Hanging Out

Jacob and I reacted differently to our March break activities.  Jacob spent one day in a community garden with my Dad and sent this text to Kevin:  “Well I had to get rid of a moldy wet smelly slippery broccoli plant without gloves.”  (I love that he had to do that.)  On the day he spent in a JK class with my brother, I got a text-photo of Jacob on a rocking chair with two boys climbing on him as he read to them.  It was beautiful.  I wondered if Jacob had found his calling and would become a teacher like most of our family?  Not.

That night, we heard this:  the kids “were all over me… and they don’t even wash their hands!”  I asked him what he thought of teaching, and he scolded, “Do you know how tiring that job is??!!”

(Naturally, I really loved this reaction too. Maybe he won’t become a teacher, but he did get a taste of the real world.) 

When we asked the kids what they wanted to do this March break – and travelling was not an option for us – they said they wanted to “relax.” (This made me feel everything BUT relaxed. But I gave it a try and only scheduled three days.)

When I got home from work on their first “day off”, they were in front of the TV in their PJs, with their iPods in their hands. (I was miffed.)

Mom:  Did you read today?

Kids:   Not yet.

Mom:  Did you make muffins with the bananas I left out?

Kids:   Forgot.

Mom:  Did you fold the laundry? 

Kids:   You didn’t ask.

Mom:  Did you eat anything other than cereal?

Kids:   There is no food in the house.

Mom:  But I told you to make home-made pizzas and everything is in the fridge!

Then I decided to share what was really bothering me: “You cannot live your life like this! You need to do something useful with your time!”

Seems like this is an age-old debate in our house – how much do we schedule our kids?  And how much do we try to influence their down time?  I believe that kids should have unscheduled time.  I believe that some of life’s best learning comes when days are full of nothing.  Don’t you then discover your real self?  But I would like them to choose books and hikes…. not TV and iPods.

So I asked Jacob how he planned to spend the next day. I thought if I encouraged him to think it through, he would make good choices.  He looked bewildered and said, “I’m going to hang out.” I tried to explain that time is precious and he should use it wisely.  He questioned, “Are you telling me that doctors and lawyers didn’t hang out when they were kids on March break?” 

On our way home from skiing yesterday, I asked the kids to name the highlight of their break.  We did some great things – but their list didn’t resemble my list.  At all.  Both agreed that what they liked most was “hanging out”.  And that made me crazy. 

But then they also agreed:  they are looking forward to heading back to school.  And that makes me wonder if they might know best….


Pat Basset and Google

I heard Pat speak four times last week in Philadelphia, and he was, as usual, a rock star every time.  These are my two favorite stories:

At the Lamplighter School in Texas, the grade three class runs an Egg Business. They use their own money to create an investment fund, and then they buy chickens. They create a marketing plan, and then sell the eggs.  At the end of the year, there is a big debate: what to do with the profit?  As you can imagine, the class is divided – to give away money to charity (the girls!) or to split the profits (the boys!)…. The classic capitalism vs. socialism debate… in grade three…

Another school’s signature event was the Grade Six Bake Sale.  The students all agree on the product – in this case, it was cupcakes – and then they all agree on the marketing and business plans, including the price.  On the day of the Bake Sale, one student (yes, it was a boy!) bought all of the cupcakes for the agreed upon price, and then he resold them for a higher price.  This created a huge campus-wide debate.  He asked our group:  what side are you on?  And how would you create similar big debates in your school?

Pat challenged all school leaders:  What is your signature event at each grade level?  The one that makes kids excited to get in to the next grade?

His challenge reminded me of a story I heard about Google.  One of my association colleagues told me that Google staff have complained to their children’s school about homework.  Their challenge?

Homework should include working on unsolvable problems.  So Google would probably like seeing kids engaged in the big projects and debates that Pat described.

I know some of our CAIS schools have signature projects at each grade.  (My daughter’s grade six class at Ridley is engaged in one now!  Her teacher, Mrs. Beatty, told me this morning that the younger students are already excited to get into her grade six class so they can do “the bean market”.)  But I’m not sure how many schools have a homework policy that includes unsolvable problems.

Anyone care to share their signature projects or unsolvable problems homework policies?  I’m sure that Pat and Google would like to hear from us…

Are conference passé?

I am at NAIS in Philadelphia and I got a text from a family friend in Halifax. My daughter wrote this to her:  If you have an idea of what I should be when I grow up then text me back because I need something by tomorrow.

When I spoke with my daughter, she was in tears. I tried to calm her with the classic – you are 11 years old and have a long time to figure this out.  She cried: But I need it for homework today!  So I told her what I did in school – just say you want to be a lawyer.  And that is exactly what she did.

But the point is that when she needed help – and fast! – she texted.  This reflex reminded me of my son before Christmas. He reminded me of his research process to find a new video game.  He texted me:  Well I made a post on Facebook that said “Which games should I get for my Xbox?” Then I took the top 5 and did internet research on them and narrowed it down to the ones that I liked best.

When kids grow up with immediate access to information and people through social media, what is the role of schools?  Sometimes I get worked up thinking about blended learning and how best to incorporate technology into learning in the classroom.  But the fact is, kids are growing up with hand-held devices and can use them with or without schools.

So the answer to how to change is sometimes not to change.  There will always be a real need for face-to-face time together. I would argue that schools need to get better at teaching values of how to get along and how to be kind to each other. (Today we call them 21st century learning skills but many are just good old fashioned values.)

I feel the same way about conferences. I can – and do! – learn from listservs and webinars and internet research.  But I value more the opportunity to join my NAIS colleagues here in Philadelphia.  Since CAIS is part of the International Commission on Accreditation and the Independent School Association Network, I spend a full week engaged in listening and talking with colleagues from all over the world.  This is an international network of smart people who share my passion for accreditation, advocacy, professional development and research.  As CAIS is the only organization in Canada to focus on this combination of programs, this network is critical.  (I am joined by my friend Jan at CIS Ontario too!)

Sometimes I joke that I learn more from the hallway conversations, but it was pretty amazing yesterday to hear Jim Collins and Bob Evans.  And last night at Canada Night, people wanted to talk about them and Daniel Goleman and the other sessions they attended (including one on marriage and Headship by Sue Groesbeck and Hal Hannaford and their spouses!)

tweeted all about it, but I bet you would agree, that the real value is being here to hear and debate the ideas in person.