I am Big and Brown – I make no apologies for this. Because it is relationships that matter.

If you are overly sensitive about the subjects of color, race, gender, culture or struggle to openly discuss these issues, this could be a touchy subject. How do I know… I tweeted this out earlier today and did not receive even one response.

post1

Like the title says I am BIG, that sometimes can be seen as an understatement. At 5’11”, 290 lbs, I am a very large cropped-7iiu-ecd.jpegpresence in a school setting. To put it mildly, I stick out at school whether it is on the playground during supervision, walking in the hallways or playing games and teaching my little grade ones.To top that it all off, I am brown, wow that was news to me, actually it wasn’t I own a mirror and well have had this 365 day tan for a few years now, 38 to be exact. To be completely honest I am Fijian, and have the stature of a Samoan.

However, this is not how I introduce myself, nor do I believe how I am remembered by my students. I am a strong believer in relationships. Actually I can honestly and truly say that above all the learning that occurs in a school, it is the development, cultivation and maintenance of a relationship that a student remembers the most about their time at school. The quote below by Maya Angelou states it clear as possible, which I know many educators would agree with.

maya angalo

 

Relationships are more than essential, they are fundamental, I am confident in saying this because I know other great educators such as  C. Wejr and A. Couros, to name a few that all have written about the importance of relationships.

Therefore it saddens me that, whether knowingly or unknowingly an adult would effect the relationship a student has with a teacher. It also saddens, but doesn’t surprise me that an adult would state their misconceptions, prejudices, arrogance in the presence of children, who at a young age do not relate things to color, size, race or other physical traits.

So, do I have you wondering why I am writing this post?  It is simply to remind individuals to think. Think about what you say, where you say them and who can hear you, because it effects people and well it confuses them and eventually will hold them back. Still confused, Ok here is some background.

Today, I went to pick up my early years class to take them to Physed Class, same as I do every Monday and Wednesday. However, today one of my little ones had something on their mind, something that was obviously bothering them.  As we were finishing our snacks and lining up my little one said “Mr. Ram, my dad was talking about you”, to which I replied well that is nice. His facial expression changed as he said “no he wasn’t being nice”. Having an idea where this was going I inquired “Oh what did he say”, My poor little one said “he said you were fat and was making fun of your color”.

I felt very heart broken for my little one, not for myself, but for the child. A child who was now conflicted, a child that was confused as to why his dad would say something like he did, and hearing comments that go against everything he is taught about citizenship. A child that now did not now how to react towards his teacher, who gives out hugs regularly and who is always happy to see him. I was even more saddened, because as he was telling me this, three of his classmates came up, yelling my name and getting hugs, and this little guy got brushed out of the way, looking left out, left out because he was confused and struggling.

The question is what do you do? What do you say? This child’s dad is most likely his hero, and if not, he is definitely someone that he looks up to, I can’t go and damage that, so I smiled and said, “I know it is not nice, and we shouldn’t say things that are nice right, but don’t worry I am not upset, I was made me this way and I can’t change that, right” I was treated to one of his great smiles, meaning that he felt better, but I know that it effects him and at 5 or 6 years old he is conflicted with the issues of an adult that has no relationship with me. I am also scared for my little one that what he is hearing is going to effect his relationships both in his current setting and those that he will experience in his future.

Today was a sad day at school.

Connecting pedagogy with dimensions of student diversity.

When looking at the Principal Quality Standards and seeing that one of the strands states that as an instructional leader the principal should be or be able to connect pedagogy with dimensions of student diversity actually made me giggle, a little. Removing all of the educational lingo, what does this mean? To me as the Educational/ Instructional Leader this mean that :

” How people are expected to go about learning may differ and does differ between students. In order to maximize learning opportunities, teachers must gain knowledge of the students needs and abilities as they are represented in their classrooms, then translate this knowledge into instructional practice”.  Villegas, (1991) relates this specifically to culture, however I believe that this pertains to all areas of student learning.

You may be asking why or what I found funny about this, and I suppose it relates directly to my own experiences as an educator. For the previous eleven years, I taught children in care, children that due to a multitude or reasons were either removed from their homes or chose to leave their homes for more consistency and security. Teaching and learning from those children, gave me an in-depth understanding of the different methods students learned, the different elements that need to be in place and even the different levels and speeds that students learn.

A memory that gave me an ah-ha moment comes to mind. One of my students consistently used to ask me if she could work on the floor. Thinking like a traditional teacher I said “No, because if you are out of your desk and on the floor the other kids would all want to be out of their desks and on the floor”, and trust me in this setting this could be problematic. The student didn’t get mad, but also didn’t complete alot of work being very distracted for the rest of the day. She asked the same questions for the next few days, always receiving the same answer. However on the Friday, the weather was nice and I informed the kids that for the last two periods of the day we would be working outside. This set off my student as she became angry, started yelling and eventually flipped over her desk resulting in her being sent to timeout. After she had calmed down, I began to process with her, asking her why she was so opposed to working outside. (This is where the light came on) the student revealed that she was scared to be outside, she was convinced that even being out where we were that someone would drive by and well shoot at us. This also revealed why she liked working on the floor . . . bullets traveled in her experience with more ease through windows that they did through walls. Being on the floor allowed her to decrease her anxiety about violence that could occur. Monday brought a new development in the class, my student was permitted to work on the floor, for notes, assignments and anything else that didn’t require her to be upright. Some of you may ask, well didn’t others want to be on the floor? The answer is, yes they did, but they thought of it as fun and when the novelty wore off they returned to their desks. Eventually, she did return to her desk, however it was when she felt that it was safe to do so.

In relation to my duties as an administrator and instructional leader, as one staff put it so well when she reflected about our conversations in relation to student planning or programming “The thing I appreciated about Shawn during our time together, was his ability to present the other side. He was always able to play the devil’s advocate to ensure that we covered all bases”. M.Dallinger

I am always the one to ask what have we done, what have we tried, why haven’t we tried this or would this work. I have had some interesting reactions in respect to some of my comments but as I stated previously, I learned a long time ago that different things work for different students and that we, as educators need to know the students and where they come from to determine what that is and looks like. Before I end this post I am reminded of a quote which I hope I get right, Education is not about teaching the curriculum it is about teaching the student.

What type of Relationship do you have with People.

A wonderful colleague and friend sent me this beautiful video. It is a touching video and although it can be applied to many contexts and situations it was not until recently that the true meaning and representation behind it hit me.

Like George Couros, Chris Wejr, Patrick Larkin and many other educators, I have written multiple posts on the importance of relationships in education. how education makes many of the elements of teaching and administration less complicated and easier to accomplish.

All to often we don’t think or realize the influence that we have on the lives of children, however through out the year our interactions and experiences with students determine whether our relationships with students and staff are either for a:

Season: Meaning that we will be part of a persons life for a short period of time, thus implying that our relationship will be on the less in-depth part of the spectrum.

Reason: Meaning that the relationship that is formed is to serve a specific purpose and that once that purpose in complete that most likely the relationship will dissolve.

Life Time: Well this should be obvious, these are the relationships that are most sought after and the most fulfilling.

I have found that the biggest thing about relationships is that they take work and that once we stop working at them the best of relationships can falter.

So, next time you are working with a student, making plans with a staff or simply meeting someone for coffee, keep in mind what type of relationship you want and act accordingly, but also know that it is the moments that take our breath away not the number of breaths we take that accurately represent our life.

Breaking it Down to the Basics

While many of my colleagues are enjoying the first two weeks of summer, in what one would explain as being an beautiful summer with amazing weather. I am in an air conditioned room, with thirty nine other colleagues learning about learning. Learning about the best methodologies and strategies to assist students and teachers in their learning.

As a learning team, as individuals and as cohorts we have been looking at the many elements and aspects that effect, influence and increase learning and how as educators we would increase learning. We have looked at guided questions, socratic questioning, cognitive structures, voluntary change, modeling lessons and even reflective practice.

Aside from the overall theme of the conference which is:
Learning is created by the Learner

There is an underlying theme, a theme that can at times be put on to the back burner, with all of the curriculum, information, objectives, projects, teams and other items that can overwhelm an educator. A theme that is essential not only in learning, but it necessary for leadership, business and for any other form of interactive element of life . . . but before I reveal this I will explain the last exercise that our group participated in which should have solidified what I consider the key need to teaching.

Sceneario: You are teaching in a remote location. You and your students speak the same language and can experience the same culture. You have no set curriculum, no supervisors, no resources, no materials and no method of accessing them. Can you still teach, would and what is the most essential element that would be needed to be effective… and the answer is………………….

20120711-142842.jpg

RELATIONSHIPS

For me this is simply an affirmation of something that I already believe and consider vital not only for teachers, but even more so for administrators. Relationships are pivotal pieces to effectively operating a school. Just think about it, your most engaging and passionate conversations are those you have with someone you have a good relationship with. You need to know whom you are working with and you can only do this when you build relationships.

What is Balance

Lately, thanks to my Google-reader, as I rarely pick up the news paper, I have read an increasing number of blog posts relating to creating balance in ones life, here are a few of them:

Creating Balance by George Couros

No, Actaully, Your out of Balance by Will Richardson

Balancing Act by Michelle Baldwin

A balance between work and life, a balance between our online community and our face to face community. Going beyond reading about balance, I even wrote two posts about balance in my life prior to and after returning from a wonderful trip to Ireland.

Upon my return from Ireland I adopted a new Puppy – Aggie, and to prevent from making the same mistakes as I did with my first Dog I have been reading a number of books relating to puppy training. So I am sure the question you are asking is what does puppy training have to do with being balanced? Well apparently it has a lot to do with it. Surprisingly one of the most note worthy and thought provoking statements relating to balance came from . . . none other than Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer).

“The intellectual area is the side of our natures that most westerners have down pat. We are the masters of reason and logic. In America especially, the lifestyle most people lead here is very intellectual one. We communicate with one another almost excessively through language. We send worded messages on the internet and on cell phones; we read; we watch television. We have lots of education and more information at our fingertips than ever before, which allows some of us to live almost 100 percent in our minds. We agonize about the past and fantasize about the future. All too often, we become so dependent on our intellectual sides that we forget that there is much, much more to this amazing world we live in.”

As many people, including Ceaser mention, there are four areas of our life that need to be in balance for us as individuals to live peaceful, comfortable and productive lives. The intellectual is one, and with it come the Emotional, Spiritual and Instinctual. Here lies the point of this post. We always talk about having to change our behaviors, to create balance to, to make choices that benefit our personal welfare, but we don’t always do it. Actually we rarely do, often choosing to put work and other tasks ahead of what we know we should do.

So this post goes to Aggie, my new puppy. Keeping her needs in mind for exercise, training and play has forced and allowed me to make changes in my own life. These changes have created some balance in my life. Going for walks, listening to nothing but the sounds around, sitting and watching the ducks and birds around our house and finally learning that animals learn behaviors and physical expressions not sounds or words.

Thank you Aggie

Aggie Enjoying the Deck

Creating Balance – before the adventure

As educators, users of technology, parents (not myself), and humans one of the most talked about and emphasized

Image from Noholidaynolife.com

trends today is creating balance. Balancing the amount of time we spend interacting and communicating online with the amount of time we spend face to face with people. Balancing the hours of the day we work with the amount of time we relax and play. Balancing our diets, well pretty much creating balance everywhere.

In two days, I will engage in one of these activities. For as many years as I have been an educator, I have dreamed and thought about making the journey to a country that is not of my heritage, but one that I have connected with on other levels. During my week long adventure, I will put aside all of my technology. I will not be using twitter, skype, facebook, email, or even text messages. In truth my mobile phone will remain behind and not travel with me.

I look forward to my adventures that will happen in and on the Emerald Island (IRELAND).  I look forward to the customs and traditions, language, music, art, literature, folklore, cuisine and sport. I cannot explain why I am so attracted to Ireland,  but I am looking forward to connecting with what I have learned about Ireland – maybe it has something with being named SHAWN.

Image from dsc.discovery.com

In addition, I am really excited to to see some of the great sights and attractions of Ireland, some of which are; Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Kilmainhan Goal, The Cliffs of Moher, Kirwan’s Lane, The Guinness Storehouse and Woodenbridge Golf Club.

In a world where information is at my finger tips, and connecting is literally only a click away, I look forward to discovering,  learning and experiencing in what is considered the old fashioned way, by living it.

 

 

 

I will be sure to update all of you, to share my pictures and stories upon my return, till then my friends stay safe.

The Key to Differentiated Learning

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with, discussing and dissecting the ideas and process behind Differentiated Learning with many of my colleagues at our schools professional development day. As colleagues, experts and learners we talked about many of the themes and issues that surround differentiated learning.

The four major areas and concepts that we looked at were:

Planning for Differentiation

Academic Differentiation

Differentiating for Social Readiness

Assistive Technology

Without going into specific details and describing the outcomes of our conversations. I will tell you that there was one resounding theme and concept. This concept, it is not new and most successful educators and administrators already practice it. The best part is that it doesn’t take extra planning, special programming, expensive technology, changes in curriculum or extensive meetings or reports. So what is this amazing idea and concept:

KNOW YOUR STUDENTS!

There are warehouses, servers and shelves upon shelves of information and research I could share with you or direct you to, but I will have to agree and completely stand behind this  idea. Knowing your students is the most effective way to provide the best learning environment and learning experience for the students that we teach.

What do you do to really get to know your students?