Saturday, December 15, 2012

Placing Blame…

Yesterday was one of those days that will live on throughout our life, as we will never forget where we were when we heard the awful news. There have been several in my life of almost 60 years. I can tell you where I was when I heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated, the Challenger exploded, and the planes hit the twin towers, Columbine, and now Sandy Hook Elementary. Each of us has our own reaction to tragedy. Mine yesterday was overwhelming grief. I work in a classroom of precious small children each day and the events in Newtown were the nightmare of every teacher.

There seems to be a need to place blame when something like this happens. We lose sight of the fact that a single mentally ill person committed the unthinkable and that there was little any of us could have done to prevent it. Sadly, the blamed are often family, coworkers, and first responders who ultimately bear the greatest grief and guilt. I hope that as this latest horrific act of violence settles, we as people, start to consider how society itself, is perhaps the problem.

When I was a young child, most television shows were about cowboys and animals. They evolved into weekly programs about “Leave it to Beaver” type family life. As I grew older, there were many about doctors and hospitals. Turn on the TV now and you will find shows about violence and crime every night of the week. I call them “murder” shows. Admittedly, they captured my interest for a time, as it was interesting to learn how crimes were solved and to watch the investigators figure out the “criminal mind”. I no longer can watch them. There have been too many stories in the news that read like a script from one of those shows. The recent murder of a little girl in the Denver area was one such story. A young person murdered her and I couldn’t help but think that he might have learned his crime from watching “murder” shows on television. But we, in fact, are becoming desensitized to violence as a society. I cringe every time a six or seven year old in my class enthusiastically describes a violent video game or movie, telling of shooting enemies and bad guys.

When random acts of violence take place in our nation, we seem to crave news about them. The television is taken over by live reports, interviews with anyone who will speak, and the reflections of an unending number of experts. The nonstop reporting and constant visual reminders compound our grief. It is hard to escape that from a distance, and I can’t imagine how that would feel if you were an actual victim or family member. We have a family tie to Columbine and I can tell you personally that the media keeps that pain alive for him constantly. There was footage from Columbine shown yesterday during the Sandy Hook Elementary reporting! I think the worst moment came when they began interviewing young children. I heard a reporter ask a child, “How many shots did you hear?” I wanted to reach through the screen and grab the reporter by the collar! We need to know… we need to understand… we need a way to help those who are victims. We do not need to have our lives taken over by a steady flow of details and sensationalized sadness.

Rather than spending time trying to place blame or becoming depressed by the reports on television over the next days and weeks, we all need to hug our children, bake cookies, read them stories, and preserve their innocence. Teach them about goodness and kindness. Find a way to do something kind for someone else. Turn off your television.

May God bless the grieving people in Newtown, Connecticut. We are all so sorry….

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Time Is Now

I have just awakened from a dream. In the dream, I entered a castle and walked up the red carpet to the fanfare of trumpeters surrounded by extraordinary people from around the world dressed in their finest garments, greeting one another, celebrating, and enjoying the festive atmosphere as well as music, drink, and food served by elegant servers. The castle hall was magnificent in its splendor, decorated with gold and crystal, statues and mirrors. Everywhere I turned I found a friend, a comrade in passion and purpose. It would be a night to remember long after the dream ended. Amazingly, although I am still pinching myself, it was not a dream after all, but something that really happened to me, a life changing experience I will not soon forget. There are two kinds of experiences in life: the ordinary and the extraordinary. The castle was but one part of an extraordinary experience in which I recently participated. I am a teacher. Not a profession commonly celebrated in castles! Teaching can be one of the most isolated professions. Day after day working in classrooms surrounded by students, there is little time for contact with other teachers. Collaboration time within a school is a wonderful gift, but imagine having the opportunity to collaborate, not only with the other teachers with whom we work or even other teachers from nearby schools, but with teachers from all over the globe! Even better, imagine that group of global educators being some of the most innovative teachers in the world. That is exactly the extraordinary situation created by Microsoft at their annual Partners in Learning Global Forum. I have just returned from the 2012 event which was held in Prague, Czech Republic. The Prague Castle was the setting of the unforgettable closing gala. To be part of the event is a unique opportunity to connect with an international group of innovative teachers, sharing, learning, and celebrating. It is also a time to reflect on education and the work we undertake each day in our own schools. As I traveled home, I felt uplifted, inspired, and energized with thoughts and ideas. I left the forum richer for the experience, in awe of the amazing things happening in classrooms around the world, and with a greater understanding of the transformation of education. Forum speakers delivered thought-provoking sessions pointing out that for over ten years educators have been talking about transforming classrooms to meet the needs of the 21st century. We have been talking about the need to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. The truth is that we are now 12 years into the 21st century. It is time to quit talking and to take action. Jobs are already changing and jobs that did not exist 10 years ago are already part of our world. The time is now. A teacher from Norway told me of his project in which students were inspired to take risks they had not previously been willing to take. He so accurately compared teachers to those students. To make change involves taking risks. It is uncomfortable to do things differently when we have been doing them the same way for so many years. Technology is advancing so quickly in our world that it is difficult to imagine what will come next. Just in communication, it has become so simple to stay in contact with one another that I had met and engaged in collaboration with teachers at the forum even prior to traveling to Europe. The classroom projects presented at the forum were as diverse and inspiring as the people presenting them. They were extraordinary. Now I am back in my classroom trying to make sense of all that I witnessed and experienced. How do we turn the extraordinary into the ordinary? One lesson at a time, one teacher at a time, one classroom at a time... the time is now. Microsoft Corp. has reaffirmed its commitment to education with a US$250 million, five-year renewal of Microsoft Partners in Learning, bringing Microsoft's total investment in the program to US$750 million over 15 years. Microsoft aims to grow the Partners in Learning community to 20 million of the 75 million teachers worldwide by 2018 with the renewal and to continue preparing students for the changing global workforce.
Microsoft plans to expand Partners in Learning beyond the 119 countries that currently participate with a continued emphasis on driving community, developing networks, and allowing educators to share innovations and learn from each other. I am so fortunate to have been part of the Microsoft education effort!