Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Years ago, a theory of human development evolved along side Piaget’s famous work, but without the fanfare so often afforded to Piaget. The work of Lawrence Kohlberg and its relationship to Piaget’s is  broader than I want to examine here, but his Six Stages of Moral Development is worth looking at, even at a cursory level.

In a nutshell, Kohlberg posited that our human morals develop in six stages as we grow up. My question is: Could we hasten/improve the development of these stages simply by making our students aware of their existence?

I like to couch the stages in words which complete the statement “I am moral because…”

stage 1: I want to avoid punishment

stage 2: I want to receive the benefits of obedience.

stage 3: I want to be “good.”

stage 4: I want to be law-abiding (legal.)

stage 5: I want to be a good citizen.

stage 6: I want to be a good human being.

Yes, this short article is just a scratch on the surface, but some thought given to it might yield and idea or two worth pursuing. I plan on talking with my students about Kohlberg’s work and see where it takes me.

If you do the same, let me know how it goes.


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My Principal once told a story of a speaker at an educational conference who was from India. This Indian presenter summed up the major difference between education in America and the rest of the world when he said “In America you spend all of your time measuring the elephant. In India we spend our time feeding the elephant.”

How I wish I could spend more time feeding my students than I do measuring my students. Teachers with high stakes testing courses feel even more strongly about this than I do–I teach in the arts.

I was all inspired to blog about this but I was having difficulty putting it all into words. Then I read Canadian educator Jack Miller’s “Education and the Soul.” It sums the topic up so well I decided to just paste in my favorite paragraph and then let you go to his article if you wish.

The accountability movement  is another example of mechanization in the curriculum.  Teachers are expected to be constantly testing students so that the public is satisfied with the what is going on the in the classrooms.  Unfortunately, the tests focus on a very limited portion of the curriculum and ignore the important areas such as personal and social development.  These tests tend to  stress information that will be soon be forgotten by the student.  The student begins to see school as a game where succeeding is based on passing tests that seem to have no relevance to anything except what we might call useless knowledge.   When school is seen as a game, there is no vitality.  Classrooms become lifeless places where students focus on achievement in a narrow and competitive manner.  A curriculum of meaningless tests is another example of education without soul. 

Education without soul…what a frightening thought.

Link to Jack’s document: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=63&gs_id=72&xhr=t&q=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&pq=education+and+the+soul+john+p+miller&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&safe=active&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=9380054e42786d49&biw=1024&bih=600


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At my college, there was a huge (and I mean HUGE) rock that sat on the corner of a busy intersection. It was 12 feet high and nearly 20 feet wide and weighed several tons. Legend has it that it was found while excavating a nearby construction site for another building back in the day. The rock was found protruding about 9 inches above ground and had a visible area of less than a cubic foot. Workers with shovel began to dig–and dig–and dig. A backhoe was brought to dig–and dig–and dig.

When this monstrosity was finally unearthed, it was so enormous and impressive that no one wanted to blast it into smaller bits. Instead it was relocated to a busy intersection and became legend. Students would paint messages on it, post announcements on it, decorate it for homecoming–it was once smeared with sterno and set on fire! It was so much more than a rock.

Our students are much like that rock. We see only an outcropping in our classes. Underneath is an enormous and even infinite spiritual being behind that small human image we see each day. There are experiences, desires, feelings, emotional baggage, joys, successes, failures –you name it–all behind that facade. But I’m talking about something even deeper.

We may never understand it all, but the fact that our students know that we know and respect its presence means something to them. We don’t have to know all there is to know about them to respect their individuality and uniqueness of spirit. We just need to remember there is always more to them than meets the eye.

In time, as they know more about themselves, so will we.

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I’ve had high school football players remark that during away games, they like having the band in the stands with the fans. They can hear the fight song, hear their parents’ and friends’ voices and it gives them the illusion of a home field advantage. They can hear “Go long, Lamar!” or “Hold ’em Kyle!”

Since I was young, I have been amazed at how vocal athletic fans are. Especially when no one on the team can hear them. I’m talking about yelling at the television. “Come on! What were you thinking Coach?” “Good grief! I could see that coming a mile away!” “What’s wrong with you?” “Can’t you count!?” Many a football fan has spent a few hours yelling and venting at a group of people who don’t even know they exist. There is no microphone in your den, and no private intercom on the playing field. Yell all you like, they’re not listening.

Sometimes we feel like teaching is that way. You talk and show and cajole but they’re just not listening. So find someone who is listening and become their fan. “Thank you, Courtney, for listening and paying attention.” “Trey I like the way you’re doing that–good work.” Only the most die-hard rebels will continue to ignore you. The rest will get “props.” Those who look and listen will be rewarded. They will be engaged. They will be successful.

All we have to do is remember that their personal spiritual nature is what we need to connect with. They’re not on TV. They’re sitting in your classroom.

So connect already.

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If you did not  read my previous blog post, go back and read it now or this next step will be meaningless. What follows is the way I began to determine my students’ self image with respect to the subject I teach: (you can adapt it to fit your situation.)

I began simply by keeping a few notes to myself about what seemed to “click” with some of my students. For instance, if I mentioned one aspect of my subject, I noticed that two boys on my right would always perk up and want to enter the discussion. If I discussed another aspect, some other students would want to jump in.  I made notes about who was interested in what and began to intentionally formulate specific questions just to see who would respond and if I was on target. I began to notice patterns which eventually helped me to see how each of my students was responding to different stimuli.

Next, I settled on three categories, or images, which I theorized were valid and gave them names like student, consumer, and performer. I next sat down and gave a lot of thought about what types of questions the students with each of these images would respond to with a “yes.” I constructed ten questions I felt like each group could say “yes” to and then listed them in a specific order: a student question, then a consumer question, then a performer question, then a student question, and so on. to the right of each question I placed a response row based on the Likert scale (disagree, agree, strongly agree, etc) and assigned each a numerical value. In actual practice, these values are finally added up and the question type with the highest number is usually an indicator of that student’s self image.

Next, I actually gave it to several groups of students and was pleased with the results. Although the questions needed a bit of tweaking, the process was sound (mostly based on the Myers-Briggs model, but not looking for Jungian personality traits.) I was able to see clearly what I had suspected all along: that students DO see themselves with different self-images with respect to their subjects.

Now I do some type of assessment  each semester. The students think it’s fun and like knowing “what they are.” They know that I have an interest in connecting with them on a deeper personal level–where their interests truly lie–and they respond (mostly) with respect and scholarship.

The results are manifold: they feel good about my class, it makes a personal and I think spiritual impact (their personal preferences are all-important at this age), it moderates their behavior (no one in the room is an adversary), and these things combine to produce a positive environment where success and achievement can happen.

Give it a try in your academic area. Let me know how it goes!

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Years ago I came across a communication technique called the “equity model.”  It was a framework for scaffolding conversations in the professional world. We can have productive interactions as long as we adhere to the model and remain at the same communicative level. If, for instance, I want chit-chat, but you want meaningful exchange, there will be some friction. If you want constructive criticism but I want to offer angry accusation there is friction. We must operate at the same level or little true communication will take place.

There is a spiritual equity model as well. We naturally gravitate toward those with interests similar to, and at the same level, as ours. But we also seek out those with spiritual maturity for inspiration and guidance. Sometimes our students do the same. They perceive us, at some spiritual level, as more experienced and seasoned than themselves, but at a level at which they aspire to be.

We must step up and take that responsibility and live out our knowledge and wisdom as best we know how. We can not hide in the shadows and hope no one notices us. We must want to be good in our content area, in our pedagogical practices, and in our ability to mentor students to desire to become both human and spiritual beings.

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. –Marianne Williamson

When we excel at our calling, we show them that it’s o.k. to succeed. Don’t be afraid to show them how good you are at what you do.

Inspire them to model equity.

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Several years ago, while in a local grocery store, I ran into a former English teacher,  just a few years after graduation. She sized me up, took an auspicious breath and said, “I know you were one of my students, but I just cannot remember your name!” I felt my heart sink. I thought that I, as one of her prized pupils (I lettered in English after all!) would be immediately recognizable to any someone who had taught me so diligently day after day.

Oh yeah, I forgot that in the intervening years she had taught about six or seven hundred other kids.

Another teacher, by contrast, not only remembered me, but would make her way over to see me if she was at a performance or lecture of mine. She always asked questions and wanted answers and showed genuine interest in what had become of me after I left school. She took real pride in any accomplishment of mine long after the teacher/student relationship had ended.

It would be impossible to show that type of interest in each person we teach, but it is imperative that we be at least minimally cognizant of what happens to our students after they leave us.  It’s one thing to say “I graduated x-number of kids this year,” but quite another to later say “And these went on to succeed in college, these now own their own business, these are teachers,” (or leaders, or politicians, or any number of success stories.)

If I am in some way preparing these young people for life, I need all of the spiritual sensitivity, spiritual generosity, and spiritual transparency I can muster now.

The proof comes later.

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