This is the third week of our summer Cyber PD around Peter Johnston's book, OPENING MINDS. This week we are looking at Chapters 7-9.
The conversation this week is being hosted by Laura at OUR CAMP READ A LOT.
Tomorrow night there will be a conversation on Twitter.
And next Wednesday, you can come back here. I'm going to host a wrap up week for people to share their final thoughts, or tools they have created for their classroom, or their top ten quotes, or ???
It's almost ten o'clock on Wednesday night. My post should have been up this morning. I'd already finished the reading and I'd even typed up my notes but I'm having trouble pulling anything coherent together. I think it's partly because I have way too many voices in my head tonight-- all of the voices link to the reading from OPENING MINDS, but none of them quite fit together perfectly. So maybe I won't even try. Maybe I will just touch on each chapter and somehow all of the pieces will come together.
First, there's Chapter 7- Moral Agency: Moral Development and Civic Development. Johnston says:
Whether we like it or not, children are acquiring the “character” and dispositions toward civic engagement (or not) as we teach them about history, literacy, math, and science. Their moral development doesn’t just stop because we choose not to think about it. 81
Children in Mary Cowhey’s class are actively on the lookout for injustice. When they see it, they announce it, “That’s not right.” Their thinking quickly proceeds to, “I’d better do something.” They don’t just have a moral compass, they have a moral engine. 82
Routinely raising for discussion issues of fairness in the world and in the classroom establishes a norm: It is something we care about in this community…Students become aware that people will differ on what fairness means in any given case. Even if there is no agreement, as students construct their own view, they will engage multiple perspectives , building their social imaginations and helping them de-center, building the capacity to act for fairness, even when it conflicts with their personal desires. 83Life in Denver this week, as you might imagine, has been hugely impacted by last Friday's movie theater shooting. As I am reading Johnston, I can't help but think of that shooting. It's absolutely inconceivable to me that someone could feel so, so, so disconnected from humanity that they could commit such a heinous crime, and I wonder what events in James Holmes' life could have caused him to disconnect like that. I wonder what his school years were like. Did he have friends? Was he bullied? Wasn't there anyone around him-- a professor, a classmate, the apartment manager-- that noticed something was wrong? Today, there is new information that Holmes sent some kind of a notebook to a psychologist or psychiatrist at the med center where he was attending school, but somehow it didn't get delivered or didn't get opened until it was too late.
In my mind, there are huge implications for me as a teacher. Moral development does matter, and it matters a lot. Kids have to be able to care for each other, to take the perspective of another, to not bully, and to not allow others to bully. They have to have "moral engines" to know how to stand up for what is right and to notice and reach out to others who are hurting. As Johnston suggests, we can't put kids' academic, social, emotional and moral lives in separate compartments and only address the academic one at school. Humans just aren't wired that way, and as teachers, we have to acknowledge that.
There are other completely different voices speaking loudly in my head. I'm in the middle of a district institute with the leadership team from my new school. The district is in the process of implementing the Common Core Standards and we have spent the past three days making ourselves more familiar with the standards and participating in workshops that we will then deliver to our staff. As part of that process, I've also been reading PATHWAYS TO THE COMMON CORE. The Common Core Standards call for children to develop some really complex understandings about texts. I don't think that's bad at all. I do think, however, that for children to really develop those deep understandings. they are going to need to talk to each other A LOT. And they are going to need to listen to each other. And learn to build on each other's ideas, and agree and disagree respectfully. Johnston says,
We conveniently forget that children’s ability to use language as a tool for thinking on their own has its origins in thinking together. We also forget that most problems of any significance require the application of more than one mind. The question is, can children learn to use, say, three minds together to accomplish things that the three minds separately could not accomplish. (97)I know from experience, that it takes a lot of hard work to get children to have those conversations with each other, without me at the center. And I wonder how, as a coach, especially given that I don't even think I'm all that great at facilitating these conversations, I can support teachers in this endeavor. Even so, I know those conversations have to happen. Johnston quotes Mary Cowhey, who says, "The real test of a dialogic classroom is to have the least empowered children, the least articulate, take a leading role in that dialog while the more articulate children thoughtfully listen and consider things from their classmates perspectives before they comment or question" (100). I think Johnston's work is incredibly important to the work that we are going to be doing around implementing the Common Core Standards and I wonder how I can weave his thinking into our conversations and professional development. I'd love to do a book study, and maybe some teachers will be interested, but I also know that they are going to feel overwhelmed with everything that is on our plates this year.
I'm thinking about collaboration, too, when it comes to working with the adults. My job is to work with teachers individually, in grade level teams, and in larger groups. I've seen the power of collaboration and strong teams, and I want to do all that I can to facilitate that. I think I will share these quotes from Johnston tomorrow, when the leadership team meets at our school to plan out the first five days of professional development.
In the long history of human kind (and animal kind too) those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Charles Darwin, as quoted in Johnston 92
Our main advantage as human beings lies in our ability to think together (92)
Our ability to think alone is substantially dependent on our ability to think together 97
Our main advantage as human beings lies in our ability to think together. Our main threat has become our failure to think and act together on larger scales and to act on the understanding that the sheer existence of our species depends on how we think together—how we experience and treat each other. 114
Finally, we have talked a lot about college and career readiness at the Leadership Institute this week. Peter Johnston speaks loudly on that issue too.
A better concept of a fair education would be to have every child develop as fully as possible. Of course we have no way of knowing what is possible for each child. All we can do is arrange for children to be fully engaged in ways that we know lead to expanded development… When children are fully engaged in an activity, they press into service all of their resources and stretch themselves as necessary. 118
If the “American dream has a lot to do with the pursuit of happiness,” neglecting broader aspects of children’s development will lead neither to happiness nor to economic security. Happiness matters, even if you focus on economics. Happy teenagers ultimately have much higher incomes than those who are less happy, even after accounting for family income and grades. But happiness, it turns out, is made up of three parts: “the pleasant life” (pleasure), “the engaged life,” and the "meaningful life", and pursuit of the latter two, meaning and engagement, are the best predictors of life satisfaction. 114.
When children grow up they are not only going to be wage earners. They are going to be citizens, parents, spouses, teachers, politicians, artists, managers, and so forth. Do we want them to become successful in these endeavors—citizens who actively work toward a democracy, effective parents and spouses, lifelong learners, effective teachers, creative and collaborative workmates? I think we do. Should we assume these goals will take care of themselves if we just attend to academics? The evidence suggests otherwise. 113
Lots of voices in my head this week. Hoping I will be able to make some sense out of them and pull together a coherent whole over the next few weeks.