Apr 23, 2011

Still Learning

This entry began as some random notes I jotted to myself on my laptop while sitting through a belle plates rehearsal Mrs. Arthurs, the principal of our school, was conducting with my students. It was Friday night, the last night of the first annual Allegheny West Conference Arts Festival, and the entire experience had been one of learning—for students and staff.

What I’ve learned:

Talk less. Just talk less. I talk too much. The kids talk too much. We all talk too much. The more I talk, lecture, explain, cajole, threaten, the more I lose the kids. The gift of gab can be a curse. A few words of instruction, well-chosen are far more useful than long lectures or explanations. I’m as guilty as the students of wasting time with talking.

You’ve got to have your stuff together. Dead time is deadly. It’s better to do a few things well than to attempt too much and have it turn out poorly.

There comes a point when all you’re going to get is diminishing returns. Learn to recognize when that is and let it go.

Recognize when kids are (and aren’t) giving their best. Allow time for growth rather than blaming them for not listening. At the same time, don’t settle for subpar when the students can give more. Remember that most things are easier said than done.

It’s easy to criticize. It’s harder to do the work.

Follow through. Once you say something, you have to back it up. Understand that you will not want to do that when the time comes, but you must do it any way.

Focus on prevention, rather than the cure.

When speaking to students, think about how you would feel and how you would respond if someone were saying the same words to you and in the same tone of voice.

I’ve been learning a lot lately and I’ve been trying, with some success (and with a fair amount of failure too), to put what I’ve learned into practice. Two books have had a profound impact on the way that I approach my work as a teacher.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement that these two volumes have literally shaken the foundation of everything I thought I knew about teaching.

The first book is Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators, by Jim Roy, a volume that focuses on radically different take on classroom management and discipline. In the book Roy seeks to draw parallels between William Glasser’s educational philosophy of Choice Theory and Ellen White’s counsels on education. (For readers that are not Seventh-day Adventist, Ellen White was one of the founders of our church, a prolific writer on topics from health to education, and considered by many Adventists to be a prophet). According to Roy, the crossroads of these two educational thinkers is that ultimately classroom’s must be “lead-managed” rather than “boss-managed.” Students cannot be (or perhaps more accurately) should not be forced to conform to the will of the teacher, but instead teachers should seek to encourage students to take ownership of their choices. There is much in Roy’s book that challenges me, and I’m not sure I entirely agree with all his conclusions, but I have also found a great deal of wisdom and truth in what he says and already I’m seeking to change the way I manage my classroom to reflect greater respect for my students free will and encourages them to truly take responsibility for themselves.

The second book is the textbook for the class I’m currently taking for my Master’s degree. Classroom Assessment: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Real Classrooms by Catherine Taylor and Susan Bobbitt Nolen is about techniques in assessing student learning but really it is about a new approach to learning—one that emphasizes authentic classroom experiences (tasks that have real-world application and importance) over rote learning, quality over quantity, and the use of assessment (often better understood as “testing” to the layperson) as a means of enhancing the quality of instruction. In this approach the test is not taken at the end, but essentially taken throughout and used not to judge the student, but to help the student succeed. This book and this class has been revelation to me. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. I look at some of my classes and feel like they need a complete overhaul. A lot of that will have to wait until next year, but at least some of what I’ve learned I’m beginning to try to put into practice right away.

Learning is a funny thing. It is one thing to intellectually comprehend something and another more difficult thing to actually put it into practice. But that process of learning leading to change is what makes any learning meaningful.

Apr 9, 2011

Together Again

The whole family in July, 2009, the day we left Kimo behind for the States. This was the beginning of the Great Seperation.

The whole family in April 2010, when we returned to Saipan to visit. This was a reprieve for Kimo from the Great Seperation. The whole family in April 2011. This was the end of the Great Seperation. At long last we are all together again!

It's been just over a week now since Kimo rejoined the family and so far her adjustment continues to be seamless. She's into a regular schedule and eagerly looks forward to her brief visits outside in the early morning and early afternoon and her longer walk in the evening. Babs has been doing most of the Kimo walking duties during the week, but I took her out this morning and after church, and I have to say it's a very peaceful thing, this buisness of walking the dog. I'm usually constantly engaged in something. If' I'm not working then I'm watching TV, reading, blogging, surfing the web, browsing a magazine--something. I rarely leave time to just be with my thoughts. But walking Kimo provides me that time, and I have found it very soothing.

In just a week Kimo appears to have put on weight. Her coat is shiner and fuller in appearance. She's showing a little more energy, scratching at the door to go out like she used to do in Saipan (she's still learning that here in America there is no unsuprevised wandering of the compound at her leisure). The other day she and I had some fun playing together in the house. Elijah wasn't sure what was going on with all the racing up and down the hall and Kimo's playful yips.

Speaking of which, our son and our dog seem to be doing really well. The Feller has taken to Kimo like he has no other dogs. He really loves her and considers her "his dog." He likes to pet her, lie next to her and put his face next to hers. Kimo, for her part, will patiently endure as affections. She rarely walks away from him or tries to avoid him as she used to do in Saipan. We still keep a close eye on them whenever they are together and we are continuing to teach Elijah how to properly approach and treat Kimo.

It's good to be together again.

Babs, the Feller, and Kims out for a Sabbath afternoon walk in our neighborhood, last Sabbath, April 2, 2011, the day after Kimo's arrival. Elijah is clutching our mail, which we picked up while out on our walk.

Kimo enjoying a car ride.

Babs and Kimo. April 9, 2011.

What a difference a week makes! Spring has definitely sprung this past week, as evidenced here by the absence of coats, scarves, and hats that were present in the photo of these three from a week ago.

"Well my mom told me if anyone hits me, I should hit them back!"

What do I say to this kid, in trouble for hitting another kid—usually because the other kid messed with him in some minor way? What I usually say is, “Well, there may be times when you feel you need to defend yourself, but you need to understand that our school is never going to have a policy that you can fight with another student if provoked and not receive any consequences. If you feel you have no other choice but to fight, you need to also understand and accept in advance the consequences that will come with that decision. If you’re man (or woman) enough to fight, you’re man enough to accept the consequences of fighting”

What I want to say is this:

Well, your mom is wrong. If mom is teaching you to lay out anyone who lays a hand on you, she's simply teaching you how to live a life where problems go unsolved and trouble dogs you at every step. No one needs to “teach” his or her child that if “anyone lays a hand on you, you hit them back.” Just about everyone, including kids, are smart enough to know when they are in real danger and will fight back in self-defense. A few years ago, a good friend of ours literally had to fight for her life for hours against an assailant, who she remarkably was able to fight off. Ordinarily she is one of the most gentle, unaggressive people I know. I’m reasonably certain her parents never taught her “hit back if any one lays a hand on you.” They didn’t need to. The instinct to protect one ’self is inborn. “Fight or flight” is the technical term, I believe.

We’re fortunate that in our school fights are rare occurrences, but often times the “mom/dad told me I should always defend myself” argument comes up during lower level disciplinary events, and when a schoolyard scuffle does break out, invariably this argument makes an appearance.

Okay sure, there may be times when a kid needs to stand up to a bully. But I find when parents take it upon themselves to teach their children to “hit back” the result is often hyper-aggressive, hyper-sensitive children who fly off the handle in “self-defense” at the slightest provocation and who are often bullies themselves. These are the kids scowling in the principal’s office yet again, because “Johnny pushed me” or “Jane got in my face” or “Jason was calling me names.” These are the kids shouting down the hall at other kids to “say it again and see what happens.” These are kids that are as likely to throw the first punch as put up fists to defend themselves. Children often times aren’t mature enough to discern when to apply their parents’ advice to “handle their business.” Dad might be thinking this is to be applied if his son gets jumped by some thugs on the street, while “Junior” assumes this means to lash out if another student bumps him.

If parents seriously believe their children are under constant threat of physical harm then the least they can do is provide their child with proper self-defense training, whether martial arts, or even basic fighting skills. But to send a child off with little else but a supposedly street-savvy admonition to hit back can only lead to trouble.

I understand the impulse, though, as a parent. No one wants to see or imagine their child hurt by someone else, picked on, or bullied. On occasion my two year old son will report that one of his little playmates at the daycare hit him. I have to admit telling him “Well, if he hits you, you just him back” sounds a lot tougher and more effective than the wimpy-sounding “Well, if he hits you, you just tell Miss Rose.” But when I put my ego aside, I realize that except in the most extreme circumstances (like my friend’s experience above), “telling Miss Rose” is exactly the appropriate response in civilized society. For us adults, “Miss Rose” is better known as the police. We deal with aggressive situations while still following the law. In the real world, the law generally frowns upon the kind vigilante justice some of us expect our kids to mete out. So for now, I’ll keep telling my son to take his concerns to the proper authorities. My boy, like most toddlers—and most of us for that matter--is willing enough to hit if angered. There is no need for me to encourage or teach it.

Apr 2, 2011

The Perfect Dog

After 42 hours of travel, Kimo is finally home here in America

We always felt that Kimo was the perfect dog, but we never expected her to be. . .well, this perfect. She came to us perfectly housebroken without a day of training by her previous owner; she didn't chew up things; didn't bark incessantly; didn't bite; wasn't overly hyper. She was more civilized than a lot of people. But surely, I theorized, a transPacific flight will put her into a state of severe emotional distress and all those wonderful traits will evaporate. I had steeled myself for the worst, and expected days and weeks of stressful retraining before she gradually readjusted.

Exactly one year ago, we piled on a plane and flew to the other side of the world to see Kimo (among others) in Saipan. This year, it was her turn to make the trip. Babs took this video of Kimo in her kennel, just after Babs arrived to pick her up at the airport.

I couldn't be more happy to be totally wrong. I've joyfully conceded that Babs was right all along. Kimo's adjustment has been essentially perfect. Her travel time, including an overnight stay in Detroit was 42 hours. She arrived in good spirits and extremely excited to see Babs. Her kennel appeared unsoiled and it would appear she "held it" that entire time, and gratefully relieved herself--for a long time, Babs reports--once released from the kennel here in Columbus. Since then she seems to have automatically continued with her housetrained ways even though now we have to to take her out, rather than just letting her out to take care of her business at her leisure.

Kimo finally gets her potty break in a grassy area by the airline cargo office where Babs picked her up Friday morning, April 1, 2011. She arrived about 8:30 Friday morning and Babs was able to take her after completing all the paperwork and such by around noon.

Kimo's health is actually quite good, all things considered. Her skin is in pretty bad shape, but should improve with time. Babs took her for a deep-cleaning at Petsmart after picking her up at the airport and then to the vet for a check-up. The vet put her on a couple medications to deal with the infections in her ears and to clear up a couple of other issues. Babs says that Kimo charmed people everywhere they went.

Kimo looking elegant and graceful as always while waiting at the veterinarian's office.

Her temperament seems virtually unchanged despite what must have surely been a very confusing and disorienting journey for her. She has seemed a bit more tired than usual but not sluggish or lethargic. She's a bit more clingy than is typical, but not excessively so. She watches Barbara carefully whenever she moves towards the door, and I think she was very relieved that we took her with us to return the rental car this morning (We wented an SUV to pick her up from the airport, as the kennel was too big to fit in our car). By and large she seems about the same as she's always been. As I type this, she sits curled up on the carpet by the dining room table while Elijah plays with his play-doh in his booster chair at the table.

Kimo hanging out with the family in her new home, Sabbath, April 2, 2011

Our one "episode" was a brief spate of barking last night when our neighbors returned late and tromped up the stairs past our front door and then creaked about upstairs. I posted a rather panicked message on a dog lovers thread on Interference where some regulars have been giving me some dog advice. But it turned out that the barking ended after a few minutes and there have been no further incidences since. And that incident itself wasn't actualy unsual for Kimo, as her one vice had always been barking furiously any time someone approached the door of our home in Saipan.

And so it appears, at least so far, that Kimo will make a smooth adjustment to her new life in here in America, a world away from the tropical island where she was born. We are glad to have our family whole again, and even though we now have new responsibilities (and expenses--yikes!) added to our already busy life, we don't mind. Kimo asks so little of us as it is--to give her what we can is no sacrifice at all.

Welcome home, Kimo.

Kimo's number one advocate looking quite pleased with herself. . .as well she should. Babs always believed that Kimo could handle the journey here and that she'd be all right once she got here. And to her credit she did virtually all of the work on this side of world to get her here, working in tandem with Virle in Saipan. It must have been just like the old days for Virle and Babs working together again. And since Kimo's arrived she's taken the lead in her care as well.