Too poor to be bright?

He has not yet started school, but he is already behind. Barely six, he is still somewhat unaware of the many injustices to be faced in the world –many of them, hurting him directly.

One of the first injustices, at school, is that he is not up to speed with the other first graders. And, you know, it is not because he’s not smart. He is. But learning is nearly impossible when you are hungry or sick, and vey difficult when the environment is preventing you from reaching your potential. However, the world will see this child as stupid or lazy. That is the second injustice. The third one is that he will believe them.

In the first years of life, children’s brains develop furiously. A shortage of nutrients –for the body, the mind and the soul- can very likely impact the learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. Failing then is not due to lack of intelligence – but for lack of resources. And it is, also, because the school that should embrace our little boy is actually expecting him to fail.

Solving poverty is not the prerogative of educators. There are things we just can’t change. But there are many, many others we can.

First, let’s start with your classroom. It should provide all children with an environment rich in stimuli and opportunity. And when we say rich, we mean exuberantly opulent. Lots of books, plenty of experiences to nourish and satisfy a child’s curiosity. Even Spartan premises can accommodate powerful learning environments. You don’t need fancy equipment or luxurious facilities. The way you talk, the words you speak, the warmth in your voice, your enthusiasm and creativity are key. Add as many exciting and nurturing happenings as you can. Make your classroom a window to the world.

Secondly, beware of your expectations. If you are convinced, even before they had a chance to prove you wrong, that these children will fail, most likely, they will. And then you will become part of the problem. Don’t pity your disadvantaged students. Believe in them, and teach them the power of hard work and determination. Share stories of successful people that overcame great hardship. Don’t assume you know what they are going through because, most likely, you don’t.

Also, get involved in local community actions to end poverty and hunger. Inspire your students, of all backgrounds, to be compassionate and caring. Teach them not to let their minds fall prey of prejudice. Every child bears the seed of genius within, and disadvantaged children are not too poor to be bright – they are too precious to be lost.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What Can Schools Do to Address Poverty? How do we instill inspiration in those who are economically and socially disadvantaged?

The curriculum that changes itself

Every ten years or so, a new curriculum for basic education is published in my country, México. Usually, the document, hundreds of pages long, is announced with great fanfare.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up with the pace of our world nowadays. Unfortunately, even before the ink of the newest curriculum dries, it is already outdated, irrelevant, or both.

If I had the unlikely power to change the school curriculum, I would try to design the curriculum that changes itself.

The curriculums I have known are completely sequenced, lineal and mostly fixed. There is very little room, if any, to take exciting detours towards student’s interests.

My curriculum would be based on passion projects, aimed at gaining knowledge and abilities, but also at discovering whatever fires a student’s heart. Enlightening the mind would be hand in hand with caressing the spirit. Each child or teenager would have the liberty and responsibility of choosing his or her own educational path. The passion projects would give them the basics of many subjects, from reading to math to arts to science, and tease them to come get more. Instead of the lineal ladder, we would see a capricious web with many lines, different for each student. All would start at the center, the core of the web, but move outwards in many directions, even taking jumps and turns.

The curriculum would be huge, but only to accommodate the diversity of student’s interests. It would not be expected from anyone to cover it whole. You could easily go in depth to a subject that called you and cover the ones which did not in a more superficial way.

Four core elements would guide the flow, but they are not to be confused with “subjects”: Technology, Global Citizenship, Thinking Skills and Reading.

Technology would be the platform, the rocket that carries content. It would not be the teacher or the content itself. Technology – even great technology – will not replace teachers, good or bad. But it will certainly change the way we teach.

As we continue to evolve into a kind of worldwide school, Global Citizenship is a must to guide our students into the hyper connected and multi demanding society we are already immersed in. Religious tolerance, gender equality, inclusion, respect for diversity, responsible use of our resources, and yes, knowledge and caring about the world’s most pressing problems –both global and local- are far more important than, say, memorize the date in which Columbus arrived to America (something Dr. Google could easily drop in).

That brings us to critical thinking skills. Knowledge remains being very important – but along with it, the ability to tell the truthful from the inaccurate. Google indeed has all the answers: including many wrong or biased ones. You don’t need to know everything, but you must know where and how to find the reliable information you need.

Tomorrow, children will have to constantly reinvent themselves to keep up with the challenges of this fourth industrial revolution. Therefore, autodidacts are in demand. If you want lifelong learners, you need lifelong readers. Our school systems have been somewhat successful in developing people that can read – but not into developing readers. There is something completely wrong about that – and we need to find solutions now.

Is this proposed curriculum a utopia? It might well be.

But hey, I’m just a teacher.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st century world?  If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

 

Photo credits:

Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: attaphong / 123RF Stock Photo

The 5 things I wish every parent knew

I became a teacher by accident. When Leo, my first child, was born, my journey as an educator began. I wanted to teach my baby about the everyday miracles of nature, the poetry of simple words, the exhilaration of music… and instill on him a lifelong love of learning.

Parents are the first -and most influential- teachers for their own children. In fact, the most important factors for academic achievement, and even life success, are early home environment and parental involvement.

What you do today will have a profound impact in your child’s whole life. No other responsibility will be as large or important as becoming the best possible parent.

Here are five things I wish every parent knew.

First years are crucial. Much of what our children need to lead successful lives is established even before they enter kindergarten. A kind, nurturing environment that provides ample stimulation and opportunities for development, as well as proper nutrition, adequate health care and warm, loving relationships with caregivers are vital. Play with your child. Read with her. Sit him on your lap and talk about the wonders of life and love. Offer her your warm embrace as a safe haven for adventure and discovery.

High expectations create high achievers. And we are not precisely talking about pressure here. On the contrary, parents who believe in their children’s potential have no need to push, but to engage. They provide encouragement, coaching and support. Every single child has the seed of genius within.

Want bright kids? Educate yourself. Research has shown that parents with higher levels of education correlate with kids’ better academic performance. It’s not just that educated parents can reach higher socioeconomic status –also a factor for school achievement- but they usually read more, use more sophisticated language and have more positive parental interactions –thus creating quality learning environments at home.

Parents and teachers: we are all on this together. That’s right: we are on the same team. Sometimes it doesn’t look like, I know. There is an unspoken, competitive jerk among us. We feel like parents don’t respect teachers enough. And parents feel like we want to dump on them the blame for everything that does not go well. We bully each other… children get caught in between and that is not fair. So let’s shake hands and, once and for all, make peace. Kids deserve the best version of ourselves.

Dream big and work hard. Become the source of inspiration your child needs. If you are willing to pursue your dreams with dedication and purpose, chances are your child will do exactly the same.

Mom and child running

My youngest son runs his first Triathlon- with mom trying to keep up the pace. Parents are the best teachers, trainers and coaches for their own children.

 

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: What are the top things you want to tell all parents?

Exploring Genius Time in Schools

According to Fortune 100, Google is #1 in the list of best companies to work for – six years in a row. There are surely many reasons for this, and one of them might just be Genius hour.

If you were an engineer at Google, you could use 20% of your working time developing a project of your own interest –something you think could benefit the company- freely and independently. Creativity and innovation flourish when people are allowed to focus on their passions within work, and many successful Google products reportedly have been created during this time.

Could Google’s model be applied in schools? And if so, how?

For many years now, we have been implementing what we call “Enrichment Cloisters” at our school. It is not exactly Google’s Genius Hour – but the concept is similar and has proven to be effective in promoting creativity and motivation with our kids.

How does it work?

Every year, we set apart one full week in our school calendar, where regular classes will simply not take place. Instead, kids will work on a project of their choosing – within a range of options. Early in the school year, we poll the students to find about their interests: What would you like to learn about this year? What would you like to build, create or develop? What are you passionate about?

We use this information to design 8 to 10 different workshops or “cloisters”. The topics are chosen taking into account as much of the student’s input as we possible can. Teachers then choose which workshop will they mentor, moved by their own expertise or learning interests. We enlist parents as resources and co-mentors.

A crew from Al Jazeera filmed one of our cloisters -carpentry-  as part of their documentary on our school (Rebel Education Series)

We then publish the topics for the workshops and allow students to register to whichever cloister they like. There is no age or gender limitation. Boys and girls of all grades, 1st to 9th, share their working space for one week. We have covered topics such as carpentry, medicine, photography, architecture, radio, film and television, veterinary, ecology, magazine editing, restaurant entrepreneurship, science and technology, among many others.

At the end of the week we host an exhibition of products. Some of them are already complete, others represent an invitation for further development. There are both independent and collaborative outcomes of the experience. Kids report that this is their favorite week of the year.

A group of kids working on stop motion animation

Of course there are challenges. The only reason we do not host the cloisters twice a year or even more is time constraints. It is difficult enough to give up one week of regular lessons and still meet the curriculum. And surely, we would love to be able to offer even more cloister options –but hey, we are a small school with limited resources.

There are absolutely no grades at this “genius time”. And really, who needs them? Enthusiasm is so high you could use kids’ energy to light up a city.

Every child bears the seed of genius within. And one of the greatest joys for educators is providing the time and environment for it to gloriously emerge.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How could Google’s “Genius hour” model be modified and utilized in schools?

Ethics in the Classroom

Watch out! Your students are looking. At you. Right now.

The most important lessons educators teach do not necessarily happen when they are actually teaching. Do you treat fellow teachers, parents and students with respect? Always? Are you kind? Are you fair?

Ethical behavior is important in everyone – but crucial in teachers.

See, you are in a position of authority. And if kids realize that you can get away with anything just because you are the teacher, not only they will not respect you, they will grow up with thinking that power erases responsibility. And that is a very, very dangerous idea – both ways. On one side, it builds up feeling of helplessness, anger and resentment. On the other, it can lead up to tyranny.

Problems like bullying could be minimized or even prevented if we were always able to shape our behavior by ethics and thoughtfulness. That requires social intelligence and, above all, the capacity for self-containment.

So, how do we instill a moral compass in every student?

School culture matters. A solid framework for moral values should be in place, consistently enforced and with clear expectations. At our school, we have a published policy that reads:

In this school we all respect each other. We are kind, fair and honest. We do no harm and we make things better. We show gratitude and love”

All members of the school community need to adhere to these policies. When problems arise, it is usually because at least one person reacted to conflict by wandering away from this backbone.

It’s more important to acknowledge good behavior than to punish bad one. That said, actions have consequences –it’s a natural law. That is how we build character: by allowing our students to bear the weight of their decisions.

What happens when a student cheats, but he is not held responsible? He will likely read lack of consequences as implicit permission to break the rules or even grow a sense of entitlement – rules do not apply to him. We are not doing that student a favor: Life will take care of teaching, the hard way, the lessons we avoided to give.

We have found that mindfulness and drama are specifically great to learn about self-discipline and empathy. Regularly presenting kids with judgement problems and difficult questions to think about powers up their ethics muscles. There are many opportunities to stimulate learners with such challenges. History lessons could be twice as constructive – and twice as fun- if you not only recount the facts, but also present the moral dilemmas faced by so many people from our past –and present.

Life is unfair, difficult and unpredictable. Bad things happen to good people. Even for those considering themselves privileged, the situation could turn drastically from one day to another. Just ask Marie Antoinette.

Being aware of our own fragility can bring us closer to one another, fostering compassion and respect.

If we want our kids to develop into global citizens, whose strong values are part of the answers the world is seeking, then we need to be those people ourselves.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How important is teaching ethics in the classroom? How do we instill a moral compass in every student? How can we work to consistently cultivate values of thoughtfulness and empathy without directly teaching it? What roles do teachers have to play in creating kind and compassionate citizens?

Empowering Young Learners against Fake News

We have trained them to be quiet and attentive in class. We have convinced them that questioning the teacher is the same as being disrespectful. We have tricked them into blindly believing in their textbooks –and, by extension, in almost anything in print. We have told them what to learn and how to do it. We have complimented them for thinking like we do and we have made their lives difficult when they don’t.

And then, when they can’t distinguish facts from bias, when they so easily succumb to fake news, when they believe that being popular and famous is enough proof for reliability, we are shocked. What were we expecting?

As long as we keep looking at schools as the places to transmit “The Knowledge”, we will be perpetuating the belief that people in places of authority should dictate what we know and how we think. Changing schools into crucibles for ideas and educators into patrons for critical thinking skills is an ever unfolding, challenging task. How do we start?

Step down from the shrine. A teacher is not someone who knows a great deal of things and passes them on to passive, ignorant students. The idea of an omniscient, illuminated teacher might appeal to the ego, but will be a disservice for young, untrained minds. Knowledge cannot be simply downloaded from one mind to the other, and human brains are not just data warehouses. When you teach, beware of mind-closing phrases like “this I the way it must be done”. And don’t be afraid of honestly saying “I don’t know the answer to that” from time to time.

Educate yourself. Acquiring a broad array of relevant knowledge is not enough, but it is the first step to becoming an educated citizen and responsible media consumer. If you have your facts straight, it is less likely that you will fall prey into false claims and propaganda. However, students also need the skills to identify reliable sources and properly process the growing amount of incoming information. Educate yourself, and your learners, in media literacy.

Get active. Create awareness about fake news and discuss how they can affect us. Present your students with both authentic and questionable posts and challenge them to tell them apart. Discuss how Facebook and Twitter are not filters, but merely platforms for content. Dig deep into motives and objectives of any published piece and bring them out in classroom debates. We combat fake news and propaganda precisely by exposing our children to them, with guidance and support, and not by hiding, ignoring or minimizing them. It is also crucial that our students stop and think twice before sharing and liking anything they find on social media: if they go ahead with all impulse and little reason, they become part of the problem.

We will never be able to completely shield our learners from all that is misleading and inaccurate in the media, so we better start teaching them how to outsmart the many ones out there who, for any reason, want to dumb them down.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How to we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?

The Best Holiday Gifts for Your Students: Top Global Teacher Bloggers

Originally posted By  on Dec 24, 2016: Top Global Teacher Bloggers

2016-12-21-1482296833-4746560-cmrubinworldTGTB_December500.jpgThe Holidays are such a special time of year! Our lives take on a larger meaning as we think about our family, our extended family and our long-lost friends. It’s a time of giving and reflection.

Our Global Teacher Bloggers are pioneers and innovators in fields such as technology integration, mathematics coaching, special needs education, science instruction, and gender equity. They have founded schools, written curricula, and led classrooms in 13 different countries that stretch across every populated continent on earth. These teachers empower and enrich the lives of young people from nearly every background imaginable.

Today in The Global Search for Education, our Top Global Teacher Bloggers share their answers to this month’s question: What’s the best gift you would recommend for your students this holiday season?

“The technological gift that I wish for every student,” writes Adam Steiner (@steineredtech), “is to find a platform for giving voice to their passions and to feel that their voice is heard. When we give students the power to be creators, we give them confidence; we give students their digital voice and a source of internal strength to use it.” Read More.

“The best gift I would love all my students to have is the ability to find peace inside themselves,” writes Elisa Guerra (@ElisaGuerraCruz), “regardless of what is going on outside. Then, no matter how dark the world might get, their souls will always find a way to shine.” Read More.

“As we reflect on the year, it’s also important to reflect on exactly who we each are, our strengths, our weaknesses, our assumptions, and our truths,” writes Richard Wells (@EduWells). “A mirror might remind students to consider these points and in turn, remind their school that without formally recognising the importance of reflection and rationalised thought, learning is shallow and facts go unchallenged.” Read More.

Maarit Rossi (@pathstomath) recommends the blog of Kirsti Savikko, Headteacher in Kähäri school, Turku, Finland, who writes: “So what do I tell my students to do during the holiday? Play games? Perhaps. Get some rest? Sleep late? Forget the school? Read some extra? Reread the subjects? This list could also be quite long. But what I really would like to give them is a gift. Not just any gift or present wrapped in a silver paper. The gift of dreaming…” Read More.

“Every elementary teacher, history teacher, science teacher, and English teacher should engage learners in activities in which they distinguish between real and fake news, reputable social media posts and disreputable ones, credible author credentials and false ones, hard news or op-eds,” writes Todd Finley (@finleyt) in Greenville, North Carolina. “Democracy is humankind’s highest aspiration. Gift students with the tools to preserve it.” Read More.

“While gifts are fun, when not everybody has them,” writes Miriam Mason-Sesay (@EducAidSL), “it creates a two-tier society where some are left out and only some feel special. We will be encouraging all of our young people to do kind things instead of giving gifts and the gift they will receive in turn will be the peace of mind that comes with being loving and generous.” Read More.

“Children are our future,” writes Rashmi Kathuria (@rashkath). “We feel happy when they are happy. In India we celebrate all festivals. Here, the summer break is the longest break. In general for a holiday season we tell our students to enjoy to the fullest and spend good time with family and friends.” Rashmi’s many gift recommendations include “a lesson of empathy and humanity so that they can be a part of beautiful, peaceful, healthy and harmonious world” and “getting connected on social networking sites, sharing pictures and news.” Read More.

Warren Sparrow (@wsparrowsa) has many wishes students around the world. He says, “be encouraged to take the chance and learn something new today, do not be afraid to go against the main stream and actually be prepared to work, embrace different cultures, people and encourage diversity, do something for other people, do not just think of yourself, be proud of what you could possibly achieve, have a goal and strive to achieve it, be kind to others, you do not know what baggage they are carrying…” Read More.

“To give that “one gift” you need to know the child,” writes Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) from Camilla, Georgia. “Look at what they love and help them create and investigate. Give them a gift that stokes the flame of curiosity and sparks their imagination. When you give gifts that spur kids on from consumer to a creator, they’ll become more curious.” Read More.

“If we could learn from frost and snow and try to provide different opportunities for our kids to experience magic, to foster creativity and to simply play outside, it would be the greatest gift for them this holiday season,” writes Dana Narvaiša (@dana_narvaisa). Check out the creativity that students from Cesis New school are enjoying outdoors. Read More.

“This holiday season, I wanted presents that would last longer than a few hours and hopefully inspire the recipients throughout the New Year,” writes Blogger at Large Beth Holland (@brholland). “These seemed like fantastic options to achieve that goal.” Beth’s suggestions include “Kiwi Crate,” which aims to inspire a new generation of “scientists, artists, and makers,” and the “Extraordinaires Design Studio.” Read More.

“The average income in Brownsville is $28,000 ($11,000 in the housing projects), this can also create an emotional burden on our scholars from peer pressure when they return from winter vacation without something new and fancy,” writes Nadia Lopez (@TheLopezEffect). “I wanted to make sure that my scholars came back renewed from the holiday break and ready to invest in their learning, which is how I came up with creating t-shirt designs that would serve to empower each of them on a daily basis.” Read More.

The Top Global Teacher Bloggers is a monthly series where educators across the globe offer experienced yet unique takes on today’s most important topics. CMRubinWorld utilizes the platform to propagate the voices of the most indispensable people of our learning institutions – teachers.

(Photo is courtesy of CMRubinWorld)

2016-07-25-1469487170-9954573-cmrubinworldtopglobalteacherbloggers_headshots500.jpgTop Row, left to right: Adam Steiner, Santhi Karamcheti, Pauline Hawkins2nd Row: Elisa Guerra, Humaira Bachal, C M Rubin, Todd Finley, Warren Sparrow3rd Row: Nadia Lopez, Katherine Franco Cardernas, Craig Kemp,
Rashmi Kathuria, Maarit Rossi
Bottom Row: Dana Narvaisa, Richard Wells, Vicki Davis, Miriam Mason-Sesay GSE-logo-RylBlu

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld, and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.