Sunday, April 1, 2018

Creating a culture of wholeness in schools

In yesterday's keynote at the NESA Spring Educators' Conference Carolyn McKanders talked about creating a culture of wholeness in schools.  One of the interesting things I learned during this keynote was about ethos, pathos and logos (quite appropriate as these are Greek words, taken from the work of Aristotle, and we are in Athens for this conference).  They are important to us in education in the following ways:

Ethos is connected with character and ethics.  Teachers know that there is too much pressure on students and that this conflicts directly with their original aims of becoming educators - as such we often struggle with acting in ways that are dictated by economic and cultural pressures but that compromise our best intentions.

Pathos is concerned with experience - it's an important part of empathy and deals with emotions, feelings and sentiments.  Sadly we often shut down our students through overwork, we do little to support their imaginations and we make them competitive, inadequate, and fearful for each other's successes - and this takes a huge toll on students.  All too often in schools we offer students a set of values and goals that research shows has little to do with the things that are positive in life.

Logos is about logic and reason.  We talked about how the keys to learning are dispositional in nature and that thinking dispositions are tendencies towards particular patterns of intellectual behaviour.

We looked at an excerpt from the film Race to Nowhere (see below) and we asked the question What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?

Research about the brain tells us that the brain develops from back to front.  First the limbic areas of emotional processing develop and then the prefrontal areas that deal with rational processing.  Teens are driven mostly by emotional processing.  We also know that the brain is very pliable (neuroplasticity) and that the environment shapes the brain.  This is really important for us as educators, as the experiences that we provide students can lead to the development of some areas and the pruning of others.  Despite this knowledge, we are still hyper-schooling and over-scheduling because of factors like competitive college admission, fears about the future economic and world uncertainties, fears of seeming to be non-competitive (wimpy) and competing commitments between the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.  According to Gleason we are facing a dilemma, to educate with rigour you have to sacrifice wholeness (and yet in fact this is a false dichotomy).

It is possible to promote wholeness in schools.  More and more schools are taking on mindfulness practices, investing in quality food and nutrition and developing a health curriculum that incorporates emotional health, and schools are also looking at different ways of scheduling, more inclusive practices and developing a sense of community.  Some schools are committing to balance and wholeness, where the head and the heart are more integrated.  It certainly is a challenge - but it is one that schools need to accept.

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