6/28/12

Sundown at Jones Beach





Sun coming down, Nora making sand angels, and dad pitching to Luke with a sprained ankle.
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Thrift-store shopper in training

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6/25/12

Treasure collecting at Jones Beach

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What major themes are running through your life?

                      There are certain themes running through everyone's lives at all times. I believe we all have these seasonal themes running through our lives. If we just care to stop long enough to listen to what is happening with us in terms of small universal messages, we too would get them. I've always firmly believed there are two kinds of people in the world, the reflecting kind and the non-reflecting kind (these are the ones who know everything). I consider myself a 'reflecting kind'. Currently, I have three themes that keep nagging me when reflecting. These themes keep coming up in all sorts of unrelated situations and scenarios and keep hammering me over the head with their messages. Sometimes, it almost feels like I'm living in a very good independent movie where every little thing from the background song, to the art on the walls have meaning. My three themes are (1) Absolute need humans have for inspiration, (2) the healing power of merely noticing can change the world and the idea that (3) the way systems are structured makes an enormous difference to how everything is experienced within that system. 
                       Inspiration. I've been watching my 7 year-old son go from an intense obsession with space, science and scientists to baseball, baseball players and baseball scores. I am not being dramatic when I describe these as 'obsessions'. While he's living through these intense periods he is able to absorb such detailed information and make such expert analyses of the all the big ideas engendered within its topics. In applying this to schools and how they are built and structured, I am not being harsh when I say that schools are not either equipped or structured to tap into these timely learning opportunities. This is very, very unfortunate for if schools were able to tap into subjects and subject matter that were more closely aligned with student's interests they'd be able to teach all skills more efficiently. Inspiration allows for warp-drive learning to happen. Unfortunately, the way things are now there is school and then there is the after school activities. More often than not, it's after school where kids finally get to explore what they really enjoy because true learning can only happen with true engagement. True engagement only happens when things matter to us. Therefore, inspiration is the driving force of all things meaningful. Grab any biography, anyone that has ever done anything meaningful with their lives has done so out of inspiration. So it pays to pay attention to our kids' obsessions. The book I am reading now written by Jenifer Fox speaks about strengths-based child rearing. So for now, even though intense units on baseball and outer space are far from being on the school curriculum, we at home are certainly using these themes to teach reading, math, nuance, writing, and conversation skills.
                         Noticing. Sounds like such a benign act. Sounds like such an insignificant act that could not possibly carry such monumental powers. But the act of noticing has life-changing potential and it's free, anyone can do it. Think of any time in your own life where perhaps a wise/older person voiced that they noticed one of your many abilities. I bet you still carry this compliment of sorts in your heart. I can also bet that you've done something with it. Part of my role in being a teacher is noticing what kids bring to the table and making them aware of what I see. In verbalizing to them what they may not yet be able to put into words, I am able to open up in their hearts a world of possibilities. These short, yet accurate phrases might seem like nothing meaningful at the time, but soon you'll see that this child has quickly adopted what you noticed as part of her identity. Once there, these identity structures stay there, forever. Like plants, we humans bend towards the light. Noticing is like sunlight to our souls. It feeds and heals, it directs our purpose in life. Try it. Next time you see your little one do anything, walk up to them, look them in the eye and say, 'I noticed you were very kind when you did that, I noticed you are quite creative because you've spent the whole morning drawing these pictures of cats." You are not just merely holding up a mirror and reflecting back what you see, but the act of noticing also communicates to the child a much more golden message; that you cared enough to notice. We can do this to heal ourselves as well. Have you ever been so wrapped into some current drama that you almost forget to check the lights before crossing the street? I have come to learn that the mere act of noticing our very surroundings can help bring you back out of any anguish. Noticing, sounds totally unimportant, yet can help shape our very future. 
                          Systems. Systems have been the source of so much mental debate for me lately. In framing what I've been experiencing at my last job in a public school, as a larger systemic issue, I've been able to better understand how all the pieces fit in this structure to create the results we all end up experiencing. Like in any personal argument you might have with a loved one, if we get stuck in arguing over the minutia of the smaller fragments, we never get to address the bigger, more damaging issues. The basic idea here is that the large big-picture ideas and assumptions embedded within any given system needs to be right, just and democratic in order for the unfolding results to grow and prosper correctly. How is this helpful to me personally? For one, In understanding how the larger part trickle down to the smaller parts I now know that trying to change the smaller parts of any system is futile. I can also apply this knowledge to my own classroom, a smaller system, but one nevertheless. There are certain ingredients, if you will, that can make or break any classroom. Respect and the idea that all kids must be engaged in order to learn are great structural ideas that help any classroom system grow. Yet, the idea that some kids are 'broken', for example, can only weaken your classroom system. You see, main guiding ideas and assumptions about the people within system must be 'right', holistic, democratic, hopeful, and appeal to humans at their highest state. Anything less than that and you would be, as Ravitch says, 'shooting at your own troops."
                            So there, those are the themes currently running through my life. I assure you that you too have big, overriding themes running through your life and if you listen very carefully they will speak to you. Have a wonderful summer.