Out of the Mouths of Babes:A brief anecdote about 21st Century Skills

… because not on a schedule does inspiration come…

It always pleasantly surprises me what inspires me, and when that inspiration hits.  Typically, I am flooded with thoughts in the morning, and with my recent foray into taking a morning run (even in the 30 degree rain as in this morning), these runs are both reflective and projective.

One of the great features on my smartphone is that I can voice dictate into a note; this function allows me to record ideas if they strike while I am driving.

So with these two foundational pieces of information, I wanted to share a brief anecdote of something that happened this week.  I was in the car and wanted to expand in a new direction on a long-cherished philosophy that process is more important than product.  As I was dictating my notes in the car, with some jazz playing in the background, Ryder asked from the back seat “What is process over product” – It is always a test for me to explain complex ideas to my children so that they can grasp the basic understanding of them.  I have developed an increasingly high respect for the skill and talent of their teachers in doing this every day.

Using my Socratic style, I engaged Ryder in the following dialogue- and was excited that on this occasion, he taught me (well, reminded me) of something very important.

Ryder: What is process over product mean daddy?

Me:  Well, when you do crafts at school, is it more fun to make the crafts or to have the craft at the end?


Ryder (excited): Neither, the best part is sharing them with my friends!

Ahh out of the mouths of babes.  It made me think that anyone focusing on how 21st Century Skills are being woven into our educational practices, here my 5 year old talks about creativity, he critically thought about what the best part of the experience is, he talks about sharing (collaboration), he communicates clearly what he feels, and above all, he shows great character in holding sharing with friends as the best part of any creative process.

Pat Bassett would be proud…


Rhetorical Modes and Experiential Education

I have been planning and executing class trips for the last 15 years.  Some trips have been purely for fun (taking 8th graders to Universal and Islands of Adventure every spring for instance), but many have been educational ( environmental overnights to 4H camps, museum visits, water monitoring etc).  A third category of trips can be defined as adventurous, team and character building trips.   These trips are meant to stretch individuals and groups by taking them out of their comfort zone, and requiring individuals to grow through the process, and to develop team work strategies so that everyone can overcome the challenge presented.  In the past 2 years, we have taken groups of middle schoolers zip-lining in the Georgia mountains, Class III and IV whitewater rafting on the Ocoee, high ropes courses in north Georgia, and recently, we tackled the Georgia Tech Leadership Challenge Course.  We have always referred to these trips as part of our experiential education program.  While they are fun, and we all (myself included) learn a great deal about ourselves and our peers, the “educational” part has been largely untapped.

This year, I addressed this gap by applying strategies that I have used for years as an English teacher- we started using Rhetorical Modes as part of the trip process.  Prior to the Georgia Tech trips (for our 7th and 8th  graders), we engaged the students in conversations and had them write projectively  about their expectations and feelings about the trip.  We asked them to frame their thoughts around the following modes of rhetoric:

Causal Analysis- What are the various causes and effects that you expect to experience at the course?

Compare and Contrast- Compare and contrast this trip to others you have taken.

Narration: Can you tell a brief story of a previous experience that you suspect is similar?

Description: Paint a vivid picture using words of what you think the setting and experience will look and feel like.

Definition: Define some key terms- that is leadership? What is challenge?

Process Analysis: Describe methodically, the process of what you expect will happen at the course.

These rhetorical modes were the core of our pre-trip conversations, and we used much of the same language at the course. Upon returning to school, our follow-up activity once again revolved around these modes.  This time, however, we asked the kids to think reflectively.  

Causal Analysis- What are some causal relationships you observed or experienced at the course?

Compare and Contrast- Compare and contrast this trip to others you have taken.

Narration: Can you tell a brief story of a specific part of the experience?

Description: Paint a vivid picture using words of what the setting and experience looked and felt like.

Definition: Define some key terms- that is leadership? What is challenge?  Did your definition of these terms change? How? Why?

Process Analysis: Describe methodically, the process of what happened at the course.

By using the rhetorical modes as a foundation for discussion and writing, we more successfully executed the educational  part of the Experiential Education concept.

By giving students (and teachers) the tools to think more meaningfully about the experience before and after the trip, and by providing a framework for thinking, talking, and writing about all their experiences, we have provided a greater opportunity for growth in our students through such adventurous trips.


The Beauty of Time

When I was starting to move into academic leadership roles, Dale Smith (who was our Head of School at the time), among many other important influences he had on my growth, encouraged me to always look for ways to recharge, replenish, and rejuvenate.  After a very challenging, but rewarding year last year, we decided as a family that we needed to more purposefully, deliberately, and meaningfully pursue these three R’s.

We always talked about camping, but never actually went until this past summer.  It has been life-changing, better yet, life-enriching.  Over the past few months, we have explored many of the great parks in north Georgia.  The beauty, isolation, detachment, and challenge of these adventures that I experience with my family have been invaluable.

Waking up in the morning in the woods with my family and our dog, Pickles (yes, that is really his name), awakens my spirit and renews my faith every time.   Hiking through the trails, finding a fishing spot to cast (we haven’t caught anything yet, but the process of fishing together has made that matter very little), building a fire (we are getting really good at this challenge), and cooking vegetables that we harvested from our own garden, and eggs from our own chickens (yep, have them, too- Peck and Verdi) represent the calming routines of our days in the woods.

But what I think has captured me and refreshed my soul the most has been the simple times sitting by the water and watching it ripple by.  I never noticed how relaxing the water can be until last spring on the 7th grade field trip to Wahsega.  I found myself drawn to the waterfall there because it was simultaneously relaxing, but also reflection-inspiring.

In the busy-ness of work, taking care of two small children, a house, dog, and two chickens, it can be very easy to make the excuse that going camping is more work than relaxation. It is a compelling argument that certainly does cross my mind at those moments when I have to remind (300 times in under an hour) the kids to keep the tent shut, not wander to the lake themselves, or take their shoes off in the tent.  The set up and break down are also laborious.  But the moments I describe above, all shared with my family, make taking the time to get away and unplug in the woods always worth the investment.

The enrichment that these experiences contribute to my family life invariably allow me to be a better educator as I return to school refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished.  Thanks Dale.