We Wanted To Be a Thinking School

I went to a great elementary school in Richmond BC, it’s called Westwind Elementary.

The teachers there were really progressive, and I remember everything we did involved community building, cooperative learning and project based learning. This is back in the mid-eighties, when I was in grade 5 and rockin’ a hockey hair mullet and dressing up like Crocket and Tubbs was cool. The staff there were ahead of their time, and I look back at those formative years as a real cornerstone of my desire to always be a learner.

Recently I was lucky to run into one of the teachers from the Westwind staff at Edcamp leadership BC, in Delta. Mr. Ayres was a young teacher back then, and I remember he taught grade 4-5 and I remember him being really tall. When I ran into him this past weekend, he was more mature, and he didn’t seem as tall and he asked me to call him Garnet. He is now a Deputy Superintendent and in pursuit of his own life long learning, was attending Edcamp on a Saturday.

We spoke briefly after the intro session, and although our conversation was short, many things that he shared about the Westwind days deeply inspired me as a educational leader. He said:

The teachers were lead by an inspirational Principal, Mrs. Chiba, who was a different kind of Principal.

The teachers used to sit around in the staff room after school and share their graphic organizers, “look at this one, look what this kid did with this one, how could I use that one?”

The teachers at our school were passionate about learning.

You know how some school are “reading schools,” we wanted to be a “thinking school.”

Thanks Garnet, for being part of a progressive staff, lead by an innovative leader, in pursuit of teaching kids how to think.

ps. Thanks to Mrs. Oldfield , my grade 5 and grade 6 teacher, for teaching me to learn about things I am passionate about, I was lucky to be one of your students, RIP.


Students should make pots for people who need pots

Since the days of my teacher training, I’ve been a fan of John Dewey. John Dewey believed that education should be experiential. That is, educational should be real and authentic. Students should not read from a book about how to make pots, they should  actually sit at a wheel and make pots! At my school, I see my staff trying to create opportunities for our students to make pots daily.

This weekend I came across the following video, and it challenged me to take my learning and thinking about Dewey’s work a little further.

Freire and Holt’s work add a social purpose to learning. If people are learning to make pots by actually making pots that’s great, but, maybe even better is making pots for people that actually need pots. This will most likely improve the quality of your learning because now the pots have a purpose. They are for something. It naturally leads the learners to think critically and to go deeper in their learning.  “What kind of pots do they need? What are the pots for? What are the best materials to use? What are the resources available?”

With our learners we should always strive to create tasks that are based on real problems. Then, together, with our learners, we can explore, think critically about, and create meaningful projects and solutions to problems that actually need to be solved.

Lets go make pots for people who actually need pots.

I’m a “kids do well if they can” guy

“He does not want to do anything, he just doesn’t care.”

This quote came from one of my excellent teaching staff.  It let me know that it is time for us to work together as a staff to decide if we believe that kids will do well if they want to,  or if we believe that kids will do well if they can.

As an alternative school, we see a lot of kids who present themselves as having the skills to learn, but it seems like they lack the motivation (or have zero motivation.) These “skills yes, motivation no” kids do no exist according to Ross Greene.  He believes that all kids (and all people for that matter) want to do well, they are just lagging some skills or have have unsolved problems that get in their way. That is, kids do well if they can. Our job is to help them discover their unsolved problem(s), the thing getting in their way, and get to work helping them fix it.

The problem with the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy is that if you believe it, you immediately put yourself in the motivation business…make them wanna. How often do we fall into this trap? We try to motivate with rewards and with punishment, pouring extrinsic motivators on them, always having to one-up the last motivator. If you write two paragraphs I will give you two stars instead of one! Does that make you wanna write more?!!

This leads us to an alternative to the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy: Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving method. Well, it’s not really a method, more of a way of being. In this way of being, we start with the firm belief that all kids will do well if they can.  Now your role just changed. You’ve gone from the motivation business to the problem solving business. Once you get to work and help these kids solve their unsolved problems you will see kids doing well, because they are already motivated to do well. We all are.

Ross’ ideas have been going through my head all day and night, they resonate.  As a leader of an alternative program, I see many unsolved problems and lagging skills. I am tired of being in the motivation business, so I’ve changed.  I’m a kids do well if they can guy.