My skill started when I first got my Playstation 3 for Christmas two years ago and I played by myself until I played against Travis Hill and got admitted in the 7o6 Playstation Network clan. Although he beat me thirty to twenty-one, he still thought that I was good enough to join. I didn’t always play with Travis on Playstation, it was maybe five months before I started playing with Travis, and I think that I got good enough by playing that time by myself, and I didn’t really know the meaning of teamwork at first and I quickly figured out that the 7o6 clan was a very teamwork-based clan, especially after I got chewed out by all of the other, more experienced members, but then I proved myself to the entire team by winning an important match against one of our rivals with a 4 v. 1 clutch (a clutch is just when a player by themselves beats at least four of the other players on the other team). The only reason that I chose this as the most important skill is because of the things that it taught me by playing with teamwork, which are basic things like
Constructing a narrative about my own learning story has stimulated reflections on my experiences as a teacher for almost fifty years in a variety of contexts and through all sorts of trends and movements. Out of those fifty years, one decade-length experience I now see as pivotal in the development of how I approach schooling. The lessons I learned ranged from affirming, to challenging, to chastening. My career in education began with stints as a social studies teacher in high schools around Atlanta, then as a guest teacher, responding to invitations by secondary social studies teachers to conduct simulations and role-playing activities in their classrooms, presumably modeling these strategies for them. Modeling did not pay off, if measured by the number of teachers who began using simulations and role-playing in their repertoires of instructional practices. However, moving from school to school in virtually every neighborhood in Atlanta provided opportunities to observe teachers in action, as well as the climate and culture in each of those schools. The differences in resources between white and black schools stunned me. The invidious inequities in black and white schools was manifest before me on a daily basis. But it was the failure of all
I was 19 and in an instructor training course for Colorado Outward Bound. We had backpacked in to Snowmass Lake, and then, after crossing a steep snowfield (late June) climbed up over beautiful wildflower covered slopes into a high col in the ridge between Snowmass and the next cirque to the north under Capitol Peak. Just as we came into the col, a huge thunderstorm blew in from the north. Lightning was striking the peaks around us, and thunder was echoing back and forth across the cirque. The north slope was covered in avalanche-prone snow, which the booming thunder threatened to shake loose. Our packs began to buzz with electricity, signaling possible lightning strikes. The instructor turned to me, and calmly said, “John, you are in charge. What do we do now?” I had to think of a safe plan and execute it extremely quickly, and I had to manage getting the rest of the group into a safe place and addressing their fears, while organizing how they would move in an orderly and safe way down the snow covered slope to the valley below. We were able to get off the ridge and down the slope safely and quickly,
I was trained in school and through my early professional career to write and edit, to think and communicate clearly. Along with that training — which came packaged in an excellent, challenging education — I also learned to be a bit of a snob. I read books I was supposed to read, I could define “synecdoche” and follow iambic tetrameter in a poem, and I quietly judged people who didn’t punctuate or capitalize in emails. About two years ago, to escape the loneliness of freelance editing from home, I decided to do some volunteering. I found a group called Write Around Portland that advertised the opportunity to be a volunteer editor. The organization runs writing workshops for people that wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to write in a community of other writers. Write Around Portland teams up with social service and education agencies, like residential treatment centers for youth with addiction problems, or shelters for battered women, or the VA, or jails, and they offer 10-week writing courses. Many of the people in these workshops had bad experiences in schools. They had been told, in one way or another, that they weren’t capable or worthy of achieving much in the
JLO. Before Jennifer Lopez’s fans laid claim to this three-letter combo, it was the acronym for the unique youth theater group I participated in from 1970 to 1975, playing a role either backstage or, later, onstage in over twenty musicals, comedies, dramas and children’s theater. During the years I was a member of ‘Junior Light Opera’, it was a group of some seventy youth, ages five to twenty and just two facilitating adults — my speech and stagecraft teacher Michael and a school orchestra teacher named Sue. Michael played a pivotal role in funding the enterprise, picking the plays, pulling the key team members (producer, director, etc.) for each play. Sue, our musical director, would recruit and rehearse a full youth orchestra of maybe twenty kids from her various orchestra classes. Given that, the bulk of the responsibility was distributed to their company of talented youth. Unlike any other youth theater group I have seen where all the key jobs — director, producer, lighting and set design, costumer, choreographer — are performed by adults, a typical JLO musical had teenage youth in these critical roles. For example, we did the musical ‘Oliver’ with a seventeen-year-old director, a thirteen-year-old choreographer, an
When I was thirty, I had the great good fortune to attend my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and thereby board what I think of as the great ship of AA, which was to carry me through the often-stormy seas of life, one day at a time, to today, 33 years later. AA is an extraordinary model of learning. There are no paid employees and no one has higher rank than anyone else. We learn by sharing our “experience, strength, and hope” with each other. Meetings are lead by volunteers, who tell their stories: “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” (quotes from the “Big Book” of AA by Bill WIlson, the founder). Support, in the form of friendship, telephone calls, and getting to meetings, is offered unreservedly by members to each other. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Meetings are always free, and available in most areas every day of the week. The principles of the program are put above personalities, and you are advised to “take what you want, and leave the rest.” Learning happens at your own pace, incrementally, over time. No one lectures. The important
All of our students deserve well-trained teachers, but high needs schools often struggle to retain teachers, especially in math and science. I was lucky to work for 18 years with a remarkable group of teachers at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland. Nine years ago, our science and math departments were struggling with turnover, so we applied and received a state grant to improve instruction. We assigned each new teacher an experienced colleague to serve as their informal mentor, and we met several times a month to share and learn together. We conducted lesson study, developing lessons together, then observing one another teach. We looked hard at our assessment practices, and learned to do formative assessments. There were several keys to making this work.1. Classroom teachers were in charge. We set the direction of the project, and we chose the tools we would use to collaborate. We had a vision for what we needed and we owned the process. 2. Our principal, Mary Hamadeh, was supportive but not prescriptive. She encouraged us to apply for the grant, but she did not attempt to micromanage it.3. We brought in resources from partners in the community. Local experts in Lesson Study from
I love teaching my students to write because there is no greater pleasure in my life than expressing myself. Over the years, as politicians and other folks push standardized testing, students resent the more formal writing and complain, refuse to participate or do a lousy job to prove how much they hate writing. Today, I explained to my students that we were going to venture into writing about ourselves – about things that matter to us. Guess what? Not one complained – not one. We pulled up Inspiration (a software that helps with planning) and students worked through the parts of the document that they needed to include in the writing in order to create a document that they can display with pride. This writing will be a slow process because students will need to conference constantly with teachers and students; learn new evaluation techniques to help them make decisions about their writing style. It was wonderful day working with my students because they have already demonstrated their total interest in writing about themselves. Little do they know that there is more ahead.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been working with a small group of schools in Chicago that are improving kids’ learning through instructional leadership teams. These are teams of teachers in schools that work democratically and systematically to help teachers throughout the school adopt a powerful practice, such as classroom writers workshop. What I love about this is that it is not only improving classrooms, but also developing teachers’ leadership capacity so they can continue making improvements whether consultants or grant funds or other outside resources are available or not. And when teachers learn how to work more democratically, they come to view kids this way as well. This is a kind of sustainable improvement in education that we have lacked across the country. Too often schools depend on outside experts (like me) to promote change, and then we wonder why it doesn’t last. What’s also exciting is that the well-structured development process the teams are using helps insure that the effort really gets carried out and deepened as it goes along — which too often hasn’t happened in schools. I’ve helped coach the teams — but it’s really the teachers and the kids who do the work.