Thursday, April 10, 2014

What would you like to leave behind?

Say farewell
            to all things
            at every moment.
Fix your eyes
            Slowly, passionately
            On all things and say:
            “Never again!”
from The Rock by Nikos Kazantzakis,
translated by Richard Howard

Last night at the Farmhouse we had a meeting about a different kind of school. I would like to say never again, to the way things have always been, and explore what can be. We talked a little about typical curriculum, but mostly we talked about the bright light, the gift, the inner knowing that we all possess. I wasn’t sitting with a group of theologians’ or philosophers’ (although I think one or two in our group could be someday); I was sharing a meal with people who believe there might be another way.

Vernal Pool Saturday, April 5th
We did simple things last night – but with great intention. We were in the moment as we ate food and dreamed of what our school could be. Our school. And as the children ran and played, moving from the labyrinth to the field and into the large play room we asked questions and pondered this dream. The conversation was rich and vibrant. There were questions and there were answers, which lead to more questions.

Wouldn’t we all like to leave some things behind? Don’t we all want another way, a more peaceful way? News filled with more violence in our schools, in our local governments, about wars of words and deeds across our land, and so many other lands. We alienate each other, we point fingers and get angry, but why? If we don’t try to change this who will? If not you, and me who? If not now, when? (Hillel) It starts today with me!

As I sit and ponder what can be I wonder where our common threads lie? Could it be as simple as sharing a meal with a stranger? Can it be a kind word with no expectation of any return? Perhaps a smile? Being cheerful and kind? Maybe a school that helps us to trust kids, trust their innate desire to learn? Could we make a difference?

We trust so little these days - our neighbors, our communities, ourselves, our children! But I remember so much of what I learned in the pick-up games down the street with my friends, in the games of town chase, and in the playground before the school bell rang in the morning. We negotiated, we petitioned each other, we picked sides and we even fought. But at the end of the day we were all friends finding our way. I read about different ways and I hope for the next generation of children we can challenge the status quo – so children can explore neighborhoods, ponds and streams, climb trees and build forts. If we get to know each other, honor each other, then maybe we can feel safe to have our kids explore. If we trust our kids to explore they can learn from their experiences and maybe the world will be a safer place. I wonder… is it possible?

Is it possible to say never again to the way things have always been and try something new? One thing I know for sure – and I learned it as a kid on the streets of our town – if I we don’t try we will never know!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing Stays the Same

From the scenic harbor, as I ate my lunch, I realized that my journey back in time was a bit laughable. What did I, the queen of change, expect. The earthquake of 1989 had left the buildings of downtown Santa Cruz a shambles and some of the roads piles of dirt. In 1993, when I left, the repairs had only just begun. Walking the downtown streets, scanning the shops and the bookstore shelves that were once familiar, I realized that everything changes, I changed and as the old clique goes… “the only thing that is constant is change (Heraclitus).”

I drove down the scenic coastal highway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz just a week ago, anxious to reclaim a piece of my past. I had not been in California since I packed up my car with my two kids and headed back to Pennsylvania, the place I ran from, and the place I called home! The streets seemed different and I couldn’t find some of the places I lived or worked. I was both shocked and amazed that as I wandered around town nothing seemed the same. I remembered very little of this beautiful seaside town. The eight years I spent in California were a significant time in my life and now a blur.

Sometimes I long for the past; the way I thought things were, or the way I hope they would or could be. Yet, that type of thinking can stifle the beauty of what is here right now. The ride down the California coast was as majestic as the old folk songs proclaim. I was in the moment as I soaked in the beauty of the vast ocean and gigantic rocks. I thought about my work as we drove down this scenic trail.

I am back at my morning table reading and reflecting this Saturday. The view from the big window - trees with the early blooms of spring, a pale blue sky and the Kittatinny Mountain Ridge stretched out as the sun rises.  I sit in the same place most mornings, the view is rarely the same, yet it is always stunning. In the quiet of the morning I know I do not need to go back to California to reclaim a past that shaped me, I do not need to visit my childhood home, or the home where I raised my children. I am happy right here as the view changes and the sun comes up, right before my eyes. I will finish my cup of coffee and move on.

Striving to live in a way that models inclusion and cheerfulness is important to me these days, because change is hard, and the fear that we all have is that we will get left behind as the winds of change blow. Will we have a job? A Friend? A Partner in Life? Will our children visit us when we become old? My dream these days, as I work with others, is to use my talents to help make schools and the world a safe place, a joyful place, a hopeful place, where everyone can try to reach their full potential. I may never really make a significant change, one that gets noticed by the whole world, but I hope that I can add value, some small nugget, that brings hope and beauty to the people I meet and to the dreams we all hold!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Revisiting Silence

Sitting in the Silence, again! It seems that spring is on its way. The sun is high in the sky as the afternoon winds down. It is hard to imagine that spring is really just around the corner today, as I see the snow piled around the house, but it is melting, and I do believe spring will really arrive. The winter has been harsh, and the cold has worn me to the bone. At first I loved the snow, especially when the storms had passed and our power stayed on. I had fun skiing in the freshly fallen snow, making a blazing fire, and walking in the woods with the dogs using snowshoes! I reveled in the beauty of the snow and silence.

With winter almost past, and the excitement of the holidays stored in my memory, I am trying to savor winter. But spring is just around the bend and work calls me to learn new things, stretching the boundaries of what I know. I was buried deep this winter. Unsure of my fate, I wondered if I could recover from the blizzard of a job with new and different skill requirements? If spring would ever arrive? I hunkered down to face the storm. Stretched to my limits, afraid I would crack like the plastic shovel I used in the driveway layered with ice, I pushed on. My skills seemed to match the cheap material of one of the shovels I tried to use to remove ice from my path, only to have it crack and break under the stress of the sub-zero temperatures. Is this how our children feel? I wonder a lot about how new education initiatives, standardized test, and performance based teacher evaluations weigh on our children?

For now, it seems that despite my sub-par technology skills, I have survived the winter – still learning, leaning on my colleagues. It almost feel like spring will come. I have great support! Who provides this support to our students, our families, and our communities? Today, I am networking with new people, and trying to keep my center. Working on ideas that I think can help kids, stuck in storms that hinder learning and success. Even now, as I gain support from capable people, I find that the stress of life pushes me past my center. Sometimes this takes me to a place that makes me a person I don’t want to be. Is this what happens to frustrated kids? I guess this can happen from any desk, in any office, in any school, from any position. What are the kids saying?

Spring is just around the corner now and I am blessed with wonderful possibilities for BSN and The School at Kirkridge. Seeking silence is more important than ever. In the hurried world where information bombards us from every direction, I am thankful for finding my way to silence, asking questions that matter in this space. Silence is not a luxury in my life, but a necessity. I beckon you to try to stop, even if it just for a few minutes – and sit in silence, hear your self. You might be surprised! You might just stand up and try to change the world.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Winter Day


A full bird feeder -  birds coming to share the abundance.

Sleds - with snow and pushes from friends.

Sunrise - after snow that you think will never end! 

Wind chimes - singing in of the beauty of winter.

Trees filled with icicles - a gift of the frigid temperatures.

Fresh tracks in the snow -  A journey of hope and life in the cold of winter!

The creek - flowing gently through the winter.

What lies under this snow, on this path? I can wait for spring, enjoy the blessings of today, and hold the grace of what is yet to be! 

All is possible!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Learning from Children - Competency Counts

Mosaic or Rockwell by Students
I started to write the other day about educators taking back education. Inspired by the words “the wilderness inward takes years to cross….”  in Mark Van Doren’s poem, “Patience” (in Collected and New Poems 1924 – 1963). I found myself on an unexpected journey. I looked at my regressions as an educator and pontificated about what it is we adults should do. Looking in can be painful, especially when you realize that maybe you had it all wrong. Diane Ravitch this fall recanted her support of charter schools. I was not so forgiving when she first made her statements. My colleague Jed pushed back about her courage. He was right! So I think my premise that educators need to take back education just may be wrong? 

Lately, I have been working on building a schedule for teaching online recovery courses and getting ready to open a democratic school – it makes me ponder what kids really need to know and why we might just want to look at things a little differently. Early this morning as a large, pink, fiery sun painted the blue horizon, I thought more about just how wise children are. In the Tao of Pooh and other forms of Eastern thought we are called to come back to our child-like brilliance. Interesting! The blog about educators taking back education seemed, at that moment, with colors traversing the sky, stuffy and wrong. Children mostly get it right. We need to pay attention to the children.

As educators can we try to peel back the layers of minutia we burden our children with? Can we allow children to lead us? It will take heart and courage, this will be no easy task. Can we try to not tell children to stop dreaming, creating, playing and exploring? As educators, can we look at what our children know and learn by doing, exploring, and collaborating? Can we step back and be their guide? Can we model learning as we explore, dream and create? I challenge us all to see the bright light and competency that exists right in their eyes and smiles, in their grimaces and sights as they learn. Try to let go – try to trust these bright shining lights that really do hold our future. Can you?

Check out for competency based summer recovery courses and to learn more about democratic schools.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning from the Learning Institute

I take as many walks as I can these days to get out from behind the screen! It has been beautiful to walk in the cold and the snow. Recently as I was walking past the Farmhouse on my usual route I thought about when I began working with Blended Schools Network at the beginning of July as the Language Institute Coordinator. Fresh from a vacation in Scotland, I was ready to dig into something new and exciting. As I took over the reins of the Language Institute, I realized I had a lot to learn! Teachers, schools, districts…  There were Learning Management Systems, Blackboard Collaborate, scheduling, timing, billing, communicating, reading, hearing and finding my way in this marvelous learning organization.
The first semester of working with the Language Institute has been nothing short of amazing. Talk about learning – World Language teachers work with over 400 students in Blackboard Collaborate on any given day. Students come from as far away as California, and our teachers are as far away as Egypt! Language learning is about communicating within different cultures; this is surely happening as we hear from students, teachers, parents and schools districts.
During the first semester Laura Hanley and Iryna Kozlova presented a live session hosted by Blackboard on why and how we use Collaborate to host synchronous sessions that engage students in learning. Iryna and Evon Zundel had just published a chapter on the value of synchronous online learning in the book Online Teaching and Learning: Sociocultural Perspectives with several collaborators. You can read more here.
In addition some other interesting, provocative and inspirational work that happened just this fall:
·       Dr. Mohamed Bugaighis, retired Moravian College Professor, spoke to students about the Arab Spring in November and we recorded the session for Arabic and Social Studies lessons. See it here.
·       A student from Quakertown is using his Arabic to help another student from Syria.  Check out the video.
·       Fatma El Turky was able to visit the UN with her student Evan Cosgrove to attend The Better World Campaign’s Thank a Peacekeeper 2013 Reception, held at the Tolerance Museum in New York City. Participants spoke with influential world leaders in a live panel discussion. Evan met Pakistan's Masood Khan, Ambassador to the United Nations.  See more here.
·       Students have written to their language teachers telling them about college and world experiences in multiple countries using the languages they learned with Blended Schools.
·       One parent recently sent an email saying how her son really enjoys his language instruction, as well as the classroom interaction. He has a wonderful teacher and she has been impressed with his progress so far. We also received great feedback on our special presentations and projects that few would expect from “online” language classes or any online classes.
I am sure there is much more that could be reported that happens every day in our courses. Our teachers visit their students for special events when the distance allows, students send their teachers gifts for the holidays. So much of what happens at the Blended Schools Learning Institute is exactly what research tells us students need to be successful: high standards, challenging work, teachers who believe students are capable and adults who care for them. In my short time with the Language Institute, I have seen great things, and I look forward to continuing these great practices as the Language Institute transitions to the Learning Institute.
Check out the Learning Institute’s page on the Blended Schools Network’s website and see all the great courses that people of all ages can participate in. We provide flexible options to help meet the demands of 21st century learners! Think about how learning and learners drive education!