Begin with Bravery, Meaningful Work and Self Care

This weekend teachers and students are anxious. The new school year for many begins Monday. Floating in teachers’ minds: What will the class be like? Will my colleagues, new parents,  and the administration be supportive?  Endless to-do lists float in mid air behind your eyelids as you try to fall asleep. The work is never ending, and the school year hangs in the air like a floating question mark.

Stop the barrage of thoughts. You are ready, and you know what to do. Please read this poem for teachers, and know:

The time for sacred work is here.
It matters. You matter.
We lift each other up.
Walk on, tribe.
Go, live love.
The world needs you.

We at the Tarrant Institute for Innovation  Education see the incredible work you do, and we want to celebrate it.  We’ve launched a campaign called #everydaycourage to showcase the ways you and your colleagues show up for students, each other, and our communities. We hope that you will share your photos, tweets, comments and ideas about your colleagues showing everyday courage (use the hashtag #everydaycourage so we can see them!). Here are a few moments of #everydaycourage I have been inspired by in recent days.

Continue reading

Start the School Year: Real and Relevant with Service and Project Based Learning

It’s almost time. Teachers are starting to have cold sweats and stress dreams, but also that seed of excitement and looking forward to seeing their students again. The new school year is upon us.

With everything happening in the world– it is clear to me that the path forward in education is to engage kids in meaningful, relevant, connected work that improves the community and  world, while growing empathy and self-efficacy in kids.

Research has told us that service learning has the capability to disrupt bias and fight stereotypes. We need this now more than ever. We can use project and service based learning as a tool to improve communities, school culture, and empower students to see other perspectives while helping to solve real problems.

I am heartened by all the progress in this regard. Schools across the country to moving toward personalizing learning for students, using tools such as service and project based learning across the curriculum.

In this spirit, I am launching Start the School Year #realandrelevant. My latest book, Real and Relevant: a guide for service and project-based learning,  came out in June, 2017, and is a guide for busy teachers who want to begin or deepen service and project based learning in their classrooms. It is the second edition of this book, and the new edition adds chapters on technology tools; a summary of my research on how service learning at the middle school level can contribute to personal growth; project based learning; and more examples from the field, including updated resources and examples.

Continue reading

Kids: Get outside, get active, join The Order of the Trees

It’s late summer. The Vermont hills are a deep, verdant green. The ponds and lakes are warm enough for long swims. The bugs are mostly gone, and the trails are good for hiking. It’s a magical, fleeting time in the Northeast.

But I’ve just read something I can’t shake. It’s something many parents and teachers have long suspected. How cellphones in the hands of kids ages 14 and younger can be harmful in many ways– kids are staying inside more, interacting less in person, losing skills, deep connections, and childhood and adolescent experiences. According to this article in the Atlantic, and on NPR, kids who spend lots of time on their phones have increased anxiety, depression, and rates of obesity.

It’s pretty disturbing.

Lest you think, gah! That is only one article, The National Wildlife Organization gives us a reality check:

  • Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001)
  • Today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own. (Children & Nature Network, 2008)
  • Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration. (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005; Ginsburg et al., 2007)
  • Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008)
  • The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11. (Wells and Lekies, 2006)”

I’m also acutely aware of the power of technology to engage kids, motivate them, and provide a vehicle for creativity and sharing. This has me thinking about The Order of the Trees, the middle grade novel I wrote  and was published by Green Writers Press in 2015. In this eco-adventure, sixth grade Cedar looks like her namesake, and discovers, along with her friend Phillip, a deep and powerful connection to the old growth forest by her home in Vermont. They visit the forest and start a club called The Order of the Trees. Soon they learn that Cedar’s health is threatened and they can’t figure out why– and they must, before it is too late.

Readers have told me that the book motivates kids to explore outside, and to take action to protect local habitats. It can be a stream, river, local park or open space. Whatever it is, get out in it, explore it, write about it, draw it and help your kids do the same. Give your kids lots of unstructured time to play outside, to build things like forts and imaginary worlds. And try to find ways to protect open spaces in your community.  Read in the woods! Preferably, like Cedar, in a tree.

I’m inspired by this article, and the work of The Children and Nature Network, to encourage kids to read, be outside, and to take action in their communities.

In this back to school month, we will be featuring forests, kids in nature, and kids taking action. I’ll tag photos  with #orderofthetrees on Instagram and Twitter. At the end of August, we will give away a few copies of the book to start the school year off right, with reading and nature.

Please join me in helping kids see the value in nature, the value of using their voices, and taking back childhood from screens. Share your own ideas, photos, and thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, Instagram or on Twitter– then set the phone down and enjoy summer’s finest before it is gone! 🙂