I Gotta Stick in My Craw…

so I just wrote this:

The Social Studies working group recommends a school-wide transition from the terms “Western” and “Non-Western” to the terms “United States” and “Global”.  In our own discipline, this would mean cessation of language referring to “Western” and “Non-Western” history/social studies and the incorporation of “Unites States” and “Global” history/social studies in course descriptions and other curriculum materials.  At the very least we recommend a critical cross-divisional discussion to examine the problematic nature of these terms and their place in our institution.  


The terms “Western” and “Non-Western” have come under our scrutiny because they are:
  • antiquated
  • euphemisms for “white” and “non-white”
  • unrepresentative of the dichotomies presented in actual curriculum; “US” and “global” are more accurate
  • an impediment to goals for diversity and inclusiveness as they create an undesirable Eurocentric concept of “the other”
  • geographically incorrect i.e. placement of Latin American works/topics within the dichotomy


The committee understands that these terms are widely used in academia. However, as a cultivator of tomorrow’s thinkers Sidwell Friends School has an obligation to ensure our program is semantically representative of what we hope our students will contribute in the future.  We hope in the field of social studies and history our students will be thinking beyond “Western” and “Non-Western”, and as such, should name our programs accordingly.  

We’ll see what happens.

Cooling It Down

My students would like me to:


For eight weeks we have been having a grand time exploring ancient civilizations, E.B. White, Geography, paragraph writing, sensory details, Chinese language and characters, factors, multiples, variables, and equations.  Specials classes in science, Spanish, art, PE, music, and chorus have been incredibly exciting and wonderful. We just had conferences and many parents talked about how their students are feeling engaged, challenged and resilient.

Which is exactly where we want them.   
But now that they are there, we need to slow down a bit.  
There are a few signs indicating this.  The first is an unfinished project that several children need more time on to finish.  Many children were finished two weeks ago, but a few want to do their most careful and thoughtful work, and we have not had time for them to be as deliberate as they would like.  School should have time for careful work.  
Another sign is a geography writing project that now needs a consistent amount of time allowing for individual conferences and writing instruction.   The part where we teach them all together is ending and the most important part, where students receive assistance and feedback designed just for them, is beginning.  School should have time for differentiation and individual instruction and feedback.  
School should have time and sometimes it feel like there just isn’t time.  But we teachers sometimes make the beds we lie in.  When the signs start appearing, it is time to pull back, stop planning for the “next” thing, and support the thing that is happening right now.  It’s too easy to get caught up in all that is to come, all that we have to do before the end of the year or the start of the break or the date of the test.  The children would like to live in the moment a little to enjoy and remember their work.  It will be nice for us to do that too.  

Teaching Without Ego

What would it mean to

TEACH WITHOUT EGO?

Since returning from Lake Qinghai and the grasslands of Tibet. I have been contemplating this idea deeply, using it as a mantra to keep me grounded in a variety of scenarios.

Because, as a teacher, it’s amazing how often I bump into my ego.  Not to mention the egos of my colleagues.  The worst is when you encounter two egos in the hallway duking it out, however politely. You know it’s time to back away slowly.


What is “ego”?  It is a projection of the self, a self that is separate and different and special from the other selves in this world.  It is the source of identity and self esteem.  It is the driver of the question, “Who am I?”  Its importance is culturally constructed and particularly celebrated in modern America. 



It is also divisive and a barrier to compassion.  It is at the root of exclusion, indifference, and hate.  It breeds insecurity, fear, jealousy, and competition.   And as teachers,  it can be a detriment to our practice.

There are a good articles on this idea, from teachers of various disciplines:

“…the role of teacher is one in which you gain satisfaction through observing the learning of your pupils.”

But it’s hard.  Because don’t we teach who we are?  Don’t we need to guide [students] with a strong sense of self?”

The danger is this:

The ego can exist in two states – one, wherein it is aligned with the higher consciousness and the other, where it is not in alignment with this consciousness.
When the ego is aligned with the higher consciousness, there is just a quiet assertion of the individual self in a particular direction, which it knows intuitively is right for the fulfilment of its life purpose. This assertion is based on love and faith and leads to a harmonious state of goodwill and cooperation for the greater common good. When it is not aligned with the higher consciousness, the ego can really wreak havoc. It can misguide and misinterpret. Propelled by emotions based on fear and insecurity, it can cause action motivated by the desire for applause, attention, getting ahead of competition, reaching the finishing line first, proving one’s superiority over others, etc. Here, the ego is intensely conscious of the other and derives its identity in comparison with the other. The individual self asserts itself purely from the need to create a position of unassailability from which it cannot be dislodged.
When I joined my current school I entered into a team teaching situation that I greatly underestimated for its difficulty.  I have come to realize that 99% of any angst I feel at work can be traced back to my ego.  Desires to be recognized, respected, and right can be strong. Self-preservation seems sensible and competition seems healthy.  A twinge of resentment over a close relationship or individually achieved success seems normal. Suspicion of new colleagues and initiatives seems expected. Giving priority to the activities and topics I prefer seems logical. But when these emotional responses interfere with my ability to focus on what is best for my students and their learning, my ego is the one that needs to back down.  

In those moments I am learning not to fight, not to defend, not to protect, not to promote.  I am learning to let go.  When “I” am at the center of my practice, the world my students and I are creating together feels fragile and destabilized, tilted in the direction of a self-concerned perspective.  When my students are at the center of my practice, our world seems infinitely more solid.

In pursuing this idea, I meditate on these questions:

  • In what ways does my ego support  the development of my teaching practice?
  • In what ways does my ego impede the development of my teaching practice?
  • In what ways does my ego improve my relationships with students and colleagues?
  • In what ways does my ego make relationships with students and colleagues more difficult?
  • In what ways can I work with greater compassion?

Winter Is Coming…

nd soon it will be time to stay inside, bundled up in sweats with cups of cocoa.  What will I do as the cold months descend upon us?

A) Reread the entire Song of Fire of Ice series.

B) Cook my husband dinner every night.
C) Start a new, more comprehensive, more reflective blog

If you guessed A, you are tripping.  I finished those books last winter and I am not reading them again. I am saving my energy for the 6th book or the devastating news that George R.R. Martin has died without finishing this story and we will never know who ascends the Iron Throne.


If you guessed B, you are either my husband, a friend of my husband, or someone else’s hungry husband.


If you guessed C, you are right and very perceptive as you happen to be reading said blog right now.


This is not my first blog.  No, I’ve been around the blogging block.  I blog here about our 1:1 iPad program.  I blog here about my trips to China.  Here you can find my amateur poems.  I kind of blog a lot, but I have become convinced I should blog even MORE.  By whom?  Steve Wheeler.  He gives seven reasons teachers should blog.  And it’s all about reflecting on our practice in order to better serve our students.


That gets me every time.


This month is Connected Educator Month and there are lots of events both live and online to help teachers use technology for good.  But Justin Baeder made a great point that if your connectedness isn’t helping your students, who cares.  Your students don’t need you to be a Twitter star.  Get back in the classroom and teach. Or plan. Or assess. Or blog.  Because apparently by blogging, I can become a better teacher.  Or so I hope.


Our technology coordinator keeps quoting John Dewey:


We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”


Guess it’s time to dive in.



However, this blog isn’t for you.  It’s not even for me.  It’s for my students.  And if being connected is all it’s cracked up to be, it’ll be for your students too.