This is the second of three posts on the ideal classroom

We strive to answer the question, “What’s worth knowing?” even though we do not know what jobs await our students, or what technologies, or what problems they will face. We take responsibility, to teach tools for lifelong learning as best as we know how.

We build a culture of creativity, a culture of innovation. We resist making academics the sole concentration, and instead build learning around all facets of intellectual and emotional learning. Students have equal access to the arts, humanities, and sciences and understand they have equal value in their learning lexicon.

We allow the work to become evidence for learning. The quality of students’ work reflects the quality of our teaching. We strive to provide authentic performance assessment opportunities. We do not grade students against each other, but instead provide honest, summative assessments of their progress in relationship to clear goals and standards.

We use technology, including smart boards, overheads, VCR/DVDs, computers, cell phones, iPods, and the Internet. Online learning is central, giving students opportunities to use familiar resources in a framework of sensible thinking, reading, writing, discussion, and creative media and arts. We remain open to emerging technologies and their possibilities to enhance learning.

Again, draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left, list which of theses ideals you do in your classroom. On the right, list what you’d like to try.

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 20 “Imagine the Ideal” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:


This is the first of three posts on the ideal classroom

In my ideal classroom, my co-teachers and I create a space with its own story and aura. We might have a few desks and chairs but we also have couches, upholstered chairs, area rugs, plants, curtains, and perhaps a teacher’s desk but set off to the side. Students’ fine art and stimulating ideas grace the walls. Music plays at in-between times. There is no litter.

Students arrive expecting the unexpected, but certain they will learn. Everyone greets each other by name and with a smile. Learning begins the moment we enter and carries on as we leave. There are no bells, and no public address announcements.

As teachers, we evoke deep respect and treat students as honored guests. We accept them as they are and welcome them into to a safe learning place. We teach them to take breaths to center themselves. We help them to bring focus to their work. We teach without stress. We enjoy what we are doing. We enjoy each and every one of our students.

We ask more questions and give fewer answers. We create conversations using reason, evidence, and temperance. We invoke empathy, encourage different viewpoints, and expect rigor. We believe each student can and will learn and do anything to make it happen.

We concentrate on what they do well, and nurture their weaknesses through their strengths to help them gain confidence and thrive. We value thinking and take time to give students’ brains opportunities to ponder, explore, and consider. We value the struggle needed to develop worthwhile insights.

We work. Productive, useful, thoughtful, attentive, honest, and persistent work. Purpose is evident everywhere. Rigor means striving without fear of judgment. We provide frequent and consistent feedback during the learning process. We transform failures into successes. Teaching and learning become everyone’s business. Students learn to teach themselves.

Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left, list which of theses ideals you do in your classroom. On the right, list what you’d like to try.



For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 20 “Imagine the Ideal” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:

Do you feel the life force? Do you feel we’re all together?


The universe insists on the emergence of life, otherwise we would not be here. By no means could the universe generate itself as it has in the past 13.5 billion years in random fashion. The universe exudes intelligence. Just how this occurs, we can only surmise, but it appears obvious in the results it has produced thus far.

At the same time, we will not survive as a species any more than the Earth will survive when the sun dies in four billion years. Already, ninety-nine percent of all species that ever existed on Earth have become extinct. Yet, clearly life has been an outcome of the particular universe in which we live. Certainly, it does not take up residence exclusively on planet Earth. Life will live beyond our time.

Perhaps, our understanding of who we are begins by acknowledging each of us as a fragment of a greater whole, a single stitch in a garment. As fragments we participate in the life around us, making our contributions and accepting the contributions of others. Each of us emerges unique. As teachers entering our classrooms for the first time, we know we do not replace the previous teacher as a new light bulb replaces a worn light bulb. Instead, we come as unique fragments that have never been here nor ever will be here again…

We need to act in communion. If we do not, we will not survive. As humans, we find meaning in community. Solitary fragments become a shard, brittle and disconnected. When broken off from the whole—obvious when absent in a huge ceramic mosaic—not only will we be isolated but also we will be missed.

Swimme’s metaphor may appear grandiose when we compare it to ourselves in our classrooms [See June 28 post]. Yet, it reminds us of our universe home. It allows us to see our teacher lives as part of the continuum of the Universe Story and in particular, as conduits and creators of human history.

As Wilber said, “It’s turtles all the way down.”

What would your students have to say about these ideas? Listen carefully.

Image: psmi.jpeg

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 19 “Invoke the Cosmos” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:

Choosing the spiral galaxy metaphor

If we choose to act as spiral-galaxy teachers, we can activate energy in our students. When we visualize them as dual-foci beings, we raise our consciousness to look beyond appearances into the real selves before us. When we act as activators towards life, we resonate at the heart of the universe. Human consciousness, as far as we know, is unique among all creatures (at least on this planet) in that we can reflect on our place in the universe. Quantum mechanics teaches us that the act of looking affects what we see—the observer affects the observed. If we choose to look at people and objects as alien life forms, we deny our interconnection. But, we have been born of the same source and exchange atoms with everyone and everything around us. As teachers, we need to see our students as integral to our lives, as part of the extended human family, as part of the same universe.

Let’s look at this another way. Suppose a spiral galaxy and an elliptical galaxy touched, and the reverse happened and the spiral galaxy were to die? Would not the universe be conveying a different message? Instead of affirming life as essential to the universe knowing itself, it would be declaring the opposite. But instead, we are a unique part of a creative universe and as a part we reveal the universe. What happens at the macrocosm level is echoed in the microcosm. As Ken Wilber puts it in A Brief History of Everything:

  • There’s an old joke about a King who goes to a Wiseperson and asks how is it that the Earth doesn’t fall down. The Wiseperson replies, “The Earth is resting on a lion.” “On what then is the lion resting?” “The lion is resting on an elephant.” “On what is the elephant resting?” “The elephant is resting on a turtle.” “On what is the…” “You can stop right there, Your Majesty, It’s turtles all the way down.”

Do you agree with Wilber?


For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 19 “Invoke the Cosmos” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:

Who are today’s children?


We live in a society that chooses to rear children inside cocoons of endless directed activities, ones that drain them of energy and creativity as they contend with our invasive culture. They appear suspended lifeless between two foci: one in face-to-face relationships to family and friends and the other in a faceless relationship to their electronic “family and friends.”

Children have less time to choose, and less time to play and relate to peers as they spend more and more time alone. They shuffle from one activity to another after school and on weekends, and in between spend time before televisions, computers, cell phones electronic games, and the Internet. Arriving in our classrooms, they appear less able to initiate, decide, and inquire. They wait for our direction. They seem uncomfortable in face-to-face encounters, and perhaps feel naked without their electronic devices under their thumbs.

Despite the allure of glitzy new technologies, ironically, our children may be living inside stagnant elliptical galaxies with little or no self-generated energy. I recall Susan Rubenstein’s commentary more than ten years ago about her high school English students who claimed that they could not have a discussion at the dinner table because they did not have dinner with their parents.

Our latchkey culture has left children and adolescents at home alone; the myriad of electronic technologies only adds to the isolation. Schools lament the listlessness of increasing numbers of obese children who have little desire to participate, to seek, to understand. Classroom teachers notice greater and greater apathy among students. Art teachers in schools and museums express frustration with children’s lack of imagination. The image of our children having two foci living inside elliptical galaxies is compelling. In essence, children act as texts without context.

Can we find the gifts in today’s children?

 Image: fotosearch

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 19 “Invoke the Cosmos” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:

Taking a view from the cosmos…

Some days we find ourselves swirling amid epiphanies, momentary insights, or revealed truths. We see a resistant student suddenly proclaiming her grasp of a concept that had eluded both her and her classmates. We catch a parent recognizing his child’s newfound successes. We discover that our principal anticipated our plan to improve our team. These moments also happen in unlikely places, in the middle of the night, in the shower, on a walk, when reading, or simply sitting still.

It happened to me one summer morning at chapel on Star Island. Brian Swimme, cosmologist and chaplain at a conference, shared a discovery by astronomers who had seen a spiral galaxy (a galaxy with one center alive with active stars) coming into contact with an elliptical galaxy (a galaxy with two foci stuck inside itself with no active stars) and bringing it to life! I do not remember the rest of Brian’s talk, because I was immersed in imagining the idea of teachers as spiral galaxies called to bring life to children.

Swimme’s metaphor offers us the chance not only to see ourselves as activating an engaged and curious life but also of knowing and understanding the life we can bring to others. As adults and teachers, we need to know who we are and to become conscious of our mission. We need to accept the realities before us and seek possibilities for transforming them into the greater good. We need, in the words of a colleague, Stacey Ake, “to be icons of the future possibility of living and empowering life.” We can, if we choose, to become spiral galaxies and breathe life into our students.

Does this metaphor work for you?


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For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 19 “Invoke the Cosmos” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon:

Have you used metaphors to help you understand?

Try the kaleidoscope metaphor.

When you sense it spinning fast, see it as a message to take time for yourself. Begin to take deep breaths, enjoy a quiet meal, a movie, or a conversation with a friend. Step back to realize you are a young teacher who is in it for the long haul, who knows she can become better and better—and will.

As the tumbling slows, become alert. Look for possibilities as to how to shift gears, to make changes, to discover new paths. Recognize the kaleidoscope as a reflection of your mind and heart as it sorts and clarifies. Sometimes it feels like a mentor. The more open you are the more the kaleidoscope will speak to you.

When the pieces become still, pay close attention to their arrangement. Take advantage of what you are seeing and take time to reflect. Write in your journal; write a letter to yourself or to a colleague; talk into a voice recorder; call a friend or relative. Whatever works for you, take that time. You will solidify your newfound insights and make them part of your practice. After all, we become what we practice.

When overwhelmed or confused, engage in this metaphor


For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 18 “Take the Long View” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon: