The New Group of World Servers Journal
celebrates and shares
Transforming 21st Century Education
This was a fascinating issue to explore. The main thing that can be said about education in the beginning of the 21st century is that the world is changing so quickly that we can really only talk about trends. We are still dealing with a deeply entrenched dinasaur of a system that was created for the needs of the 18th and 19th century world. The changes that must happen (and in some small pockets are happening) are so radical that they strike fear into the hearts of many school boards and parents, and so rather than making the changes needed they dig in more deeply and stick with the "tried and true".
One of the methods of change employed by the determined innovators among us, is to build the new systems alongside the old - in a way that they can actually be utilized by courageous and creative teachers from within the old system. Even though teachers are required to live up to certain "standards" (the dreaded Standards Testing...)- in many school systems they are given a great deal of creative license as to HOW they achieve these goals. Innovative principles and teachers are finding ways "within the system" to try many new and creative techniques for helping our kids achieve "wholeness" and competency in this era of rapid change.
A realization is evolving among far thinking educators that in order to thrive as a 21st century adult you must be able to look at "whole systems" creatively and imaginatively, to collaborative effectively, and be resilient and adaptable. Getting information from books (which may already be out of date when you read them) and memorizing material that may be irrelevant by the time you graduate, no longer makes sense. The job you get when you graduate may not exist yet and the job you trained for may have disappeared. So we need to learn how to learn - how to teach ourselves ongoingly throughout our lives. Our new understanding of the neuroplasticity of the brain shows that we are ALWAYS capable of re-wiring our brains and learning new ways of doing things. So we needn't be fearful that we may not be able to make the changes needed.
One of the most important effects of this rapidly changing world is the stress that is put on our kids to "keep up". It's possible that the epidemic in certain parts of the world of ADHD in children is due to the constant stimulation of all types of media and of the pressure to stay on top of all the new technology and information. Kids today spend huge amounts of time in front of and interacting with some form of digital media and very little quiet time alone or in nature. This is causing a multitude of physical, emotional and mental problems, that make learning and growing into a balanced "whole" adult more challenging.
It is the trends that focus on addressing these issues that I bring to you in the May Journal, trends that are positive and far-reaching, and have, no doubt, sprung forth as a natural result of our need for balance.
I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I did...
Gibbs Elementary School: The Worm Story
"The best news about the educational buzz surrounding the 21st-century skills is that creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, self-direction, problem solving, and global awareness are taking center stage in education."
Teacher Appreciation Week 2013: May 6th – 10th
A quote from an article called
The Value of a Great Teacher
"Most people can think back on a special teacher that made a difference in their lives — a teacher that inspired them, that showed kindness, understanding and even discipline when they needed it most. A teacher whose passion and enthusiasm took learning beyond a scripted text and brought learning to life in a way that was unforgettable.
Most people remember such a teacher. I’ll
be damned if I’ve ever heard anyone reminiscing about a textbook.
The Missing Dimension of the Education Debate
The national debate on how to improve our education system is very vibrant and visible these days. It focuses on salient issues like testing, teacher pay and job security in a difficult economy, and other mounting stresses on teachers and students. Half of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years. 30% of high school students don't graduate. 5,000 schools serving about 3 million students are considered failing by federal standards.
These are objective facts of life in American education, and we know them all too well. But there is another equally important dimension of education largely missing from the national debate: the inner one.
A growing body of research and field practice indicates that working on a more inward level -- using secular, accessible techniques ranging from mindfulness to yoga to reflective writing -- may hold the key to coping with these stresses more successfully, lowering attrition rates and ultimately improving education outcomes. Educators and researchers are exploring the use of contemplative or mindfulness-based approaches to teaching and learning to reduce stress, enhance classroom climate, and help students calm their bodies and minds, open their hearts and focus their attention.
This emerging field of contemplative education is a secular, evidence-based one, drawing on new research in neuroscience, cognitive science and developmental science, and adapting practices from contemplative traditions in secular ways that can work for teachers and classrooms. It is complementary with, but distinct from, social and emotional learning (SEL). It can support SEL by reinforcing social and emotional competencies both teachers and students need to succeed.
Today many children come to school with nervous systems unprepared to learn. Our modern lifestyle contains huge doses of real and/or imaginary violence, constant media exposure, general busyness, and high pressure that constantly triggers the fight-flight-freeze response, stimulating our limbic systems, washing our minds and bodies with stress hormones. This can have long-term effects. Thanks to contemporary neuroscience, we now know that exposure to situations that trigger emotional reactivity during development changes the way our brain and body respond to future stressors. It's like a thermostat that's been turned up too high.
This makes it very tough for kids to learn. When our limbic system is hyperreactive, it's difficult to engage the prefrontal cortex and therefore difficult to absorb and process new information. But contemporary neuroscience has also discovered "neuroplasticity," the principle that our brains can change and grow at almost any stage of life depending on how we use them. We have the potential to profoundly change the way bodies and minds function at any age, but especially during development.
Nurturing Deep Connection
Let's begin with a definition of soul-- not from a religious treatise but from an experience palpably felt in classrooms, in meetings principals hold with faculty or in meetings administrators have with their teams.
When soul enters the room, we listen in a new way. We listen not only to what is spoken but also to the messages between the words--tones, gestures, the flicker of feeling across the face. When soul is present in education, attention shifts. We concentrate on what has heart and meaning. Questions become as important as answers.
....In a classroom, school or district where the soul of education is welcome and safe, deep connection allows masks to drop away. Colleagues begin to share the joy and success they once feared would spur competition and jealousy. They share the vulnerability and uncertainty they feared would make them look weak in front of peers and superiors. And they rediscover meaning and purpose in their collective responsibility for the children.....
Ultimately, infusing soul into leadership is about serving our students. Or as Janice Jackson, former deputy superintendent in Boston, puts it: "the imperative to deal with the inner lives of children while we develop their intellects."
It was the blossoming of wisdom, peace and leadership I saw in students when we honored this hunger that inspired me almost 20 years ago to leap into this once taboo territory of the spiritual dimension of education. I was spurred on by the self-destructive and violent behavior that persists when a spiritual void in youth leads to alienation, meaninglessness and despair. To bring this experience of soul to the students in our schools, we need a chain of trust, reflection and meaningful connection that begin with superintendents and moves down to those who more directly honor these in students. In the process of weaving this "soul chain," we will begin to redress the alarming losses signified by our national principal shortage and high teacher dropout rates.
Without soul, without authentic and meaningful connection between and within people, between learning and our lives and longings, we will continue to lose our school and classroom leaders....
We can restore sweetness to learning. I'm not talking about the saccharine sweetness of "ac-cen-tuate the positive and e-lim-inate the negative." The sweetness of soul in education is about the joy of playing and learning together, of celebrating our gifts and triumphs. But it also includes the sweet poignancy of feeling our grief together as a community, or of discovering through authentic, openminded dialogue the ally inside the colleague or parent we were afraid would thwart us forever. While many forces threaten to put our schools on a diet of sawdust, we also can choose from a menu of principles and practices that offer an alternative that in more nourishing. The collected insights in this issue reflect a growing body of wisdom in educational leadership.
Without sacrificing accountability, without undermining quality, school administrators today can choose to cultivate in their own leadership and those they lead a host of practical strategies that allow us to genuinely nurture each other in the process of building school communities where learning can thrive and teaching can, once again, be a calling.
“Schools kill Creativity” with Sir Ken Robinson
"He makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity and challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.
He is an English author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education."
“One can’t believe impossible things.”
What is Mindfulness?
The need for mindfulness in our schools is clear...
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
...The Need for Mindfulness
Research on Mindfulness
Mindful Schools, based in Oakland, California, and highlighted in
Room To Breathe,
has brought mindfulness to over 18,000 students and 750 teachers since
its inception in 2007. Their programs include teaching mindfulness
directly in classrooms or to the school staff who teach mindfulness to
their students. Mindful Schools’ data teacher evaluation data indicate
that 92% of teachers personally benefited from the program, 84% believe
that their students calmed more easily, and 81% believe that their
students benefited. In addition, 84% of students reported that they
would use mindfulness in the future, 61% claim they can focus better in
class, and 53% said mindfulness helped them make decisions.
Room to Breathe
Room To Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices: repeating the cycle of trying to force tuned-out children to listen, or to experiment with timeless inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed.
The first question is whether it’s already too late. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, can a young mindfulness teacher from Berkeley succeed in opening their minds and hearts?
Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work
I travel with a heavy suitcase. Over my 35-year career as a public school teacher and educator at Expeditionary Learning, I have been obsessed with collecting student work of remarkable quality and value. I bring this work with me whenever I visit schools or present at conferences and workshops, because otherwise no one would believe me when I describe it.
Ron Berger tells the story of how 1st grade students at ANSER Charter School in Boise, ID, helped Austin take his drawing of a butterfly through multiple drafts toward a high-quality final product.
A New Design For Education
This interesting video was recently created by the Farmington and Spring Lake Park school systems in Minnesota as an innovative collaboration. They worked with Anthony Weeks, who is a documentary filmmaker, illustrator, and writer based in San Francisco, CA.
Opening Contemplative Mind in the Classroom
“Opening the contemplative mind in schools is not a religious issue but a practical epistemic question... Inviting contemplative study simply includes the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of consciousness and so forth.
These approaches cultivate an inner technology of knowing and thereby a technology of learning and pedagogy without any imposition of religious doctrine whatsoever.
If we knew a particular and readily available activity would increase concentration, learning, well-being and social emotional growth, and catalyze transformative learning, we would be cheating our students to exclude it.
Long dormant in education, the natural capacity for contemplation balances and enriches the analytic. It has the potential to enhance performance, character and the depth of the student's experience."
Nourishing Soul in Adolescents
"From Fear to Dialogue—
"When students work together to become an authentic community, they can meet any challenge with grace, with love, and power--even wrenching conflict, prejudice, profound gratitude, or death. This is the soul of education."
"Students who feel deeply connected don't need danger to feel fully alive. They don't need guns to feel powerful. They don't want to hurt others or themselves. Out of connection grow compassion and passion-- passion for people, for students' goals and dreams, for life itself. "
Seven Gateways To the Soul of Education
1. The yearning for deep connection describes a quality of relationship that is profoundly caring, is resonant with meaning, and involves feelings of belonging, or of being truly seen and known. Students may experience deep connection to themselves, to others, to nature, or to a higher power.
Love and Knowledge: Recovering the Heart of Learning through Contemplation
...”as a scientist, any attempt to relate knowledge to love feels like an enormous breach of etiquette; it is very bad form, especially so in a public setting such as this. But I have come to conclude that the fear I have felt when broaching this topic was based on particular institutional forms and forces that have ultimately worked against our fundamental human interests. So please join me in setting aside your suspicions and hesitancies, and explore with me the possible relationship between knowledge, love and contemplation.
If I were to ask: What should be at the center of our teaching and our students’ learning, how would you respond? Of the many tasks that we as educators take up, what, in your view, is the most important task of all? What is our greatest hope for the young people we teach? In his letters to the young poet Franz Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke answered unequivocally:
"To take love seriously and to bear and to learn it like a task, this is what [young] people need…. For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but a preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love, they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love."
Need I say it? The curricula offered by our institutions of higher education have largely neglected this central, if profoundly difficult task of learning to love, which is also the task of learning to live in true peace and harmony with others and with nature.
We are well-practiced at educating the mind for critical reasoning, critical writing, and critical speaking, as well as for scientific and quantitative analysis. But is this sufficient? In a world beset with conflicts, internal as well as external, isn’t it of equal if not greater importance to balance the sharpening of our intellects with the systematic cultivation of our hearts? Do not the issues of social justice, the environment, and peace education all demand greater attention and a more central place in our universities and colleges? Yes, certainly…”
Last Child in the Woods
Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom—while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Wellmeaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields. In the patent-or-perish environment of higher education, we see the death of natural history as the more hands-on disciplines, such as zoology, give way to more theoretical and remunerative microbiology and genetic engineering. Rapidly advancing technologies are blurring the lines between humans, other animals, and machines. The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct—that we are what we program—suggests limitless human possibilities; but as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.
Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.
Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature—is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives...
"If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, "the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings."
Wanted: A 21st Century Education
Well into the 21st century, we are still trying to get a handle on what a 21st century education really is – both the question of what young adults really need to know and be able to do and the question of the best way to help them get there. I first encountered this issue as a high-tech executive when coaching talented engineers through a series of workplace myths.
Young engineers tend to come out of school with a mindset that the only truly valuable contributions are individual contributions. In a workplace where nearly all projects require collaboration among colleagues, they are prone to sitting at their desks working on a problem for weeks when a few quick conversations could have the problem solved in hours. Even when coached to seek help, they still feel as though they are somehow “cheating.”
It is also common for young engineers to believe that real problems have only one right answer and that they will get the best “grade” from a supervisor if they come up with it. But that supervisor is more likely to value the engineer who can work with a team to bring up multiple possible solutions, discuss trade-offs and choose one of many imperfect solutions to a complex and constrained real-world problem. Some young adults flourish in this environment – others feel a deep unfairness that the rules have suddenly been changed.
Skills Needed In the Modern Workplace
In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner lays out seven “survival skills” that are needed in a modern workplace: Critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and leadership; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. There are many ways to slice and categorize modern skills, but this is a pretty good description of what young adults need to know and be able to do in today’s workplace. The bar has been raised tremendously since the mid-20th century when strong domain-specific skills such as software design, accounting, or automobile manufacturing were enough. In an increasingly networked world, no doubt the bar will continue to rise and in ten years new skillsets that we haven’t yet identified will be the ones that differentiate the best from those who “merely” have the skills enumerated by Wagner.
Marie Bjerede is a writer, speaker, and champion for education transformation. With her wireless communication background, she's now challenging technical, economic, social, and systemic obstacles to brining personalized learning to every student.
I can't resist adding this wonderful RSA Animate
with Sir Ken Robinson, because it includes some interesting ideas and
data not included in his TED talk.
RSA Animate - "Changing Education Paradigms"