Learning Theories and Leadership

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learning theory, educational leadership, carol dweck, james comer I wrote this short paper recently for a grad class in learning theory.  I hope it’s useful to those seeking information about the importance of learning theory for educational leaders.  Learning standards and theorists such as Carol Dweck and James Comer are discussed.

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How to Get Teachers to Stop Hating the Common Core

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The backlash against the Common Core among teacher is, at its essence, a leadership problem.

In Heifetz and Laurie’s near seminal “The Work of Leadership” the two leadership scholars start by explaining the difference between adaptive challenges (game-changers, challenges that enable positive growth) and technical challenges (business-as-usual type stuff that just needs to get done).

In general, it seems that CCSS and the challenges it presents are being approached as technical challenges by many school leaders. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to make them out to be adaptive challenges and to rally staff behind a common vision.

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Leadership Self Improvement Plan

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leadership, improvement, education

It takes a lot of work to become a good leader!

Here’s an essay I wrote for one of my educational leadership classes at Southern Connecticut State University.  It ties together my study of communication skills, conflict resolution, and a few New Year’s Resolutions to boot.  If you enjoy the essay and find it useful, please let us know in the comments.  Thanks! – Bill

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How to Live Well After the Digital Revolution

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gc logo 8.14.11Here’s an essay I published on this site a few years ago when it first started.  It used to have it’s own separate page, but now that I’m redesigning the site it will be a linked post instead.  It could use some updated, but it still helps summarize what this blog used to be about, and where it will go in the future.  Enjoy! – Bill

PS – Thanks for your patience as I update Good Circuits to better reflect my own writing and thinking and to better invite you to join in the exploration of where technology and the humanities meet to make us better people!

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Comment; State of Education

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It seems those who make the rules/laws for others have never had the honor of wearing the other’s shoes.
However, firstly, my wife and daughter are both teachers – just to show my status.

Never heard them refer to the profession as a job, they live, eat and breathe teaching. When they get together with other teachers – questions arise about what progress this or that one is making – their hours are set buy themselves, my wife used to go in to school at least 45 or more minutes than required and my daughter is always at school for a special activity, helping a student or readying for the next day. And not to be crass or surly, the $250 the government allows as an education tax deduction is chump change in the real world, where I live.

Sure, it’s a job – my two aren’t of the STEPFORD cookie cutter ilk of which Mrs. Malloy refers. How about the governor and some State Legislators teaching a class for a week (with no chance of parole) and see what ‘job’ they prefer, the good ‘ol boy gathering of’ politicos figuring out how to levy another tax or unrealistic mandate or trying to convince little Jack or Jill that 6 is the product of dividing 42 by 7.

Wonder how NCLB would have fared if this exercise were mandated?

There will always be some debate as why teaching is an easy ‘job’; all the time off, especially in the summer.

Reality is taking over  as more and more states are eschewing NCLB as a poor, no horrendous piece of legislation.

Now, being under the proverbial gun, they  are scrambling to redeem themselves by coming up with some alternatives.

I hope they consult some ‘dedicated’ educators whilst drawing up the new guidelines; because, if you boil this all down to the basics – if it weren’t for dedicated teachers – I would not have had the skills to write this comment  nor would you have the privilege of reading my opinions. Correct?

One of My Favorite Things: A Love Supreme

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I won’t pretend to know a ton about jazz. Like many a listener, I don’t always know what’s going on, but I do know what I like.  John Coltrane’s seminal A Love Supreme is a perfect example of this.  I started listening to jazz around the time I started studying Buddhism.  (What can I say, I was faking my way through graduate school and being a beatnik.)  My first time playing the disc was after waking up early to read Zen koans, hopping in the car the car, and driving two hours in the rain to take karate class.

Maybe I was spiritually switched on that day, or maybe I was just overtired, but I think the emotion I felt–and still feel–when I heard the gong and opening fanfare through ego-shredding solos to the final notes of “Psalm” really moved me.   It was the first time I’d cried since childhood.  I had never felt so free, and anytime I get stuck in my own “selfness” I reach for this album.  If you’ve never listened to it, I suggest you give it a try!

Anyway, here’s a great NPR story on the record.  Take a minute to read it for some great insight into what makes it so great.

The Story of “A Love Supreme”

State of Education

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, left, and Commissioner of the state Department of Education, Stefan Pryor, Right, arrive at the legislature's Education Committee public hearing on Malloy's education proposal. Melanie Stengel/Register (ctbulletin.com)

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I’m a teacher and my job is pointless.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fact as educators have come under increasing criticism—especially here in Connecticut.

I concede that formal education is unnecessary.  Public school is a relatively new idea, and people got by without classrooms and textbooks for millennia.   Our most beloved American success stories are of self-made individuals who struck out against schools and other institutions to make their own way.

The truth is everyone is perfectly capable of learning what they need to survive.  Watch a child master a new task to see what I mean.  Learning is ingrained in human nature, and our curiosity allows us to figure out everything we need to know.

So why teach?  After all, Governor Malloy insists a teaching job should be “like every other job.”  He says teachers should welcome evaluation and competition as a way to improve our practice.  He says we don’t want to accept common business principles into our field soley so we can protect our tenure system.

I’ll counter with a question: Should teaching even be considered a job?

Let’s compare working in education to working in the ministry.  Across cultures and religions devout men and women heed the call to serve others through their faith.  Clergy are highly regarded for pursuing a vocation and for trying to make the world a better place.  They are protected and cared for by organized religion so they can do good without impediment.

However, as a job, becoming a priest or a rabbi or an imam is pointless.  People in general can find their own spiritual path just fine.  Spirituality is a natural part of life, and we are all equipped with an intuitive sense of divinity.  Left to their own devices, people will usually form a personal system of belief.

But isn’t it nice to have some guidance?

Maybe teaching should not be seen as just another job.  Like the clergy, men and women enter the field to enrich their communities.  Yet you don’t see the government attacking religion.  Despite some bad apples, the influence of religious people in this country is stronger than ever.

When a member of the clergy is criticized—rightly or wrongly—the faithful often see this as an attack on their beliefs.  Believers in education should feel just as indignant.  They should see attacks on teachers for what they are—attacks against the value of education.

Governor Malloy urges you to see teaching as just a job.  As such, many of his new policies will reward the very teachers he claims he wants to root out—those who pander to principles, who bully students into compliance, and who merely teach to the test.  In short, he will reward the teachers who only show up for a paycheck, not those truly devoted to their students.

If you consider yourself a member of the faithful, please support the educators and staff who chose a career in education instead of working just another job.  Believe it or not, there are scores of talented, hard-working people in our schools who want to make a difference.

A note on 9/11

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I feel like the tenth anniversary of September 11th went by very fast.  That is, the last ten years went by like the blink of an eye.  The actual coverage that played out the days before and after the anniversary were excruciating  to watch.  I unplugged myself from all media for about a week.  The “human interest” stories were unbearable: survivors and their families, people who missed their trains and, consequently were saved, the children of victims, the police and firefighters and EMTs and soldiers who just wanted to make a difference.  I am as equally sorry for these people as I am proud of them.

I wish the media felt the same way.  Days of sensationalism–milking each tear for maximum sadness–just shows how little we’ve learned from the horrible events of that day.  Taking advantage of other’s pain, ripping open old wounds, wallowing in sorrow and pity.  I doubt anyone wants to be “honored” this way.  News coverage of the anniversary went on like salve but burned like poison.

Consider, for a moment, some of the other harsh realities from 9/11.  The entire world does not love us.  We can’t always do the right thing.  The past ten years have lead to deeper divisions, wild punditry, and polemics in this country.  Opportunists have capitalized on this, and the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever.  We go on ignoring lesser and greater problems exacerbated by the current culture of fear and doubt about our future.

The media let us down again.  No one wanted to discuss the systemic problems that caused America to suffer terrorism in the first place.  No one has a real solution.  Soma doesn’t exactly lead to introspection; and candor doesn’t come in large enough doses these days.  Yes, we want to help the victims of the attack, but, no, we should not exploit their suffering to distract ourselves from never letting such suffering strike us again.  Maybe we should interview everyone again to ask them some questions actually worthy of their well worn consideration.

I’ll leave you with another essay by Henry Rollins.  He’s a bit better at articulating rage than I am.  I read this piece and was reminded of all the crud swept under the rug.  Let me know what you think–if you feel as cheated as me.

9-11: Ten Years in a Day

An Introduction to “Unionism”

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Here’s an essay I wrote to prep for my first novel.  In it, the protagonist devises some contrived philosophy.  Anyway, the book’s a bust, and I don’t know if the essay’s much to read, but the thoughts were fun to think about.

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Problem:  People, even the religious, feel alarmingly anxious—especially in the modern age.  Medication, drug addiction, overeating, and empty entertainment all seem have all risen to help placate and to distract us from feelings of despair.  As a result, we feel even more disconnected from each other and from ourselves.  This anxiety and depressions stems from our separation from the divine—the makeup of our true human nature and of reality—so a vicious cycle perpetuates the problem; the harder we work to distract ourselves from what ails us, the worst our situation becomes.  This tragedy hallmarks the modern age.

Solution: We must become closer to our true selves—to what’s divine.  This idea, in part, is influenced by Zen Buddhism, but variations of the true, inner self as divine are central to many forms of Eastern religion and philosophy which urge us to shed distractions and delusions that keep us from an introspective spiritual quest.  These schools of thought also cherish the divine, or ultimate, unified spiritual force, as it manifests in all reality: the central tenet of Taoism, for example, is that this force comprises all matter, and that to know this force in a personal way is to be enlightened.

In the West, we learn these spiritual concepts in a rational way (i.e. Schopenhauer’s  Will or Leibniz’s Monads or the explanations provided by the Transcendentalists).  Still, few Western thinkers try to reconcile the empirical rationality championed by Descartes or even Kant with the more intuitive musings made tradition in the East.  Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions trend toward the rational as well.  While each religion harbors mystical sects, they all trend toward knowing God or Allah in an academic or contemplative way: scholars of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran all lead their communities toward a better understanding of reality, morality, and toward greater spiritual actualization.

However, Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila successfully merges Oriental and Occidental philosophies in his Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ). In short, his fiction urges us to pursue self-knowledge and excellence as a way to find enlightenment and happiness.  Quality is much like the Platonic idea of “The Good,” but it exists within the actual observer.  Unlike Plato, there is no room for separation between subject and object in Pirsig’s metaphysics, so there is no dualism within his concepts of morality either.  So, the MOQ successfully combines the rationality of the West with the intuition of the East to form a new set of values for humans to adhere.

The protagonist in these stories draws from diverse sources (e.g. Native American traditions, Western and Eastern philosophers, renowned mathematicians and scientists,  personal observations) to form theories that strengthen the connections between who we are, what we do, and how to understand the surprising way that evolution and free will cause the universe to grow and change toward the greater good, or toward Quality as he describes it.  Without building the complex hierarchies or taxonomies that ethicists and theologians rely on in the West that form fundamental divisions between self and reality, thereby driving a wedge between man and God, and by avoiding the paradoxical and mysterious expressions of faith embraced by many Eastern spiritual schools that, unfortunately, invalidate the many ways to know reality, divinity, and the self through human intellect, Pirsig completes a revolutionary “map” that leads us away from the despair caused by the lack of complete personal actualization that plagues the modern age.

How to know you’re doing it right (Ethics):  Essentially, Prisig breaks the value judgments we typically assign to the plethora of positive human activities.  Creating art, attending church on Sunday, running a business, discussing politics, meditation, maintaining physical fitness, stargazing, and even welding joints from a metal can all lead to enlightenment.  They are all equally good, just in different ways.

We know this because these actions make us happy.  Simply put, happiness is the measure of our relationship to the divine, or, as I call this phenomenon, Union.  This is the true measure of ethics as Aristotle defines it.  While he applies categories and rules to morality, his idea of human functionality, or personal actualization, coincides with Pirsig’s pursuit of Quality.  Basically, we need not fret over commandments, social morays, credos, or codes of law.  All are merely “road signs” on the same highway.  Instead, through introspection and through dialog, we should work together to produce a reality of higher and higher quality and to achieve and share ever-increasing happiness and good will.  Humans are equipped with an innate sense of what is wrong and right (conscience), and, while we often experience difficulty making the right moral decisions, we learn, through trial and error, to navigate our lives toward the pursuit of happiness.

How to pursue Union:  Prisig, unfortunately, does not adequately explore the many modes of enlightened activity of which we humans are capable.  This oversight may cause confusion in the reader; how are we to know how to act?  Humanists, in general, shun the rules and mandates constructed by many religions, and, consequently, do not usually establish guidelines for human behavior.  In contrast, religions generally allow little deviation away from doctrine, so followers may miss out on all that life has to offer.  The idea of Union furthers the good points off all traditions, and it validates much of the varieties of human spiritual experience while categorizing them in some of the following ways.

  • Meditation: The ways by which we know divinity through intuition and introspection.  Examples include prayer, sitting and walking meditation, all religious services, mysticism.
  • Contemplation: The ways by which we know divinity through rationality and the intellect.  Examples include academic study and inquiry, intellectual discourse, empirical understanding of physical reality.
  • Creation: The ways by which we know divinity through self-expression and craftsmanship.  Examples include art in all its forms, physical expression of beauty and emotion, engineering and design, architecture and civic planning.
  • Relation: The ways by which we know divinity through one another.  Examples include quality time spent with family, friends, and colleagues, experiencing the arts, volunteerism and philanthropy, social constructs and programs, positive and revelatory communication.

This list is merely a survey of the many ways to become enlightened and to know divinity. To find true happiness, we must pursue all four types of Union.  If we lack one mode, we often feel its absence from our lives: we complain that “something’s missing.”  Intuition helps us to identify the weak points of our relationship with the divine; we learn to pursue happiness by listening to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.  Our bodies, mind, and souls provide feedback as we grow in Union.

Why is this true?  Ponder an alternate metaphysical reality: What if the divine comprised of forces we consider malevolent?  What if we derived the greatest pleasure and happiness by destroying rather than by creating?  By ignoring our inner lives and by conquering external reality?  By warring with one another and by dominating one another to ensure the supremacy of a singular group?  Darwinism may urge us to extend this dominance and conformity throughout reality.  Isn’t the universe bound to come apart anyway?  Consider how human actions usually bring about extinction of species, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of previously established Quality.

Here’s the catch: the law of entropy disallows this. As theoretical physicist Brian Green explains in An Elegant Universe, the universe is structured in such as way that it will burn off greater and greater amounts of energy to expand indefinitely.  It’s true that bodies of matter form and break down to release the energy.  The universe is not prone toward self-destruction, however.  This is because existing forms of matter—especially gaseous suns, rapidly spinning galaxies, and, of course, intelligent life—burn more energy while in existence than in nonexistence.  Matter cannot be created or destroyed, but it does use energy as previous forms of matter break down:  This energy never lies dormant; as it’s released, it forms newer and grander systems that grow and change and become increasingly complex.  The more complex a system is, the more energy it needs to sustain itself.  Therefore, the laws of entropy require the universe to evolve and to grow.

This theory coincides nicely with the theories of Static and Dynamic Quality expounded in Pirsig’s Lila.  He explains that energy, Tao, or Quality (to force synonymy) manifests in forms like Green says.  These forms are known as Static Quality and can be physical or abstract constructs such as a a building, a cell, or an ideology.  These forms are invaluable, as they make up the composition of reality.  They are not permanent though.  The driving force of growth and change is known as Dynamic Quality, and it ensures that Static objects break up and evolve as they become obsolete.  Often, the arts, revolutions, or even cosmic forces—anything with high energy output—force dynamic change.  Without Dynamic Quality, the universe would not exist as we know it.

For example, without Static Quality, we would not have a constitution to uphold; without Dynamic Quality, we would never have made civil rights amendments.

Conclusion: So, these like ideas explain fundamental existence in two different ways.  While the physical and moral workings of  reality may be set arbitrarily, the architect of the rules and laws that govern all creation ingrained them in our very nature.  We derive pleasure from partaking in Quality, fulfillment from pursuing Union.  When we become selfish or distracted, when we submit to the temptations of weakness and idleness, when we recklessly seek shallow, fleeting pleasures, we do wrong.  Needless destruction of Static Quality is sinful, ignoring the promise of Dynamic Quality is also sinful.

The views propounded by Union may seem elementary.  They are.  Most of our most cherished endeavors and institutions conform to this thesis.  However, as Paul Tillich once said, “sin is in separation.”  Often, our ken is too limited  even when we work with best intentions.  Philosophy and religion always encourage us to “listen” to the divine.  In an age where social and technological advancement occurs too fast to track, our relationships with each other, with ourselves, and with our gods are outpaced.  We, prodigal sons and daughters, all too often suffer in desperate isolation, instead of valuing the infinite interconnectedness that can make us truly happy.  Our ignorance of the true workings of life, love, and morality may soon lead to our downfall if we fail to realize kensho, Nirvana, and the promises of Eden.