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.

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Kindergarten Readiness: Parent Strategy for Best Results.

A very reliable way of assessing children’s readiness for kindergarten is to bring twelve four-and-a-half-year-olds together for a one-hour mock kindergarten class. A teacher greets parent and child at the door, and the parent says good-bye. Most of the time the children leave their parents happily and launch off into what for them is a super play-date. Continue reading

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Children Have Empathy Built In. 3 Ways We Can Help Them Use It

Don’t Teach Empathy. Teach Thoughtfulness

So much of what I read about combatting bullying, instilling morality and teaching empathy leaves out our greatest resource: the natural inclinations of children. Continue reading

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Be a Parent: Five Mantras. Your Only Hope for a Long and Happy Relationship with your Child

A father sent me this email the other day:

Want to be a great parent? Remember these five mantras:

1. Stop Parenting.
Stop using parenting as a verb, as in “How should I be parenting my child?” Those parenting books on your bedside table—put them on a shelf and replace them with a novel.
2. Be a parent.
3. Have a relationship.

The relationship that began at birth—let it build and grow as you interact and learn from each other.
4. Be your dynamic self.
Learn. Listen to your own genius, let it guide you in helping your child learn the requirements of her environment, and let yourself be changed.
5. Have fun.
Notice, delight, respond, conflict, challenge, inquire, define, love, and watch how the child’s unique character reveals itself to you. Notice how that character is driven by some ineffable inner voice, her own unique genius.

Even as she grows increasingly independent of you, she will always be interdependent with you. Allow yourself to be interdependent with her (as in “Hmmmm.”)

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Procrustean Education

Procrustes was a blacksmith who had his house by the side of the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis in ancient Greece. Being a friendly, hospitable guy, though, Procrustes also ran an inn. When tired travelers came down the road, he would sometimes invite them in to spend the night.

The rooms in the Inn were equipped with special beds. When the guests lay down, if they were too long for the bed, a special guillotine-type knife would drop down and lop off whatever was hanging over the foot of the bed. If they were too short for the bed, they would be stretched to fit. Continue reading

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How Parents and Teachers Can Get Bad Results with “High Expectations” for Children?

What Does it Mean to have High Expectations for Children?

All the research shows (what our intuition knows) that children rise to our expectations of them. The work of Carol Dweck reinforces this wisdom. Continue reading

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What Do Good Parents and Good Schools Have in Common?

How to Exercise Authority

Of the 20 schools I visited last fall, two stand out. Any parent would know in the first five minutes of each visit what I knew: I want my child in school A, and I will fight like hell to keep my child out of school B. One was a place of education and one felt like a prison. I will call one The Learning Academy and the other Brand X.

In The Learning Academy all kids were on a mission, they seemed lit from within with the joy of learning. In two hours I saw no bored or unhappy students, and they were all engaged in challenging academic work. Each classroom exuded creativity—in every corner of every classroom.

In Brand X I saw three students Continue reading

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Can the Good-enough Parent Demand Mastery?

Great vs. Excellent

Last week when I wrote that trying to be a “superior parent” is crazy, I seem to have been like the little boy who said: “The emperor has no clothes.” The idea that if children get only the three things they need (love, respect as a decision maker, and accurate feedback) they will turn out just fine hasn’t been said much. Once said, however, almost everyone nodded, cheered, or breathed a sigh of relief. Striving to be “The Best Parent I Can Be” is driving parents crazy.

What about our children? Should they be striving “to be the best they can be?” Continue reading

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Is Praise Good for Children?

Martha believes that good parenting includes paying attention to her children and praising them. It is important for their self-esteem. Mary disagrees. She tells the story of how, at the age of 19, after dropping out of college her daughter said: “Everyone says I’m smart, but I don’t feel it.” She blames her habit of praising her.

What do you think? What do you do? Is Praise good for children, or is it bad?

And now, we are

into a new year.

Let’s

Be

New

In it.

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