Trust The Children

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Servant Leadership and Education at Home

I heard the words, "Understand your purpose, which is to build the group AND get the job done." The venue was staff training for a youth leadership summer camp our sons will be attending this summer. This idea resonated with me, as I remembered Stephen Covey talking about "P and PC" which is Production and Production Capability. Sometimes we go so overboard on getting the job done that we walk over people to do so. Sometimes we consider the "developmental side" of the person so much, the job never gets done. The persistent question is, "how do I balance the two?"

This balance is also a concern for parents who educate at home. Parents whose frame of reference is limited to the public education model they experienced as a youth, understandably tend to be performance or "get the job done" oriented. Keeping up with the local school curriculum, or using curriculums in general are in part, a response to this "Aren't I supposed to be DOING something" drive in these homes. Their feeling is that education is something YOU do TO your child. You... educate... them. That is, after all what happened as you attended public school. The teacher educated you. Their job was to tell you what you needed to learn. Your job was to listen, repeat back, and if you repeated it back well enough, you got a high grade. The result in this case, becomes more important than the process. It is the results driven, production driven, weighted heavily toward the "get the job done" mantra of some business models.

Our children, conditioned by this environment, make excellent cogs in the machine of business and commerce. After all, who can argue with results? Never mind that the production machine created in this environment remains conspicuously dependent on some source outside of themselves for progress and direction. Never mind that they often check their brains, motivation and risk mentality at the door of their employment, just as they did when they attended school. Fit in, don't make waves and get the job done. "Good little employees."

At the other end of the balance is a focus on "ever learning, but never never getting off your dime." Polish the machine, but rarely, if ever, use it, because you have to clean it up again. It is the starching and pressing of your basketball uniform for hours during the week, so that you look good for the friday game you never prepared to play by practicing and using skills. This place, builds on an outward show, with little substance or results for the effort. Going through wonderful and beautiful motions, while marching in place if marching at all.

In business, I have come to believe that striking the balance comes of employing a "Servant Leader" approach. Once objectives and vision for the company have been set by management, each individual is expected to align their goals to support. However, in the doing of the work, a servant leader stands ready to do all, to enable success, without, of course, doing the work themselves. The servant leader is about establishing, increasing and solidifying the skills and attributes that team members need to succeed at their part of the puzzle. Performance is still expected of course. AND as the servant leader works to provide support, tools and guidance, performance capability in the individual is improved. Servant leadership blends the best of "building the team" and "getting the job done."

This same principle can also be true at home. Servant "home schooling" combines the reality that your children are responsible for their part of the family education model. They have some things they must get done. They are also greatly benefitted in getting THEIR JOB DONE, by parents whose vision is to assist their children by building in them skills and attributes, one step at a time, so that the kids actually accomplish for themselves what is expected of them. It is done by them.

This process works better, IF in the younger years, the educational model between parents and children is one of parents listening for and responding to natural curiosity. Enabling the exploration of topics the children are already interested in, helps your children see, at a young age, that you are there to enable then as they delve into and expand their interests in .... well their interests. To me, this goes hand in hand with the idea of Unit Studies. The great thing about establishing this Unit Studies habit, centered about the natural curiosities of your children, is that, the record they create in the process, they can and will return to after many years have flown by.

Do you get the idea of Servant Leadership? Do you get how it could apply to home education?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Suspending Disassociation Instead of Home School Students

Pretty intellectual huh? Suspending Disassociation. I could say, "encouraging connections and congruency". Even those are 10+ letter words. Much more and I get hung up ;-) Nevertheless, what this is all about is an extension of my feelings about the Liberal Arts philosophy of education. While this idea has many positive merits, I have come to see how this one idea has the potential to hurt children as much as help them.

One idea at the foundation of American Education is that exposure to all kinds of topics is the end all, be all of educating our children because it makes our children "well rounded". What comes with this is a public educational model of moving from one class room to the other. Learn a topic here and shut that off, and then learn another topic here then shut that off. Then learn another one that has nothing to do with the others, and so on. As John Taylor Gatto says, "the un-relating of everything." It is bad enough that any enthusiasm engendered by a particularly good class, has to be shut down to attend the next one. The bell rings. Time to move on. It is bad enough that the classroom setting also limits the practicality of spontaneous enthusiasm for learning because again, the bell rings for the next class. In addition to this, the shot gun approach, called "exposure to be well rounded," makes it very unlikely that one topic ever gets related or tied into another. What they learn is that life is made up of separate and distinct parts that don't fit in any way with anything else. Confusion is the result, seen in wandering eyes, children whose brains shut off as soon as they sit down to their assigned spot in class, and the ensuing battle to get their homework done. "So What," is what we end up seeing in the eyes of our children, and too much of "so What" is just the poison to totally destroy love of learning and natural God-given curiosity.

The home schooling environment isn't always the answer for this, but at least it can be. It can be because freedom exists to follow the interests and enthusiasms of our children and allow them drive something deep, without feeling the need to "make them well rounded" every moment of every day. This begins with fighting the need that parents have to run their children through a learning experience that approximates their own, instead of trusting that responding to their interests and curiosities, will do just as well, if not better. The need for parents to be highly skilled and prepared to teach diminishes as well, when children know that the natural enthusiasms and interests that they have, COUNT in the eyes of their parents. Converting their interests into actual study practices and learning projects may require some thought the first few times through. However, when motivation in your son or daughter is the driving force, it solves so many other issues that arise in the process of the educational process.

As we have told others over the years, we did not come out of the chute, perfectly formed home schoolers. We had fits and starts and misgivings. We felt our way along, all the way to our fifth child. It was only there that we put our foot down on a stronger commitment to the idea. Before that, we were back and forth like a lot of others. One example of this was our 2nd child, David, who felt like he needed to do more of the public setting that we had hoped. The principal of our high school, went out of his way to make sure this gifted boy graduated. I remember a day or two after he "walked" with his class, we were talking in the kitchen. I asked him, "now that you are graduated, what are you going to do next?" David said, "Don't worry, I have a whole list of things I can get to now that school is over." I asked him for some examples which he immediate rattled off. I said then, "David, what is amazing to me is that if you had decided to study these things instead of going to school all this time, for us as your parents, it would have counted. That very list, had you decided to home school, would have been your curriculum instead of what you ended up doing at school." His jaw dropped to the floor. He was stunned. "You have got to be kidding me?" was his response. I said nothing and just let the pregnant pause begin the birth process of some new thinking in my son. New thinking also in the rest of our children.

Needless to say, this story has been told to all the rest of the brood, and they have benefitted from "David's Story." David told me this weekend, that only now, many years later, does he understand the value of taking a few things deep, instead of many things shallow. One major reason, less confusion. In addition, there are more hooks to bind knowledge together when you are able to stick to related topics and grow outward from there. This is especially true for boys. I can't stress this enough. The home schooling environment can be a major solution to boys who are ill-served in the public system. The change can be dramatic.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Homeschooling Convention - Longview, WA 3/4/2006

In another galaxy, long long ago, where memories of our schooling beginnings are archived, I know there are pictures of all the home schooling conventions we attending early on. Some were pretty small. Then WHO got big. Washington Homeschool Organization began holding these conventions on a large scale There was no end to the classes, keynote speakers, advice and booths of things for sale. And, for us, there was no end to the ideas we talked about, and used as we drove home processing together all that we had heard, seen and done.

Now 26 years later, being much more confident and relaxed about things, we don't attend every one like we used to. So when we were asked to speak at the Longview Convention, a smile came to my face. The last time we spoke, I was sure we wouldn't be asked again. Mostly because I am too bold sometimes. Mostly because I feel passionately about the subject and the passion gets the best of me. And I think it scares people.

But at this conference, I came away feeling like I wished Cyndy was Sarah and I was Abraham and we were going to be blessed with more children in our old age. Guaranteed, Cyndy doesn't feel that way. I was so energized about some really great ideas that were presented. If you will indulge me, I would like to record them here.

1) Our keynote speaker, Vicki Robison, was fun and also passionate, but about books. She was also in command of the topic and I enjoy that. Her presentation was so good I was totally drawn in. One thing she confirmed to me again, is the power of the simple idea of just Reading aloud to children.
She described even doing it, regularly in her school setting ie in a large classroom, and how the entire class considers the time spent, as irreplaceable.

2) Our second speaker is in my humble opinion, an automatic qualifier for the Home Schooling Hall of Fame. Tambra Birkebak spoke on "Homeschooling on a Shoe String." She began speaking at a quick pace, and it never slowed down. I never thought in a million years, that someone could talk an for an hour about mostly free resources for exposing our children to wonderful people, places and things. But I sensed she could have gone on for another 3 hours. And when I asked her, she concurred, saying, "Oh yeah. I was just getting started."

3) The next class I attended was on Unit Studies. I am not very big on curriculums. Never have been. We don't use them here. Just not our style. But I went with an open mind on a topic I knew nothing about. Elaine Beswick taught the class. She gave us some examples, and then split us up in groups, gave us materials, and had us come up with an approach for the materials we had. First of all, doing it as a group was great, because our synergism really moved us along. It didn't hurt that we had Tambra Birkebak in our group. She suggested we start by identifying vocabulary on the topic and getting the "lingo" down before moving on. What a great idea. Then we decided to make a time line, and then a list of "Major Players" for our topic, and we moved forward from there. After it was all said and done, I could see myself getting pretty excited about doing this with those kids we still have at home. She showed us examples of lap-booking and when I explained that to the boys when I got home, they could see that lap-booking alone would have been a great way to hold on to the memories and the knowledge.

4) My final class was on home schooling children with special needs. What an eye opener. It was so inspiring to hear about parents who finally get out of their own paradigm and into their children's space. Perhaps the most telling comment by Becky Wilson, our instructor, was when she told us of purchasing a curriculum that made complete total sense to her, only to find out that it was 100% opposite from the learning style of the children she had purchased it for. How often do we present or teach, without the audience and where they are coming from, firmly in our minds? Most of us, just don't do that well at seeing the world through the eyes of others. (50% divorce rate? I rest my case) Then others in the class began sharing what they did to move into learning styles that truly matched their learners and how things turned around after such an adjustment.

This is my short list of ideas and impressions that really got me going. Of course there were some constants. Issues that I have heard over and over again, year after year.

1) We underestimate by a long shot the power and influence of simply reading out loud to our children. The cumulative effect of this, day in-day out, week in-week out is about the most "return on invested time" of anything I have seen done in Home Schooling myself or in the experience of others.

2) I was reminded once again, of how our own beginnings in home schooling were full of fits and starts, baby steps and lack of vision. Again, like most successful marriages, our now 26 years of home schooling success is mostly attributed to simply NOT QUITTING. Not really rocket science. We just didn't quit and just kept reaching out and trying, learning from others, and little by little we found out what worked for us and hung on to that.

3) Comments and questions, crystallized in my mind again, how deeply I feel that children before about age 12 need less cognitive learning and more play time. In many if not most cases, children educated at home, especially younger than 12, ought to be finished with their "schooling" in a few hours and spend the rest of the day exploring, running, being by themselves, moving about and playing. More true for boys than girls, but still true for them as well. Parents, whose maturity, experience, and age, has them comfortable with cognitive learning, often can't think like kids anymore. Therefore, parents underestimate by tons, the benefits and progress that come to children that just play. Its the parents who exclaim nervously, "But aren't I supposed to be DOING something?" Yes. Letting them play more and letting them experiment.

In my mind, reading aloud and playing and experimenting, in the early years is the main course of the meal, and the three R's is the spice, not even the desert, just the spice. For me, it is just better for the kids when parents back off and keep it simple. This approach preserves something powerful in your children. Curiosity and innocence.

And the parents need to cut themselves some slack here too. Parents often stress, when their kids are small about their children keeping up with other kids, about preparing lessons, motivating their "students", coming up with ideas for what to do tomorrow, and on and on. So I am telling my own children who are now growing families of their own, listen to your aging parents, and back off when they are young. Better for them, better for you. (Mostly because you will keep yourself from quitting.)

One more thing I am grateful for. At this convention, I was able to realize for myself, how much I expect my teenage children to find their own answers, do their own research, come to their own conclusions and reset their own exploration/learning goals. I expect it. I "demand" it and they do it. The result of this is, that they are more confident in their own abilities, God given talents and resourcefulness. Therefore, they have less needs to compare themselves with others, which ill-fated comparisons, brings up issues upon issues that are truly a waste of time.

Thanks to all in Longview, under the direction of MaryAlice Wallis, for keep the dream alive for all who attended.

With much love.. The Weiss'