Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Character Education

I was invited to speak to the newly hired teachers in my district on the subject of Character Education yesterday. I know those of you who know me well must be wondering if I was asked to present on how to be a character but my role was to demonstrate how character education can be incorporated into the curriculum.
I have served on my school’s character committee for the last six years. At the time of joining the committee the different grade level teams at my school participated in several community service projects such as Gleaners Community Food Bank, Care Packaging for the Troops, and Forgotten Harvest. We would come together as a whole school community to respond to natural disasters both nationally and globally and while these projects were successful, there was a certain level of frustration amongst both staff and parents that they were scattered, overlapping and lacking in long term significance. We decided to make a concerted effort to integrate service learning into the curriculum.
Service learning is an experiential teaching strategy that intentionally combines academic learning and relevant community service. Key components of service learning include:
-          Research/Investigation
-          Project has purpose or meaning
-          Reflection
-          Sharing or demonstration of knowledge gained

There are similarities between service learning and community service. They both foster civic responsibility and an individual’s growth personally and ethically. Both create strong community connections and meet real needs, but there are some significant differences.

 I shared with my new colleagues a service learning project that my teaching partner and I collaborated on. We share 54 students, I teach math and science, while he teaches Language Arts and Social Studies and the result was our River Rouge Watershed wiki. Yesterday I asked the teachers to peruse the wiki and try to identify possible learning objectives and character traits that students may have learned about during the course of its creation. I was thrilled with their responses and how much they saw in it but I was also struck by how much unintentional learning took place. It became crystal clear to me that when it comes to the education of a child we cannot separate heart and mind.

At risk of giving away my age, when I was at school students were empty pails waiting to be filled with information, facts and knowledge. I am so fortunate to work in an environment where the teaching of core subjects is seamlessly interwoven with character education and key 21st Century skills. The result of that is that I get to work every day with highly engaged, passionate kids who are teachers and learners and influential global citizens.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


It’s been a week since I returned from the Microsoft Partners in Learning Forum in Redmond and I’m still recovering from a PiLUS hangover: Recovering from the jetlag, from the time difference, from the shock of winning, from over indulgence in innovation, camaraderie, and inspiration!
My teaching partner and I were fortunate to gain first place in the Extended Learning Beyond the Classroom category with our project Doing Businessin Birmingham. I say fortunate because the caliber of the projects presented was astounding. The judges, including winners from the 2011 Global Forum Lou Zulli and Doug Bergman, must have spent hours wrestling over their decisions. Rick and I are truly humbled by the honor and look forward to participating in this year’s global forum in Prague, along with the other US winners.

It’s difficult to explain the impact this experience has on teachers and convey how truly uplifting it is. To be surrounded by teachers who are taking risks and pushing the boundaries in their classrooms every day is like being plugged into the ultimate energy source. While the forum is technically a competition it is so much more than that. It’s an opportunity to connect with other educators, share ideas and build relationships that last well beyond the forum itself. It’s a place where teachers get to meet and learn from educational leaders like Alan November, Vicki Davis and Kari Stubbs. It’s a showcase for new technology tools and a cradle of creative thinking. For the most part it is a celebration and appreciation of pioneering teaching and learning practices.

Lou Zulli asked us all to “pay it forward” and I know won’t be alone in sharing my learning with my peers, encouraging them to take risks and to get more connected with other innovative educators .My first advice will be to have them join the Partners in Learning Network , where they can become involved in  a global community of educators, driven by passion and committed to providing a quality education for all students.
I met many amazing teachers in Redmond who were recovering themselves: Recovering bankers, recovering lawyers, and recovering fashion designers who have chosen to enter the world of education to recapture a sense of significance and to make a positive difference in the world. That they certainly do! I am thankful for my PiLUS hangover. Because of it, I am more acutely aware of my responsibilities, I am inspired to do better and I am reminded that teaching is indeed a noble profession.Thank you Microsoft!