17 June 2014

Twitter misadventures and stumbling into connected learning


Like most connected educators, my first 'virtual mentors' came via Twitter. While I have had a Twitter account (@BarMill) dating back to 2009, I didn't really make any new connections there. Mostly I followed my friends and a few celebrities. However, I did find time to share some insights from my classroom. Please enjoy these highlights:

09 June 2014

Asking for help

I've had bad luck with mentors, at least when I needed them most. In my first two years of teaching in a startup charter school in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, my teaching mentors quit and left the school. At least I'm pretty sure they didn't leave because of me.

On top of that, I'm not very good at asking for help. Being introverted and stubborn, I tend to want to do things in my own way and bulldoze my way through challenges.

Luckily, I shared a lunch period with Karen Kazanci, an outgoing teacher of similar age and a bit more classroom experience, who was generous to share ideas, provide feedback, and offer reassurance. She is now the proprietor of Leaping Lotus Yoga, which provides yoga classes designed for young children.

She taught me that the most important act of mentoring is listening. When I struggled, she listened to my lamenting patiently and always responded with positivity. When I celebrated, she celebrated with me. When she offered advice, it was usually to capitalize on what she saw as my strengths.

She also seemed to know exactly when not to talk about the classroom and work.

The two of us were the only founding teachers to stay as long as we did in what was at times a challenging and intense environment. We contributed to what would become a healthy and supportive learning community in spite of significant obstacles. I suspect that our chats over lunch had a lot to do with it.

03 June 2014

Service learning in elementary school

The New York Times Magazine cover story, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?, explores the work of Adam Grant, whose 'studies have been highlighted in bestselling books such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, and David and Goliath by Gladwell'.

In that article, the case is convincingly made that altruism is not only beneficial to the beneficiary, but also to the benefactor.

A little kindness goes a long way by Ed Yourdon CC BY NC SA 

This apparent contradiction is supported by research findings not only in neuroscience, as in the article, Altruism, egoism: Brain exercises cognitive analysis, but also by commonly accepted wisdom contained in the world's ancient and respected religious and spiritual disciplines as explored in Carolyn Gregoire's post, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion.

Mindfulness and empathy help to make connections in the brain which manifest as action.

Caring for others makes us smarter.

So why isn't service learning an essential characteristic of every school? Why isn't it designed into the curriculum and culture of schools?