Powerful Readings from July

We traveled for most of the month of July (one of the greatest joys in my life and I feel so lucky to be able to do so for so many reasons) so it is possible I missed lots of great pieces. As I suffer from serious FOMO this is hard for me to accept but I’m working on the idea that I can’t do everything and be everywhere.

The kind of reading we did a lot of in July…

I have pointed to the work Science Goddess is doing around data visualization before. Not only does she present (and help others present) data in intriguing and highly informative ways, but she also pushes the boundaries on which data to share. Schools and systems often look at the same basic data. Science Goddess helps us see how much more is out there and all it can help us learn. In this post she’s thinking about how to grow that in ways I find super exciting.

I love attending CMK (Constructing Modern Knowledge) but when I can’t, I love reading about the experiences of those attending. Bud Hunt has long been one of my favorite folks to read and his series about CMK this summer is well worth the time. I’ve focused on just one of the pieces, but they are all fabulous. If you’re familiar with Bud you’ll find the piece is so him, the language, the ideas, the positivity, the reflection – it’s all so clearly him. If you don’t know him this is a great chance to get to know him. He worked on a Muse at CMK, creating ways to help people get going writing poetry.

Everyone was successful. 100% of the folks who sat down to write a poem wrote one. And they spent less than ten minutes doing so between the prompting and the writing.

Read to the end because the final story is the icing on an already fabulous cake.

I’m putting these next two pieces together because they both resulted from reading Carla Shalaby’s Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School. I am currently halfway through the book and it is life-changing. Jess has taken her thoughts on the book and already begun planning how it will shift the start of her school year. She is one of those thinkers and writers I always save when I see a new post because I know I will need time and space to read what she is written. I can’t just do a quick read of it. I need to ponder it, take it in slowly. This piece is no different.

One of the things that I loved most about the book is that Shalaby shows us what is possible when we stop simply looking at a child’s behavior as a problem to be solved with the right punishment or reward, but instead look at what we can learn about the toxicity of our own schools from the problems that it is causing in our children. In the chapter that describes one of the students, Sean, we see a problem of questioning authority that has become extreme and often times disruptive and even harmful to other students.

Many attempts are made to correct this behavior, but what Shalaby helps us to envision instead is a way for us to learn about the changes that WE can make in our classrooms instead. She writes, “Knowing when and how to challenge authority is a skill worth teaching and learning. Understanding the power of organized, collective dispute — as an alternative to vulnerable, individual dispute — is also a lesson worth teaching and learning. Questioning is a habit we should cultivate in young people not because of its value to any particular individual, but because it makes for an undoubtedly healthier and more robust democracy. Democracy requires dispute.”

Franki also wrote after reading this book. These two women are both classroom teachers and educational leaders on a national scale. Their thinking and models are ones I turn to often. I am grateful to them both for sharing their thoughts and helping me grow through this book even more. Franki’s thoughts push me to look at the book more deeply and to notice things I might have missed.

For me, reading this book was an exercise of hope, of study and of reflection. It pushed me to think in ways I hadn’t thought before and it helped me to realize new ways to think about the children in our schools.   I learned different things from each of the four children in this book.  Each child helped me reflect about some piece of my relationship with children that I hadn’t explored. Carla Shalaby pushes a bit beyond the case studies during the last third of the book and I have to admit that this part of the book was a little painful to read–it required true and honest reflection.  The reflection required in her conclusion meant I had to acknowledge things that were hard to admit, even to myself. I thought of children who I failed and what I could have done differently-what part I played in the “troublemaker” narrative.  But with that reflection, the author offers us hope. Not only hope–she reminded me of the power that we, as teachers have to make change, to make things right for our children, to move beyond the mandates and the constraints and to be change makers.

Having just returned from the most complicated, longest family vacation we’ve ever taken, I was struck by Sherri’s thoughts on traveling. The way she notices things, things the rest of us might miss, helps me see in a new light. Her thoughts on distance and detail and on out and in fascinated me, especially as I considered them from our travel.

To travel necessitates spending time with ourselves. Spending time with our vulnerabilities, fears, deeper desires (i.e. for rest, privacy, silence, or action). Patience will be tested. Sooner or later. Definitely at one point. There will be surprises.

Sherri helps me put into words the value of travel, what I believe it offers us and why I think it matters.

More thoughts based on travel come from Doyle. He and his wife took a trip to France and he has written a bit about his reflections from it. This post is lovely but the final footnote at the bottom is the kicker. One little sentence and it hits it right on.

One last piece ties this up nicely as it’s about travel as well and it’s another one from Bud Hunt. He writes about visiting Mesa Verde National Park with his family and learning from a park ranger. I won’t try to get at it here, just go and read the piece because it is beautiful – both the writing and the thinking.

I love July as an educator because I believe it gives many of us a little time and space to think and reflect deeply without the chaos and rush of the school year.

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