Dan, a Philosophy Major Thanks to Pete Carroll (Part 2 of 2)

I have taken the challenge of Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks coach, to write my teaching philosophy in 25 words or less for preservice teachers.  The emboldened words count towards my 25 words.

Relationships – Success in teaching comes from knowing my students, having them feel valued, and supporting them in a belief that they can succeed in the challenging world of teaching.  One way I build relationships at the university level is by having my students respond in writing to our in-class experiences, readings, and their field work.  I then respond individually to each student.  By building relationships, I can inspire them and give them hope that they can succeed.

PC teaching quote 1

Team Building – Classroom teaching of any age students can be lonely.  To recharge, rejuvenate, feel the life affirming energy from another simpatico adult, teachers need to develop colleagues.   I use group teaching projects so my students learn the give and take of team building.

Experiential Learning – The number one problem with classroom learning is that it is for the most part so boring it would make you want to cry.  To that end, I make the lessons I teach based in active experiences.  Rather than talk about the value of the Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting, I model one and then have each student lead a Morning Meeting with a partner to live and feel the experience.

PC field study pic

Field Study – There is so much to learn beyond campus.  My students go out into public school classrooms, participate, and teach with some of our public school’s best teachers.


Demonstrations of Learning – No written tests for Dan.  Written tests can be too much study, test, and forget.  I want my students to show me what they have learned.  They teach a lesson rather than take a test on the elements of a successful lesson.

There it is ten words.  It’s a first shot, but I could take my philosophy to an interview and articulate my vision for successful classroom teaching.

Give it a shot in 25 words or less.  It may be what you are missing.  I’d love to see what you come up with.


Dan Learns About the Mud Curriculum

Owen turning 3 with Max with his Aunt Laurel

Owen turning 3 with Max with his Aunt Laurel this past week

As grandparents, Hannah and I are living the dream by having our grandsons, Owen and Max, nearby in Massachusetts.  Though there will be time to teach them ping pong, golf, and Scrabble, now it’s about being a positive life force in their lives.

To that end, I am currently reading a terrific book on parenting, The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary.  Here’s a snippet for your reading pleasure about some of the things that you can hope for your children/grandchildren.

Conscious Parent

Not that they will achieve “success,” but that they will live a life of purpose.

Not that they won’t fail, but that they will find the courage to start again.

Not that they won’t hurt others, but that they will find the grace to ask for forgiveness.

How cool is that!

The Family Rawding

The Family Rawding

While breakfasting out with our daughter Molly last week, I learned about the “mud curriculum.”  As a teacher for hundred years, I never knew about it.  Here’s the good news: it’s not a part of the Common Core or the Race to the Top; there is no standardized testing.  When I googled “mud curriculum,” I got a link to a Masters of Urban Design.  That’s not it either.  It’s an idea to open up learning for preschoolers (and I believe schoolers of all ages).

The mud curriculum is about being outside, getting dirty, playing, exploring, being imaginative, digging, and planting. It’s about kids making choices in their activities and not having them always organized by adults.  In the mud curriculum, it’s been a successful day for Owen and Max if they need a bath at the end of the day.  The beauty of the mud curriculum is that the boys can do it again the next day, and the next.

highbush blueberries

This week we have 24 hours of Owen and Max at our place on Chases Pond Road.  Our mud curriculum includes going to the Blueberry Patch on route 91 in York for picking highbush blueberries.

PS After, they both needed baths.

So you want to be a teacher?

When Nancie talks, it’s time for me to listen.

Interviewed on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day,” Nancie Atwell, a local Maine teacher, said she wouldn’t recommend public school teaching for those thinking of becoming teachers. If you are a creative, smart person, this is not the time to teach in the public schools.

Nancie Atwell receiving the "Nobel Prize" for teaching

Nancie Atwell receiving the “Nobel Prize” for teaching

Whoa. She’s talking to a former public school teacher whose three kids went through the public schools in Maine.  Nancie is no lightweight. She just won the $1,000,000 2015 Global Teacher “Nobel Prize.” She and I are cut from the same cloth. With mentors like Don Graves and Don Murray of the University of New Hampshire, we are kindred spirits in the classroom teaching of reading and writing.

As a former public school teacher and founder of her own independent school in Edgecomb, Maine, Nancie said that the Common Core (curriculum –what’s taught in schools) and the standardized testing has turned teachers into technicians. Her students read 40 books a year and write in 21 genres. They choose the books they read and the topics they write about.  Does that happen in public schools that you know?  I hope so.

Community School in NH

Community School in South Tamworth, NH

As someone who taught 20+ years in the public schools of California, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Maine, I wonder if I would find a home in the public schools of 2015.  Are there classrooms that give students the time to wonder, learn by discovery, and be trusted and respected to make choices in their own education?

My colleague, Lianne Prentice, from my days teaching in the public schools in Kittery, Maine, has been a part of team that has created and developed a public school that we can all be proud of.  Check out this link:  Community School in South Tamworth, New Hampshire.  Public schools can make it work.  We need visionaries like Lianne.

(Click on the “New Day” link above for the 3 minute interview with Nancie Atwell)

Dan Lands His Dream Job

From the beginning, my dream job was to teach teachers.  After twenty plus years in public school classrooms in California, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Maine, I was fried.  At 48 I didn’t have the energy to keep up the pace.  I needed and wanted something else and something more.  I resigned from the Kittery, Maine schools to follow my dream, which basically meant I needed a PhD.  While Hannah took a job as an activities director in a local nursing home, I became a graduate teaching assistant and full-time PhD student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

My office in Webb Hall was to the right of this library at Eastern.

My office in Webb Hall was to the right of the library at Eastern.

Hired for my first tenure-track job in the Department of Education at the Eastern Connecticut State University in 1999, I was expected to teach the Teaching Writing course among others. That was in my wheelhouse; it was my bread and butter course thanks to my own writing education at the New Hampshire Summer Writing Program.  One fundamental to the effective teaching of writing is having teachers who write themselves.

During the first four weeks of the semester at Eastern, I had my students participate in a writing workshop for the entire three hour class.  They would have choice in topics, write drafts, and meet in peer response groups.  In the end, they would read one of their pieces at a Reading Celebration to their classmates.

To model what I believed about the successful teaching of writing, I wrote with them and read my piece at the Reading Celebration as well.  Below is the piece I wrote during the fall semester of 2001 while a junior faculty member working for the State of Connecticut.

He’s Da Man!

            With a shock of white hair and big enough to truly believe he played varsity basketball at Dartmouth in the Fifties, he says on the first day of this graduate level education course, “How many of you know how to write papers?”  Most of the thirty plus raise their hands. “That’s what I thought,” he continues with a wide smile.

            “Now, how many of you have no trouble with the relationships you have with your family, friends, and colleagues.  We in the class smile, grin at each other, and not a single hand is raised. “Therefore,” he continues,” there will be no papers in this class.  In fact, in this class you will be developing your communication skills and be the ones doing most of the work during our weekly class time.”

            Since Charlie had the reputation of being a superb teacher, I signed up for his class on Monday afternoons.  In time, Charlie joined the pantheon of memorable teachers that have contributed mightily to the teacher I am today.  He joined: Mr. Bien, my fifth grade teacher at Radburn School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey who had a great sense of humor and let us play softball whenever we finished our work; Jane Hansen, a reading professor at UNH, who had us write regularly, valued my voice, and saw the good in what I was doing; Dan Garvey, also of UNH, who taught me to have students learn experientially and to value the wisdom of the students as learners by debriefing each learning experience.  Simply, they inspired me.

            In classes, Charlie was always giving us problems to discuss and negotiate. In one class, he gave us the classic man-goes-into-the-shoe-store-to-buy-a-pair-of-shoes problem.

CA $20 2            “The man selects a $12 pair of shoes and gives the clerk a twenty. Being early in the morning, the clerk has no change and goes to the baker who gives him twenty ones for the 20 dollar bill. The clerk gives $8 to the shoe buyer as change for the purchase of shoes. Later the baker finds out the twenty dollar bill is a phony. The clerk apologizes and gives the baker two tens to pay back the phony twenty. How much has the shoe clerk lost?

            “Now that you have heard the problem, I want you to come to a consensus as a group for the answer.  There is only one answer, but get a commitment from everyone in your group before you respond.”  From this experience, I learned about myself in a group setting and how to become a more  successful group member.  (Check the end of the blog for the one answer to this riddle.) 

             In another course for undergraduates, I was surprised one morning before a class with many undergraduates when Charlie said to me, “Dan, I would like you to play the role of the teacher and show us how you would deal with disruptive students.”   OMG.  I was petrified.

            Though I had been a classroom teacher for 19 years at the time, I don’t think of myself as quick on my feet, and especially when only having five minutes to prepare.  I am the kind of teacher who thoroughly plans so the class goes well; I can then freelance off my plan.  But not wanting to let down one of my teaching idols, I said, “Sure.”

The home of the Department of Education at UNH, Morrill Hall

The home of the Department of Education at UNH, Morrill Hall

            While I was in the hallway of Morrill Hall with the door shut, he asked three students to volunteer to be disruptive students. When I entered the class, Charlie set the scene. “I’ve asked Dan to teach today anything he wants to these three students.”  I wrote on the board, “What makes for a good school?”  I also wrote the schedule that included a check-in, discussion, and teacher and student writing.

            As I turned to the three students who sat in a Class Meeting circle, while thirty others looked on, I said, “Let’s check in before we start. Is there anything we need to talk about before we get started?”  The first thing I heard was “This is stupid.”  Then a wadded up of piece of paper whistled by my ear.

            “Sharon, I’ll have to remove you from the Class Meeting if you continue to disrupt.”  Before I went any further another piece of paper came flying by. With the other two students turning sideways in their chairs, I remember little else of what happened next.

            “That’s enough,” Charlie eventually said.  He thanked us all for participating and we all received a round of applause.   He then asked the students, “What did you learn and what questions about classroom management do you have?”  I relaxed now that the attention was no longer squarely on me.  I felt acknowledged and affirmed by Charlie’s choice and pleased that I didn’t shy away from the challenge.

            Every day as I teach here at Eastern, I try to give a little Charlie Ashley to all my students.


“The clerk, the baker and the shoes dilemma” with excerpts of some of the reasoning.

One vote for $8 lost.  From just north of town, our Ogunquit friend says $8 lost.

One vote for $12 lost.

Six votes for $28 lost.  From the west, a good friend living out West, an English major, says he was out $28.  This got a second vote from ping pong nation.  A third vote from San Diego for $28.  A California transplant says $28.00 unless the “two tens” are a pair of size ten shoes; then he is out $8.00 and two pairs of shoes:)

A classmate of Hannah’s said, Okay.   The answer is $28.  Right.  I did go to the College of Wooster.   I think I can figure this out, but I have a feeling that there is something we may be missing.  Hannah agrees with her classmate and in fact, says she KNOWS that that is the answer.

Three votes for $20 lost.A young mother of two and her UNH grad husband thought the clerk is down $20.  Eight dollars in cash and $12 for the cost of the shoes.

My high school buddy, the good doctor agrees.   The clerk loses $20 overall. The baker comes out even. The crook is ahead $20.  He lost the $12 pair of shoes, lost $20 to the baker, and still has the $12 in singles from the baker so he has lost $20.

Another vote for $20 from America’s Heartland –  I’m going to go with $20 – He lost $20 to the fraudster ($12 in product, $8 in cash) and then $20 to the baker to redeem the phony bill. This makes it seem like he lost $40.  But don’t forget, he also received $20 in $1 bills from the baker, offsetting his losses.  But I could be wrong!

Six votes for $40 lost.  From the Canadian north – It looks to me like the clerk lost $40, if you include the cost of the shoes but that is probably too obvious.  A recently married Mainer couple agrees.  The soul of our local hospital thinks $40, too.
A Southern lady said the clerk did not loose any money. The store did!  A lanky lad from the South thought He lost $0 if he made the counterfeit bill or he lost $20 if he didn’t.
You can see the wisdom of Charlie Ashley in promoting conversation with a riddle with all these possibilities.
Actually get out the bills and go through the transaction and you will likely come to the answer that the shoe clerk lost $20.  He never lost anything to the baker.  All he lost was the $20 ($12 shoes and $8) to the shoe buyer.


Dan Has Another Good Book for You – Mindset by Carol Dweck (#2)

tennis racket and balls

He was reasonably coordinated.  Others thought so and he believed it, too.  He wasn’t the athlete Gabe or Lenny was, but he was decent.  He played all the sports as a kid.  A tennis court down the street was where he hung out most of the time.  He got good, made the high school team as a junior, even played first singles his senior year.  Unbeknownst to many, he was nervous on match days and didn’t really relish the playing.  He liked the winning and he liked the status of being #1; he just didn’t like the pressure to win.

He played on his small college tennis team but dropped the sport as soon as his college days were over.  His college coach thought if you won, you played well.  If you lost, you didn’t.  The quality of the post-match meals depended on whether the team won or lost.  It was all about winning.  He enjoyed the camaraderie of his teammates, but his fixed mindset on the outcome drove him from tennis.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

I didn’t know it then, but I needed coaches who focused on my effort not the results, a coach who had embraced Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  I believe a focus on my effort would have improved my results.  And it’s not just coaches, it’s parents, grandparents, people in relationships, and teachers who could benefit from the insights of this book on the value of praising effort over outcomes.

Listen to what Tammy from California, one of our favorite parents and teachers says.

I am so glad that Mindset is getting around & getting some love!  I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve read.  I’ve bought copies for my principal, Keegan’s principal & his teacher, as well as several other wonderful peeps.  I’ve talked with the superintendent of our school district about getting it in the hands of every teacher that works here. 

Adolescent brain diagram of fixed and growth

Check out this mind-blowing example from Mindset:

Dweck and her researchers set up an experiment with a group of adolescents.  First, all the young people were given ten challenging non-verbal questions (IQ-type questions).  As a group, these kids did reasonably well on all ten problems.  But afterward, to half of the students, the researchers praised them for their ability, for being smart.  To the other half, they praised their effort, for working hard.

Then she gave all the students ten additional questions, more difficult than the first ones.  All the students didn’t do as well.  The students that were told they were smart started to doubt their ability.  If success meant they were smart, a lack of success meant they were not.  The kids praised for their effort thought the more difficult questions meant they just needed to work harder.

After the success of the first set of problems, everyone loved working on them.  After the challenging problems, the kids who were told they were smart said it wasn’t fun anymore.  The kids praised for their effort loved the challenge.  All the kids were then given some easier questions similar to the first ones.

The scores and performance of the kids who were told they were smart plummeted while the kids who had their effort praised improved.  By having their ability praised, their IQ actually went down.

Asked later to write a letter to students who were going to take this kind of test and also asked to include their scores, 40% of the students who were praised for being smart lied about their scores.  Praising them for being smart turned many into liars.

Fixed and growth mindset diagram

Those students that were told they were smart fell into the “fixed mindset” as I had as a tennis player.  They were praised for their talent and ability; praised for the outcome.  “Fixed mindset” people are overly concerned with mistakes and failure.  In the end such students see teachers and parents as judges not allies.  As seen in the above example, praising intelligence harms motivation as well as performance.

brain is like a muscle

The kids who were complemented on their effort were of the “growth mindset.”  Those with a “growth mindset” love a challenge, believe in effort, and the value of being resilient.  Their focus is on improving and learning.  These people value what they are doing no matter the result.  It is not surprising that practice, persistence, and finding good strategies support motivation and performance.

In the last chapter of Mindset, Carol Dweck elaborates how to change from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.”

ping pong table

And you should see me play ping pong these days with my friend George.  I make each point about learning, getting feedback to improve.  We do keep score, but the joy is in the extended rallies, making incredible shots and “gets,” and celebrating each other’s good shots.  No one will remember or, in fact, care who won the games.  We will long remember the joy of just playing and getting better and better.