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Meadow Brook Musings

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Meadow Brook Musings
Teaching as Healing
By John Callaghan

These can be trying times in the teaching profession:  NCLB, AYP, Michigan Merit Curriculum mandates, Michigan Merit Exam results, GLCEs

John Callaghan
and HSCEs- add to that a little dash of public hostility toward our profession as “accountability” and a failing economy seem to sit more and more on our shoulders. One can’t help feeling the pressure of such conditions and also feeling at times like a scapegoat. How teachers individually and as a profession handle such pressure will have much to do with how things can or will change--either for the good of our profession or not. 

I want to argue for the more positive approach; in fact, I want to argue that teacher self concept is just as important as student self concept, if not more so. If we are to deal with all this pressure, all these demands, we must see ourselves as compassionate nurturers, not as mechanical executors of predetermined curricula. High stakes test scores, AYP data, comparative reading and math scores are linear, quantitative entities that have no heart beat pulsing within them. As teachers, though, we can choose to put the heartbeats into our teaching so that learning is a dynamic, heuristic process, something that has pulse and purpose.

How do we develop such a self concept? First of all, we have to believe that compassion and empathy are important ingredients of the learning process. We also have to stop blaming “the system” for our feelings of frustration and anger. Those who engage in such finger pointing are tacitly admitting that the outer world is more powerful than the inner world. Yes, there are those who want us to believe the outer world is more powerful so they can control us and manipulate us for their own ends. But we can choose not to fall into that fallacy because we know that such thinking generates fear and distrust which in turn distances us from both our colleagues and our students.  We should, therefore, be engaging in just the opposite. If nothing else, we need to be models of compassion and empathy to both our colleagues and our students.

For this reason, the NWP’s mantra of teachers teaching teachers is more important than ever today and continues to provide throughout the U.S. and beyond opportunities for teachers to get together and share best practices, especially those practices that can counteract many of the pressures both teachers and students feel. Our Meadow Brook Writing Project has created many such opportunities, and we encourage you not only to participate in as many as you can but also to bring along colleagues who can also experience the power of the teacher-to-teacher dynamic. 

In this issue of the newsletter, for example, you will read about a number of such events that have already occurred (and that will be offered again in future events):  the mystery writing workshop run by Rebecca Rivard at OU on February 7, the podcasting workshop offered on a Saturday morning on March 7 by Lori Ostergaard, and the Motown Word Fest presented by John Jeffire and Matthew Brown at Chippewa Valley High School on March 14. And there are three important upcoming events you don’t want to miss:  1) The Side by Side Symposium will be on Saturday, May 2 at the Macomb Intermediate School District, 2) the Meadow Brook Writing Project Summer Institute will run from July 6- July 31 at Oakland University, and 3) Kris Griffor is running an advanced writing institute at Warren Woods Tower this summer from July 13-16 with two follow-up events, one in the fall and one in the spring. 

Teachers working together can accomplish amazing examples of the kind of learning that transcends linearity and high stakes testing. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how we might enhance the teachers-teaching-teachers events either during the summer or throughout the school year, please let us know. We are especially interested in district level events that invite teachers from other districts to participate such as the Motown Word Fest that took place at Chippewa Valley High School in March and the advanced summer institute organized by Chris Griffor at the Warren Woods Tower district. We love to hear from you and we certainly look forward to seeing you at the Side by Side Symposium on May 2 and during the SI in July.