Saturday, November 29, 2008

“. . . thoughtful responsible . . .”

Whenever I hear Susan Stamberg, guest commentator/host for Morning Edition and Weekend Edition on NPR, my ears perk up and I take note. Her matriarchal voice and grandmotherly commentary inevitably catch me listening with intent often while hanging out in my car or in a room longer than I would otherwise choose. Listening to her, captured in idyll thought, I must frustrate those people 90 degrees from me at an intersection as they wonder why I gave up a green light.

I can still remember. . . several years ago, while driving in my car she was doing a piece, which was a follow-up on a recent appeal that was made to listeners where they were asked to write in their own experiences with random acts of kindness. Touching and extremely thoughtful with story after story, I found my eyes welling up listening to these various kind gestures on the part of anonymous people. One story was of a woman who clearly remembered when she was 13 years old and her parents had just divorced and the upcoming holidays were looking pretty grim. On Christmas morning there was a knock at the back door and upon inspection there was no one there but there were ten huge bags of presents and food. To this day she does not know who did such a kind deed.

A California woman spoke of the time when her family was on a picnic and they were about to dig into mom’s famous potato salad when mom excused herself with her heaping plate and walked 20 feet toward a man who was picking through the trash. She handed the man her plate and walked back to our family. Years later, I asked my mother if she remembered the incident and she replied, “Not at all.” The daughter went on to say, “My mother’s act was a touchstone of what good deeds became in my life.”

These stories never fail to restore my faith in people and inspire me to do something good for another person. No matter how young or old, everyone appreciates kind acts whether received or given. Imagine how powerful a kind act given to a child is. You not only help the child with the deed, but you also model for him/her to pass on the kindness to another person. Not a particularly popular movie but a personal favorite, "Pay it Forward" staring Haley Joel Osment, as a seventh grader, Helen Hunt, as his mother, and Kevin Spacey, as a social studies teacher, speaks to this idea eloquently.

If you happen to be in front of a computer looking for something to do, go to the NPR site and listen to Susan Stamberg’s piece, “Stories of Good Deeds.” I assure you that it will be well worth the seven minutes and seven seconds it takes to listen to the piece, and while you are there, give thought to our very own mission statement where it says “Our children learn to be thoughtful responsible citizens of the School and the world around them.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Earliest Years of Life

When I first read Dr. Montessori's book, The Secret of Childhood, I was awed by how she described the absorbent mind of the child — infant through age three.  I agreed with her analysis based only on my experience as a parent and an educator's intuition.

Now, having read Chapter 6 "The Impact of the Earliest Years on Students' Success" in Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class (see November 13 and 19 posts below), research confirms Dr. Montessori's theories and work. Essentially, the book states "[Todd Risley's and Betty Hart's] particular strand of research is teaching us that a significant portion of a person's intellectual capacity is determined in his or her first 36 months." Their research presents "extra talk" and "business talk" in "language dancing" as being instrumental in a child's language acquisition.

Further, Christensen goes on to state "There is a strong connection between what neuroscientists are learning about how the physical brain functions and the observations that extra talk, or language dancing, leads to keen auditory skills, which in turn leads to improved learning capacity."

Reading this chapter alone is worth buying the book. There is much much more that you will learn beyond this one chapter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


by Ray A. Lingenfelter

I dreamed I stood in a studio
and watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a young child's mind,
and they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher; the tools she used
were books and music and art;
One was a parent with a guiding hand, 
and a gentle, loving heart.

And when at last their task was done,
they were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child
could never be sold or bought.

And each agreed she would have failed
if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school
and behind the teacher, the home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Disrupting Class to Improve Education

While reading Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I could not help but draw a number of similarities to what he writes about innovation and education today to the Eight Principles of Montessori Education.

Several Christensen points:
  • schools may be able to switch to a student-centric learning mode
  • teachers must help individual students progress by being a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage
  • project-based learning is a highly motivating way for many students to synthesize what they are learning
Here are the eight Montessori principles:
  1. Movement and cognition are closely intertwined; movement can enhance thinking and learning.
  2. Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.
  3. People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.
  4. Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.
  5. Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.
  6. Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.
  7. Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.
  8. Order in the environment is beneficial to children.
Here is a clip of brief comments from Christensen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The List Goes On

At last week's NYSAIS Heads' Conference, I heard Shawn Achor (Check him out by seeing the post before this one. He was excellent.), and I am in the middle of reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen (see next post for more on the book). It dawned on me that I am hearing, seeing, and reading the same names in education over and over.

Carol Dweck

Robert Sternberg

Ted Sizer

Howard Gardner

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

and there are also Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and Malcolm Gladwell.

Christensen and the above educational innovators keep talking about moving away from the usual "mindset" of people having a fixed, two-dimensional intelligence and away from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" education. I am convinced that changes have to occur in teaching if we are going to have any hope of moving forward. It would seem to me that the timing for this to happen is prime with a new President in the White House. His background, education, and family are perfect for this kind of change to take place.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Positive Psychology & Happiness

I had the good fortune to attend the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Annual Heads' Conference this past week. One of the speakers - new to me - was Shawn Achor. He teaches the most popular course at Harvard, "Positive Psychology," and is the winner of more than a dozen distinguished teaching awards at that university. From the very beginning, the entire room was enthralled with his smile, delivery, and what he had to say. For example, he cited the following findings gathered from his research:

  • 50% of Harvard students are below average.
  • Grade point average does not correlate with happiness.
  • Only 25% of job success is based on IQ.
  • The ratio of negative to positive research is 17 to 1.
  • Happiness is a precursor to success not the result of it.
See for yourself. Click on this video and listen to him for nine minutes, and if you get the chance see him deliver his important, uplifting message in person, be sure to attend.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

With Help From My Little Friends

I’m on to you closet subway map-readers and so are my school children.

It dawned on me one day as I was riding on the number 2 subway train that I was a bit reluctant to perform a surreptitious quarter-head turn and check the glass-enclosed map to see if the train I was riding on would stop where I intended to go. I have never seen a veteran subway rider check a subway map; I have only witnessed obvious tourists gawking at a map in public view.

I notice onlookers with their faces crinkled and eyes rolling up displaying a message, “Sheesh, tourists, they’re so obvious.” But when I catch the eye of children riders, I inevitably see them with a look that says, “Hey, I can help you, I ride this train all the time.” That’s one of the beautiful characteristics of a child - no hang-ups, no pretense, always a willingness to engage, help, or interact unconditionally.

I know you’re out there – those long-time riders who study the map at home, never in public view. It stands to reason that if you have to travel to Sutfin Boulevard in Queens from school, you have to use a map to navigate the G, to the A, to the J; heaven forbid you should look at a map along the way to check your progress. If you were a child (with parent in tow), you would just get to a subway, get on the train in the right direction, and then navigate to your destination using maps along the way. Why not?

To prove my point, the other day I saw what looked to be a 20 year resident of the City (I could just tell) saunter past a map – back and forth, back and forth – in the station catching glimpses of the map. After three passes by the map, he still looked perplexed. A nearby eight year old said, “Need help, sir?” He looked at the child, curled his lip in a way that said, “I know New York and I don’t need help using the subway.” I was proud of my little friend when she offered advice, saying “Be careful ‘cause even though this is a local Six track, the Two stops here on weekends while repairs are being made.” I could see the look of relief on the traveler’s face while he mumbled a reluctant “Thang ew.”

I wanted to give my little friend a “High Five” but thought better of it. Anyway, I couldn’t because I was fumbling with my overused subway map, trying to figure out if I was even at the right station!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sarah Jones

I first saw Sarah Jones in 2004 when her one-woman show "Bridge and Tunnel" was performed in a small theater in the Village. At that time, I knew she would make it big. Her show made it to Broadway two years later.

Jones is a very talented woman with a clear message in what she believes.

Here is a UNICEF excerpt of Sarah Jones's presentation on violence against children.