Reflection and Service


So pleased to have a guest post today from Dominic DiBenedetto. Grade 8 English teacher at Keene Middle School.  These are the remarks he delivered at the closing of the National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony at KMS last week.  One of the things I most appreciate about Dominic- both as a teacher and as an NJHS adviser- is that he seeks to make the exclusive inclusive.  NJHS at KMS isn’t about drawing a circle in which only one brand of excellence is valued, it’s about honoring a whole bunch of different versions of service, citizenship, and academic success.  (He’s also an AUNE alum, so that makes him extra snazzy in my opinion.)

Learn from your mistakes. It seems simple enough, right? But how do we know at which point in the process we went wrong? How do we pinpoint the specific pieces of the puzzle to readjust – instead of simply trying to jam something in place that simply doesn’t fit? The answer involves the art of reflection: looking back with a critical eye and using resources to change and address those mistakes.

As an educator, I benefit from the daily, almost hourly opportunity to be reflective – specifically in the area of lesson planning.  Whether I ask for it or not, I am given immediate, specific feedback regarding the content of my lessons, the timing of my activities, and the methods with which I manage my students. Even a very organized and competent planner can come across mistakes in his classroom. Were I to blindly follow my plans, disregarding my students’ ability to learn successfully, or blame it on their supposed laziness, I’d never get anywhere!
The young men and women honored tonight have shown that they must be very reflective members of our community – taking seriously the delicate processes for learning from their mistakes. They have put in a great deal of effort into reviewing their unsuccessful attempts, culling out the problematic steps, and revising their strategies to accomplish their goals.  Skills and instincts, no doubt enriched through the careful, loving support and teachings of their biggest influences – the parents. You have all given these young leaders the benefit of your reflective practices and learned-from mistakes.  We all appreciate the countless hours and sleepless nights you’ve invested.
And now, kids, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and really give back. Whether or not the plans we make come to fruition this year, we are always planning and reflecting – What parts of our community need our help? How can we provide that support? These questions and more are considered regularly. Tonight isn’t simply a party – it’s the beginning of a commitment to lead by example, encourage others to do their best, and going forward in excellence, remember to learn from your mistakes.

Where Dewey Meets Digital

I’d like to say I’m a geek.  I really would.  I’m pretty sure that my inability to remember what OS I’m running or how many megabytes or gigabytes something has precludes me from full-on geekdom.  I don’t code and my Minecraft skills are weak (at least that’s what my kids tell me).  (I do have an impressive collection of Wonder Woman items, but that’s another post for another day.)

I’ve got one thing in my favor, though- I. Love. Tech.

That may seem odd for someone who works at Antioch New England.  We’re not very high-tech by most estimations. We’re a pretty nature-oriented. We’re very green, very high touch, very relational.  You’re more likely to find yarn, water colors, leaves or wood than steel, titanium or screens and our default method of communication is much more likely to be “let’s meet for a coffee” than “let’s do a Google+ hangout.”  

But to me, it’s a perfect fit.  See, most of the folks I know who work with tech (as opposed to working ON tech- you know, fixing it, designing it, building it, etc), are less focused on the “what” than the “why.”  They want technology to build connections, to deepen understanding, to magnify learning.  They’ve seen tech get in the way of relationships and they’ve watched enough badly utilized PowerPoint suck the life right out of a conversation to value the conversation- the connection- above all else.

We’re good at conversation.  We’re good at authentic connections, at reflection, at teaching teachers and leaders how to have those same connections with the people they serve.  We know what it takes to move from Instructor to Facilitator- and those skills don’t change whether we’re sitting around one table in a classroom or we’re sitting around tables in 4 different time zones during a g+ Hangout. Personally, I think we need more Edtech integrators who know how to have the conversation, who know how to put the pedagogy before the technology, who can listen to a teacher talk about what she wants kids to know, do, and be like first and then recommend the right tech tools for the job.

That’s why we’ve partnered with some of the best Edtech Integrators we know (like Dan Callahan, Cathy Brophy, Cathy Higgins, and Zach Chase) to develop a program that combines our Critical Skills Program, (which has a powerful emphasis on learning processes and inquiry-driven, experiential pedagogy), with a constructivist approach to educational technology.  

We’re taking Dewey’s view of learning through experience and making meaning out of the world around us and connecting it to tech in the classroom.  We’re not here to tell you what tech to use- we’re here to help you figure out the best ways to use the tech you have and reflect on your experience so you select just the right tech in the future.

 Antioch University New England, where Dewey finally meets Digital.

Getting My Learning On Pt 4: Silence

The Mindfulness Practices for the Educator course is starting this weekend.  (It’s part of our Mindfulness for Educators concentration, one of my favorite things at AUNE.) I’m not very good at Mindfulness but I know enough about it to know what it is and how I’d do it if I were going to do it very well.  One of the things I’ve learned (mostly from years of sharing an office with Susan Dreyer Leon) is this idea that right now is what matters- not what happened 10 years or 10 minutes ago or what might (or might not) happen 10 years or 10 minute from now.  It’s a lovely, freeing way of being the world, to tell you the truth.  I’ve also learned that there’s value in silence- even though my silence is usually filled by my brain chattering at me like a monkey, reminding me of everything I need to do, should do, forgot to do, or should worry that I need to do but will forget.  Eventually, I can calm it (actually, the process feels a lot like the ways I used to get my hyper toddlers to settle down at bedtime many years ago), usually just by paying more attention to the silence than the chattering.  

Then I ran across this is one of Torin’s books (Finding Your Self)…

During his life, Gandhi often affirmed the tremendous power and creativity of silence… he urged his followers to adopt periods of voluntary silence to find the inner courage needed to overcome oppression…


Yet silence is not just the pushing inside of external stimuli; it can also be cultivated in the small in between times of life. Even a very small space, such as the interval between two notes, it is a moment that can be magical. Life is very full of in-between moments: riding an elevator, waiting for a phone call to go through, listening for the thunder after lightning flash–they are all pregnant opportunities. The spiritual question is “What do we do with these in-between moments?” Do we simply rush through them, growing patient, try to fill them with multitasking? Or can we be more like the human heart, which actually arrest the movement of blood for the slightest moment, a time in which much can happen to further human consciousness. If we can expand those small moments of silence in daily life, we can open up opportunities for something else to enter…


Silence.  Mindfulness.  It doesn’t have to be hours or days or even minutes.  Seconds, in-betweens, can be enough to bring us back to ourselves and make space for something new to emerge.

Maybe I’m better at this mindfulness thing than I thought I was.

Getting My Learning on Part 3: A Second Classroom

I’m still doing a lot of thinking and reading and learning about the work of my colleagues here at Antioch University New England and it’s taking me in a lot of different directions.  I just discovered this amazing a six segment interview that Torin Finser did with a prominent Waldorf scholar, Eugene Schwartz around his new book- A Second Classroom.  I’ll put it up a bit at a time, but wanted to get the first link up asap as it’s just. So. Interesting.  Click here to give it a listen online!

Grit and the Critical Skills Program: a Disposition, not a Predetermination

I’ve already said my piece on “Grit” over at Edweek Teacher, or at least grit so far as it’s used as a litmus test for whether or not one should be a teacher. (Or perhaps better said, whether or not one should actually prepare to be a teacher rather than just jumping in after 5 weeks of summer prep, but I digress.)  There’s been one aspect of the whole grit conversation that actually sort of sticks in my craw a bit.  It causes this conversation in my head that goes like this:

Me: Grit is good!

Also me: Yes, yes.  It’s good. And your point is?

Me: It’s good- and we should teach kids how to have it!

Also me: Hmmm…yes I suppose, but…can we?

Me: Well, don’t you say you can teach kids to be problem solvers and leaders and critical thinkers?  How is this any different?

Also me: Good point. Let me think about that.

(this is the part where I wander around Antioch University New England, scratching my head and looking for chocolate on other people’s desks. Pro tip: There’s always a bowl in the VPAA’s office.)

Image So yes.  Grit is good.  It’s also known as perseverance, which is a word I prefer.  And yes, we can teach it in the same way that Critical Skills teachers have been teaching all kinds of skills and dispositions for the last 30-odd years- by co-creating clear, observable expectations for what it looks like and sounds like, and then by creating opportunities for kids to practice and demonstrate those expectations in action through meaningful, contextual problems to solve.

Where the “Grit” narrative breaks down for me is when we start talking about it as either a magic bullet that will keep us from having to figure out how to level the playing field or as an internal, inherent quality that allows some folks to just not need training, support, resources or allies.  Everyone deserves those things- teachers, kids, leaders- no matter how much “grit” they may have.

Getting My Learning On Part 2: Inside/ Outside

Today’s #Edchat focused on blogs.  Using them, not using them, how we’re using them, why we use them…

Obviously I’m pro-blog.  I use my blog to gather thoughts, to share them, to polish my writing skills, to pull together disparate threads from different parts of my life.  I use my blogs as a dumping ground, a place to store ideas I want to come back to and, from time to time, as a bully pulpit.  But I hadn’t really thought about this until @ShiftParadigm  asked this question:

And that’s when I realize that all of that dumping and thread pulling and thinking is me making something public.  Putting my thoughts and ideas about random (sometimes disconnected) things out into the world.

Isn’t that what reflection is- a largely internal process?  And isn’t writing- be it on a blog, a book, a journal or a bathroom wall- one way of making that internal process external?

Check me out! I’m reflecting!

So then I got to thinking about the GMLO project I’m doing and this book I’d been reading as part of it- School Renewal 0880104937_cf200-1(another great read from my colleague Torin Finser).  Now, Torin is a leader in the Waldorf Schools community, which sometimes makes “regular” school teachers think that he’s not able to offer them much (which is CRAZY I tell you.  Nuts. Dude has mad skilz.).  He’s also not a big fan of social media (though he’s coming to see its charms under my tutelage.)

But Torin’s work- in this book and writ large- have so much to do with the experiences I have via social media.  Both are means by which internal processes like learning and reflection can lead to change, be it school change, personal change, or community change.  Torin says:

Education is about relationships, yet so often that dynamic is skewed too far in favor of institutions, or just the relationship between teachers and children. I encourage teachers and parents to give themselves permission to work together. I also found it to be more fun that way.

This is exactly the experience I have through social media.  I get to talk and think with parents, teachers, former students, current students (one of the joys of teaching graduate school), and colleagues.  All at the same time, through the same conversation via the same medium.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube…they all give me a way to connect ideas that inform my journey as an educator.  PLUS?  It’s more fun that way.  Right?  There’s a joyfulness to this connection- be it face to face or via social media- that somehow gives us permission to take ourselves a little less seriously.  After all, we’re sort of breaking the rules already, why not enjoy it?

Getting My Learning On Part 1: Be Here Now

As I mentioned before, I’m spending this spring learning about the work of my uber-cool colleagues at AUNE. Since it’s January- and January is all about resolutions and starting fresh and that sort of thing- I decided to start with the idea of self-renewal and managing stress better. That led me to two books that I’m loving:

the_mindful_childThe Mindful Child from Susan Kaiser Greenland (recommended by Susan Dreyer Leon) and

FYS cover for Robin

Finding Your Self by Torin Finser.




These two books? Not obvious in their overlap.  In fact, I intended to read The Mindful Child first and started it at work but left it on my desk and had Finding You Self at home, so I tossed it in my bag to look over while waiting for my daughter to finish at ballet.

The key idea I’ve taken from both is this: there’s something to be said for non-judgemental observation, for making space for breath and silence, and for uncovering and recovering the “self” that we all learn to cover up during our time in the world.

I have more to say, but it’s going to take me a while to get there.  For right now, let me leave you with this from Torin:

Silence is not just to the pushing aside of external stimuli; it can also be cultivated in the small in-between  times of life. Even a very small space, such as the interval between two notes, is a moment that can be magical. Life is very full of in-between moments: riding on an elevator, waiting for a phone call to go through, listening for the thunder after a lightning flash – they are all pregnant opportunities. The spiritual question is: “What do we do with these in between moments?” Do we simply rush through them, growing inpatient, try to fill them with mufti tasking? Or can we be more like the human heart, which actually arrest the movement of blood for the slightest moment, a time in which much can happen to further human consciousness. If we can expand those small moments of silence in daily life, we can open up opportunities for something else to enter, something that might be pure spiritual content. (Finding Your Self, Finser, 2013)

I’m looking forward to exploring more ways of expanding those small moments of silence in my life. I hope you’ll join me again as I dig a little deeper!