Saturday, January 31, 2009

100th Day and Culture

100th Day Celebration!

Wow, it's here, and so quickly! I've really got to get in to my office and clear a spot for our little ones to come marching through! This is a cherished event, and I just love seeing the whole 1st grade parading into the office.

I was speaking to a couple of middle and high school people in my Tuesday night class, and they had no idea what the significance of 100th Day was! I just thought, "Aaahh, to be in elementary school." They really have no idea what they are missing - the traditions, the culture, the little things that make our elementary school life special.

To be fair, of course, all schools are made up of rituals and celebrations, those things that make up the culture of our schools. For some, it is easy to see. Visitors can sense something special the moment they walk through the front door. It may not be in the rituals that a school has. It certainly should not be relegated to strictly rituals and traditions, for some of these, such as the old, "That's just the way we do things around here," may not be as healthy as you would like.

But for others, such as 100th Day, where all 1st graders decorate a t-shirt with 100 of something - Cheerios, stickers, buttons, macaroni - and come parading through the office to show off their 100 Day Pride, culture comes shining through in a significant way. Because it's not about 100th Day (really, are we celebrating that we made it through 100 days?), not really. It's about the cultural aspect of 100th Day, the anticipation of 100th Day, the looking back on school days and remembering the fun little breaks we took in the middle of a hectic, busy year filled with learning CVC words and how to blend and chunk, and how to go to the neighbor's house to borrow a cup of sugar (subrtraction with borrowing).

These are the things that make up our school days, the memories we are giving to children, the culture we are intentionally and purposefully creating.

100th Day. I can't wait.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Culture in Question

Roland Barth says, "Show me a school whose inhabitants constantly examine the school's culture and work to transform it into one hospitable to sustained human learning, and I'll show you students who graduate with both the capacity and the heart for lifelong learning."

In almost every school mission statement, you can find a line about lifelong learning and the culture of the school. Where, in this age of standardized testing, in an age where teachers feel an incredible, unbelievable, and riduculous amount of pressure to create students who can perform well on tests, is the lifelong learning? If you ask me, and I'm sure Roland Barth would agree, the price of short-term success is long-term failure.

Standardized tests are used to measure everything about everyone. Everything, that is, except the extent to which our teachers and students and classes and schools and communities are turning out lifelong learners.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

It was almost 11:00AM yesterday morning, the 20th of January. I had just put the public address phone up to the radio so that the entire school could hear our President be sworn in to Office. It was the only thing I could do. We don't have cable television, and to try to get a live stream off of the internet was proving to be impossible. Everyone in America must have been trying to access the internet at once. It was the best we could do, and I was afraid that it wouldn't be enough. In my eyes, the biggest, most important political event in our lifetime, and all we could do was listen.
A whole range of thoughts entered my mind - what if the teachers don't share my enthusiasm? What if the kids just don't care? What if they don't have the attention span to pay attention for that long? I was panicked, so I secured the receiver next to the radio speaker, bade my secretary goodbye, and went for a walk. I couldn't take it.
Stepping out into the hallway, an eerie feeling overtook me. It was a sound that is not familiar to schools; at least it shouldn't be, anyway! The place was silent. The only sound that of the speakers in classrooms, of a voice introducing Chief Justice Roberts for the swearing-in. I went from room to room. In one fourth grade classroom, all of the kids had gathered around the classroom speaker and were staring up at it, as if it were a television set they couldn't tear their eyes away from. Walking down the stairs and into the first grade hallway, I peeked into a classroom full of seven and eight year-olds. Sixty of them! Two classrooms packed into one, all of the desks and chairs pushed back and all of the kids sitting on the floor, intently listening to the broadcast! I was floored!
Down the third grade hall I went, not believing what was happening. It was like a ghost town! Not a soul was out in the hallway. Peeking into a third grade room, a sight that I will never forget. Her name is Jacqi. She was standing at the front of the room, as close as she could get to the classroom speaker. Her hands were folded and her eyes closed.
She was praying as hard as I have ever seen anyone pray and she didn't care who was watching her or if anyone was saying anything about her.
She didn't have to worry. They weren't.
I went in and was flocked by kids, third graders who wanted to share this moment with me. I put my arms around as many of them as I could get hold of and we listened to President Obama take the Oath of Office.
It was an incredible moment, an historic moment on so many levels. But the greatest pleasure for me that day, was the pleasure I took in hoping that this day was one these kids would never forget. It is these kinds of moments that kids remember about school, and I was thrilled to be able to share it with them.