from Jesse Stommel, on student-shaming

A powerful piece from Professor Jesse Stommel on the topic of student-shaming, a practice many of us educators have employed when our frustrations run over. The entire piece is good; here’s an excerpt from the end of “Dear Student”:

The work of educating from a place of care might seem abstract, or might be dismissed as touchy-feely, but if our goal is truly to resist the corporatization and standardization of education, we must recognize the ways that the failure to acknowledge students as full agents in their learning is a process that runs immediately parallel to the failure to acknowledge teachers as full agents in the classroom. The process that makes teachers increasingly adjunct is the same process that has made students into customers. And the gear that makes this system go depends on the pitting of students and teachers against one another.

The gear that makes this system go is obedience — mere compliance at the expense of critical engagement and complex human understanding.

For education to work, there can be no divide between teachers and students. There must be what Paulo Freire calls “teacher-students.” Specifically, he writes, “no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught.” So, “teacher” becomes a role that shifts, and learning depends upon a community of teacher-students. Any authority within the space must be aimed at fostering agency in all the members of the community. And this depends on a recognition of the power dynamics and hierarchies that this kind of learning environment must actively and continuously work against. There is no place for shame in the work of education.

Read the whole post here


Apologizing "for real"

Blogger, educator, and parent JoEllen published a wonderful piece called A Better Way to Say Sorry a few weeks ago. Shout out to my friend & M.Ed. fellow student Niki for punting out such a great read.

JoEllen suggests, wisely, that the typical way we adults handle childhood disputes leaves out the hard work of reconciliation. It’s “simple” to make kids go through the motions of “saying sorry,” but everyone is left the poorer afterward when the wrong-doer escapes with a halfhearted mumble and the wronged party knows that no one was actually sorry at all.

Redemptive teaching suggests that teachers need to 1) recognize biblically normative practices for human relationships and 2) encourage those practices in our classrooms via 3) aligning our procedures to reinforce the idea of loving God and neighbor, rather than trying to implement “rules” or a “process” that can somehow magically erase problems.

JoEllen came up with four basic steps to use as a pattern for apology with her 4th graders. This pattern is true for all humans, not just kids — and we would accomplish a lot as educators if we chose to follow the same steps when we find ourselves needing to apologize to our own students.

From her post (please do go read the whole thing)

A Better Way to Say Sorry:

1) I’m sorry for…: Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.
2) This is wrong because…: This might take some more thinking, but this is one of the most important parts. Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change.
3) In the future, I will…: Use positive language, and tell me what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.
4) Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your friendship. 

JoEllen’s classroom experience corroborates mine: If you model biblical thinking and action in front of your students (whether they’re 6 years old or 16), you will see positive change among your learning community.

Rules cannot accomplish nearly as much as following the Great Commandments do in our hearts (and you don’t have to be teaching in a “Christian” School to model loving God and neighbor for your students.).

Two Is More Than Enough

I think I’m beginning to understand in a TINY way how ridiculous it is that life boils down to Two Great Commandments. Love God with everything in you as hard as you can all the time, and love your neighbor like you love yourself. 

Such a straightforward mandate really scares some people, the folks who really want a school defined by a large number of very clear rules, a structure prepared in advance to handle any situation that could arise, a holiness code that guides all students in all situations.  

They are afraid, I guess, that God underestimated man’s sinfulness or our need of rules to make us better people or whatever, and we need to help Him out by creating a few more than His ten. 

Joey and I were talking today (it’s time for me to wrestle a class schedule into place for the upper school) and at one point it occurred to me that his job demands much servant-hearted love from him to us, the teachers and students and parents. I mean, teaching is heavily relational at NCS (a style that I am bold enough to call biblical, and perhaps normative) but we teachers aren’t called even to the level of sacrifice that Joey is. 

I thought of the verse in either Matthew or Mark where Christ tells the disciples that while the Gentiles make a big deal of leaders by lifting the up, Kingdom leadership is marked by self-sacrificing servanthood. “Truly, I say to you, he who would be the greatest among you must be the servant of all.” “Except a corn of wheat fall in the ground and DIE, it cannot bear fruit.” 

This love stuff isn’t for sissies. 

As a teacher, I can’t really help a student unless I “own” his problems as my own. Human nature says, “Sink or swim, kid, I gave you the tools, now make it work.” Grace-based education says, “Even the classroom must model Christ as the Master Teacher.” And that means I can’t just leave behind a set of directions and walk off. I have to get into the trench, shoulder the load, invest the time and attention to determine the right course of help.

Truth is, I’m a terrible lover. I love all the wrong things: my own comfort and happiness, my satisfaction and success, making things easier on myself, the easy road, the whim of the moment. To actually keep the Great Commandments is going to rip my heart out. 

And that’s the Grace of it. A new heart is exactly the point.

Biblical living isn’t rocket science. It’s putting myself out in order to work actively on someone else’s behalf (not merely “do no harm”). 

It means DIE so that I can live. 
But I don’t want to “die”……..not like that, anyway. I want a death with glory and pizzazz. There’s no pizzazz in plodding along, loving people. It’s hella inconvenient, messy, difficult, unrewarding at times, thankless, exhausting. Did I mention inconvenient? 

Oh, God. Who is going to save me from the bondage of this death? 
Thanks be to God, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are IN Christ Jesus, who walk not in the way of the carnal nature, but in the way of the Spirit. 

Love God with everything you are as hard as you can all the time.
Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

That really does encompass it all, folks. 
God help us all.

To Dream of Love

Love is an overused word. We love our children, love our dogs, love to laugh, and love peanut butter. Having a lover can be beautiful and pure or terrible and wrong. A girl who always loves her little brother may not always like him. We hurt the ones we love. We live for love. We die for love. 
Love is a broad and slippery concept. Romantic love alone is as complex as any field of human endeavor and has inspired more expression of form and feeling than any other subject in history. But who can define it?
If love is pure reason we find it cold; if pure emotion we call it foolhardy. Love is magic, we admit, but it doesn’t pay the bills, we warn smitten young people. Indeed, the river of advice for would-be romantics flows endless despite the fact that no sane person claims to have love figured out.
The questions are as timeless as they are vexing: What is it to be in love? How do you find the right one to marry? Can you keep love living through years of life’s changes and strain? We try to lead our young people through the maze, but ultimately they must find their own way. We can only love them.
New Covenant School maintains a theater element as part of its rhetoric program because there is no better way to have vicarious experience—to learn wisdom in a deep way, by embodying the words and actions of others and then reflecting on them for years to come, comparing them to one’s own life experience and slowly unfolding the lessons in full. Hearing wisdom in a lecture once or twice can’t compare with making it part of you forever. 
New Covenant School is excited to present A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Perhaps Shakespeare’s most loved comedy, Dream examines the foibles of love with wit, wry humor, and ingenious irony. Is love a question of conquest? Obedience? Impulse? Magic? To use Shakespeare’s words, does a good marriage come from love or reason, from fancy or constancy? Or are we mortals all bound to make fools of ourselves in the pursuit of true love?