1st Grade Teacher Shows How to Design an Instant Learning Organization

All human organizations need boundaries and consequences. People young and old need to know that there are social rules that will be followed and that those who treat the rules with contempt will be punished. At the same time a human organization needs to have a mission that inspires people to want to show up and do the work. A school in particular needs to organize around its central purpose (learning) and not around its discipline system. A school that focuses children’s attention on a discipline system is a waste of human resources, because all children start school loving to create, make friends and learn.

How first grade teacher Janet starts off the year points the way for all human organizations from classrooms and schools to businesses and homes.

On the first day of a new year, Janet gathers her class of 24 students into a circle on the floor of the classroom. First comes her Mission Statement:

“I am sitting here with you because I love learning. I love teaching, because the more I teach, the more I learn. The more I learn the smarter and happier I get. My hope for you all is that by the end of the year you feel the same way I do.”

Then comes her Strategy Statement:

“Humans tend to learn best in groups. We learn more, and we learn better, when we learn with and from each other. That’s why there’s school.

“How much we learn has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it, and how much we enjoy it has to do with how well organized we are as a learning team. So let’s get organized. Together, we are going to build an awesome learning organization.”

She then leads them in a collective Design of their learning organization

“I personally have one requirement: Be kind,” she says and writes it at the top of a giant Post-it pad on an easel.

Then she says: “How can other people help you learn?” She writes down their answers and the class comes up with a list like this (different every year):

Ask if they can help me

Asks me what the problem is

Listens to me

Doesn’t get mad at me

Shows me how

Asks good questions

Is friendly

Doesn’t talk too much

Asks me to help them, sometimes

Depending on the students, the initial list will be rudimentary. The purpose of the starter list is to get them thinking about what it takes to build a learning community. The initial quality doesn’t matter, because it will grow and improve in the course of the year.

Janet says: “Great start. We have made a starter-list of the disciplines of a learning organization; if we do these things we will all learn a lot. Now, here’s The Plan for building our organization.”

Going to her desk where a bowl of green marbles stands next to a pretty, empty jar labeled “Learning Bank,” she says: “Every time you see someone do something that helps someone else learn, take a marble out of the bowl and put it in the Bank.”

Janet demonstrates by picking up a colored marker, marking “Listens to me,” and saying: “You were listening to me and that helped a lot.”

“If the discipline you saw is not on the list, add it.

“We will review and update our lists at the end of every week as we evaluate our week together.

“Now, we just designed our learning organization. As the year goes on, we will build it together.”

Making learning skills explicit never eliminates the need for boundaries and consequences. “Being kind no matter what” is a requirement for membership in a learning organization, and therefore, of course, “Never be mean” is a rigid law, and appropriate consequences apply.

Usually, there will be some people in the organization who are so habituated to awards and punishments as motivational tools that it may take some time for them to get back in touch with their internal motivation to learn, regain their drive to create, and relearn how rewarding it is to do things for others. However, by focusing the students on educational objectives rather than rules, Janet has made herself the leader of a group of motivated learners. Now her job is helping them with their mission, rather than keeping them in line.  Furthermore, defining a social “situation” as a problem-solving opportunity, focuses energy where it ought to be—becoming smarter.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

What is Genius? Part 3: Tom, Marty and the Meaning of Life

Marty Dutcher, a colleague whose first career was early childhood education, told me about a guy named Tom he used to hang out with in his twenties. Tom especially liked to listen to Marty play the guitar.

On one day when Marty asked him to sing along, he said “I can’t. I’m tone deaf.”

“Who told you that,” asked Marty,

“My first grade teacher,” his friend replied.

“She was wrong. She shouldn’t have said that,” said Marty.

“No, really, I am.”

“No, really you are not. If you were tone deaf, you wouldn’t enjoy my music,” said Marty, who then proved to him that he wasn’t. Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

School is about Keeping it Together and Being Right; Education is about Breaking, Being Wrong and Becoming Whole

 Parents and teachers would do well to observe Yom Kippur all year round

A two-year-old boy entered a Montessori classroom clinging to his mother. While she talked to the teacher, he hung on her leg looking anxiously around the room. He cried when she left and glued himself to the window. One teacher remained seated eight feet away, calmly watching, waiting, engaging with a student who showed her an apple, then helping another unscrew a cap.

Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

The Importance of Being New at Rosh Hashanah

 Genius: (n) the tutelary spirit of a person, place or institution.

 At sundown yesterday, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year started. I always felt that it was part of the genius of Judaism that they had the wisdom to start the new year when the children go back to school. (Yes, yes, I know they decided to do that long before there even was school.) It’s just that for my whole remembered life (starting at the age of 3) the new year started in September when school opened.

Eaglebrook School had a tradition (do they still?) that the opening assembly of the new year ended with the declaration: “You are new.” Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Share

Positive Parenting vs Being a Parent = Reality Parenting

Reality Parenting

Bob and Carol have a blended family with two children each. Carol’s son Ben at 13 is the oldest of the four. Both parents work, so one of the challenges they have is having family time, all six of them together. Another challenge is finding time to be alone—just the two of them.

One Sunday, recently, Ben was ragging on his mother Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

School Bus Bullying? Look Who’s Taking Responsibility and Who’s Not.

I’m shocked! Shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here.

—Claude Rains in “Casablanca”

 In Upstate New York last week, four seventh graders cruelly and mercilessly mocked a 68-year old bus monitor, and one of them caught 14 minutes of this horror show on camera. Americans are shocked.

The response of Americans so far reveals a nation shocked but not confused—not confused, at least, about morality. Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

Can Teachers Make Mistakes?

“Tell me about how it is okay for teachers to make mistakes,” Michelle said. “I am both a teacher and a parent,” she went on. “As a parent, when you make a mistake, you can acknowledge it, change your mind, make a better decision, and move on. But when you are responsible for other people’s children, you can’t make mistakes. What’s a professional to do?”

In a talk I gave last month at a school in the Midwest, I had made the twin statements: “Mistakes are learning opportunities; Fear of Making Mistakes is a learning disability.” The idea hit a nerve. Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

Peace, Joy, Love and Being Wrong

 We wish each other peace, joy and love this time of year. Seems like a simple way to happiness. Why is it so hard?

At Christmas Eve dinner with friends someone asked the question, “If your life could be any movie you wanted, what would it be? Who would play you? Who would play the role of your true love? Would you change the ending? What would the new ending be? Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

Turning Power Struggles into Emotional Intelligence II

After reading “Turning Power Struggles into Emotional Intelligence” Lyn decided to try the approach and told me this story about her two-year-old daughter Uma: Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share

How to see Parenting as Leadership. (Hint #1 Don’t Underestimate Children.)

One day, Suzanne said to her five-year-old niece Emma, “My that is a beautiful stuffed lion you have there.”

“I know, I saw it in the store and Mommy bought it for me.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes. Well, she wasn’t going to.”

“Oh?”

“No. She wasn’t going to,” she said. “So I went,” and screwing up her face she acted out, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” then said, “She took it off the shelf and bought it for me.”

“Huh,” replied Suzanne, hiding her smile. She was delighted by this window into the workings and self-awareness of this delightful five-year old brain.

Later that day in the kitchen Suzanne was talking to her sister and started to tell the story Continue reading

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share