Inspiration

Be Kinder Than Necessary

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer,

French philosopher and physician

I am a firm believer in kindness. And being kinder than necessary. To me, kindness is when you see a person, a thing, a situation that needs something and you help fill that need.  To serve others is truly the way to make a positive impact on the world.

In my role as Learning Technology Teacher in the Junior School, one thing I see across all classes is students who are motivated to help other students when using technology.  Someone will ask me to show them something.  I will show them and then their neighbour will want to know too. Before I can show them, the first student I helped will lean over: “I will show him!” and the two of them will chatter away, leaving me out of a job.  It is the best kind of unemployment I could hope for!

I explicitly build this into my teaching, asking “Who thinks they could teach someone how to….(do whatever we are doing)?”. “Who thinks they could help someone else?”. It is not always a zen-like state of bliss but I am hopeful that kids will see the value in learning from each other.  And that these behaviours will spill over to other facets of their life outside of technology.

New perspectives.  Sharing understanding. Building on ideas.  These are reasons I choose to be connected as an educator and I believe these are ways students can make a positive impact through the use of technology.  Technology allows us to go places we may never go in ‘real life’. This exposure to ideas that were previously beyond our reach must make us more empathetic, more inquisitive, more inclined to think, question, and wonder. Some examples that come to mind:

  • Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the incredible way in which he has shared his understandings of planet earth with us from his reflections in outer space.
  • Humans of New York genius, Brandon Stanton and the way he captures humanity from behind his camera lens in NYC and, a few months ago, around the world when he partnered with the UN to bring us snippets of humans in Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, Keyna and six other countries in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Peter Menzel’s Global Family Portrait: Material World and his Hungry Planet: What the World Eats both give amazing insights into what people have/have not in this world. This is one thing that is so hard to explain without experiencing it first-hand (especially poverty) but this goes some of the way to allowing students to connect globally to the ideas of others.

So, how can students use technology to make a positive impact on the world? I think Hugh Macleod has some great advice:

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He doesn’t stop there.  Here is a Hugh-inspired, play-by-play for you and your students:

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  1. Inspire and Be Inspired: Look, explore, inspire
  2. Become “Intoxicated by Possibility” – so much to do!  So little time!
  3. Dream big! – Nothing is out of your reach!
  4. Make a dent in the universe – The time is now, the person is you! Make A Dent!

I think in some ways, the key question here is misleading – or at the least, tends to lead us in a direction that we may not need to go in.  The use of technology is not the key point.  The ability to make a difference in our world is the key part.  Technology can help that process, it can accelerate that process, it can inspire that process.  The desire to connect with others, the opportunity to make a difference, that is what should be driving this process.

Use technology to connect, to inspire, to dream, and to act.  That is how we will change the world.

If you are still looking for some support to help you in this quest, one of my favorite, favorite websites is Inspire My Kids.  The name says it all and it does just that with a wealth of amazing resources designed to connect kids that want to make a difference.

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Inspiration

Be Kinder, Love Biggest

I am a huge fan of Wonder by R.J Palacio and an equally huge fan of Mr. Tushman, the principal of Beecher Prep who encourages us all to:

…always try to be a little kinder than necessary.

I was therefore intrigued when a friend went to pick her (fabulously awesome) daughter up from a month of summer camp and described the address given by the camp director as “Mr Tushman-esque”.  I had to know more.  I looked up the camp website to find out who the director was, read his bio, and didn’t really think much more than how fortunate these kids were who had experienced a little piece of Wonder in real life.

That was about a month ago.  Yesterday, a story jumped out of my news feed inviting me to join the Teton Valley Ranch Camp in farewelling their director (the “real-life Mr. Tushman”) and provided a link to his parting words.  I read them and could immediately ‘get’ the Tushman reference.  Smart, kind, funny, and thoughtful.  Mr. Holland recounts a story in which a camper shared with her group that the greatest lesson she had learned at camp was “to love biggest”. Putting aside the grammar, he held on to her sentiment and went on to say:

To love with all you have, with a child-like sense of magic and wonder, this is the true spirit of TVRC. People have often commented to me that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I think in the end, I am proud of this.  I am proud of this because I try to not just lead with my head, but also my heart.  To pour my heart and love into everything I do daily – this, I believe will lead to a life fulfilled.

– Tom Holland, Teton Valley Ranch Camp

And right there is the connection to Mr. Tushman.  Mr. Tushman and Mr. Holland are leaders who both use their leadership position for good. They hold positions in which children and adults look to them for leadership and guidance and they choose to focus on things that matter: being kinder, loving biggest.

I don’t know Mr. Holland but I am certainly grateful to know that 15 years of campers, counsellors, parents, and families have had the good fortune to see a leader who takes a stand on qualities he believes are important, speaking not only for himself, but for his organization and emphasizing the values his community finds significant.

A few weeks back, I posted a quote from one of our first faculty meetings.  Part of that quote reads:

It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.

Haim G. Ginott

I don’t think it is hard to imagine anything but clear skies and warm sunshine at the Teton Valley Ranch Camp under Mr. Holland’s leadership.  Can you say the same for your style of leadership?

After reading all this, I went to my mailbox and inside was a package.  Inside the package, my own little piece of TVRC.  When I wear it, I won’t only be reminded of the awesome kid who sent me the shirt, but to choose to be kinder, choose to love biggest.

TVRC

Inspiration, PYP, Reading

Those Who Need It The Most

I have been have an interesting Twitter conversation with  a fifth grade teacher embarking on her sixth year of teaching.  The conversation has been on the topic of punishments, specifically taking away recess for ‘infringements’ such as not having parents sign notes, forgetting homework, behavior.  Five minutes.  Five minutes.  Five minutes.  A culture of subtraction has been established and now the question is, what are the alternatives and how can these be agreed upon by a team of teachers for whom this has been the norm?

This year, I am flying ‘solo’.  There is only one fifth grade. But there is a whole school of kids and whilst I don’t believe in the ‘one rule fits all’ mentality, I do believe in finding positive solutions for negative situations.  So what would I do?

My friend Marina Gijzen, a teacher, parent, colleague whilst at Bonn International School, taught me a lot about the family dynamic and the relationship between home and school.  She was the one who advised me to take up any issue such as no note, missing forms, and late arrivals with the parents first.  No kid “wants” to be the one walking into class late, all eyes on them, having missed what’s going on.  Take it up with parents and welcome the kid, warmly, genuinely.  I was teaching her daughter at the time, so I took the advice on board.  I have also been on the ‘late train’ myself as a teacher and I know what a difference “Mrs. terBorg, I am so happy to see you!” makes to what has probably been a stressful morning rather than, “Hey! Mrs.terBorg! You’re late!”.

So…do we punish kids by excluding them from recess, or not?

I say not.  Unless your school culture is one of exclusion, separatism, ostracizing and humiliation. If so, go right ahead. If not, if your school culture is built on developing a welcoming environment and nurturing the development of your children, you will need an alternative.  What about discussion? What about finding out what the root of the visible behavior is? I just read a fabulous article on the importance of inclusion and of being part of something bigger than yourself. Did you get that – being part of something bigger than yourself.  And for those who are a bit rubbish at it – they need twice as much.  Twice as much love, patience, practice, support, caring and kindness.

Schools are currently set up for the students who have good social skills to be given more opportunity to use and refine them, while those with poor social skills are left behind, only to get worse than others in their age group. Opportunity for winners — and exclusion for losers — is a recipe for disaster.

– Dr. Richard Curwin

It is said in sports and in war that the best offense is a good defense – same goes for a good year in your classroom.  Start the year strong.  Give your kids permission to choose a new path.  Establish a culture of respect and the idea of community.  Be relentless in your quest for this from day one.

Donalyn Millar, author of The Book Whisperer, has put out a book list of Books that Build CommunitiesCommunities of Readers and Writers, Communities Who Value All Members, Communities Who Have Fun, and Communities Who Care about the World. Being in community can mean many things and these books are a great way of sharing that with your students.

One of Donalyn’s suggestions is the book Wonder by RJ Palacio.  This was the only book on my summer reading list for my incoming fifth graders.

In addition to reading this book, we will be looking at the movement behind the book to “Choose Kind“.  We will also be partnering with other classes of 4th, 5th and 6th graders who are also reading Wonder as part of Wonder Schools.  In addition to Wonder, there are a number of picture books (another love!) that could be read in conjunction with this book (cue shopping excursion before next Monday!) Clearly, this is important to me – but why?  Because I don’t want to spend the next year subtracting things from the lives of my students.  I want to add to their lives.  I think we are going to have a  great year. An amazing year.  All the ingredients are right in front of us.  What will you choose?  Compassion? Love? Kind?

As I think about the teachers who will choose to revoke recess over missing parent signatures and late arrivals to school, I can’t help but think what would happen if the principal of their school treated them the way they are treating their students.  What would a teacher say to being given an extra recess duty because the lunch order form for a child in their class was late, or the school fees were overdue, or a parent from their class was yet to volunteer?  Ludicrous, right? So why treat our kids this way?

Always, always, choose kind.