Tag Archives: schooling

High Levels of Stress, Low Levels of Autonomy

The Washington Post recently reported on a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of approximately 30,000 teachers. Survey results reported teachers felt high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy. The rise of government initiatives such as the Common Core Standards were identified as a source of stress for teachers. The article reported: “Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey. “


The AFT website reports some key findings from the survey:

  • Only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media.
  • Only 14% strongly agree with the statement that they trust their administrator or supervisor.
  • More than 75 % say they do not have enough staff to get the work done.
  • 78% percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
  • 87% percent say the demands of their job are at least sometimes interfering with their family life.
  • Among the greatest workplace stressors were the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted stress could be a result of teachers wearing multiple hats in the classroom:

“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are in­cred­ibly stressed out.”

Read more about this issue at: http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress#sthash.mryeqegY.dpuf

Cultivating Empathy in Schools

There has been a lot written about the importance of empathy within schools. As an educator, being able to relate and connect with our students is so important because it allows the classroom to become a community; a place where people feel safe and valued. In a classroom or a school which is centred around empathy, students are unafraid to express themselves and try out new things.

empathy2In a 10-part journal series a school Principal, Michelle Hughes, from New York writes about her experiences in cultivating empathy within her students, teachers, and staff. Hughes speaks about the importance of not only cultivating empathy with the students, but with teachers. Here is an excerpt from the first journal entry:

Schools are a microcosm of the universal human experience.  I could choose (and much as I hate to admit it, there are times I wish I had it in me) to disregard the personal lives of staff and make the work of school my only priority.  But that approach would be contrary to the central ethos of the school, and it would no doubt relegate the cultivation of empathy and holistic teaching practice to the fringes of the classroom experience. To teach the whole child, the whole teacher needs to be considered.

 To read the journal entries click on the link below:



Visiting the Rishi Valley School… Part 1

I (Pooja) have just returned from an extraordinary two days at the Rishi Valley School in India.There is simply too much for one blog post, so I will share my experiences over a few blog posts. In this blog, I will focus on the principles which guide the school along with a photos of the campus.

The alternative school is guided by principles of holistic education which aim for the growth of student’s intellectual, emotional, physical, artistic, creative, and spiritual potential. The educational philosophies of the Rishi Valley School include:

  • To educate students so that they are able to explore both the world and their inner being
  • To inculcate a love for nature and respect for all forms of life
  • To create an atmosphere of affection, order and freedom without either fear or license
  • Not to condition the students in any particular belief, either religious, political or social, so that their minds may remain free to ask fundamental questions, enquire and learn. (http://www.rishivalley.org/school/aims.htm)

The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti established the Rishi Valley School in 1962. There are now Krishnamuti schools across India and the world, but this was the first educational site. The school is located “in a sheltered valley in the interior of rural Andhra Pradesh…about 140 km north-east of Bangalore.” (http://www.rishivalley.org/school/aims.htm) When we first arrived we met with the school principal. He listened to us attentively, and when he spoke it was softly and always with purpose. He said something in that meeting that has stuck with me. He said that although the teachers differed in teaching approach, the important quality was that they approached their teaching from a place of care and love. By walking around the campus, speaking with teachers and students, and observing classes I witnessed this in so many ways. For example, each morning the students gather in an open-air auditorium for an assembly. My experiences with assemblies have usually included announcements, performances, or guest speakers. At the Rishi Valley school, the assembly is dedicated to singing. The students and faculty gather in a circle and sing for half an hour. At the end of the school day, after dinner, we gathered in the auditorium again to watch an absorbing documentary on particle physics called Particle Fever.

The following are a few photos of the campus and school activities. I believe they speak volumes about the principles from which the Rishi Valley School runs.


The Rishi Valley School is a boarding school serving student from grade 4-12. There are approximately 325 students and 60 faculty members who live on campus.


The morning all-school assembly. Students and faculty are seated on the ground.


One of the many outdoor classrooms. My friend, a spoken-word artist, had the opportunity to facilitate a class here (More about that in the next blog!).


The student art gallery. It was common to see students around the campus working on their art; fine art, poetry, and music permeated the student culture.


Walking to class is a meditative experience. The campus is spacious, situated on approximately 360 acres of land. There have been over 200 species of birds identified, with the Indian Government officially declaring the school a bird sanctuary.

To read more about the Rishi Valley School: http://www.rishivalley.org/default.html

Re-visiting My Early Childhood Literacy Practices

My (Pooja) parents’ basement recently flooded. So, they had to quickly clear out whatever was in there. They came across a huge container labeled “Pooja’s school stuff” and dropped it off to me the following day. I was overcome with emotion as I rifled through its contents. My parents had held on to every single one of my report cards from from JK-Grade 12;  they even had my university acceptance letter. They had neatly filed all of the documents in plastic folders to avoid damage (like a flooding basement!). In the container, I also found many artifacts from elementary school: reading logs, projects, letters to fictional characters and pen pals, and books I wrote and illustrated. I don’t remember even writing/completing most of what was in the container but it was like taking a glimpse back into some of my early childhood literacy practices. As an adult, I got to see myself as a kid.

Here are some photos from a book I published in Grade 2, The Talking Pencil. I love how our books became part of the school library, so other children were able to sign them out to take home and read. What a great idea!

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Don’t Walk, Run to Buy Berliner and Glass’s New Book: 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools

This August, David Berliner and Gene Glass published the book 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education (Teachers College Press, NY). I (Clive) just read a review of it by Paul Hood in Education Review, a publication of the National Education Policy Center.

It is one of those books you wish you had written but is so important you’re glad (and relieved) someone else wrote it, now. It will be a huge shot in the arm for attempts to defend public education against the trend toward standardization, top-down control, and even dismantling. While the book is about U.S. schooling, it struck me in reading the review that the same arguments apply to public schooling in other countries. We have often exaggerated the difference between the achievements/challenges of schooling in the U.S. and elsewhere.

According to the review, James Popham’s back-cover blurb about the book is as follows:

“What do you get when two world-class scholars and a team of talented analysts take a hard look at 50 widely held yet unsound beliefs about U.S. public schools? Well, in this instance you get a flat-out masterpiece that, by persuasively blending argument and evidence, blasts those beliefs into oblivion. Required reading? You bet!”

As Popham notes, the authors enlisted the help of a whole team of academics to write on the various myths, thus adding greatly to the depth and accuracy of the analysis. Taking such a step speaks to the judgment, humility, and public concern of these outstanding individuals. I for one wish to thank them for what they have done – and am running to buy the book!

Teaching Good Manners: An Aspect of Way of Life Education

I (Clive) appreciated Leah McLaren’s column in the Globe & Mail on Friday. She reported that Tatler editor-in-chief Kate Reardon was recently “pilloried in the British press” for “a graduation speech at a private girls’ school…in which she highlighted the importance of manners over good grades.” Among other things, Reardon said that “if you have good manners people will like you. And if they like you they will help you.” McLaren commented that “as both a feminist and a mother” she agrees with Reardon, but noted that “[w]hen it comes to instilling basic values and good behaviour, parents have never been more on their own.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/the-importance-of-being-courteous/article19661557/

This should not be. Schools should support parents in this basic work (and they do to some extent). As I stressed in a recent posting, way of life (or values) education should be a major component of schooling, integrated into subject teaching and the life of the classroom and school.

The difficulty, however, is that we haven’t articulated a deep and comprehensive theory of way of life education. Advocacy in this area comes across as moralistic or, in the Reardon case, as old fashioned and conformist.

What could be more important than the quality of our way of life, in itself and in relation to others? It’s current neglect by advocates of “coverage” and testing is weird. “Good grades” as the goal of 12 years of schooling is totally inadequate. People should be pilloried for pushing such a position, yet it is so common.

Any goal can seem superficial when advocated in isolation. As educators, we need to develop for students, parents, and the general public a broad rationale for way of life (or values) education in terms of individual and societal happiness and what is ultimately important in life. We should help everyone – ourselves included – to stop fixating on narrow goals to the neglect of general human well-being.



Walking for the Brain

To further our theme from earlier posts on well-being and schooling, I (Cathy) looked up the right time to exercise to help your brain.  These tips were suggested:

  • In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
  • Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain      function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain      cells.
  • Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also      produces increased retention of new information, and better reaction to      complex situations.
  • When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class.


These all made sense, but none of them identified when or why I like to exercise for my brain.  When my mind is somewhat numb after a few hours of academic writing, I need to push the refresh button.  I achieve this walking by the lake.  I am sure it is good for my lungs, my joints and my heart, but I really head to the water to recharge my neuro cells and feast my eyes.  The scenery renews me as much or more than the exercise.  Maybe just seeing what I saw yesterday will refresh your neurons…

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One change to education?

In the Globe and Mail today (Canadian newspaper) there is an interesting article on the Canadians selected to be Rhodes Scholars. One of the questions they asked each of the 11 new scholars was: One change to education? Their responses were interesting because most focused on engagement, relevance, and access (not on improving test scores). It would be interesting to ask teachers and teacher educators what one change they would like to make to education. I would dearly like to see  greater teacher autonomy so they can plan for their students rather than feel pressure to charge through the curriculum (that may or not meet the needs of their students or be of interest to them). Clare