Saturday, September 14, 2013

Giving is the best communication...

In my life, I have experienced the extreme blessing of parenting and working with children, adolescents and adults with complex communication needs.  In my job over the past eight years, I have stated how wrong it is that I'm the one we call "teacher" and they are called "students" as I so often feel that I learn more from them then they do from me.
I believe in interacting with people who do not necessarily use words to communicate, you become attuned to just how vast and deep "communication" actually is.  Every single act we perform throughout the day communicates a message and in any given moment we have the ability to have an incredibly deep influence on the world and the lives of those we come in contact with.

To communicate is to have an impact on the world around you.  The following video shows how "giving" is a very powerful avenue of communication...

As an educator I find myself wondering how we can create the circumstance for our students to experience giving so that we can set them on the path of ethical citizenship

In the book Reimagining Education: How We Teach, What We Teach, and The Systems in Which We Teach Jerry Goebel asks the question "What is one vital behaviour we could teach young people that would change their generation?"  His response is the ability to think empathetically and respond locally. He notes that when students do this they become both agents of change and social entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurism is about standing up, seizing an idea and then implementing it. The Ashoka website states: "Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better. While a business entrepreneur might create entirely new industries, a social entrepreneur comes up with new solutions to social problems and then implements them on a large scale."

Inclusion and "belonging" are often associated together.  Belonging is often thought to be about fitting in or being a part of but authentic belonging also involves contribution.  When you belong, you have an impact on the community and what you bring to it matters.  Angela Maiers touches on this in the "YOU MATTER" Manifesto...

The question of how we create the circumstance and environment for all members of a school community to find, use and develop the gift they have that others need seems to be at the heart of creating inclusive school communities.  As we move towards the recognition of each person's unique contribution, both of doing and being, we move towards inclusion. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Fear of Diversity

In the book The Courage to Teach Parker Palmer speaks to the layers of fear that may exist related to diversity:
This fear of the live encounter is actually a sequence of fears that begins in the fear of diversity.  As long as we inhabit a universe made homogeneous by our refusal to admit otherness, we can maintain the illusion that we possess the truth about ourselves and the world - after all, there is no 'other' to challenge us! But as soon as we admit pluralism, we are forced to admit that ours is not the only standpoint, the only experience, the only way, and the truths we have built our lives on begin to feel fragile.
If we embrace diversity, we find ourselves on the doorsteps of our next fear: fear of the conflict that will ensue when divergent truths meet. Because academic and culture knows only one form of conflict, the win-lose form called competition, we fear the live encounter as a contest from which one party emerges victorious while the other leaves defeated and ashamed. To evade public engagement over our dangerous differences, we privatize them, only to find them growing larger and more divisive. 
If we peel back our fear of conflict, we find a third layer of fear, the fear of losing identity. Many of us are so deeply identified with our ideas that when we have a competitive encounter, we risk losing more than the debate: we risk losing our sense of self."  
In the following TED talk, Kathleen Taylor talks about figuring out who we are so that what we are supposed to do can flow from that.  Perhaps, then it is not so much the fear of losing identity but rather the fear of finding identity that sits at the heart of accepting diversity. Finding our identity creates the responsibility to step away from the crowd and, at first, seems to actually create the condition for dis-belonging rather than belonging. 

Perhaps it is somewhere in our definition of "belonging" that the concept of "inclusion" and "celebrating diversity" get mixed up as we have traditionally defined belonging as being one of the crowd.  This creates the belief that we must conform to the crowd to belong.  It speaks to the idea of the crowd and the environment being static and defined.  In education, it speaks to the factory, compliance driven model that schools have been built on. 
This morning, I came across this response to the question of how schools go from "good" to "great"...
Belonging is not about fitting in and being like everyone else.  It is about valuing.  Valuing our selves. Valuing others. Valuing the community we are a part of.  There is nothing static or defined about a community in which all members authentically belong because that community evolves and is shaped by the unique and changing contribution and needs of each member. 

Kathleen Taylor states that "action and creativity and innovation that comes from true authenticity is what moves the world forward."  She talks about how we each add our own unique contribution to the world.  When we celebrate diversity, we celebrate these contributions.  We celebrate an always evolving world... a world that is perhaps always just a little bit off balance.  We learn how to more deeply relate and connect so we can more deeply understand the world and people around us.  We become aware of the fact that we are not just merely surviving in the world or trying to achieve check marks on our bucket lists but that we are actually agents in the world and are a part of creating the world as it now and as it will be in the future.

Inclusion is not about creating conformity to some pre-defined norm.  It is about creating the circumstance where each individual can come to understand their strength and value and then nurturing it in such a way that it will expand the entire community.  We don't lose our identity when we embrace diversity... we find and are empowered by both our individual and our collective identity. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A value is not a value until we act on it...

Students in our division will begin their new school year on Tuesday.  This past Thursday, we gathered with all the staff in our division to hear David Wells speak on the topic of replacing stress with faith.  In one section of his talk, he spoke of children in the Church and the question of what they should be doing in the Church.  He went on to share a set of rules that a Church came up with to guide people around appropriate behaviour in the Church.  He did this without judgement and spoke to the need for balance in this area.  In the middle of this example, he stated, "Then one day you wake up and you got the rules and you have forgotten the reason for the rules."

Although he was referring to the Church in this example, it applies to any institution and even to the entire human race.  In the context of education, it seems the reason should link to our purpose and our values.  What is the purpose of education?  What do we value in education?  Do our rules match our reason? 

We live in a time where the socialization of education and work is becoming more and more evident and we work in a system that pushes us as educators to measure things that are not at all tied to socialization. In the process, we end up sacrificing the play, exploration and engagement that sits at the heart of social and emotional learning.  We create "rules" that are rooted in trying to control the "behaviours" we believe are necessary for learning.  Sadly, our limited resources then end up going towards control rather than engagement.

What if we focused our efforts on engaging the disengaged rather than trying to control them?  I recently came across the great quote on the blog In-kloo-zhuhn: "To see all individuals as 'at promise' rather than 'at risk' is a fundamental shift that means facilitating rather than fixing, pointing to health rather than dysfunction, turning away from limiting labels and diagnosis to wholeness and well-being." (Source:

How are we naming our students?  Students will become what they are named.  Do we make it a priority to protect the dignity and build the character of our students?  Would we put different action plans in place if we thought of students as 'at promise' rather than 'at risk'?  At promise of what? How do we work with that student and those closest to him/her to move towards that promise?  Is this our reason?  If it is, does it change our rules? 

It all seems to get closer to the heart of what inclusion actually is.  It points to a question that should drive our work around creating inclusive schooling: How can we set up our school communities so that part of what we do every day is intentionally find value in each other?  "Successful inclusion begins and ends with our capacity for valuing others.  We cannot include those we do not value." (Source: