Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back to School 09

This article ran in the Guernsey Gazette Back to School issue last week.

As I thought about the theme for this year, “A journey through the lands of learning,” I tried to come up with something that reflected that. Other than a taste for classic rock music (Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”), I was struggling to find something to write on. Then it struck me to talk about journeys in general, so I looked up some quotes to get started.

Author Ursula LeGuin is quoted as saying, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” And tennis great Arthur Ashe echoed that sentiment when he said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” So often, we focus on the end result that we forget to enjoy and learn from the journey itself. So much learning is experiential and the days between the beginning and the end (of a journey, reaching for a goal, a school year) provide much time and opportunity for learning.

Journeys and learning adventures certainly have some things in common. For one, they both begin somewhere. Journeys begin with a destination or a determination to go on one. For example, we may decide to take a trip to New York and then figure out how to get there. Or, we may just decide to “go” and let fate lead us on a journey. As we progress in helping our students find success, we begin the journey by looking at the data in our possession. Whether this is test scores from last year, grades, surveys, etc., we have a starting point to begin the process of improvement.

Another item in common is the use of tools to get to where we are going. In an actual physical journey, we might use our feet, a car, a plane or some other mode of transportation. Those on a metaphysical journey might use their mind and meditation tools. On the learning journey, teachers use a variety of strategies and resources to help students become independent learners. Students too, have tools to help them learn better, including knowledge of their strengths and learning styles. Just as there are multiple ways to get most places, there are many ways to help students learn. The key is trying different tools until one is found that works.

And finally, all journeys have an end. However, the end is really only the beginning of another journey. Learning is the same thing; it never really ends. A professor of mine once told us that we were “either green and growing or ripe and rotting,” referring to the continuous process of life-long learning. Our learning community must work together to help our students realize that the world they will enter upon graduation is one that will require continuous learning. As futurist Alvin Toffler stated, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” We cannot stress enough the importance of “learning how to learn.” Let’s all enjoy the journey.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Positive Psychology

Want to see students/children have more success? Martin Seligman's research has shown that "teaching resilience, positive emotion, and a sense of purpose in school can protect children against depression, increase their life satisfaction and improve their learning power." You can read more about Seligman and Positive Psychology at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Optimism for Life

I've been reading quite a bit lately about positive thinking and optimism and came across this blog post on how optimism leads to better health and a longer life. It was very interesting that optimism had such an effect on a person's well-being. I've always thought that optimistic people felt better and were happier and wondered why everyone wasn't an optimist.

I will tie the answer to that query to another book I've read, Jon Gordon's "The Energy Bus." One of the rules Gordon writes about that has an impact on a person's energy and success is rule number one - You are the driver of your bus. Too many persons play the blame game when things are not going well or the way they wanted, but the rule is basically saying that you are the only person responsible for your life and how it turns out.

Another book I've read this past year is called "The Blue Zones." It describes various pockets around the world where a larger than normal percentage of persons live to be over 100 years old. Although each area ate differently - mostly unprocessed, however - each group was "extremely positive," according to Dan Buettner, the author of the book. Wrote Buettner, "Especially considering that these populations ate such different foods, the case for optimism as the greatest common denominator in health and longevity is enhanced.

We can make ourselves happy or sad, angry or contented. It is not the outside circumstances that determine how we react, it is our perception of the world and our decision to feel a certain way. Optimism is a choice, and based on the article and the book, a great choice if we want to live longer and healthier.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


A recent article in Education Week reviewed a study of “value-added” teacher measures. As more discussion takes place about poor achievement in the United States, conversations about how to measure teacher performance and the role it plays in achievement are leading to an increase in the use of value-added modeling. The study’s author, Jesse Rothstein, analyzed three different models and found wide variation that raised questions about the measures. It will be interesting to see where this leads as the national discussion to raise achievement and teacher quality widens.