Listen to Your Genius

After returning from a stint in Japan teaching English ten years ago, Paul Greenwood found himself walking on Ocean Beach in San Francisco looking for inspiration as he pondered what to do with the rest of his life. Suddenly, feeling something on his right thigh he looked down to see a Jack Russell Terrier looking up at him. Having loved dogs since he was a child, Paul bent down to stroke his head, and turned to look for an owner. Sure enough he saw a woman walking toward him.

“He likes you,” the woman said with a smile. Continue reading

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Start Talking Entitled

Exactly two weeks ago, I met Greg Lippman for a cup of coffee and a muffin at Peet’s at 1295 The Alameda in San Jose. Greg’s mission is to help low-achieving students become the first in their family to graduate from a four-year college. Having already helped to launch one charter school which is now achieving this mission, his latest project is to create and sustain five new charter schools in Santa Clara county, Continue reading

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Keeping Our Eyes on the Long Haul

Large, mature oak and locust trees arched over the booths of the farmer’s market in Lincoln Park, Chicago. I tried to picture what these trees looked like when they were a hundred years younger. The gentle September sun brought out all the colors of oranges, apples, baby clothes, carriages and chatting mothers all arrayed on the bright green grass, and the still, blue sky brought people, grass, food, and trees together with the bricks, glass, concrete and cars of the city.

The earth meditated as I walked up North Clark Street past all these blessings toward the intellectual epicenter of an educational revolution still in progress Continue reading

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Teaching, Learning and Creating the Conditions

After reading “Daphne goes to School” (last week’s post) Daphne’s mother wrote me a long email which she concluded with: “I guess the question I am asking is: “How do we encourage exploration and confidence without leaving a child unprepared for the judgment and criticism they’ll have to deal with later on? And at what point does “education” end and “the real world” begin? Or is your idea that an environment of experimentation and exploration early on will create a confident, centered person who isn’t shaken by the competition that will come?” Continue reading

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Choosing

Many years ago, when I was getting ready to put my six-year-old son Peter to bed, I noticed that there was a two-hour TV show that I wanted to watch, which I would miss because of his bedtime. I irresponsibly said, “Peter, would you like to stay up late and watch TV with me? Or would you like me to read you a story and put you to bed?”
He said, “Dad, what would be the smart thing to do?”

Maximizing free and informed choice has always been top of my list of important variables in creating a learning community both at home and at school. But what choices by whom and when? These are dynamic questions; the answers differ from child to child and change with time. Parents and teachers must be vigilant to make good decisions about when a child is ready to make a decision. And now Sheena Iyengar makes us look at this set of issues in a whole new way.

What do you think? Continue reading

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Are You Overparenting?

Are you an over-involved parent, or are you a “slow parent?”  Do you make yourself known to the teacher on the first day of school or do you think it is better to just watch and wait? How involved are you with your child’s homework? Are you pushing your child too hard or not enough? These days parents are criticized for being “helicopters” or “snow plows” on the one hand, and on the other criticized for being “unengaged” in school–sometimes in the very next breath. These questions all reflect that our eye is on the wrong ball.

The question isn’t: “Is your parenting slow or fast,” but “Whose foot is on the accelerator?”

Last week, a proud mother wanted to show me how beautifully her fifteen-month-old daughter was progressing. “Show Mr. Rick how you can walk,” she said. When the child refused, the mother said, “She doesn’t do it when we want her, too.” That’s right, I thought, and that is something for you to be proud of and nurture. She is on a mission, and it comes from within, but pleasing you is not it.

There is a natural tendency for parents to want to have their children meet or exceed the benchmarks of “normal” whether it is walking, talking, reading or learning algebra. This is often taken too far. In many of our schools it is taken for granted that more, faster, sooner is better. Those who are “below average” are examined for some sort of dysfunction.

As a parent, grandparent and long-time school principal I am happy that many parents are feeling the need to stop pushing their children and are attracted to movements like “slow parenting.” But we are still asking: How slow should we go? How hard should we push? Those aren’t the right questions. What’s this “we?” It’s not about us; it’s about them. Carl Honore‘s titles distract us from the real issue. His son has it right: “Why do grownups have to take over everything?”

Children naturally to want learn? Schoolwork is play for them. Ask most kindergartners what they looking forward to in first grade and they will say: “Homework.” We take their love of homework away from them by owning it. It’s their homework.

Our children’s success is going to be a function of their comfort with and self-discipline in pursuing goals, not how fast or slow they move through the curriculum. Overparenting is forgetting who the chief decision maker is

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The Story of the Three Little Girls

Once there were three little girls, Kathy, Lilly and Susan. They were all new to my school in the seventh grade and had come from different schools. But in eighth grade, when they were together, they turned themselves into a gang that was mean to other kids with increasing frequency and ferocity. Teachers knew it was happening, but the girls were clever and slippery. We could rarely catch them in a teachable moment or a punishable act. The most we could do was talk to them. As you can imagine, that didn’t change anything.

Continue reading

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