Skills that really matter....

According to a recent op-ed by Tom Friedman, Google's hiring criteria focus strongly on the demonstration of soft skills such as "leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn"...the sense of responsibility to step in when needed and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others'... recognizing that in order to be "an effective leader in this environment you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

Many of these skills form the basis of good early childhood pedagogy and it may help if early childhood education beliefs and practices were extended up into the higher grades in schools rather than allowing a test-driven curriculum filter down into early childhood classrooms. 

To read the entire piece by Friedman go to

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google.html?_r=1


In New York the spotlight is on early childhood education!

These are exciting days for some of us in New York City with the focus of both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo squarely on expanding and universalizing Pre-K. But along with the excitement is also the trepidation of how some of the inevitable challenges will be overcome - procuring the funds, finding the space in a densely populated city, maintaining an adequate supply of well qualified Pre-K teachers... As the mayor's office works with early childhood educators and teacher educators in New York City it would serve us all well to keep an open mind and find examples of already implemented early childhood educational models to examine. As an ancient saying goes: Good ideas come to us from all directions. One such model was featured yesterday in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/nyregion/to-expand-prekindergarten-new-york-may-find-model-in-new-jersey.html?_r=0


In New York, the spotlight is on early childhood education!

These are exciting days for some of us in New York City with the focus of both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo squarely on expanding and universalizing Pre-K. But along with the excitement is also the trepidation of how some of the inevitable challenges will be overcome - procuring the funds, finding the space in a densely populated city, maintaining an adequate supply of well qualified Pre-K teachers... As the mayor's office works with early childhood educators and teacher educators in New York City it would serve us all well to keep an open mind and find examples of already implemented early childhood educational models to examine. As an ancient saying goes: Good ideas come to us from all directions. One such model was featured yesterday in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/nyregion/to-expand-prekindergarten-new-york-may-find-model-in-new-jersey.html?_r=0




Educational ideas: Distortions and Confusions

About a 100 years ago, John Dewey was concerned that the then existing traditional school curriculum did not reflect the social, ethnic, industrial and economic changes that were sweeping through American society at the turn of the 20th century. The progressive nature of his pedagogical recommendations aimed toward greater importance being given to who the children in classrooms really were and what their backgrounds were. The questions his philosophy sought answers to were definitely focused on the child: what does the child know? What are the child’s prior experiences? What are the child’s interests? What has the child learned? What further experiences will propel the child’s development and learning? Unfortunately, there were those who took Dewey’s consideration for the individual child to an extreme by giving complete and unlimited freedom to the child. It was in response to this confusion over his intentions that Dewey wrote "Experience and Education" in 1938.

A recent article by Howard Garner about his Theory of Multiple Intelligence is strangely reminiscent of John Dewey’s attempt to set the record straight about Progressive Education. Great ideas are often privy to misinterpretations and distortions over time if they are implemented without being first thoroughly studied and understood within the context of which they emerged.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/16/howard-gardner-multiple-intelligences-are-not-learning-styles/








On teachers and teaching

The NY Times article this morning on Charter Schools started me thinking about teachers and what is good teaching. Are we preparing our teachers to educate children's minds or train them for careers? Neoliberal policies are making it more and more challenging to prepare and be the kind of teachers who will help children become successful human beings first and then successful professionals second. J. Krishnamurti reminds us that "In our relationship with children and young people, we are not dealing with mechanical devices that can be quickly repaired, but with living beings who are impressionable, volatile, sensitive, afraid, affectionate; and to deal with them we have to have great understanding, the strength of patience and love". The quickly-acquired technical knowledge and use of assessment tools, rubrics and check lists serve to evaluate the least important facets of children's development and growth. The act of real teaching requires dedication, commitment and a deep understanding of the teaching-learning process that can't happen in two years. It takes time, patience, practice, dedication and a mind open to growth and self-improvement to be a good teacher...

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/education/at-charter-schools-short-careers-by-choice.html?pagewanted=all




Cultural Worldviews Shape Parenting and Teaching Styles

There is a brand new study on the Culture of the American Family that was just done by a team at The Institute of Advanced Studies for Culture out of the University of Virginia that highlights four primary Parenting Styles. I served on the Academic Advisory Council of this study for the last three years and have particpated in discussions as this cross-national study was initiated and brought to fruition. The findings were released yesterday at a Press Conference and are mentioned in the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/which-kind-of-parent-are-you_n_21376...

The most interesting point made is that parenting "is not a system you choose, but an outgrowth of who you are; you don't select it as much as you let it find you. What is "good" parenting depends on the life you've lived and the values you hold".

That, to me, reinforces the directions of my own scholarship: the powerful role of culture and worldview on how we choose to parent or teach. It is hard to pick up a guide or read a book to become the kind of parent or teacher you wish to be. There are forces that run stronger and deeper than an intellectual understanding of how we're expected to conduct ourselves as parents or teachers within a given climate or zeitgeist. Our practices as a parent or teacher are profoundly influenced by the way we internalized these roles through our own socio-cultural-historical experiences. Our practices are profoundly informed by the values we prioritize most.

"Why do we all look at this same role -- parenting -- and see so many different and disparate ways? It is because, this school of thought argues, we are all looking out through different windows, and therefore looking onto entirely different worlds".

It is because of these different windows of understanding that, although we look at the same view we see different images. Our understanding of good teaching is shaped by the image we have of who a child is or who a teacher is. Thus teaching and learning are processes that are specifically shaped by cultural worldviews.

I will discuss this more in my next post.

Shopping for Preschools

On one hand, the onset of Spring brings blossoming tulips and magnolias here in the north-east, heralding the approach of warmer, longer, sunnier days. On the other hand, it brings the much dreaded admissions decision season as pre-schools and kindergartens in the city begin the process of informing parents whether their child was admitted or rejected or wait-listed. The season becomes joyful if the news is good, and can become colder and greyer than winter if families get a rejection letter. The admissions season begins in early fall, or even  late summer, as embarking on school tours and completing application forms seem to take up every waking moment of parents of  toddlers as they strive for that "best" preschool for the beloved apple of their eyes. I can only remind families that there is no one "best" school. Rather, the school that is right for your toddler is the one that works best for you as a family. As a former Director of Admissions of an Upper West Side Independent Nursery/Kindergarten school I was interviewed a few years ago on how to shop for preschools. The points I made at that time still hold good and are available at the following link. As parents of toddlers prepare to launch into next year's admissions season they might want to take a deep breath and read these pointers:

http://www.kwwl.com/story/8011505/shopping-for-preschools

Schooling in the Maldives

The political turmoil in the Maldives with the ousting of its president earlier this month reminded me of my recent visit to that beautiful island country while on a Fulbright Grant. I was conducting a research study on the influence of globalization on pre-primary and primary teacher education in South Asia.

The Maldives is an Islamic archipelago of 1,192 islands and about 400,000 people is not only a delicately balanced ecological system but was also experiencing the growing pains of a new democracy. An important development in the Maldives has been the new constitution written in 2008, and a president who came to power in 2008 after democratic elections were held for the first time in 30 years. This political change considerably influenced current educational practices. The Maldives was one of the countries included in my study. I have written about the beauty of the Maldivian sea and sky earlier in the blog. Here I want to describe one of the primary schools I visited. I am choosing to write about this particular school because of the student elections that were taking place during the time of my visit. Undoubtedly, the concept of elections and voting was new to Maldivian schools and society. The following excerpt is taken from field notes that I kept during my research:

"This is a government primary school that runs from Grades 1-8. The principal took us around on a guided tour. First thing that strikes you is how clean and neat the school environment is. The building is large, three storied, spacious open classrooms and open hallways, colorful, with lots of motivational and inspirational posters and slogans. Big emphasis on values: Fairness, Trustworthiness, Respect, Citizenship, Caring, Cleanliness, etc on staircases and hallway walls. Outside the school there is a large board with a proverb about thoughts and actions and character and destiny, which resembles other eastern philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism that I had encountered in other South Asian countries. The first grade classrooms are buzzing with two teachers and about 17-30 students each. There are four rooms and all of them are studying a unit on Family. Each classroom has a shoe shelf outside and all the students take their shoes off before entering the classroom. Their shoes and clean and polished, and their white uniforms are clean, washed and ironed. The students seem engaged and busy – both girls and boys. There are slogans for each grade level: The first grade slogan is Reading is Fun, the second grade slogan is Read to Lead; the third grade slogan is Dream Big, Learn More. The children in this grade level are grouped into groups named after sea creatures – lobsters, sea horse, jelly fish, etc. The medium of instruction in all schools is English but the local langauge, Dhivehi, is also used extensively.Elections for the school presidents (one boy and one girl) will be held tomorrow and there are 239 candidates in all. Students as well as teachers will be voting. Only one day is allowed for campaigning and today all the candidates have their poster and photo up on the hall-way walls.  Since space is such a commodity in the Maldives and especially Male (about 100,000 people live on island which is less than 2 square kilometers in area) all schools have two-three shifts daily in order to accommodate all the children in the city. Since classrooms are shared by multiple groups each day, students cannot leave their books in their classroom and have to carry them to and fro between home and school each day".