Category Archives: Learning

Sometimes I Surprise Me!

Some would say it was a baptism by fire… or being thrown to the wolves.  I made a rather spontaneous decision this year to accept some middle and high school substitute teaching assignments. Truth be told, I’d been thinking about it for a while, so maybe it wasn’t that spontaneous. But when I accepted my first two assignments, I didn’t have it all worked out in my own mind and, for me, that means it was at least somewhat spontaneous.

spanish-375830_1280So I found myself standing in front of a high school Spanish class, feeling a bit distracted and inadequate–not a good thing with a roomful of teenagers funneling in. At some level, I was thinking “How did I end up here?” while re-scanning the lesson plan which was, fortunately, written in English.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

Most of the kids at least knew who I was–that was a start. There were a few “high fives” as students walked in and took their places. Some of these kids I haven’t seen for a few years, so I was careful about calling people by name. Most seemed happy to see me and expressed surprise that I was going to be their sub. As the pre-class banter subsided and I began to take the roll, a student in the front asked, “Mr. Boomsma, do you know Spanish?”

I should have anticipated that question and prepared an answer, but this was a bit of a last minute assignment. So without much thought, I replied, “No I do not know Spanish. But I do know how to teach Spanish.”

By the time the words made it to the back of the room, I found myself surprised at the wisdom of that spontaneous answer.  I was even more surprised that my answer satisfied the kids, giving them confidence that today’s class wouldn’t be a total loss and might even be a learning experience.

Truth be told, they probably had more confidence in me than I did.

By the end of the class, I shared their confidence. There were several times I had to remind them, “I don’t know Spanish,” but together we got the work done  and they figured a lot out on their own. I found it interesting that some of them were surprised as well–at how much they were able to do and figure out.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the day, another aspect of this has become apparent. Obviously, there’s an additional half to this equation. I could have said,

“No, I don’t know Spanish. But I know how to teach it. And you don’t know Spanish either–at least not much. But you know how to learn it.”

Perfect! (Fantastico!) Here we have the perfect blend of people  who know how to teach and people who know how to learn. We also have some structure (a lesson plan) and resources (dictionaries, worksheets, etc.). Teaching and learning will take place!

The line between teacher and learner should be very fuzzy. Perhaps in some ways, it should disappear.  I don’t know how you can teach without learning. And I don’t know how you can learn without teaching, if only yourself.

In what was hopefully an obvious play on words, I announced a few years ago “I’m Giving Up Teaching.”  One of the problems with “teaching” is that the teacher has to do all the work. There’s a wonderful quip about how lectures are a way of “transferring the instructor’s lecture notes to students’ notebooks without passing through the brains of either.”  What I’m proposing here is often called “interactive learning” in more pedantic circles. I’m not going to suggest it’s easier

“Teaching” in the traditional sense becomes something the teacher does to a student. What I’m proposing here is often called “interactive learning” in more pedantic circles. I’m not going to suggest it’s easier for the teacher. But when it works, both the teacher and the student are involved and working–and everybody’s brain is engaged.

I am not recommending we have people “teach” something they know nothing about as a matter or course. But we need to believe they can. If for example, you’re a parent who’s frustrated because you think you can’t help your child with his or her homework, I’ll bet you can. Just don’t make it all about teaching; make it about learning. You just might surprise yourself.

 

A Few Course Updates…

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Spring’s just started, but the learning opportunities continue!

I’ve conducted my newest course offering on Suicide Awareness and Prevention twice and the results have been rewarding and exciting! Not only have educational professionals attended, but students have included church employees, agency employees, and several who simply wanted the information for their own use—one attendee came all the way from Hermon!

My ego enjoys the ratings of the instructor and positive comments, but there are a couple of observations that are far more important. As a result of attending these two classes:

  • 85% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more comfortable talking about suicide.
  • 93% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more confident in their ability to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors.
  • 85% of participants feel better equipped to help someone who might seem suicidal.

Currently, there are two more classes scheduled:

  1. Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at the Penquis Higher Education Center in Dover Foxcroft, sponsored by PVAEC, 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Call 564-6525 for information and to register.
  2. Thursday, April 14, 2016 at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, sponsored by RSU 19 Adult Education, 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Call 368-3290 for information and to register.

As promised in the classes already taught, I’ve started a website page of resources for developing good mental health and preventing suicide.

April is a busy month with Real Estate Classes–both licensing and continuing education. You can find a complete calendar on my real estate blog.

Due to increasing requests for learning opportunities, RSU 19 Adult Education is adding a second wave of classes in late spring and this summer this year. By request, I’ll be developing and offering an overview course, The Why’s and Where’s of Blogging The course is scheduled for Thursday, May 19 at Nokomis High school in Newport. We’ll also be offering the Substitute Teacher Course late in the summer.

The best way to avoid missing an opportunity is to sign up for the Learning Opportunities Newsletter. Since I know how annoying a flood of email can be, you’ll only hear from me about once a month at the most!

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Won’t You Guide?

This is a chapter from “Small People — Big Brains” that was written in 2012, shortly after the Newtown tragedy. My intent in republishing it this year is not to remind us of the tragedy; it is rather to remind us of the possibilities and opportunities we face every day.


 

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society, we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”
child-865116_1280One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. Boomsma, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds, fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14, 2012. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six-year-old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight-year-old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine-year-old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

SeDo Dictionary_34SM
Third Graders learn the “Dictionary Race” during a Dictionary Day Presentation.

Bet you didn’t know today is World Teachers’ Day! Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” is the slogan for 2015.

By sheer coincidence, today I will be working with eighty third graders as part of the Valley Grange Words for Thirds Program. The program is designed to give third graders their own personal dictionary. I have the honor of facilitating the process and teaching the kids a little history and some basic dictionary skills.

Another coincidence was that one of the email newsletters I subscribe to included a very appropriate quote by thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900).

Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being, something that is not ultimately amenable to education or cultivation by anyone else, but that is always difficult to access, something bound and immobilized; your educators cannot go beyond being your liberators. And that is the secret of all true culture: she does not present us with artificial limbs, wax-noses, bespectacled eyes – for such gifts leave us merely with a sham image of education. She is liberation instead, pulling weeds, removing rubble, chasing away the pests that would gnaw at the tender roots and shoots of the plant; she is an effusion of light and warmth, a tender trickle of nightly rain…

There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud – but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.

And therein lies a wonderful way to celebrate this relatively unknown day… thinking about those who have educated and “cultivated” us. We are all teachers and educators. We are all learners and students. I expect to learn something from these kids today. And I hope they learn something from me and the experience they have.

As I read Nietzche’s thoughts I was most struck by his suggestion that educators are liberators. Dictionary Day today will have, for me, a slightly different meaning today. I will be considering how today’s lesson and the book each child leaves with will be freeing and surely contribute to the person each becomes. As the kids would say, “Awesome!”

World Teacher Day

The 8 Minutes That Matter Most | Edutopia

Like a story, lessons deserve compelling beginnings and endings. From pop culture connections to finishing with a level-up, here are eight strategies for holding students’ attention.

This is a great post about… well, getting and holding students’ attention. As a writer, I particularly enjoyed the quote from John Irving.

Source: The 8 Minutes That Matter Most | Edutopia