Friday, September 26, 2014

Remnants Collected (part 4 of 4)

There are some remaining notes, spoken within our fellowship.

“As a teacher I'm growing but not in my personal life.”  What a brave, inspiring statement.  How often do we dichotomize and prioritize what is “real”?  Some of us make our professional lives “real” and invest our resources.  Some lead dynamic personal lives and shut it down to submit to labor at work.  It’s an existential and often painful move to name the dissonance and be open for alternate, possibly harmonizing ways of being.  This line of inquiry is a passion of mine.

Along this line, a fellow considered our name…Soulcraft Cohort, and found it suitable for our endeavor. “This is doing something for our souls personally and professionally.”

Finally,I walked away from our time together, feeling and remembering these words.  “We aren't alone... Look at who else is here...”

And this…

“Faith in other humans makes us more human

Food for my soul.

Thoughts for another day…

I’m hoping to talk in greater depth about the Maker’s School idea with those involved.  I’d like to explore project-based learning through ed history and theory.  This has possibilities for inquiry into and critique regarding various “traditions” of progressive education.  Excited…!

Metaphors (part 3 of 4)

The air was thick with them.  We leapt into metaphorical comparison of the materials and our educational experience to our students and their learning.  Here are a few of them:

As Peter explained how joints and grain cuts and types of wood comprise and harmonize a quality design, James (of School Factory fame) offered, “Wood furniture is not just an object but a system.  It changes over time.”  The room gasped in recognition of how perception fixes reality.  I considered concepts like “learning” or “teaching” and the ways our normative perception has made them narrow realities.  More on this in another post…

Peter spent time illustrating the character of wood and how critical it is to work with it.  You cannot force it because it will inevitably do its own thing!!!  That provoked some pondering for me about what we expect to be able to do with children to “educate” them and then we are frustrated when it doesn’t “take.”  Do we consider their nature and characteristics?  Do we “work” with them?

Final metaphor: Teachers as sawyers… Peter showed us how wood planed from the same part of the same tree could look very different depending on the sawyer.  The sawyer could bring out beautiful irradescent qualities or the aesthetic equivalent of a Home Depot 2x4.  The same piece of wood could be worth $10,000 or 9.99 depending on the skill, knowledge and experience of the sawyer.  A collective “oooooo” burst forth as we simultaneously traded sawyer for teacher and wood for students.  What skills, knowledge and experience make a teacher who can bring out the $10,000 qualities in the potential of her students?

Toward the end of our time together, Sean-our adventure guide and fellow traveler-spoke of his reticence to think about this experience in metaphors, a space in his mind he found all too familiar.  Rather, he wondered if he could just focus on the immediate experience instead of leaping to teacher thinking?

His words triggered me.  I responded to him quickly.  And later, reconsidering now, I have another response.

I was/am troubled by the idea that learning and teaching have become a dichotomy, worse an equation, inextricably linked by causation.  If teaching, then learning.  If teacher, then not learner.  If learner, then not teacher.  I don’t think Sean was abiding in this space of limited definition, but in the moment, I reacted against the idea that I couldn’t do both –learn and consider that learning in light of my teaching.  Learn about my students learning through my own learning.

In the last few years, I’ve turned over and over this thought from William Pinar, a noted curriculum theorist.

It becomes the teacher upon whom the student depends in order to learn: that is the intellectual trap.  And it is the teacher who becomes responsible for student learning: that is the political trap.

But it is this last iteration of my thinking, “learning about my students’ learning through my own learning” that gave me pause.  If I too quickly leap to compare my learning-as-learner to my students’ learning, in an attempt to learn-as- teacher, have I missed a thoughtful and thorough reconstruction of my own experience as learner.  That Deweyan reflection upon experience IS the meaning that I make.  Without it, the possibilities for comparison, for learning about learning, I think, can be shallow at best.

I think that was Sean’s point.  And a good one at that.  I’m thankful to be among people who exercise humility and a willingness to let go and be open for the unknown. 

And from our circle I heard..."A mix of humility and wonder..."

Speaking mindfulness (part 2 of 4)

The way I froze in anticipation of my project decision was not unfamiliar to others in the cohort.  I heard the following theories and thoughts as we problem-solved and tried to name what we were experiencing.

Karen and Julie, some of my Lakewood High fellows, recalled Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory as Morgan, our special ed colleague, tried to describe her current discomfort with the project and its place in her life.  Morgan owned the fixed mindset, identifying with her inability to get outside of a box that told her she just can’t do this.  Though I am familiar with Dweck’s theory, they articulated the growth mindset in language that helped me as well.  The growth mindset is outside of the dichotomy of being good or bad at something.  We are just practiced or unpracticed.  Time spent in practice improves our competency. 

I recalled my experiences as a parent of my son Jonah.  He is seven, a second-grader, early in the human stages of having to get over “inertia” to grow, making a choice to engage with something despite strong oppositional feelings.  It is very difficult for him to try something new if he isn’t sure that he will get it right and be good at it.  Risk-taking is a challenge for him.  Frustration runs high once he does engage and makes what he perceives to be a mistake. 

 I learned recently that we can tend to approach all of our decisions in one of three ways: flight, fight, or freeze.  My mother-in-law, a healer by gift, has been treating us with an energy work recently that the whole family has found beneficial.  It’s called Jin Shin.  I offered one of the techniques to the group.  If you hold your pointer finger as firmly as you can with the opposite hand, the nerves in that finger are triggered to send signals to your brain to calm your fears or resistance to do something.  If you do the same to your thumb, it calms worry.

What struck me is our shared frozen (perhaps with a sprinkle of flight) impulses.  And then shared language brought new meaning and understanding of the situation.  I’m not sure anyone else took something away from my “energy” story, but I used that technique while Pete instructed us on the properties of wood.  Did my tightly held finger help to free my willingness to participate and thereby inspire my creativity?  It was not long after that I felt that this project was in fact something I could tackle.  It begs alternate considerations of the “whole child” doesn’t it... body and mindfulness included?

Apprehensive beginnings (Part 1 of 4)

All week I’ve been wrestling with a way to frame and begin a record of my first experience with the Soulcraft Cohort last weekend.  But my computer greets every attempt with it’s nasty white blank stare, provoking my paralysis.  And now, it’s Friday afternoon, my second experience is less than 24 hours away.  If I don’t put my thoughts and questions from last week to paper, then I’ll be behind the eight-ball, impressions and wonderings amassing in my brain…and then fleeting despite my earnest attempts to R.E.M.E.M.B.E.R!! 

So I sat down to just write.  I’m learning through the Anguishing Journey of Despair, aka the disseratation process, that words, any words, are progress.  No.  They are success.  Anne Lamott –one of my current writing/creative/own-yourself-tell-the-truth gurus –in Bird by Bird commiserates with my creative difficulty.

Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it about some of our deepest needs; our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.  It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.

So, Anne (we’re on a first-name basis in my head due to the soul-baring conversations I’ve had with her while reading her books), recommends

Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry.  That is all we are going to do for now.  We are just going to take this bird by bird.  But we are going to finish this one short assignment.

In my case, I’m going to get the notes from our first session off of my phone and into this blog. (Disclaimer: Back after writing it all...turns out my "notes" on day one require several posts...)


I never would have joined this group had it not been organized for educators with the purpose of exploring learning.  My brother, Peter, co-operates Soulcraft Woodshop, the Maker's space we occupy on this journey.  He is an artisan, a breathtaking composition of skill and imagination.  His promise shone in his remarkable portraits at a young age.  My sister, Hannah, is a crafty entrepreneur-mama to six, bursting to try experience new hands-on possibilities.  My older sister, Thawivann, also mother to six, diligently learned arts and crafts and taught them not only to her own children but to her friends’ children.  Compartmentalizing and searching for identity, I decided very young that the visual arts were not for me.  I took music as my domain, if I was going to pick some kind of artistic expression.  So when my brother called to pick my brain about schooling, project-based learning and the Maker’s Movement, I was intrigued by the possible lines of inquiry of such a project, but it never entered my mind to participate!  And I was stunned when Pete called back and asked me if I wanted to join.  My intuition or some primal part of my being pushed past the limits of my “identity” and agreed to participate…with great fear and trembling.

I came on Saturday with few ideas for what I might make.  I wanted just to sit and talk to these bright, like-minded educators.  As Peter introduced us to wood –its grains and cuts-and to joints and materials, I fought with tenacity to understand, but I trembled and my mind froze.  What the hell am I going to make?!

Bird by bird…

I quieted my mind to recall the voices in the room prior to Pete’s talk and listen as they spoke again.  My hesitation was shared by some.  Many partook in my struggle to understand.  We all laughed at ourselves in our discomfort in the “student-learner” position.  Ahh…fellowship in our sufferings.  Inspiration struck and suddenly I had three ideas!  An entryway locker system, a hanging jewelry cabinet, or a hall plant stand.  My fellows suggested Pinterest, generously described some of their first attempts at furniture (some of us had tried this once before), and happily conversed about our journey and feeling about just BEING here. 

That process and conversations with Peter and Jim, his talented outside-the-box-thinking partner, helped me to chuck the potentially cumbersome locker project and I decided on the jewelry cabinet.  Jim knew of some unique scraps of wood that might help me to achieve an interesting aesthetic for the face of the doors.

One, small project…ACCOMPLISHED!