Friday, February 3, 2017

Collective Self-Governance in Whole Child Education

Whole Child Education cannot guarantee the thorough presence of Individual Self-Governance unless youngsters feel completely empowered to genuinely participate in the governance of the learning community within which their individual decisions unfold. Such assurance is found in Whole Child Education's Collective Self-Governance which brings learning community adults and students together in either direct or representative democratic structures to discuss and agree on community rules, regulations, policies, procedures, social control and, in some cases, on the execution of management responsibilities. Here discusses general school structures founded in Collective Self-Governance. (A source list from which this post, the post on Individual Self-Governance in Whole Child Education and the summary post, Self-Governance Within the Individual and the School as The Foundation of Whole Child Education, are based is included at the conclusion of this discussion.)

School organizations possess three interconnected governance functions: Institutional Oversight, Administration and Policy Formation. Oversight and Evaluation. Institutional Oversight cares for the full funding of the school and the effective coordination of Administration and Policy creating a coherent, unified and viable formal education organization.  Administration cares for the regulation of the school's formally constituted elements seeing to their efficient management.  Policy cares for the customs, practices, procedures, protocols, conduct necessary and appropriate to the fulfillment of a school's mission and sets the direction of the Administration to achieve policy aims. Whole Child Education's Collective Self-Governance fixes Institutional Oversight, Administration and Policy governance within the individual school community where both youth and adults share decision-making through direct or representative democratic structures.

Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance for Institutional Oversight sets a Board of Governors (or Trustees Board or Site Based Board) as a representative democracy structure to include the Principal, a representative number of staff, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, student representatives in plurality, and notable members from the greater community where the school is located. The main responsibilities of the Board would be to regulate and approve budgets, secure full funding for the school, undertake long-term strategic planning, regulate school policies set by the school community, set and regulate management systems as well as the school's psychological development systems, hiring and dismissal of staff, secure, maintain and oversee school facilities, and assure compliance with federal, state and local law regarding formal education organizations.

Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance for Policy is through the direct democracy of the All School Meeting which is, as would be expected, composed of all staff and students in a school. The All School Meeting's prime duties are such as setting curricula, benchmarks for advancement in social, emotional and cognitive development as well as in satisfaction toward graduation, graduation criteria and what specifically satisfies graduation criteria, student admissions, dismissal and attendance policy to recommend to the Board for approval and implementation by Administration, recommendations to the Board on budget, learning material and facilities needs and priorities for approval and implementation by Administration, identification of expectant behaviors consistent and inconsistent with the norms of the school as well creating and overseeing the means by which inconsistent behaviors are resolved.

Administration is the exception to the cooperative governance of youth and adult as it remains a community adult prerogative, closed to direct community decision-making processes but nonetheless regulated by the policy instituted by the All School Meeting. Administration responsibilities center on planning, organizing and controlling such as office, business, records, recording, and information systems, human resource systems, facility systems, learning and psychological development systems.

Now, the ability to optimal establishment and operation of Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance as just outlined depends on the size of the school. Micro-Schools, enrollment of between fifty to seventy-five students within an ungraded, mixed age setting, tend very much toward optimal. On the other hand, low enrollment small schools of around one hundred fifty or so students within ungraded, mixed age settings and high enrollment small schools of up to four hundred students within ungraded, mixed age settings tend toward gradations of less optimal.

Indeed, the intimate nature of micro-schools creates close relationships among community members where the sense of ownership and individual and collective empowerment for decision-making would be well engrained and, thus, micro-schools provide the optimal setting for Collective Self-Governance. A school of such size can easily facilitate Policy governance in an All School Meeting where community adults and youngsters come together in regular meetings of the whole school to decide issues open for community action. Every person of the learning community can speak to the whole school persuading everyone in it to decide one way or another on issues before the institution. Each has a single vote on questions up for community decision. The entire community can readily decide policies on such as benchmarks of student progress, curriculum, assessment, assignments, graduation requirements and ceremonies, expectant behaviors consistent and inconsistent with the norms of the learning community as well as the means by which inconsistent behaviors are resolved, and more. In micro-schools, the representative democracy of a Board is nearer to the direct democracy of the All School Meeting as the Board discusses and resolves oversight concerns such as on budget, fund raising, enrollment, knowing full well the collective mind of the entire learning community. Further, at this school size the range of administrative responsibilities, remaining a collective community adult prerogative to discharge, becomes readily responsive to the direct guidance of the All School Meeting. Altogether, micro-schools unfold in both learning community students and adults the greatest sense of ownership of the school and what goes on within it producing optimal conditions for Collective Self-Governance.

However, the requirements for any learning community to be financially, socially, educationally and self-administratively viable need a critical mass of students which micro-schools marginally possess. Thus, while Whole Child Education strongly recommends micro-school construction, school viability could be argued to be of small schools with enrollment on the order of approximately one hundred fifty students for the lowest enrollment small schools to four hundred students, as maintained by the New York City Department of Education as its definition of a viable small school, for the highest enrollment settings.

Admittedly school community self-governance within a low enrollment small school has its challenges, but it is entirely possible. However, larger size small schools, especially at the highest end of the scale, complicate governance. Indeed, an All School Meeting of up to four hundred students plus all staff is too large of a body to maintain an attentive orderliness and too differentiated in self-determination and cooperative capacities, not to say in interest and attention spans, to unfold a thorough individual participation in the democratic formation on school policy issues, no less to cultivate the community ownership feeling in each and every member of the school community necessary for highly effective Collective Self-Governance.

Thus, high enrollment small schools while retaining the representative democracy Institutional Oversight of a Board and the collective community adult Administration prerogative, would. instead of a direct democracy All School Meeting, establish a representative democracy School Council. Indeed, what might be surrendered in the universality of felt ownership and shared decision-making moving from a direct democratic to a representative structure is compensated for in a more harmonious governance. Composed to a majority student representation and to include a plurality of staff representation and the Principal, the School Council would have the same policy governance responsibilities as an All School Meeting. Now, as long as student representation on both the School Council and the Board of Governors demonstrates to the student body that their collective sentiments find facilitation consistently during the school day and over time through their residency in the school and as long as the community justice system instituted, operated and evaluated by the Board and the Council demonstrates fairness, respect and the capacity to repair relations between and among members of the community, affection for decisions made in the name of community members not directly involved with governance should be assured.  

It ought to be noted at this point that early childhood ages have yet to unfold the inner, reflective voice required for Collective Self-Governance. Thus, student participation in school community governance for this bracket of youth would be unavailable. However, a school community governance structure of equal shared decision-making among all school community adults ought to be fully in place and cooperatively operating in exemplars of Whole Child Early Childhood settings, especially at the micro-school level. Institutional Oversight would remain in a representative democracy Board composed of the Principal, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, a representative number of staff and notable members from the greater community where the school is located. But Policy and Administration functions would combine within a direct democracy School Based Council composed of the Principal, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, and all staff.

In the end, the institutionalization of self-governance into the operation of school communities in the manner presented here has the best chance of providing youth and those working with youth in the school community the opportunity for continual and consistent healthy social, emotional and cognitive development, ultimately, setting the conditions for mental wellness, the First Principle of formal education, and schooling success for students and personal growth and work satisfaction for adult staff.


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Cherry, Kendra, What is Ego Strength?,,, 2016

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Hecht, Yaacov.  Democratic Education:  A Beginning of a Story,  New York:  Alternative Resource Education Organization.  2011.

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Johnson, David W. and Johnson, Roger T. Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Learning, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1987.

--------------------------------------------------- Cooperative Learning. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co. 1991.

Johnson, David W., Johnson, Roger T. and Holubec, E. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. Rev. Ed. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co. 1986.

Kohn, Alfie. No Contest: The Case Against Competition. Rev. Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1992.

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Manning, Maryann, Manning, Gary, and Long, Roberta. Theme Immersion: Inquiry-Based Curriculum in Elementary and Middle Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

Meier, Deborah. In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization. Boston: Beacon Press. 2002.

Mercogliano, Chris. Teaching the Restless: One School’s Remarkable No-Ritalin Approach to Helping Children Learn and Succeed. Boston: Beacon Press. 2003.

Miller, Ron. What are schools for? Holistic Education in American Culture. 3rd Ed. Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press. 1997.

--------------- Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s. Albany: State University of New York Press. 2002.

Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood, Translated by M. Joseph Costelloe. New York: Ballantine Books. 1966.

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Reeve, Johnmarshal; Ryan, Richard; Deci, Edward L; and Jang, Hyungshi, Understanding and Promoting Autonomous Self-Regulation: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective, in Dale H. Schunk and Barry J. Zimmerman, Eds., Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning: Theory, Research and Applications, New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008, pp. 223-245.

Richards, Akilah S., How We See Self-Directed Education, Alliance for Self-Directed Education, YouTube video,, 2016.

Seldin, Tim and Epstein, Paul, The Montessori Way: An Education for Life. Sarasota, Fla.: The Montessori Foundation. 2003.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Individual Self-Governance in Whole Child Education

Educating the Whole Child grows mind, body and spirit healthy simultaneously, but the developing psychological state of growing children, through an ever strengthening individual Ego and continuous consistent mentoring, finds favor over other constituent parts of formal schooling. Ego strength is founded on and in the individual’s increasing Autonomous Self-Regulation capacities which are premised in student satisfaction of the basic psychological needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Schools unfolding student Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness structure themselves through the characteristic of Individual Self-Governance. Individual Self-Governance places the locus of all knowledge decisions squarely within the individual student rather then being placed on the student from a power external to the individual. Schooling in this way requires formal learning to fully allow intrinsic draw to compatible knowledge seeking, acquisition and use at each level, early childhood, primary and secondary education. Here discusses general school structures founded in this characteristic.

An Early Childhood Whole Child Individual Self-Governance exemplar would position students within an ungraded, mixed age setting developing an early autonomous self-regulation of social-emotional dispositions and executive functioning, cultivating natural learning instincts, appropriate language competency and growth in gross and fine motor movement and in overall body capacities while school staff uncover individual student psycho-dynamic, psycho-social and psycho-cognitive baselines enabling counseling a point of departure. Such early childhood settings would be a prepared play world filled with practical life materials and activities, sensorial materials, wooden blocks and puzzles, sensorial keys and experiences of nature, of people, of art, of music, of language, of math and measurement; it would also be filled with age appropriate toys, like dolls, cars, trucks, planes, rail roads, as well as items such as sand and water tables. There would be provided areas intended to stimulate and accommodate free, imaginative play as well as free individual and group physical play. Specific engagement with the materials and the activities of the prepared environment would be wholly up to each child rather than be directed by a teacher.

In an exemplar of Early Childhood Whole Child Education, students would process through and graduate into Primary Education at their own pace. Criteria and demonstration of criteria for advancement through and out from such an Early Childhood program would be community decisions undertaken through school Collective Self-Governance.

An exemplar Whole Child Individual Self-Governance Primary Education would position students within an ungraded, mixed age setting strengthening or beginning to develop autonomous self-regulation of executive functioning and social-emotional management promoting behavioral habits of both independence and cooperation, competencies in book literacy, language, numeracy and self-selected subject topics while Primary Education staff develop psycho-dynamic, psycho-social and psycho-cognitive profiles of enrolled students whether new to or continuing with Whole Child Education enabling counseling to proceed in proper directions.

Such Primary Education spaces would provide for free play and for developing intentional learning skills and subject topics of interest. Thus, it would be filled with materials like Lincoln Logs and building blocks, toys, puzzles and games, costumes and theatrical makeup, paints and crayons, newsprint and paper, performance spaces, indoor and outdoor playground equipment, and readers, charts, time lines, lab manuals, models and arts materials. Academic learning would be set in Learning Stations centered on Literacy, Language, and Measurement and in discipline areas of Earth, Space and Life Sciences, History and Geography.

Subject content learning of a Whole Child Individual Self-Governance exemplar Primary Education would be individual and emergent rather than being uniform and mandated: the course of topic content acquisition over an entire residency would emerge unique to every child as they engage the prepared learning environment through distinctive neurology, interests, abilities and communication styles.

However, a goal of the Primary Education common to all children would be the development in each child of competency in receiving, processing and communicating written, oral and graphic information, including mathematical information, allowing each to comfortably accept Secondary Education. These objectives would emerge over time as student-mentor negotiated agreements and would be based on felt student need to gain additional tools to explore more of the prepared environment than through mandated mastery on or before a time or an age certain.

In an exemplar of Whole Child Primary Education, students would process through and graduate into Secondary Education at their own pace. Criteria and demonstration of criteria for advancement through and out from Primary Education would be community decisions undertaken through school Collective Self Governance.

Primary Education classes in the usual sense of mandatory, age and grade grouped, teacher-directed, whole group instruction are not intended to be part of the best examples of a Whole Child Individual Self-Governance structured Early Childhood or Primary Education. Rather, in-school learning engagement during the school day of Early Childhood Education would be through self-organized individual or group involvement with elements of the prepared environment; in-class learning engagement during the school day of Primary Education would be mostly through self-directed independent or self-organized small group involvement with the materials and activities of the prepared environment, but also, if students desired, through small group teacher initiated and student voluntarily accepted cooperative topic study and/or through self-initiated one-to-one instruction. Outside-school learning engagement during the school day of both formal learning levels would be through the student choice of varied field trips.

In both Whole Child Education levels the role of the teacher is to facilitate student learning, growth and maturation, rather than directing it. It would be incumbent on teachers to closely observe each child to determine his and her needs and to change the prepared environment as much as feasible putting in the way of the child elements able to meet the observed needs.

A Whole Child Individual Self-Governance exemplar Secondary Education would have students within an ungraded, mixed age setting developing high quality deliberative concrete through high abstract thinking, manual skills, language competency, and habits of cooperation, and to cultivate self-selected subject topics while secondary education staff work with individual students to retain and to further build autonomous self-regulation as adolescent drives conflict decision making.

Inquiry Project Based Learning, for instance, would be a preferred content learning structure utilized by students to process through a Whole Child Individual Self-Governance Secondary Education. Students would engage the knowledge world through individual or cooperative small group inquiry projects. Projects would be developed, implemented, presented and feedback given through participation in Cooperative Learning Labs where Lab members act together to achieve individual or cooperative small group project objectives and where Lab members through demonstrations and presentations share the knowledge gained by their projects. There could be a number of Cooperative Learning Labs inhabiting their own spaces and facilitated each by at least one Learning Specialist: They could cover areas such as Outdoor Education, Physical Science, Mathematics, Social Science, Social Studies, Letters, Fine Arts, Performance Arts, Foreign Language Arts, Digital Sciences, Carpentry, Metal Working, Home Arts and Athletics.

For the purposes of easy explanation, Cooperative Learning Lab areas of knowledge responsibility detailed immediately below are divided according to customary discipline breakdowns, but are not to be taken as necessarily conventional Secondary Education subject division and content. For instance: in the usual Social Studies Secondary Education curriculum questions into leather tanning are unaddressed, but if a student were interested in knowing about leather tanning either as an exercise in actual tanning or as an academic inquiry, say, as it happened in New York City in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, then the student would find such knowledge within the American History domain of the Social Studies Learning Lab or the Agriculture domain of the Outdoor Education Learning Lab or both.. The student, then, would proceed within these spaces to execute the project in leather tanning.

Suggested Cooperative Learning Lab areas of knowledge responsibility:

Outdoor Education Cooperative Learning Lab includes adventure leadership and experiences, and studies in student selected aspects of Botany, Geology, Forestry, Zoology, Environmental Science, Agriculture, Oceanography, Cartography and Surveying.

Physical Science Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Astronomy, Biology, Cosmology, Chemistry, Physics.

Mathematics Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Numbers Theory, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus.

Social Science Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Health and Wellness, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy.

Social Studies Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of: Geography; General World History; Specific Regional or Nation State History; Specific Regional or Nation State Contemporary Culture, Government, Politics and Economics; New York State History; Contemporary New York State Government, Politics and Economics; American History, Government, and Politics; Contemporary American Government, Politics and Economics; Political Economic Theory and History.

Letters Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Written Communication, World Literature, English and American Literature, Mythology.

Fine Arts Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Drawing, Painting, Sculpting, Photography, Film.

Performance Arts Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Dance, Music, Theater, Interpersonal Communication, Public Communication.

Foreign Language Arts Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of the acquisition of Latin, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and English as a Second Language.

Digital Sciences Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Information Technology Construction, Operation, Repair, Networking, Programming, Computer Aided Design, Graphic and Fine Arts.

Carpentry Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Building Construction, Cabinetry, Furniture, Crafts, Fine Arts.

Metal Working Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Construction, Fabrication, Civil Engineering, Crafts, Fine Arts.

Home Arts Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Fashion, Culinary Arts, Community Planning, Residential Design, Interior Design, Home Repair, Clothing Repair.

Athletics Cooperative Learning Lab supports study in student selected aspects of Individual Sports, such as Tennis, Golf, Aquatics, Hand and Racquet Ball, of Team Sports, such as Baseball/Softball, Basketball, Soccer, of Coaching and Team Management; of Fitness Training and Exercise Physiology, of Sports Medicine.

Whole Child Secondary Education students would initiate selection for all inquiry projects rather than rely on mentor or learning specialist directed selection. Although topic lists would be made available by learning specialists for students it would be preferred for students to create their own topics, but it is sufficient to satisfy Individual Self-Governance that students form their inquiry questions from pre-listed topics.

Prior to the start of each and every inquiry project, students would state their Criteria for Project Success based on performance assessment methods. Performance assessment rubrics would consist of qualitative statements describing specific standards against which student's can self-assess and/or measure other students' project work, especially as the final project product is being developed. Criteria for Project Success would be self-generated but they should have the approval of both the student's mentor and appropriate lab learning specialist wherein the project would be completed. A student may request the Learning Lab group within which he/she is working to evaluate a project at any stage of its undertaking using the students own criteria for success rubrics.

Beyond the feedback opportunities, Whole Child Education Individual Self-Governance would relieve the student and his/her project from formal assessment unless the community as a whole sanctions it through its Collective Self-Governance. However, while mandated formal evaluation of completed projects is not intended, individual students presenting their completed projects may request a formal assessment from the Learning Lab members and/or the learning specialist wherein the project is being presented. Whole Child Education recommends that under the conditions of formal assessment, the student develop an assessment instrument based on the project's Criteria for Success through which Lab members and/or a learning specialist can evaluate the student's presented work. Students and their mentors would be obliged to retain a portfolio of projects demonstrating work done, its quality and its fulfillment of Criteria of Success.

Occasionally there may be a need felt by students or observed by the learning specialist for direct instruction of project skills or of assessment methods or of common subject content. In these cases, a student, a group of students or the learning specialist would call a learning lab non-compulsory seminar to fill the need. All learning lab seminars having these objectives would be conducted using Cooperative Learning. methods. Also, on occasion, there may be felt a need by students, especially, or by the Learning Specialist in a Learning Lab to gather students together for facilitated conversations on topics of interest. Here a student, a group of students or the learning specialist would call a special non-compulsory seminar using a Socratic Pivotal Questioning method, or a similar method, to lead the conversation.

Students when not acquiring additional project skills or common subject content or evaluating project efforts or working with mentors would work on their projects independently or cooperatively depending on the youngsters’ inclinations and the kinds of tasks to be done. However, an expectant behavior of the cooperative norm of Whole Child Education is that each youngster is to look for opportunities to help fellow students as well as to be open to help when needed.

In the best examples of Whole Child Individual Self-Governance Secondary Education, students would work with their mentors to plan the course of their progress in satisfying the requisite benchmarks toward graduation, the criteria for graduation and life after graduation. They would process through and graduate at their own pace . Criteria and demonstration of criteria for advancement through and out from Secondary Education are community decisions undertaken through the school's Collective Self-Governance.

Leveraging the properties intrinsic to individuals under a close mentoring relationship of community adult and student to impel learning engagement, to live well with each other within the learning environment and to cooperatively assure the smooth management of the school community would unfold Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness in youngsters at each schooling level and would have the best chance of developing a healthy mental state and schooling success of growing children.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Self-Governance Within the Individual and the School as The Foundation of Whole Child Education

(The concept of Self-Governance in formal education sparked the interest of a friend and colleague. He asked if I would provide him a capsule version and an extended explanation of my understanding of the concept in its application to Whole Child Education. The following is the short version. A rewritten introductory paragraph is added for this post. The extended version will be posted within the next few days.)

Although trendy now, educating the Whole Child has been around for decades. It started in earnest, in my view, with accepting Howard Gardner's concept of Multiple Intelligences and then folding its particulars into the way schooling does its thing with the result that both the concept and its application changed noting of note. And that's the problem here: schooling done the way it is remains the way it is regardless of trend. Currently, educating the whole child near exclusively has taken the form of added curriculum stressing the direct instruction of social-emotional aspects of behavior, such as classes in anti-bias behavior or in cooperation or in mindfulness. Also, for some, increasing emphasis on Humanities subjects has been suggested. Regardless of the curriculum recommended and implemented, the foundation Myth of schooling continues: Direct instruction will always achieve its objectives in every student and when its objectives are within the domain of human psychology and behavior based in it, then, direct instruction is both necessary and sufficient and will definitely do the job. Of course, the Myth and its practice conveniently leave unattended the social context of instruction, which is largely constructed to induce externally regulated compliance behaviors, certainly substantially below conditions for healthy social-emotional and overall psychological development, and it could be argued that such is immensely destructive to immediate and future child mental health. Indeed, if the whole child is to be consciously served in formal education, then, the whole child needs a social context inducing the continuous maturation of mental wellness.

The principal path leading to a healthy mental state is through an ever strengthening individual Ego. A strong individual Ego builds confidence in youth's ability to deal with challenges. Also, it cultivates high levels of emotional intelligence enabling youth to successfully regulate their emotions, even in tough situations.

Ego strength is founded on and in the individual’s increasing Autonomous Self-Regulation capacities. Autonomous Self-Regulation is a system of conscious personal management guided by the feeling that the behavior, the emotion, or the cognition being regulated is affected for reasons a person values, finds meaningful, and wholly endorses.

The development of Autonomous Self-Regulation within formal schooling unfolds as a direct response to social contexts supporting student satisfaction of the basic psychological needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Autonomy is to be understood here as the development of the self as an independent identity from others, as the deep inner sense of empowerment, as the ability to function independently without control by others, as the capacity to make decisions independently, as the feeling of comfort acknowledging the need of and requesting help from others, and as the capacity to fully understand and freely accept interdependent relationships. Competence is to be understood as the ability to do something well or efficiently, a range of skill or ability, a specific ability or skill. Relatedness should be understood as close, affectionate relationships with others built on the reciprocity of factors like trust and empathy.

School organizations having the best chance at developing student Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness, thus, learner Autonomous Self-Regulation, and, therefore, personal psychological well-being, and, ultimately, successfully educating the whole child, share the twin characteristics of:Individual Self-Governance operationalized as self-directed, negotiated and cooperative learning, and of Collective Self-Governance operationalized as school community governance.

Self-directed, negotiated and cooperative learning is where students take individual responsibility for deciding what is to be known, the scope of knowing, when knowing is to occur, how knowing is to be undertaken, the duration, outcome and success of any learning activity and the course of learning for a school term and for an entire school residency, where students work together to achieve both individual and common learning and personal development goals, where students and teachers work cooperatively within an ecology of Constructivist learning, where students negotiate between intrinsically motivated natural inclinations and school community generated and larger community requirements for progress toward graduation, for graduation and for life after graduation, where students access the widest world of knowledge-manual concrete up the ladder of abstraction to the highest-from which to choose, and where students engage in a mentoring relationship of adult to youth where an adult school staff member and a youngster enter a process mutually respectful of the wisdom of each to work on student social-emotional, psycho-dynamic and psycho-cognitive issues and to attain a common understanding of and an agreement on knowledge goals and the action steps required to reach those goals.

School community governance is where learning community adults and students come together in meetings of the whole using a Democratic Process-adults and youth having equal rights to speak and to persuade within community forums and of one person-one vote-to manage the whole school community, where in the collective feeling of ownership, the community decides on issues such as curriculum, instruction, learning and assessment of learning, student projects and assignments, benchmarks in learning and developmental progress, graduation criteria and demonstrations satisfying the criteria, behaviors consistent with and in violation of the norms of the school as well as the means by which violating behaviors are resolved, and in management issues as in some community self-governing schools such as hiring staff, budgetary and fund raising issues, facilities maintenance and record keeping.

Schools constituted to the characteristics of Individual and Collective Self-Governance place sound psychological development within social contexts of healthy social, emotional and cognitive growth educating the Whole Child.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Educators are Psychologists After All

I posted the following on Facebook, but I thought to give it a substantial edit and to place it on the blog as a preface to a little something I recently wrote on self-governance in formal education for a friend and colleague interested in the concept.  The piece on self-governance will be posted here in a few days.

This reflection was penned and displayed on Facebook in a teacher’s group page and on my timeline over the 2017 Presidential Inaugural weekend.  So, it was not an ordinary weekend.  Yet, I thought that maybe someone might say something in response, but no one did suggesting that what I had to say had no resonance within those caring to read it. It is carless to draw conclusions from this situation; still, it goes along with thinking already established:  One of the disturbing factors of the education profession, to me, is that while an overwhelming majority in it are hardworking, selfless and deeply caring, the narrow focus on instruction and detailed requirements of what folks in education have to do daily crowds out any deep systems' level self-examination of structure and process and their affects on student and professional mental health, although there is an acknowledgement of the great stress teaching occurs. Further complicating all is a great self-powerlessness to effect change in personal professional thinking.  Indeed, educators are captured by what a long time education researcher calls the Myths foundational to professional routines and obligations. Nevertheless, I try to suggest other ways of thinking with this as one example:

As a pre-service high school Social Studies teacher back in the olden days of the very early 1990's, I was told that I was not a psychologist, rather I was a teacher responsible for moving content from my lesson plans into the minds of my students with its measure of success being the degree of ready recall students achieved on the tests I administered in class and the school administered as required by the State of New York. However, I learned on the job that at heart teaching is the art and science of Psychology, individual and group.

I was taught to and did as routine to begin each lesson with a "Do Now", a very short reading/writing assignment with the purpose of "settling down" the class, of preparing the group to accept instruction-certainly a psych thing-while I took attendance and concentrated on other immediate clerical tasks.   Then I was taught to place the "Motivation" on the board, usually in the form of a question which would prompt a class discussion getting students interested in the lesson topic and in the process eliciting from them the focus or “Aim” of the day’s lesson.  Again something very much tied to the psyche of both teacher and students.  Unfortunately, both the individual and group dynamics of the students assigned to me wholly resisted this mind technique to the point that I had for then and forever to reverse the position of Motivation and Aim, placing Aim on the top of the board and Motivation underneath as two of the other immediate clerical tasks during the Do Now and drop any class discussion of Motivation for a swift monologue.  Indeed, a mental Jujitsu move by the collective class on the teacher.. 

However, the largest part of the teaching experience for me was in the minute to minute ordering of student interpersonal and group behavior. I mean, I was told by nearly everyone, pre-service professors, in-service administrators/supervisors and other teachers that effective instruction cannot happen unless the classroom has order. And order is, frankly, the application of various discipline rubrics and practices. And they are definitely founded in a certain view of human psychology.

What all of this is about is to point to the plain but intentionally obscured fact that formal education is tightly bound within the practice of Psychology and that educators are psychologists but are neither trained as such or do they, as a rule, understand the psychology of what they do or how, especially, the structures within which they and their students must live and grow affect the mental health of all involved!   Thus, it is not to how children learn or to the operational definition of a well-rounded education or to college/career readiness or to the best understanding of cultural literacy or to the most efficient and effective instructional and classroom management techniques which should be of greatest import for the profession or for those who order it in the public and private realm, but how youth and adults, students and educators mentally develop within the multiple social contexts including the learning within which they must live and grow and how to provide the immediate school environment developing mental wellness of adult and child together.

Yes, there are required courses in Ed Psych or Child Development, etc., but like the rest of schooling, the integration of information into practice is somehow magically assumed by having scored sufficiently on the tests necessary to pass the courses. And, of course, student and regular teaching, even with professional development, near universally focus on defining subject content to be taught and the instructional techniques necessary for the most efficient immediate transfer of content and on the techniques of classroom management.  The process of it all removes from the human endeavor the first need of all students and of all professionals, their mental states of wellbeing,

Therefore, since formal education is the practice of Psychology and educators are psychologists, then formal education’s First Principle ought to be the development of mental wellness in students and in educators, not the transfer of content.  And that means a massive re-ordering of the ethos of the profession and of the organization of teaching and learning as well as the preparation and continued professional development of those within the field.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Searching for student autonomous self-regulated schooling: I am definitely not a disciplinarian!

First I would like to define self-regulation as a system of conscious personal management guiding thoughts, behaviors and feelings to reach goals. Second. I wish to stipulate to there being two types of self-regulation: autonomous self-regulation and controlled self-regulation. Autonomous self-regulation is the feeling that the behavior, the emotion, or the cognition being regulated is being affected for reasons a person values, finds meaningful, and wholly endorses. Controlled self-regulation, by contrast, is the feeling of internal or external pressure conflicting with what one would otherwise choose (e.g., avoiding shame or guilt, interpersonal rejection, or physical or verbal punishment). Conventional schooling and a good deal of unconventional schooling, I'd argue, relies almost exclusively on controlled self-regulation in students. As an educator I have had trouble being the controller, the disciplinarian who pressures students for behaviors convenient to the order of the customary classroom.

I was born to teach. Well, I was born to teachers, a father who taught high school English and a mother who taught high school Home Nursing, Nutrition and Biology after a career as a nurse. Both were in the New York City public school system. From them I inherited the deep seated impulse to help others to learn. However, while my parents somehow managed the deportment of their students so their classes were orderly. I, having no truck with ordering anyone around, found myself at odds with this part of classroom management: Discipline, as we use to say in the Sixties, was just not my bag.

Indeed, I can remember from sixth grade and all through high school really hating “playing sheriff”, that is making sure a balance was struck between every one of my friends having a good time in my family’s finished basement while it, they and me remained in an all-together fine condition. I would plead, beg, cajole but it was only the anticipated and sure visits from my mother which actually kept the friends in check and the basement in good repair. Still, I felt an obligation to monitor and manage my friends behavior. I carried the dreaded sheriff into the classroom.

However, I found a congenial environment in college classrooms as I started my teaching life in the fall of 1980. Here, I could concentrate on “real teaching and learning” as student conduct toward each other, the school property, the material under consideration and the learning goals I set was well self-regulated. However, as I discovered as I learned more about teaching and learning, these students as well as the others to come, mostly were controlled self-regulating. But in the early stage of my career I was happy enough not to have to be a sheriff.

Adjunct work wasn't paying bills. So, in mid-decade I looked to parochial school teaching and was appointed to instruct seventh grade science and social studies in a parish school close to where I was then living. These youngsters were well mannered, but holee, they just kept on talking! I would ask them for quiet and they would be silent, but for only a brief moment, then whispers followed by louder whispers followed by and followed by and followed by my getting angry. At one point I felt I needed to discipline the whole class and I piled on the homework thinking homework as a good punishment (which to each and every student it is so thought even at the best of times). But that didn’t dissuade them from talking so I gave them even more homework. That didn't work either. Now, it became clear to me that I had lost control of the class and having lost control I yelled at them using the most learned language a college professor could muster. Needless to say the principal wasn’t pleased and suggested I go back to college teaching, which I did. And I was happy to return to the college classroom even though it was still adjunct and student self-regulation was still from the internalization of external expectations.

However, adjunct still wasn’t paying bills. So, eventually in the very early 1990's, I followed my parents into the City public high schools first as a substitute teacher than as a fully appointed high school teacher of Social Studies. I mean, talking about playing sheriff! Still, my sub classes turned out just fine as I struck bargains with students: They didn’t bother each other or the school property and I wouldn’t insist they do any school work. I said they could talk at a loud whisper but if the volume of the talk got beyond a certain point I would ask them to lower their voices and I would expect that they would, which they did every time. I also said they could get up from their seats to visit friends but when visiting they needed to be seated. Additionally, I suggested they read, write, or even draw, if they wished. The bargain held strong with only a few minor exceptions.

Everything changed when I was appointed to a Brooklyn high school in 1992 and tasked to instruct! At the time behavioral contracts were a thing. These were behavioral stipulations students had, I repeat, had to agree to follow during all class periods. It included a graduated list of “consequences” for violations. No one, including this teacher, took it seriously. Still, I referred to it several times, but it didn’t matter a single bit. It took me three weeks of insistence to get my four ninth grader classes in an order acceptable for direct instruction. My fifth class was of super seniors and they fell in line from the first day.  But then in one of the ninth grade classes was dropped a young man with definite emotional challenges, more than the rest. He so disrupted the class he destroyed the order I so deftly built. It took me another three weeks to get this class to an acceptable order. Then on the heels of this came report cards where all in the ninth grade classes were shown they were failing three or more of their subject classes and not a few were failing all of them! To say there was pandemonium in each class is an understatement. Somehow I had to calm them down to get on with instructing the syllabus I was given by my supervisor who, by the way, said I had to follow it to the letter. Obviously, the disruptions, eruptions and out-right verbal abuse coming close to blows among students and between students and this teacher continued until I just could not stand it. I resigned and began a search for a school where self-regulation was autonomous.

Actually, I had been in one since 1985, although it was not exactly a school but it was a learning organization: Scouting. When Scouting is done right it requires both youth and adults to engage an individual autonomous self-regulation. You see, a foundation of autonomous self-regulation is the compatible resonance in an individual among innate predispositions of nature and socialization, self-selected goals, available means of goal achievement and pleasing participation in the means of goal achievement. And Scouting from the youngest to the oldest when done right is premised on the presence of these elements and its compatible resonance in individuals. However, too often Scouting is not done right and when not done right it tends to replicate the environment comparable to conventional schooling inducing a controlled self-regulation. But it was my experience with the cub pack and the scout troop through which both my son and I coursed in our Brooklyn neighborhood, him as a scout and me as a scouter, as well as some of the other troops of my acquaintance and participation later in Queens that while the match between scout or adult and Scouting was not always compatible, those who voluntarily stayed the longest with a program as close to being done right as possible demonstrated the necessary compatible resonance among the present elements comprising an autonomous self-regulation setting and, indeed, at least within the context of the Scouting experience both youth and adults demonstrated what I could interpret as autonomous self-regulated behavior. It occurred to me on more than a few occasions that a school based on Scouting done right may just be the type of school for which I was searching. (The next blog post will explore characteristics of Scouting done right marking it a learning organization encouraging autonomous self-regulation and a possible template for the type of school for which I continue to search.)

Towards the end of my Scouting experience I joined another learning organization: scuba schools. I worked out of two shops one in Brooklyn and the other in Staten Island, both of which have been out of business for quite some time, as I too have hung up my fins for some time. The adults I was finding first as a student instructor and then as a full open water instructor had mellowed their regular education controlled self-regulation into a deeply internalized cooperation and voluntary agreement with the instructor on the goals and the paths toward skill development and eventual Open Water Certification. It is unclear to me, even in retrospect, that these adults were exhibiting an autonomous self-regulation. I lectured, explained, tested in class; they listened, read and studied the required material and passed the tests in class. I explained, demonstrated, guided, and supervised in the water; they listened, observed, tried, and practiced in the water. They accepted the conditions of instruction knowing what they were. They accepted the conditions of in class and open water testing/demonstration knowing what they were. They followed instruction increasing knowledge, acquiring skills, demonstrating both, becoming certified. The mere acceptance of direct instruction is not of itself an indicator of one type of self-regulation, I'd argue. But, the acceptance of the need for changed behavior and of its actual change might be. And, believe me, one needs to change all sorts of behavior to live without harm underwater. Just overcoming the survival impulse to hold ones breath underwater and to breath on scuba is one heck of a change. So, on balance in retrospect I am somewhat inclined to think the mellowing of the conventional schooling induced controlled self-regulation is toward an autonomous self-regulation with these adults. If my surmise is accurate to any degree, then it would follow that to move toward an autonomous self-regulation from a position of conventional school induced controlled self-regulation, if movement is possible, requires a certain maturity even undergraduates have yet to achieve. And it appears to require an honest voluntary, freely chosen acceptance of the conditions of instruction and with instruction some very basic behavioral change, a second order change in fact, which is largely unavailable to students within conventional schooling, possibly all the way through to professional graduation. Which ever way self-regulation breaks in scuba schools, though, it is Scouting done right which appears to me the better template for autonomous self-regulated schooling.

Eventually I returned to college teaching. It was adjunct, but that was all there was in the mid-oughts. The students I found in my courses were very well behaved and compliant in class as, they, I discovered, were soundly controlled self-regulated. But it would appear that thoroughly controlled self-regulated students become mightily confused when the external pressure is taken off and the internal pressure of external expectations is unconfirmed. Indeed, I found the students before me consistently incapable of adapting to my switching the locus of control for their self-regulation from me, the teacher, to them, the students, as to spark student complaints to others. Since this was the way of course after course and since I did not see this condition abating, I resumed my search for autonomous self-regulated schooling wondering if I had to actually start a school developing autonomous self-regulated students for me to find such a school.