually and peacefully coexisting within the same space. It means not wanting to change anything that's coming at you. It means simply accepting it. Work, live and exist around these difficult beings while also fully being yourself.

Spiritual and personal growth is a type of learning we do on our own time, driven purely by our own internal drive. It's not like school where you must learn a certain topic by a certain time frame or grade. No one sits with you and teaches you how to grow as a human being; it's a very lonely and innately individual path. Also, I must clarify that by spiritual growth, I do not necessarily mean 'religious'. I grew up around plenty of self-proclaimed 'religious' people who very obviously lacked some very basic self-reflective abilities required for true spiritual growth. By spiritual here, I mean a person who continuously assesses their own words, actions, interactions, and daily lives through their own self-constructed and constantly-evolving criteria.

It seems to me that people who have been through great suffering in life find and embrace spiritual growth more readily. I began reading Zen, Buddhist and Taoist teachings shortly after hearing about them in my world religions class in a Catholic high school. The words and texts felt like cool rain on a hot day. They rang true to me as no other teachings I have encountered since. They healed my wounds and helped me redefine me to myself by who I truly was and not through my past painful experiences. I know this might sound very odd after all I have been thorough, but I feel blessed everyday to have had such tough times, for I am who I am because of these struggles. The world IS perfect as it is and I am living proof of this fact.

10/22/10

What an amazing example of human growth

I watched Oprah's interview yesterday with Tyler Perry and was amazed by this man. I have already been a long-time fan of his extensive work, yet had no idea about his painful and horrific childhood. It's very rare to experience such an intensely self-reflective man in the public eye, so this was quite a unique experience for me.

I already have plenty of women in the public eye whom I follow and deeply admire, yet, I have very few males in the public eye whom I highly respect. I feel this is so because women seem to be much more open about their personal growth. But in order to reveal personal growth, you also have to be able to reveal past weaknesses and a piece of your humanity.
Most men in the public eye might rarely venture in divulging their weakness for those are not the values we are used to seeing in our men. As a woman who values one's self-reflective abilities, I think it takes a lot more inner strength to reveal ones human nature and one's weaknesses than to come across tough and unbending.

I think he deserves all the success he's been receiving.

Blocks, Blocks and MORE Blocks...

Above is a rainbow created by Nora

Blocks, blocks and more blocks. The best toy you can ever get any child is a real wood block set. Not just 20, or 30.....get at least 50 or more. We live in a small 2 bedroom, 850 square foot apartment in the middle of DC and these blocks are used daily by both my kids from building all the way to puppet play and retelling of familiar stories.
When I get home from work, there is a new block sculpture up which Nora had build during the day.
She is so proud of her creations that she usually wants me to photograph them with her in the picture.
Every once in a while they will go to other forms of shape sculptures....
But most of the time it's the blocks.

Here is Luke, helping her explain her creation.
Most 'sculptures' stay up for a whole day. But, the kids have become a lot more flexible in taking them down more often so they can rebuild sooner.
Nora's style in building has absolutely been evolving steadily. She has learned tons about balance, symmetry, weight, design, and the list continues.


Cleveland Park Day

Here are some highlight images form Cleveland Park Day 2 weeks ago. Nora was all excited about going but on our walk there she fell asleep and kept on going.....so, she missed the entire ordeal.


I could just eat up his smile......

10/20/10

Highly Effective Teacher in DCPS.....But is it worth the aggravation?

Through five observations done on me while teaching at a DCPS elementary school last year, I scored a 'highly effective' rating. This sounds just wonderful up front but the excitement soon melted away to reveal a very disappointing experience. Initially, as a reward for a job well done, I got sent this beautiful clear plaque which now sits in my classroom, I also got invited to a gala event for highly effective teachers at the Kennedy Center, and most importantly, I was offered a large bonus with some very unsettling strings attached.

Up front, it all sounded great; I definitely felt rewarded for a job well done. My initial thought was generally positive. 'I can get to like this' I remember thinking. It also reaffirmed that, perhaps, I might actually choose to stay in DCPS longer than I had originally intended when hired last year. I began researching these 'strings' to be able to make the best decision on whether to take the money or not. If I decide to take the money, I would have to sign away early retirement and contract buyout. The third 'string', and of most concern to me, (3) takes away the cushion of a year's assured salary in the case I get excessed.

Before I go on any further I would like to get something clear. I liberally use the description 'highly effective' and 'non-highly effective' here for descriptive purposes only. Not for a minute do I think teachers who got a non-highly effective rating through observations are less effective than those who did. There is no way to truly measure what all a teacher does in her class and the true long term affect she will have on her children's lives.

I called the DCPS IMPACT office to get more information on this particular clause. The man on the other end of the line at the DCPS Impact office explains to me that "The thinking behind this was that if you are a 'highly effective' teacher you should have no problems finding a job at any other District or school." His answer stopped me cold. Let me get this straight. For seemingly being a better teacher, I get 'rewarded' with less job security? This made no sense. I also began to inquire with colleagues particularly about the possibilities of getting excessed. I was told by some teachers who have experienced being excessed in DCPS, that this could pretty much happen at any time in the District. On the other hand, I was also reassured by others that surely this could never happen to me, or at this school, or at this time. Somehow these reassurances did not reassure me of my job security. We all have seen plenty of teachers let go last years who had solid contracts in hand; making it plenty clear that even written contracts can be dissolved.

Does DCPS actually think they are going to help retain their 'highly effective' teacher population in the District by taking away these teachers' job security? If, by any chance I were ever excessed from my current job, I am lucky enough to have solid credentials to pretty much get a job anywhere. Yet, somewhere in the planning of the particulars of this bonus, they forgot to ask themselves 'what makes them so sure that excessed, highly effective teachers who have not been in the District long will look within the District for a new job?' I understand how highly effective teachers who are excessed and who are close to retirement might find this even more frightful, for they can't just easily relocate to another district. Suddenly, this bonus took the form of a huge carrot stick that might just lead to nowhere positive.

My question to the team of people who thought this up the workings of this bonus would be, 'If I were excessed, not given any warning and given a mere 2 months full pay guaranteed while I looked to be placed elsewhere, would I even want to continue to work for such a precarious and unreliable system?' If such excessing were to happen, people who have good enough credentials and have only put in few years in the DCPS system will leave the system in search for less punitive school systems. While teachers who might not have the same possibilities of finding a job elsewhere and the close-to-retirement teachers would surely opt to stay within the system. Isn't that purely anti productive to what we want to happen? We are scaring away the incoming new HE population of teachers and making the experienced close-to-retirement teachers worry about their job security.

I am only 37 now and do not yet own a home. Yet, the minute I buy a home and have mortgage and other more pressing financial responsibilities, I will require a higher level of job security; one that DCPS obviously can't afford, especially for their top teachers. What is most ironic though is how this current system now assures that the seemingly non-highly effective teachers remain in the system with very little risk to their job security, while also creating an adversarial situation with (especially newer) highly effective teachers. A newer highly effective teacher would surely reconsider working for such a clearly punitive system and may look elsewhere for a system that respects their abilities and values professional strength through better treatment of their employees. As a fairly young teacher in the district, seeing how the more experienced highly effective teachers are made to worry about their job security makes me think that perhaps there are other less punitive systems out there where an excellent teacher can teach and not worry about losing it all.

10/15/10

Inner Wisdom Needs No Data







I read this amazing article (above) this past week and a line from the article (below) hits the nail on the head in terms of what is wrong with today's approach towards public school teachers.

The quote reads as follows: "I raise scores when I have to. Yet when I do, I'm not as effective a teacher."

I am a great teacher in DCPS. YET, when I've been pushed against the wall to raise scores in the past I did it without a doubt. But, I know I am not as effective a teacher when I teach for the purpose of raising scores alone. And with all the threats of punitive consequences we all face daily how could any teacher NOT have that end burned in their mind? The higher the stakes placed on testing data, the more the fear of losing job security, the more I fear about my job, the more I tighten and restrict my program to have it solely address only what I should address. So are testing and more acquisition of data really the answer? Yes.....if the end result is a positive data set. But what does those high scores really guarantee for our kids? Have we dare even go further and ask what are the promises behind getting a high score on a standardized test? what lies at the end of this proverbial rainbow? Certainly nothing life-changing I'm afraid.

There is so much that happens in a class from minute to minute that could potentially be life-changing, but 80% of it would never ever show up on a test. I challenge each parent to question the very need for any chart to help us get a sense on where our very own child stands academically. How can we so blindly trust data over what we experience in knowing our child. Are we not with them daily? Do we not know them enough?....How could a chart better clarify what is standing right in front of us? It might mean something if yet, should it be relied upon? I see how the growing dependence on data has done a lot to dumb down parents. Data has helped create a more manageable mess out of an area we might know very little about. Kids do not come in predictable situations, kids are messy, hard to figure out, they are all very different from one another. Data affords us an oversimplified, neat, and sterile way to approach how we view kids. But ultimately, it's just one very elementary way for people who do not know our kids to view them and maintain their distance.

This over dependence on external criteria is also happening everywhere. Take the use of GPS for example. The more we use this device to get us from here to there, the less we see the need to actually learn the streets and routes we need to operate daily. Its precise and sterile structure takes our focus off actually 'knowing; our very own neighborhoods. The fact is that our kids do not and will not ever fit on a chart neatly. Reliance on a chart will never help our kids become much more than good test takers. If we want MORE for our kids, we need to actually get down to their level and get to know them in all their intricacies. If only we can trust our own intelligent inner wisdom we will see that we don't need any data than the kid we see before us daily. It might be messy, but is maintaining neatness and perfectly aligned rows really what life is all about?

I use to work at Studio in a School in NYC when the Department of Education began requiring these teaching artists to begin assessing kids in art. The DEO in NYC was funding this organization with very deep pockets and the stakeholders needed data to prove the program's 'effectiveness'. And what better way, they thought, then to require artist teachers to collect and present the data? There was a frightful and protesting uproar in the meeting room when this change was announced. We all reluctantly jumped the rope and complied to get our funding the next year. Did we think it was meaningful? NO. Did we think this was helpful? NO. Was it a complete waste of our time? Absolutely. Did it help instruction? not in the least. But for years teachers have been doing just that. Jumping hoops placed by their non-educator bosses; busywork, simply just busywork.

The teaching artists were totally disgusted that there needed to be some measurement of what was happening in their magical classrooms where the children were doing simply amazing work designing, planning, discovering, exploring, etc. The imposition of having to box all this magic into neat little charts did a lot to restrict the magic itself and some found other less restrictive settings to continue teaching using their inner knowledge. Once an external set of criteria and processes are imposed on a creative entity, it does great damage to the flow of that structure; it's undeniable.

I was complaining to a friend a few weeks back about the fact that I even have to assess the kids in art. She calmly explained to me that this process helps less effective teachers be identified, and that of course I, a highly effective teacher, would find it annoying. The gist of her comment being that this was a necessary evil that in the end helped kids. Her comment made me realize that the whole system basically operates with the paradigm that we must not trust the teachers; teachers need a script before we trust them to KNOW what to do with our kids. I personally feel the myth of the lazy, sleeping ineffective teacher has been largely overrepresented. We all hear about them. They are burnt out, just holding on to retirement. How come in my 12 years, I have met only a 2-3 of these folks? Perhaps we need to set aside these fears of the myth of the horrid teacher and begin this huge work by trusting.

We need to begin trusting ourselves in the way we see our kids without the need for external indicators. We need to begin trusting the teacher in that maybe, just maybe she knows what she's doing and has your child's best interest in mind. We need to begin trusting our schools with the responsibility of preparing well prepared and confident educators. Our children are much more than grades and tests, and scores and charts. They will one day recall all the memories of being a child growing up under your care and none of those memories will include in them charts, or numbers or grades.

10/14/10

Highlights of our trip to the zoo with friends

You could spend hundreds of dollars taking your kids out....and you turn around for one minute and what are they doing? playing in dirt. While waiting for the bus, the kids got themselves into this huge digging agenda.
Nora eaten by a dinosaur...oh no!!
Luke eaten by a dinosaur....oh no!!
Lion at the zoo...
Kids posing.....sort of.....Luke refuses to be photographed.
Nora could have stood here for hours. It was a display at the zoo.
Nora and Luke waiting for friends to come meet us.....
I had to BEG him to hug his sister....

10/12/10

Solve all life's problems with one good teacher....

"If we could just get a great teacher in every classroom" they say,
"the child will have a sure future,
success,
money,
happiness,
jackpots galore."

The most important educational factor in educational success is NOT the teacher

it's the parent...

what is it we want kids to learn in school?
Are they bags we must fill with facts?
Is more facts better?
Is a strong teacher one who has kids test high on standardized tests?
What do high test results prove anyway?

When do we test for curiosity, questionings, synthesizing and opinions?
How can we ever test for self-esteem derived from discoveries and explorations
Can a test spit out a number for smiles
for a feeling of belonging
in a community
can a score be placed on collaboration between school and home?

Is being a child something we must overcome as fast as we can possibly manage
Like an affliction we aim to quickly get over?
Is the creation of a 'productive' adult all we seek to produce
Where have we lost the process, the laughs and the child.
we have debated so long we forgot to include this child here...and that one over there...
At what point do we begin with them?

10/5/10

Made New Upcycled Bracelets for Fall Fair

I signed up for 2 tables at the fall fair of my school and have been making up-cycled bracelets and earrings every single night. There are all very sturdy with triple layer of glossy acrylic medium. Some come from bottles, others from tape rolls. They have been very fun to make.