Who Do We Learn From?

Who Do We Learn From?

This is a question we educators need to ask and re-ask. Do we learn from teachers? Do we learn from peers? Do we learn from our parents? Our coaches? Our elders? Television? Computer? Experience? The list goes on. As humans, we have realized that we are learning all the time and thus we have named ourselves life-long learners. Over time, we tend to learn that we have learned things that before we had not realized we learned. Our new selves learn about our past learning and learn from our past learning as new selves.

On this day, August 31st, I am reflecting on what I have learned from my father. He was born on this last day of August some 82 years ago. He has been gone from the physical earth for 31 years about the same amount of time I have been married and about the same amount of time I have worked as an educator in public schools in California. I am some 5 years older than he was when he passed now and still he is still 82 years old for me. I am fortunate enough to continue to interact with colleagues and mentors from my father’s era and in one case with someone that shares a very similar life path and origin as my father.

In working with Rio’s children in grades Kinder to 8th grade I wonder whether they are cognizant of what their fathers are teaching them or what they are learning from them. I’m not sure I was at their ages. Still I think it has some utility to reflect on what one son has learned from their father or perhaps many sons from many fathers. Of course the same is equally true for mothers as sources of learning, teachers, grandparents, etc.. My father teaches me now when I think of him. He reminds me of what great coaches do and how teaching is like coaching in some ways. My father was a coach. He knew how to develop and lead teams and how to develop and guide individuals. He knew how to blend the human aspects of performance and observation with the numbers of statistics.

My father taught me the importance of relationships and family and at the same time taught me how alone we all are in the human condition. Many of these lessons were not conveyed through discussion, this rarely occurred. For the most part, he taught by example. An example that took me years to understand in some cases. My father taught me to be calm in emergencies and to help people when they need it most.

There are many lessons I have learned from my father in which I seek to do better in areas that were not his strengths. Areas I often struggled against him in my youth. Later, I see the seeds of these things in myself and how I must consciously seek to develop and improve and learn to be a new self.

My father taught me many things, but perhaps, the deepest lesson was his love for and great appreciation for family and children. He was orphaned by the loss of his mother and father in his first year of life and was raised by a caring extended family of first generation American immigrants. Even as he was unable to keep his family together later in life, family was the deepest root in his life.

Getting autobiographical is not my first direction or preference when pondering writing about learning. Today, however, on this 31st day of August in the year 2017, it is meaningful to consider what our children in our classes are learning from their fathers, their mothers, their teachers and what they will learn later from them when they re-think their learning as older selves. It is also meaningful to appreciate and further develop how Rio’s classrooms and teachers are becoming more and more open to bringing the wealth of learning and resources into school learning that come from our students’ lives and families. This ethnographic and student centered approach is alive and developing. It is as natural as learning itself and helps to transform our learning environments from the factory models that have long alienated young, immigrant, and often low-income children and families such as my father was in 1940 when he first entered school.

I am excited to be part of a process some 31 years later that is learning to incorporate the “lessons of our fathers” as it might be called into the learnings of school. For me, they are a life long resource that seem to unpack themselves more and more as I am fortunate enough to spend more time in this wondrous world.

What’s up in 2017 ?

What’s up in 2017?

These days of Fall to Winter are filled with expectations of vacation days, holidays, and time away from school. They are also filled for many educators with plans and ideas for the new year. As 2017 is upon us, Rio staff are engaged in a variety of activities that will prepare the school year through its second and third trimesters.

As such one might ask, What’s up in 2017?, What’s new?, What will we be doing? What will be our focus?

Here are a few ideas or themes to begin to respond to those questions;

Reading: In 2017 we will continue our work to help every child become an interested and competent reader. Our reading dashboards will soon go out to children and families in grades 3-8 in order to stimulate discussion and collaboration between home and school on helping every child become a better and more interested reader. We will continue to focus on and improve our libraries, our everyday reading instruction, our use of technology in support of reading, and our special programs to help struggling or emergent readers.
The Arts and Sciences: We continue to develop our programs and classes in the arts and sciences in order to enrich and expand student learning and development. Music programs at the middle grades continue to develop and improve in quantity and quality. New efforts include providing more opportunities for music learning in the elementary grades. Strings and other things are coming to the elementary schools. Dance is also growing and spreading through our partnership with Hip Hop Mindset and theater and creative drama are just emerging. Middle graders are tackling our first major musical production. Students from across the District are working to put together our first traveling musical theater performance which will focus on the 5Cs; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and caring. The visual arts continue to develop as students are learning new techniques and using new media to create art as well getting ready for our second annual series of community art shows. In the sciences, there is an explosion of new learning that explore robotics, coding, drones, 3D printing, and project based learning.
Parent and Community Partnerships: In 2017 we aim to double our efforts to connect with parents and community partners in diverse ways. Conversation is important and plans are in place to make better and more frequent connections with parents and partners using technology. We are also working on deepening and expanding parent and partner direct engagement with learners and schools. There are many many examples of such partnerships in each of our eight public schools and we aim to celebrate them more and demonstrate that schools are a great place for both children and adults to learn. As we open the doors and learning pathways in schools to more experts and involved adults we provide more diverse experiences and potentials for students and teachers. By being mindful of how to expand this work in a safe and meaningful way, a powerful community force is developing in which we learn together by helping the children in our schools learn. Our new K-8 S.T.E.A.M. school is in development to open in the Fall of 2018 and will serve as a model and learning lab for community engagement and problem based inquiry learning.
New K-8 STEAM School: Several years ago the Rio School District began to develop a master plan for facilities. In recent years our enrollment has grown by approximately 100 students per year. Rather than adding more portable buildings to our  existing schools, we developed plans for a new school in the River Park area. The school will accommodate the growth we are experiencing in terms of the number of students and will also enhance and model the growth we are pursuing as a learning organization. We have embraced the idea of transforming all of our schools into 21st century learning environments that prepare children to thrive in the worlds of school, work, and life. The new STEAM school planning will pick up in development speed in 2017. The building plans have been approved by the California Department of Education (CDE) and are awaiting final approvals by the Division of State Architects (DSA) in the new year. We are aiming for construction to take about a year with an opening of the school in the Fall of 2018. People will be able to watch the construction process in action on our new STEAM school webpages. http://rioschools.org/riosteamacademy/ . This coming summer of 2017 we hope to have staff selected and beginning on the development of learnings and curriculum and instruction projects that will culminate in a fully project based, problem based, inquiry path of learning that focuses less on subject areas and more on transdisciplinary learning. The new school will be a model of where we want all our schools to go in terms of learning and teaching. In recent years our Summer Science Academy has been a model for STEAM learning for the teachers and students who choose to attend and work. This model will be more further developed in the new STEAM academy.
World Class Learning: In a true and tangible sense, Rio is striving to become world class in the way that we help children learn. A few years back that notion may have been difficult for some people to imagine at Rio. Still, these last few years have demonstrated the amazing collaborative and creative spirit and work ethic of our teachers, staff, students, partners, and community. We have begun to make a mark on the local, state, national, and world stage for some of the things we are striving to do and also some that we are accomplishing. This aim of becoming world class involves adults in learning many new skills and practices and adopting new mindsets about children and the learning process in general. We have been capacity building and innovating. We have been working together to understand and accomplish. This learning process does not come easy or quickly. It is a long and infinite race. In the year 2017 we aim to march and run towards world class work and achievement as thoughtfully and quickly as possible. The children of Rio, as all children, deserve the best learning environments we can create. They deserve to have teachers and staff that believe in them and help them develop both the basic literacies as well as the 21st century skills and practices they will need to to thrive in their world in the years that come. We look to 2017 as a year full of optimism for the potential of the future and with a sense of deep and important purpose. World class learning matters for child, family, state, country and world.