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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Problem With This Generation of Students

"I can't believe that one day this generation is going to be leading us"
                                               -  exact quote by many teachers I know

Over and over and over I have heard teachers complain about "this generation of students" that are currently in our schools.  Many people will be quick to tell you that:
     *  They just don't care
     *  They are irresponsible
     *  They have no work ethic
     *  They are lazy
     *  They do not realize what a great privilege their education is

After hearing this a hundred times, I decided to spend more time trying to answer this question:  "What is the problem with this generation of students"?

The first thing I did was reflect on my personal experiences with teaching these students every day for the past 12 years.  This wasn't very good evidence to support this theory, however, because the majority of students that I have met have been wonderful people with kind hearts and great abilities.  A few years ago I decided to give up some of my "power" in the classroom in an effort to provide more autonomy and purpose for my students.  I wanted to know more about them.  I wanted to know what they were passionate about.  I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they got older.  I wanted to know how they defined success.  After taking in all of this feedback, I decided to begin doing 20-time, or passion-based learning.  I allowed the students to choose whatever topic they wanted to study and then gave them 20% of their school week in my classroom to learn more about this topic.  The time was structured and intentional.  I was assessing 21st century skills such as communication, research, collaboration, creativity, self-directedness, etc....  Wow!  The students really stepped up and made me realize that I had made the best decision in my teaching career.  I saw previously disengaged students staying after school to work on their projects and later present to the class with a high degree of passion.  I saw "A" students that truly believed that the sky was the limit and took their learning to another level.

The saddest discover, however, was the fact that about 25% of students did not know what their passions were.  They were not passionate about anything that they could learn about.  Didn't they have a favorite animal?  A job they desired?  A skill?  The more I talked with these students the more it became clear that this was not their fault.  They have never been asked what they like at school.  They have never asked what they would like to learn about.  When I talked to them about autonomy and self-directedness, they seemed confused and as if I was tricking them.  I wasn't.  I really wanted to know what they cared about......and after discussing this for a while, most came up with a topic.

This got me thinking.  What if I encouraged every student to take their passion and try to make a positive contribution to the world with it?  This could involve creating an awareness campaign, doing a fundraiser, talking to young students about it, writing a book, etc....  The sky would be the limit.  Although I imagined the students groaning, because this meant more work, I was wrong.  I told students about it and they were excited.  For once, they felt as if they "mattered" and that they were empowered to make a positive impact on the world.  I found that when students were given some time, resources, and trust.....they were actually pretty inquisitive and passionate about learning and being altruistic.  This generation didn't really seem to be the problem.

So what was the problem?
  * are students sick and tired of sitting in rows, taking notes, and doing worksheets?
  * are students having a hard time seeing the relevance between their education and their life?'
  * do students lack a feeling of ownership in their education?
  * do students want to "make a difference" but feel caged-in at school.

In my opinion it is a combination of these and other factors.  I did some research and came across an article with the following fact:

When surveyed, 84% of students from this generation believed that it was their responsibility to do social good.

My advice......Let them!  Find them resources, clear obstacles from their path, let them change the world.  I have seen it happening now for a couple years and it is amazing!!!  Please do not underestimate this generation until you have truly given them a chance.

COMPASSION-BASED LEARNING.  Read about it.  At least give it a try.  

Oliver Schinkten
ComPassion Based Learning

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Let It Grow!

This post is written by Arin Kress. Arin is a 5th grade teacher in Grove City, OH who is a strong supporter of Compassion Based Learning.

The Lorax is a classic Dr. Seuss book made into a 2012 movie. I have watched it numerous times and without fail, the same lines stand out to me. The song at the end, Let it Grow, holds a great metaphor for how I see the current state of Compassion Based Learning.

Please pay attention to each character in the following three minute video:

Ted Wiggins- The visionary, the boundary pusher, the 'ideas guy.'
Is this you? Do you say: "Things AREN'T Perfect - They're only going to get worse unless WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Unless we change our ways!  And we can start by planting THIS."

The seed-  For this post I'm focusing on 'Compassion Based Learning' but I'm sure you could interpret it differently! 
Compassion based learning is student led and compassion driven. The students are given the TIME and RESOURCES to cultivate their ideas. I have seen compassion based learning first hand, and it's something that I want to continue to plant within my students!

Cy- A wallflower. Quiet. Unassuming
Someone who sees what's happening but isn't necessarily leading the charge for change. However, when asked for his opinion - he's willing to speak up! Is this you? Do you quietly observe the ebb and flow of the tide within your school? Are you willing to give your opinion when asked? I love that Cy's stance receives the best look of anyone in the entire movie.
Utter confusion! 

But Cy sees the potential and he says: "Let It Grow"

Dan and Rose- Parents - Concerned for their child's well-being. Their son IS glowing, so I would hope they would step in!
They want something new. They want a change. They want what's best for their son... Do you have parents like this in your school? I'm sure you do! How do you treat them? Do you join forces together and say:  "Let is Grow"?

Marie represents the students - the kids.
Sometimes kids can see the obvious answer in the front of them that adults are too distracted to see. We need to listen to what the kids saying and not saying!  We need to pay attention to silence or a lack of excitement from the students.......Marie says "Let it Grow"

Grammy Norma-  Old and wise. Been around the block, but her experience shows that she has seen that sometimes what happens is complete asinine! (Who would PAY for AIR?)
Veteran teachers can offer another perspective and are not ALWAYS set in their ways! We need to listen to the wise...she says "Let it Grow!"

O'Hare- The Doubter, Naysayer, Negative Personality.....He laughs at change and innovation! He tries to bring others down....

He is greedy and wants things his way. He says "Let it Die!"

Then all the townspeople join together in harmony to sing "Let it Grow!" as O'Hare has a rocket strapped to his head and is launched out of sight!

Don't you wish we could do the same to all the doubters, naysayers, and negative personalities around us. Don't you wish that the entire community could come together to squash the negativity that surrounds us! Don't you wish we could all join together and sing:

"Let it grow
Let it grow
You can't reap what you don't sow
It's just one tiny seed
But it's all we really need
It's time to banish all your greed
We say let it grow!"

This is what Compassion Based Learning is all about. As educators we MUST plant the seeds and allow for trees to grow.

Last week I started an after school program for students at my school. Nearly FIFTY 5th and 6th grade students signed up to stay after school every other Thursday for two hours for the entire year! I advertised with a 60 second video and sent home one flyer. And I still got fifty responses!

The students are begging to make a difference! I had several kids approach me in the days leading up to the first meeting asking if they could choose their topic! I had kids give me pages of handwritten brainstorming BEFORE the first meeting. I had a student give me a book of brainstorming the next day after the meeting. And yes, these are 10 and 11 year olds I'm talking about! Imagine the impact we can have on students of all ages if we just give them TIME and RESOURCES!

This is compassion based learning.

At our first meeting the seeds were planted and honestly, I don't know in what direction the trees will grow. The only thing I know is that SOMETHING will grow. SOMETHING will come out of this program. SOMETHING potentially life changing could occur. All we need to do is give students TIME and RESOURCES and just like trees, their passions will flourish and beauty will result. 

I would encourage you to bring compassion based learning to your school in your own way. It may be in the form of Genius Hour, that has more of a compassion driven angle as compared to a passion driven angle. It may be in the form of a one day event like Dot Day. It may be something that you try to do on a monthly basis. Try to infuse your curriculum with compassion driven work and try your best to:

Be a Cy and leave others confused!
Be an educator who works with the Dans and Roses to make sure students are growing and not glowing.
Be an educator who listens to the Maries because children sometimes have the best ideas!
Be a Grammy Norma and point out when things are asinine!
Be the big dude who launches negativity into next week!

And finally

Be TED- Don't be afraid to bring compassion based learning to your community.  Plant the seed. Give it time and resources and mainly LET IT GROW!

If you would like to learn more about the after school program I started, please check out the PSI Choose2Matter blog at:

Also, feel free to look at my professional blog, Hate Chalk: and don't hesitate to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions. (@ArinKress)

I will leave you with one final quote from The Lorax:
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not!" Good luck!

Thanks for reading,
Arin Kress