Friday, June 17, 2011

The Importance of Self-Reflection

Well, it’s the end of June; time for goodbyes and getting caught-up on the list of home repairs and improvements that we’ve all been avoiding. It’s a time for summer relaxation, recharging, and mowing your lawn. Maybe you’re planning a trip. I also know that many of you will be looking at your lesson plans for next year and getting yourself ready to begin anew. As all of this takes place, I’d encourage you to reflect on 2010-2011. What worked? What didn’t? What could be better? Reflection is harder than most people think – you have to be prepared to acknowledge the positive and admit your weaknesses.

The practice of self-reflection goes back many centuries and is rooted in the world’s great spiritual traditions. During my later years as an athlete, I was taught visualization techniques, a component of reflection, to help with my soccer skill. I found these techniques invaluable in more areas than just sports. Adherents of formal practices include the Christian desert hermits and Japanese samurai. More contemporary proponents include Albert Schweitzer and Ben Franklin. Franklin, in particular, had a rather comprehensive and systematic approach to self-reflection. He developed a list of thirteen virtues and each day he would evaluate his conduct relative to a particular virtue. Daily self-reflection was a fundamental aspect of Franklin’s life.

It’s important to note that while we all don’t have the motivation for a formalized practice, there are certain times when genuine reflection is easier with regard to time. The summer months are the perfect time for this.

A sincere examination of one’s self is not an easy task. It requires attention to what has not been attended to. It involves a willingness to squarely face our mistakes, failure, and weakness. It requires us to acknowledge our transgressions and actions which have caused difficulty to others. The fourth step of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program asks us to make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Albert Schweitzer’s suggestion was to “make a secret account of what you have neglected in thoughtlessness or in consideration of some other person’s existence.” Such self-reflection leaves little room for blaming others or complaining about how we have been treated.

As human beings, we possess the heartfelt desire to know ourselves and find meaning in our lives. We have the capacity to do so. Actually, we may be the only creatures in the universe who can reflect on ourselves. We can observe our own thoughts and feelings and recall the actions and events of the past as if observing ourselves in a mirror. This capacity for self-reflection holds the key to our intellectual evolution, while, at the same time, residing in the roots of our own suffering.

So let us give ourselves a gift and embark on a summer journey of reflection. On this journey we’ll destroy falsehoods, do battle with ego, get snared by pride, get stuck in selfishness, and then, finally, swim in serene ponds of gratitude and confidence. Yet even as we travel, we may become aware that the path, and the ability, even the desire to travel, are gifts themselves.

Enjoy your weekend and your summer.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

One Step at a Time

This is what I kept saying to myself over and over again. It was hot. I was tired and sore. The air in my sunroom-turned-treadmill venue was stale. I looked through blurry eyes to the red numbers indicating my distance and it blinked, “0.9 miles.” I must admit my embarrassment to have allowed this to happen. I’m a proponent of healthy living and learning life-skills for good health. Me. I used to run this in five minutes during warm-ups.

That was a few weeks ago. Now, I’ve surprised myself by how easy this distance comes and goes. As I perceived my small, incremental improvements I began to deliberate how this relates to most everything that we do. A little devotion and discipline, taking one step at a time.

At the last faculty meeting I mentioned to you that I see personal goal-setting as being essential. My nightly walks have inspired this sentiment and I’ve now set other benchmarks for myself, including the one mentioned at the meeting; reading three books for pleasure. Along with “walking the walk” with regards to healthy living, I also strongly believe that we should be life-long learners. Thus, I’m currently accepting titles from any who have suggestions.

This summer I will be working with the other administrators and board members to formulate our 2011-2012 BOE Goals. Some of the professional goals which I plan to bring to the table began as conversations that I had with you, the teachers. As I convey our excellent ideas, it will be important to remember what our purpose is. Schools are all about learning. Most district mission statements purposely use the words life-long learner. AAK’s very own Mission Statement professes, “…preparing each student to become a life-long learner…” While we know and understand what this implies, do we educators actually model this or do we simply expect that children will have the internal motivation to become life-long learners? Is there a magic switch which turns-on when they become interested in a concept or initiative?

As you transition from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 school year, it’s important for you to set personal goals. It will be rewarding. Likewise, it’s important to place some thought into your professional goals. To assist, I leave you with the following questions for reflection.

What would our kids gain from us if, as educators and parents, we did a better job of showing that we, too, are learners? What would schools be like if the adults in the building purposefully and explicitly lived and shared the process of being a learner? What would education be like if we adults intentionally created opportunities to be co-learners with the children that we work with?

I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Effective Teaching Strategies

Strategies for Direct Instruction
• Specify clear lesson objectives
• Teach directly to those objectives
• Make learning as concrete and meaningful as possible
• Provide relevant guided practice
• Provide independent practice
• Provide transfer practice activities

Strategies for Students with Disabilities*
• Sequence – Break down the task, step by step prompts.
• Drill-repetition and practice-review – Daily testing of skills, repeated practice, daily feedback.
• Segment – Break down targeted skill into smaller units and then synthesize the parts into a whole.
• Direct question and response – Teacher asks process-related questions and/or content-related questions.
• Control the difficulty or processing demands of a task – Task is sequenced from easy to difficult and only necessary hints or probes are provided.
• Technology – Use a computer, structured text, flow charts to facilitate presentation, emphasis is on pictorial representations.
• Group Instruction – Instruction occurs in a small group, students and/or teacher interact with the group.
• Supplement teacher and peer involvement – Use homework, parents, or others to assist in instruction.
• Strategy clues – Reminders to use strategies or multi-steps, the teacher verbalizes problem solving or procedures to solve, instruction uses think-aloud models.

*Excerpted from Swanson, H.L. (1999). Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 14(3).