Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Upaya Zen Center

This past summer I had the good fortune to spend almost a week at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM, first as a guest practitioner and then as a participant in a weekend retreat entitled Transforming Suffering: A Five Energies Approach to Service and Social Change.  As a guest practitioner, I lived, worked, and meditated with the residents and Buddhist priests. We practiced mindfulness as we ate, cleaned, and worked on the grounds, and much of the time was spent in silence. The experience was essentially one of service to the common good as well as an opportunity to deepen our own spiritual practice. The weekend class, led by Buddhist teacher and social activist Fleet Maull, was tailored for people working as caregivers and included chaplains, hospice workers, therapists, doctors, and teachers. Through experiential exercises, reflection, and discussion we explored how to use our wisdom, compassion, courage, clarity, and resilience (the five pillars of Buddhism) to help others cope with their pain and suffering. This training and practice in mindfulness, being fully present with others, and compassionate care-giving will strengthen my ability to be a compassionate and effective teacher and colleague.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

ICIE Conference in Paris

I was so fortunate to spend three days this July attending the International Centre for Innovation in Education (ICIE) Conference in Paris. At this conference, a range of speakers from across the globe addressed the topics of creativity, innovation, and excellence in education.

Through the readings, lectures, and conversations shared with other participants, I was able to deeply consider the evolving role of an educator in the 21st century. The world in which we live has changed vastly in recent years. While the vitally important task of educators remains the same - to instruct and mentor students in order to help them develop into engaged, productive, educated citizens of our world - the means of doing so must adapt to meet the demands of our changing world. Skills crucial to success in the 21st century include critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and use of technology. Teachers must create opportunities for students to practice and develop these skills. I am better prepared to do so after attending talks on what these skills are and how to foster and assess them in order to move students from potential to realized talent.

Paris also served as a classroom as I explored this vibrant, beautiful city for the first time. I spent every free moment perusing the Louvre, climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Sacré-Cœur, wandering along the Seine, and exploring historic neighborhoods. I arrived speaking very little French and often felt pushed outside of my comfort zone. I recalled that students studying new concepts can feel as though they've entered foreign territory, and it served as a reminder to always approach these situations with patience and kindness.

Finally, the conference allowed me to visit with former SSSAS teacher turned Dublin literacy consultant, Mollie Cura. Mollie spoke at the conference about conducting Writing Workshop using an inquiry-based model. It was wonderful to reconnect and share ideas with another Saint overseas.

I am incredibly grateful for the Holden Summer Study Grant that made this thought-provoking and unforgettable trip possible. I look forward to sharing what I've learned with my students and fellow teachers this fall.
Former SSSAS teacher Mollie Cura and I

Sunset over the Seine on the Pont des Arts

View from the Notre Dame towers

Notre Dame Cathedral

Louvre Museum

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Eiffel Tower light display

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Education for Sustainability

The Farm Barn, Shelburne Farms

At the end of July I was delighted to head up to Shelburne Farms in scenic Vermont to attend the Summer Institute on Education for Sustainability. For four days I examined the third grade social studies curriculum through the lens of sustainability. I adapted lessons and projects to investigate how "natural and human communities together make up one's place." In small groups comprised of educators from all over the country, we challenged each other to think simpler, to plan more time outside, to use culminating projects to also positively affect our school communities. Local experts discussed outdoor classrooms, emerging Maker Spaces in Vermont, and cooking with children. We made butter by shaking up heavy cream in a jar. We visited farm animals and discussed concepts of interdependence and systems. We played a version of hide-and-go-seek in the vegetable garden. Upon reflecting on the experience I realized that being in such a beautiful and simple place had the biggest impact on me. I returned to Virginia encouraged to foster a deeper understanding of our places, how our environment impacts us and how we impact our environments. 

The Coach Barn, home to the Institute

Fresh cheese and flowers from the Market Garden

I helped shake and make butter!
In the outdoor maker space, we turned these materials...
...into a stove ideal for marshmallow roasting! 
My workspace



Piglets! They were less than one day old. 
Sunset on Lake Champlain