Normalizing Struggle: Building our better self

Her fists were clenched. She tried to tame the tears that were so close from storming out. Maybe disguising her anguish as indifference would do the trick.

It didn’t.

She was staring at her unfinished work, drowning at the task at hand. What the task was doesn’t matter. How she felt does.

– “I just can’t do this” – she whispered to me as I approached her desk. “It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough”

– “Nobody gets it perfect the first time”, I said. But it did not convince her.

– “Oh, yes they do. Most of them. Just not me. I don’t want to do this anymore”

What was she afraid of? You name it. The giggles. The shame. The flunk. Maybe the biggest fear was to face, once more, the perceived confirmation that she was not good enough. Failure is painful, and we naturally reject what hurts.

How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

You have not failed until you give up

The first step in preserving a risk-taking mentality in our students is to take the “failure” out of the “struggle”. The world’s greatest scientists, inventors and artists reached the skies after years of sustained effort. However, they have been romanticized by history and media as born-that-way geniuses. The truth is, every child has the seed of genius within – dedication and hard work is what eventually will make them fly.

A supportive environment to thrive

You would not jump into the void without some sort of a safety net: that is called calculated risk. Our students will weigh in the possible outcomes for being daring and bold in their academic pursuits. If there is a big chance that they will fall prey to ridicule, most likely they will not go for it. Let’s promote a supportive school environment that values trying as well as achieving, and process as well as results.

We should also recognize and even cherish our own struggles: If, instead, we run away and hide them from our students, we are strengthening the idea that struggling is a shameful deviation from achievement, instead of a powerful opportunity for growth.

Yidan Prize winner Carol Dweck has extensive research showing that intelligent people are not just born smart: kids can identify their current achievements and then work towards improving, actually getting smarter.

When you teach about the great characters from history, science and art, be sure to portray the whole stories: the pains as well as the gains, the human side entwined with the brilliance, the challenges along with the glory.

It’s not about minimizing struggle, it’s about normalizing it. When we take failure out of the equation and embrace struggling as part of the journey, learning becomes again the joyous, stimulating gift it was always meant to be.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

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

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?

For Volatile Times – Lessons From the World’s Classrooms

5833bc12180000290c30f5bbChildren are Listening. We live in a world of infinite connectivity, and following a “global” event such as the recent US Election 2016 (the world’s No. 1 economy), many parents and other adults say they are still struggling with what to say and share with children and what not to say. Children around the world witnessed the often aggressive tone of the election’s rhetoric, and indeed, teachers across the United States have acknowledged that many classrooms are still full of anxiety and concerns. In an age of widespread digital technologies, it is virtually impossible to entirely buffer children from the constant messaging. How should educators support children in uncertain times?

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: How do you as teachers support children who are confused or frightened by events going on in their world?

“There has been much negative talk about Mexicans,” writes Elisa Guerra (@ElisaGuerraCruz) who teaches in Mexico. “Shouting insults back to those who insult us will not make much to dismiss the idea of the lazy, dishonest, even criminal Mexican. Instead, at our school, we have decided to celebrate and cherish our heritage by creating a collective book of “Gifts and Promises”. In writing and in art, students of all ages will showcase the people, the places and the achievements that built our country – the gifts.” Read More.

As classrooms around the world discuss the UK’s Brexit and Donald Trump’s election win, Richard Wells (@EduWells) in New Zealand is “mentoring an intensive entrepreneur startup weekend centered on new ideas for education. This is how Richard believes “classroom practice and school cultures could start to address much of the confusion children are currently expressing.” Read More.

Maarit Rossi (@pathstomath) recommends the blog of Kirsti Savikko, Headteacher in Kähäri School, Turku, Finland, who writes: “For bad things that happen in life, we have at school a sorrow box. It’s not a box of sorrow – it doesn’t contain items of sorrow. On the contrary it contains items to heal the sorrow. It has practical things like a white, clean tablecloth, candles, matches, an empty photo frame…… It also has poems, comforting words and stories…” Read More.

“This is our Atticus Finch moment, “ writes Todd Finley (@finleyt) in Greenville, North Carolina. “This calls for us to get into the muck and say uncomfortable truths. But there is a big payoff. When teachers model thoughtfulness, clarity, gentleness, generosity, empathy, and courage, their influence can lead others back from the brink.” Read More.

“I have seen the fears in student’s eyes when they roll into school asking what is going to happen and how will it impact them. Our job is to comfort, educate and support this as part of their learning journey,” says Craig Kemp (@mrkempnz) in Singapore. Teaching “tolerance and acceptance,” offering “hope and empowerment” and including “parents in the conversation” are some of Craig’s ideas for supporting confused or frightened children. Read More.

Adam Steiner (@steineredtech) recommends the blog of Brenda Maurao (@bmaurao), Assistant Principal for the Miller Elementary School in Holliston, MA, whose daughter woke up “devastated when she learned that Donald Trump was our new president.” Brenda told her daughter that “Trump ran for president because he wanted what was best for our country. While he wasn’t the one she wanted (she voted in a mock election in school the previous day), things were going to be ok.” Read More.

We need to be “providing ways for our youngsters to participate in this alternative view of the world,” writes Miriam Mason-Sesay (@EducAidSL). If you can show children examples of people “who are ‘helping’, others who are resisting the hatred and choosing love, those who are resisting prejudice and choosing respect, they have somewhere to go. It is our enormous responsibility to avoid joining in the hatred. We have to not only be a voice of reason but an example of difference.” Read More.

Pauline Hawkins (@PaulineDHawkins) in New Hampshire writes her message to students: “We have been given a wakeup call. There is no room for fear in our lives. Neither can we sit idly by and hope for the best. We have to let our representatives know what we want and what we will not accept. We have to investigate what our elected officials are actually doing with the trust we have put in them. We have to make our voices heard and back up our voices with action.” Read More.

“There are all types of children in a class,” notes Rashmi Kathuria (@rashkath), and “teachers play a significant role in the life of a child and creating an empathetic mind to deal with challenges all across the globe.” Rashmi recommends a number of different solutions, including “Individual attention by counselors, collaborative activities with partner schools and making a happiness tree that grows with gifts of appreciation and love.” Read More

“My school has a diverse and multicultural community which involves students speaking 28 different first languages,”  writes Warren Sparrow (@wsparrowsa).  “We are living in a time when we can expect to see many changes fundamentally in the things that we have always taken for granted.”  Teachers must create the environment where “we can talk to our students about their concerns and walk with them through the process until it is resolved.”  Read More.

“Morality. Kindness. Love. Service. Prayer. Faith. Hard work. Truth. Wisdom. Religious freedom. An unbiased press. Public servants. May these be things that become fashionable again,” writes Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) from Camilla, Georgia. “Have conversations with students that count… This is our watch and our time….” Read More.

“How are you feeling about what is going on in the world today?” is the first important question to ask your students, writes Nadia Lopez (@TheLopezEffect). “The children in our classrooms are the leaders of tomorrow, therefore we must give them voice, keep them informed, and remind them of their value in this world.”  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)

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Top Row, left to right: Adam Steiner, Santhi Karamcheti, Pauline Hawkins

2nd Row: Elisa Guerra, Humaira Bachal, C. M. Rubin, Todd Finley, Warren Sparrow

3rd Row: Nadia Lopez, Katherine Franco Cardernas, Craig Kemp, Rashmi Kathuria, Maarit Rossi

Bottom Row: Dana Narvaisa, Richard Wells, Vicki Davis, Miriam Mason-Sesay

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Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.

The Global Search for Education Community Page

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.

This post was originally published by C; Rubin at http://www.cmrubinworld.com/the-global-search-for-education-top-global-teacher-bloggers-children-are-listening 

Gifts and Promises: Supporting children who are confused or frightened by events going on in the world

Learning is quite difficult or even impossible for restless or broken souls. As teachers, we wish everything would always be right, but life is hard, and sometimes, the world around us becomes threatening.

Nature has its ways to remind human beings of their fragility, but there’s nothing more terrifying than the hand of mankind turning against their own. As hate crimes and intolerance weave a tragic dance among us, teachers struggle to educate children as global, peaceful citizens. It’s a paradox, sure. But education is our only hope to eventually respect and embrace diversity – and thus create a better world.

At times of unrest, children are especially vulnerable. Finding reassuring words to share and creating innovative ways to thrive is how we can help them overcome adversity.

It’s amazing how much anxiety we can ease up just by sharing our thoughts and concerns. By validating our feelings, we get a sense of control, not over the actual events going on around us, but at least over our emotions and reactions to them. Whatever the situation – a natural disaster, a burst of criminality or a political turmoil – children can benefit from receiving accurate information. If they don’t, they tend to make it worse in their minds -we all do. Don’t lie, but don’t dramatize either. Children seek reassurance from the adults that have gained their trust and respect. Be the mentor your students need. ‘Got fears of your own? It’s OK to show that you are human – just keep the tone upbeat and positive.

As much as we would like to, we are not able to change many, if not most, of the things happening around us. It’s not with disrespect and rage that we rise above disagreements. Still, there are ways in which we can overcome fear, lessen pain and confront injustice. And yes, sometimes we do change things.

Lately there has been much negative talk about Mexicans. Shouting insults back to those who insult us will not make much to dismiss the idea of the lazy, dishonest, even criminal Mexican. Instead, at our school, we have decided to celebrate and cherish our heritage by creating a collective book of “Gifts and Promises”. In writing and in art, students of all ages will showcase the people, the places and the achievements that built our country – the gifts. Alongside, each one of us will reflect on our own personal and collective potential to contribute to a better México and a better world –the promises.

Will this little book change the world in its crazy ways? Not likely. But it will at least remind the children that our people is hard working and creative, and our country intriguing and beautiful, in a very unique way – and just as valuable as other countries and cultures.

Trying times can either break minds or inspire them to achieve their very best. Which one of those will be is the choice we are given.

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This post is my answer to the Top Global Teacher Bloggers November’s topic: How do you as teachers support children who are confused or frightened by events going on in their world?

 

Helping our students embrace diversity

The first step to accept and embrace diversity is knowledge.

We human beings are wired to detect and act upon whatever could threaten our existence. This comes as part of our survival instinct. If we hear a sudden, loud noise, we jump in fear. For a split second, we don’t know if the sound comes from a firing gun or worse – and our whole body prepares for flight or fight. Then we realize it was just a truck exhaust and we sigh in relief, our heart still pounding furiously inside or chests. But knowledge rises above instinct, and as we know it’s highly unlikely that this particular truck is set to kill us (unless of course we are to find ourselves crushed under its wheels), we disregard the threat and keep on to our business.

DiversityAnything that we don’t know well could be a potential risk – not just for our lives but also for our ways of living. Human beings are cautious or even up-front reluctant about whatever is unknown or different. Including other people!

So, How can you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? Here are some ideas.

Open their world – and you will open their minds. Get them to know and ultimately respect as many different cultures as possible. Don’t neglect to explore your own community as well.

Create the environment. Even in very homogeneous schools, some diversity will always arise. But our school environment could be one that crushes it down – for example, presenting one single viewpoint as the truth, discouraging open discussion about certain issues or favoring just one approach to learning. Be open, inclusive and caring.

Set the example. If you have a preference for working with certain type of students, if you loose your patience with the slower kid in your class, if you openly dislike a colleague or parent, if you are biased in any way, even if you don’t say a word, it will show.

Don’t force it. Don’t think that you are doing a favor to the odd kid in class by forcing his classmates to work with him. It might be even worse. Instead, plan projects in which students can either work alone, in pairs or small groups. Offer incentives to those collaborating and creating new alliances: Bonus points if they team up with different classmates every project!

Act it up. Drama and storybooks are wonderful to create awareness for diversity. Cast your students in roles that are different and challenging. Encourage them to try to “become” the personage by actively exploring the feelings and beliefs behind the costume.Diversity flags

Empathy is an art. I like Harvard’s Artful Thinking Tools from Project Zero. The protocol called “Circle of viewpoints” specifically promotes exploring multiple perspectives to a problem by actively analyzing a work of art.

Above all, engage in caring relationships with your students. This will make them feel accepted and safe – which in turn will give them the confidence to venture outside of their own limits and work well with others – no matter how different they might be.

 

This is my answer to this month’s question for The Global Search for Education: Top Global Teacher Bloggers.