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Michael Bennet, 127th Military Police, Long Binh Junction, Vietnam, 1967–68

52 Veteran’s Days Later A Vietnam Vet Looks Back

This essay was written by F Michael Bennett, who served in the 127th MP Company in 1967–68.

When I got home from Vietnam, there were no friendly cab drivers to take me home. No one was buying me drinks in local watering holes. I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area in June 1968, at the height of its anti-war fervor. I went back to college that fall and felt lucky to meet a good-looking blonde hippie girl on my first day on campus. When she asked what I had done over the summer, I told her I had just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam. She replied, “I wouldn’t tell anyone that if I were you.” …


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My birthday was this week, and I hit the tulip jackpot. Brightly colored blooms fill my house, some closed, most emergent, and a few fully open. When I awoke this morning, I discovered some were stretching toward the sun while others drooped. I delight in the unique beauty of each stem. Their bright colors remind me that even though today is dark, Spring is coming. Tulips are a metaphor for life. They begin with just a hint of their potential, gradually unfold, burst into glorious bloom, seek the sun, droop in respite, and finally end. Hopefully, as we journey through the stages of life, someone glimpses our potential, nurtures us as we blossom, celebrates our glory, and remembers our beauty when we are gone. …


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Can lines of code improve education or is edtech a boondoggle?

I predict that the slow revolution in technology access, fueled by popular support and continuing as long as there is economic prosperity, will eventually yield exactly what the promoters have sought: every student, like every worker, will eventually have a personal computer. But no fundamental change in teaching practices will occur.

Nearly the entire field of technology and education is about change in some way. It’s about the dreams of what could be, the realities of what is, and the efforts to whittle away at the gap between the two.

Was author and Stanford professor Larry Cuban right when he said technology would not change fundamental teaching practices? (note: he is still an EdTech skeptic but now has a slightly more favorable view of it’s potential to enrich teaching and learning) Or is UNLV”s Neal Sturdler correct in asserting that technology can close the gap between reality and a vision for a better future? There is no shortage of opinions about the potential and peril of educational technology. Boondoggle or transformational tool? I spent five years contributing to the design of a technology platform aligned with constructivist learning theory. My insights and preferences did not always prevail in product development but, because of my work with AltSchool students and teachers and based on my observations of innovators across the country, I know that technology, wisely deployed, can support the construction of knowledge for students and teachers. …


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The vintage photo shows the author, wearing a crown and hoping to create learning magic with the wave of a wand. I threw the wand away but am still working to improve learning for all children.

We are sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.

Hatip to John of Salisbury whose metaphor from 1159 beautifully articulates the credit today’s education reformers owe to our predecessors, especially constructivists, progressives, and Montessori. For over twenty years I have been involved in initiatives that promised to re-image or reinvent education. But no one is reinventing education. Instead, successful innovators are building on well-developed theories and practices. As more and more schools embrace personalization, inquiry, and project-based learning teachers need a complex set of understandings and skills largely ignored in teacher education and professional development. Engaging educators in the process of change is critical, but not enough. …


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“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” From Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll Graphic By John Tenniel — Through the Looking-Glass, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7592577

Educators often feel like Alice who, after stepping through the looking glass, found herself in a puzzling world where everything was reversed. Anyone who has taught for more than five years has seen reform initiatives capture the attention and resources of school leaders only to be swept aside for the next set of hopes and dreams. Rapidly changing focus coupled with the lack of systematic, ongoing support can confuse, even overwhelm, the most talented and dedicated teachers. The recent focus on personalization is an example of a swift and substantial change. For the past two decades, policy-makers and administrators have monitored teachers to make sure no class fell behind in the lock-step march through one-size fits all standards. Now educators are expected to challenge each child at their individual level of readiness. Teachers, who have been evaluated on, among other things, whether or not their students were “on task” during an administrator’s short classroom visit are now told to release control so students can drive their learning. How do educators successfully implement child-centered teaching and student-driven learning? How do they move from designing lessons for large groups to customizing instruction? If we are serious about transforming education teachers must have autonomy to innovate and a guiding vision that articulates a vision for teaching and learning. There must be a system that ensures every teacher’s work and insights inform a collective understanding of learning. …


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Educators and start-up teams bring passion to their work. OKRs and a late 20th-century school reform model can help us harness that passion and create powerful innovation in schools. Image by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Would you go to a hospital that was still operating as it was 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

Would you be satisfied with a car using 1970 technology?

Why would you send your child to a school that looks like the school your grandparents attended?

When we recruited parents to AltSchool Max Ventilla always asked why parents would settle for schools that look and operate like those of a century ago. As a lifelong educator, I recognized the truth in his description of schools, and it made me uncomfortable. Throughout my career, I have worked for change and had grown tired of tweaking current practices in the hopes of achieving better results. I longed for innovation, new ways of designing and implementing learning experiences and new ways of defining success but I learned over and over that schools are built for stability, not innovation. I joined AltSchool because I was tired of the timid approach to change I found in independent schools and sick of the top-down, coercive mandates I saw in public and charter schools. Since AltSchool was founded five years ago, many public, charter, and independent schools have tackled innovation. Many are building models for personalized learning, redesigning curriculum and adopting technology to support mastery-based, learning. It is exhilarating to see the beginnings of an authentic transformation. Schools must innovate with speed and agility, attributes associated with successful start-ups. But the innovation we need in education will not come from start-ups, even those building great education technology. Educators must lead the messy, challenging work. Innovative schools need systems for setting goals, measuring progress, and ensuring continuous improvement. They need OKRs, objectives and key results, a process for executing on audacious goals that I used during my time at AltSchool. Before schools begin developing goals and identifying key results, there must be a unity of purpose and a culture that empowers teachers to make decisions, take risks and hold themselves accountable for results. Accelerated Schools, a late 20th century model for school reform, successfully built a unified, positive and empowering school culture but often failed to achieve sustainable innovation. …


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Billy New, pictured in the striped shirt, along grew up to improve the worldwide standard for medical care through devices he developed. He always believed that work was play.

When my best friend and partner, the late Dr. William New, was a child he had very few traditional toys. Instead, his parents gave him radios, flashlights, a hammer and saw and other “adult tools.” He helped his father construct the family home, built a radio when he was six and by the age of ten, he had earned his ham radio license. Because he had materials for creating and investigating Bill was always researching questions about how the world worked and tinkering with solutions to problems he observed. In today’s lexicon, he was a maker. At ten, alone in his tent on a Boy Scout campout, he noticed he could almost see the bones in his hand when he held a flashlight behind it. When he pinched his fingertips, he could see blood pulsing under his fingernails. This playful experience inspired a lasting fascination with blood and oxygenation. When he was an anesthesiologist at Stanford Bill realized that surgery patients were dying because of respiration problems. Bill recalled his campfire observations and investigated how he might design a small device that could noninvasively monitor blood flow and the level of oxygenation. …


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The author, standing to the right of the king, does not remember her kindergarten as child-centered or personalized. She does remember dancing around the maypole while wearing a shiny, scratchy cape.

We need only say one thing to young children: Come as you are! Come with your age-level characteristics. Come with those qualities that make you a unique and special person. School can have the flexibility, imagination, and sensitivity to be ready for the children who come.

Does, come as you are sound like a vision for personalized learning? That credo, articulated by James Hymes, Jr., a 20th-century authority on early childhood education, has inspired early childhood educators for more than 50 years. It also beautifully expresses the purpose of personalization, a 21st-century educational initiative.

A simple Google search for personalized learning produces 306,000,000 results for definitions and opinions about personalized learning. iNOCA’s concise and clear definition emphasizes knowing each student well and giving them voice and choice in learning. On his blog Getting Smart Tom Vander Ark builds on that definition by describing 15 dimensions of personalized learning. Before there was international interest and substantial financial support for reinventing education early childhood educators, in preschool and kindergarten classrooms around the world, practiced personalization by creating child-centered and student-driven learning experiences.


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“So, oft in theologic wars the disputants, I ween, rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean; and prate about an elephant not one of them has seen!” Quote from a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itcho. (public domain)

Deeply understanding the learner is the foundation of personalization. Teachers and parents can develop a shared understanding of the child as a learner and a human when they work together in an authentic partnership. Through compassion, addressed in Part One, and curiosity, teachers can lay the foundation for respectful, productive work with parents.

Why Curiosity?

Curiosity, the strong desire to learn something, drives humans to inquire, observe and seek the wisdom of experts. Parents are experts in what delights, motivates and challenges their child. Parental wisdom enhances our view of the child beyond academic accomplishments and can us better understand the complex interplay of factors that influence a student’s learning. Parents gain confidence in our commitment to their family when we demonstrate respectful curiosity about the child’s family roles and relationships, affinities, social-emotional development, and academic experiences. There are many ways to access invaluable parental knowledge before the child begins school and throughout the year. Parent interviews, home visits, and questionnaires are excellent tools for gathering parent insights, but any interaction with a parent or guardian is an opportunity to learn about the learner and the family. …


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“Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chodron

Everyone agrees children learn best when the significant adults in their lives work together to encourage and support them. With this end in mind, school leaders lay the foundation of productive home-school partnerships by carefully crafting communication plans, so parents understand the nuts and bolts of school life. They listen to parental concerns without becoming defensive and support teachers in problem-solving. Many schools offer multiple opportunities for parents to become involved in the school community. These critical elements are not enough to ensure positive home-school partnerships. Teachers are the key.

Often seasoned professionals and novice educators view parent relationships as an extra job duty. Many teachers describe parents as demanding, critical and impossible to please. Their fear is real; everyone knows at least one teacher who suffered through a terrible year because of a misstep that spiraled out of control. Other teachers decry parental apathy, complaining about the amount of time spent on parent communication that yields no or negative response. Even teachers who deftly handle prickly parents and sticky situations dread spending hours crafting messages to families and responding to needs. Fear and dread of parents block authentic connections at the heart of satisfying relationships. By framing our work with compassion, and curiosity teachers can develop real, respectful and productive partnerships with parents. In Part One I discuss why compassion for parents is essential and in Part Two I address curiosity. …

About

Carolyn Wilson

Educator, entrepreneur, boundary crosser, community builder, advocate for learners of all ages.

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