Friday, January 20, 2017

You Say you want this, so why are you doing that...Redux

It is with mixed emotions that I write on Joe’s blog today.  His wife Tamara has asked me to do this, and I feel ready just after a year of losing my best friend.  

Joe Bower  will always have a profound impact  on my life, just like he has on many people he came into contact with and I am a better teacher and person for knowing him for over 15 years.  Joe and I talked about so many topics over that time, most of those represented well in his blog.  Joe was a prolific writer, and suggested I pen some of my own thoughts.  We would be talking and he would  yell “That’s a blog post Kelly!”   so here I  go…

You Say you want this, so why are you doing that… Redux

In 2011, Joe wrote a blog post about this topic and I aim to expand it a little.  

After teaching for 27 years, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of people in education are in it for the right reasons and are principled in their intentions.  I also find, however, that there are many educational practices that do not jive with what I feel kids really need.  
  Now, I am not SO arrogant that I think all share my progressive values, so I try my best to have conversations with my colleagues from time to time about educational philosophy.  Most of the time, the dialogue is engaging, messy, and thought provoking ( at least to me…). I see the passion in these people, they love kids, they love teaching. They DO see the chasm between what they know kids need and what schools often deliver- and it often makes them sad.

So….If teachers want to make changes, why don’t they act on it?  Some of the answers, I believe, are:

  • They think they need permission
  • They do not want to hurt peoples feelings or feel they are being unprofessional by not doing what others are doing
  • They often do not have a forum for such discussion

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on the last point.

I find it interesting that we find it important to have teacher education programs that include philosophy of teaching and learning, but once student teachers  graduate, we seem to limit the discussion to pedagogy.  Good teaching practice is important, but if we are not sure of the REASONS for doing things, we can drift from some of our main goals of education like  ensuring children  love learning.  

Alfie Kohn writes:

“We need to be transparent about our premises and goals.  If we don’t bring them to the surface and defend them, others will take their place by default.  If we don’t ask, “what are we looking for here? What matters most to us,and how can we tell if we have been successful?”  Then we’ll just be evaluated on the basis of standardized test scores.

If we are to have these discussions about what is important to us in education, we must also discuss what is NOT important and try to get rid of those things.  Many things we do as teachers and teacher leaders, are being done because they seem to have always been done that way or we want to do as much as humanly possible for children and parents.  The problem is, we don’t have that much capital to spend.  We are maxed out.  We need to put our energy into what matters most and there is only so much time in the day.  

These will be difficult conversations, but ones that will help steer you back to why you got into this awesome profession in the first place.  We all cannot be like Joe, but we can and should talk about things that matter to us.

Here is hoping that loads of you have many messy, engaging, enraging, philosophical education talks with your colleagues.  I sure miss mine with Mr.  Bower



P.s.  I would love to hear your thoughts about my post or respond to me on Twitter @flamesstamp

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What My Husband Taught Me

What My Husband Taught Me

I’m Tamara, Joe Bower’s wife (widow is just too messed up to say most days still).  First of all I want to thank everyone for their well wishes and prayers through that horrid six days after Joe had a Cardiac Arrest.  The support, love and heartfelt emotions were very comforting through the dark times as we spent time with Joe during his last days in the hospital.  After Joe died there was and still is an outpouring from people sharing their experiences and stories. So many people tweeted, facebooked or called telling tales of how they met Joe or how they learned from him, how his blog affected them or influenced them, how Joe was as a teacher or as a friend. These are memories me, our kids, nieces and nephews and all of our family and friends will cherish.

Many people have followed my husband's blog or twitter for his ideas and beliefs in the education world, they followed him for his stand in his own teaching and his pride in not following the norm for conventional teaching. He also undoubtedly had charismatic humour that people got when speaking with Joe or through tweets and messages. Joe definitely had an ardor for learning that has overflowed into my life.
I don’t blog, I have never had the desire to blog, but with Joe's passing away I do want to share what my husband taught me personally so far, as a tribute to him.  

Ever since Joe has passed grief has entered my life and the life of our two children. In this short time grief has been a learning experience for me that I am trying to work through for myself as a wife and as a mother to our children. Losing Joe has been akin to having my soul torn in two; he literally was my other half. It's a giant gash that will heal in its own way but with lord knows how much scar tissue and the process will be there for the rest of my life, I believe it will shape and change me and know that it already has. Our two children cry for their daddy and have the biggest hole in their hearts that no one can fill. Watching my children grieve for their father every day brings so much pain to the depths of my soul and I console them to the best of my ability but it's not daddy holding them in his arms and he never will again. I feel like grief is like eeyores rain cloud, it follows you everywhere relentlessly. Grief will destroy you, it will strip you to the last fibre of your being and that's where I get to decide if I will build myself back up a little stronger each time or grief will keep me down. Destroyed.   A mere shadow of who I am.  With Joe as my husband, I know that he would say that option is not a choice, it's not even on the table.  Joe would disapprove of rolling over whole heartedly, he fought for change, he fought for better, he fought and protected those he loved and I love and respect him enough to not tarnish what we shared together and instead I am trying to learn how to work through this grief and grow to become a better person.

At first when Joe died, I just tried to stay afloat, I tried not to drown in grief, and so I started researching it.  I started learning what to do so that I could deal with the turmoil within me, so that I could start to heal and appreciate all Joe had given me and how to help our kids.  Yes our life together was 60 years too short but he gave me so much love, companionship and experiences in 17 years I don't want to lose the beauty of those memories.  Joe was an amazing husband, he was my pillar, he was a man who unconditionally loved me (lord knows no one is perfect) and through that love taught me what true unconditional love is.  Joe taught me self confidence and awareness to a level I didn't realize I had achieved, until sadly I no longer had him to fall back on.  You can’t be with someone as long as we were together and not have them rub off on you (I know I made Joe pretty amazing too!!)  Joe taught me how to research to the deepest level on a topic that is sitting in your craw and feels horrid and you just have to fix it.  Joe was obsessed with figuring out how to do it better and then cross examined it to make sure it was backed up and made sense and fit the situation and then he figured out how to apply it to everyday life.   I have learned from Joe that your emotional life is in your power, Joe was huge on CBT, retraining your brain, physical activity to get the mind healthy, social workers and psychologists aren’t your enemy (assuming they are knowledgeable and advocating for the right reasons), finding a hobby that draws you like a magnet and friends and all of our family being crucial for support.  I have done lots of research and my learning will continue to do so as things change. I have decided that the days that I can manage it grief is my companion and I can cry, tell stories, look at pictures and read his blogs but I can still live, I can still laugh, and I am learning how to deal with grief so it doesn't control me. Grief and I are walking through a new, lonely, scary life as companions.  My hope is that as I learn more and heal that grief starts to take even more of a  back burner and is a memory not a companion and a new stronger me evolves from this that can remember all the awesome times Joe and I had together, all of our memories together good and bad are what made us a couple, what made us love each other.

Because of Joe I have become a stronger person and I am weathering the worst storm I could have imagined, and even though some days I feel as if I was drowning I haven't yet. Joe was larger than life I loved his charismatic power, his assertive self confidence, I loved the affectionate man he was with me, he was my best friend and I will miss him everyday and until the day I die.  I love and adore Joe, I was his and he was mine.  To the best man I know, thank you for being in my life and I love you.

Someone posted this quote on Facebook and I thought it was something Joe would have liked (heck maybe he has already posted it somewhere!)

Josh Shipp

You either get Bitter or you get Better.
It’s that simple.  You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down.  The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.

Tamara Bower

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Assessment and measurement are not the same thing

Too many people confuse measurement with assessment as if they were the same thing.

They are not.

Some things are made to be measured. For example, I'm 6'1''. Height is a one-dimensional thing that can be reduced to a measurement in standard units. We need standard units for height or we would have all kinds of mass confusion.

Some things in life, however, are not made to be measured. While my height can be accurately described as 6'1'' without debate, my personality, character, intelligence, athleticism and learning can not be meaningfully reduced to a symbol. When we reduce something as magnificently messy as learning to a number, we always conceal far more than we ever reveal.

The most important things that children learn in school are not easily measured. The most meaningful things in life may, in fact, be immeasurable. The good news, however, is that the most important and meaningful things that we want children to learn and do in school can always be observed and described. This is precisely why it is so important to remember that the root word for assessment is assidere which literally means 'to sit beside.' Assessment is not a spreadsheet -- it's a conversation.

Testsandgrades should be replaced with projects and performances collected in portfolios.

When student learning is made visible to parents through portfolios, blogs, student-led conferences and parent-teacher interviews then they are not nearly so desperate for less meaningful information such as testsandgrades.

This is my 16th year of teaching in public schools. I threw my gradebook away in 2006. For those who are interested in learning more about what school and learning looks like without testsandgrades, you can read my chapter from my book for free here. And you can read all of my blog posts about abolishing grading here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Refusing to help is an act of terror

"In everyday thought about especially complex and emotionally charged situations oversimplified generalizations are apt to be actively treasured."

- Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur

Terrorism and atrocities against humanity is not new. How it will end will have a lot to do with how we respond to hatred, terror, cruelty and murder.

John Spencer, a teacher in Arizona, posted on Facebook:
After a tragedy, I get why some people will feel angry. Others will feel sad. Still others will feel scared. Many will feel all of the above. But my hope is that, in the midst of all those feelings, we choose love instead of xenophobia.
Xenophobia [zen-uh-foe-be-uh]

In his book The Alphabet of the Human Heart, Matthew Johnstone reminds us:
From Matthew Johnstone's Alphabet of the Human Heart
Xenophobia is an ugly word. Xeno means foreigner. Phobia is fear. 
Together they mean racism, bigotry, intolerance, injustice. 
Yet, if we embrace the differences in this world, the world looks different. 
More interesting, more rewarding, more colourful.

While its true that terror is scary and can induce panic, we must remind ourselves that this is what terrorists want. We must resist the natural urge of fearing fear itself. Paul Krugman writes:
The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.
When horrific things happen, it's tempting to focus on who to hate and who to be scared of -- the real challenge, however, is to figure out who to love and who to help. Those of us who are following the news of terror from the safety of our devices need to spend less time pondering policies that further isolate and ignore refugees who are fleeing for their family's lives and more time figuring out how we can help.

Constructing xenophobic walls to keep people out of our privileged paradise will teach the next generation of children that we could have helped but chose not to. This is precisely what terrorists want.

"It is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism; it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gueterres.

Refusing to help those who need it the most is an act of terror.

We must refuse to give in to fear.

We must reject xenophobia.

Antoine Leiris lost his wife Helene in the Bactaclan theatre in Paris. In his Facebook tribute to his wife and challenge to her killers, Antoine writes:
I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it, but responding to it with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that has made you what your are. 
You want me to be afraid? To cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens? To sacrifice my freedom for security?  
You lost. Same player. Same game.
A dead baby becomes the most tragic symbol
yet of the Mediterranean refugee crisis.
Refugees are people. 

People who are trying to save their families from the terror and cruelty that we would all run from. We have a responsibility and moral obligation to help refugees because refusing to help is an act of terror.

And we must be better than that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

4 Great Board Games I play with students and family

There are lots of ways to get to know someone -- my two favourite ways are going for a walk & talk and playing a game. Board games are a wonderful way of developing a relationship with someone, and also a great way of assessing a child's skills including their creativity, collaboration, adaptability, resiliency, critical thinking, problem solving, patience, literacy and numeracy. Board games often require a broad range of knowledge, skills and abilities so they are a great way of assessing what someone knows and what they can do with what they know.

Because I have returned to teaching in a Children's Inpatient Psychiatric Assessment Unit, I find it helpful to play a game with a child so that we can start a casual, caring relationship before I help them with their anger, depression, self-harm, addictions and other problems. These kinds of problems are easier to work on after you've worked together to build a train, conquer Tokyo, cure a disease or bury treasure.

Here are four games I like to play with students and my family:

1. Ticket to Ride is a 5 player game where you score points by placing trains that connect cities. This is a wonderful game that is simple enough for those unfamiliar with games but challenging enough to keep everyone involved. The original game features cities in Canada and the United States, but there are many expansions and other stand-alone games that feature Europe, Nordic countries, India and Africa. This game could be played in about 60 minutes. My daughter Kayley learned to play this when she was 6. Watch a review of Ticket to Ride here.

2. King of New Tokyo is a 6 player dice game where your monster scores points by conquering Tokyo and other monsters. This game plays like Yahtzee where you roll and re-roll the dice to achieve special monster abilities. Players must balance short-term gains with long-term objectives. King of New York is another similar stand-alone game with a few more ways for monsters to destroy buildings and score points. Both are excellent games that can be played in about 30 to 45 minutes with children as young as 6. Watch a review of King of Tokyo here.

3. Pandemic is a cooperative game where players work together to fight 5 diseases from spreading across the world. Each player has unique special abilities that require them to collaborate in creative ways. The expansion Pandemic In the Lab makes for an even more enjoyable game as petri dishes are used to manipulate the diseases to find the cure. I spend a majority of my time as a teacher and a parent teaching children to collaborate with others, so I'm excited to see more and more cooperative board games being published. Pandemic is a slightly more complex game that requires more understanding for the rules than the other games on this list. Watch a review of Pandemic here and here.

4. Black Fleet is a four player game where players use their merchant ship to deliver goods around the Caribbean while using their pirate ship to steal and bury treasure to earn doubloons to purchase special abilities and win the game. This is a casual child friendly pirate game that can be played in 40 to 60 minutes. You can watch a review of Black Fleet here.