Kids for Coltrane

♥ The Illumination Cafe

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Illumination Cafe

One of my ideas was to start an educational think tank with members of the PS 178 staff.  A model was created to meet the needs and wants of the PS 178 educators.

I will highlight some of my thinking here, and welcome an opportunity for further discourse

I shared my exuberance and vision for a think tank model with our PS 178 administration. I am pleased to report, I was asked to lead a voluntary study group. I believed my vision for this think tank met study group needs, but also took it to a much higher illuminating level for the participants.  I am proud to report that the Illumination Cafe has now been in place for the past three years. It is a place in which compelling questions are encouraged and  collective learning takes place. We meet during the year in our classrooms over lunch and share both nourishment for the mind, body, and soul.

A very special thank you goes out to my colleagues who joined me during their lunch hour to  participate in the discourse. ~You are all wonderful!

What is the Illumination Café?

It is an educational conference that meets regularly to open up conversation amongst the best and brightest…the educators in the schools.

Educators need access to their peers and colleagues who share a deep interest in teaching and understanding. In the past teachers have been sharing the work of researchers, policy makers, theorists and the work of teachers whom they never met. Yes, this can be very valuable, but here we are, bright individuals who are doing the work each and every day and not able to truly share our minds. With powerful wonderful questions and thoughts to examine, we can emerge stronger intellectually and more satisfied professionally when we come together. We can examine authentic student work, and be more informed educators and help our students own their learning.

Why not create your own Illumination Café at your school?

It can be a setting in which educators can share, discuss and REFLECT. The participants are the experts! The goals and objectives will always keep our most precious students in our eyes as we continue the discourse.

This is a challenging world we teach in. I think we would all agree, it will not be enough to look at the past and present to learn lessons. We must traverse time and distance into the future with our imagination to meet the needs of students who will go into a world that didn’t exist before. We must also be able to quickly see and deal with unintended consequences.  This is a global world with much to offer, and much to understand.

Now that I have this website, I will post some of the ideas that come out of our Illumination Café, and some of my thinking as I move forward. Please stop by from time to time, and feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

Good luck to all of you who are doing such valuable work!

Christine Termini Passarella


The Importance of Person-Centered Learning

From Christine Termini Passarella

Learning must encompass both ideas and feelings. We must teach the whole person. There is movement in this direction and that is wonderful. We know that not including the affective domain in education is extremely negative.  Learning must include affect and cognition.

In the past it seems, the essence of the educational system was to make everyone be like everyone else. People are becoming more and more aware of how bad this is to the individual. Human beings need to feel free of labels and develop their uniqueness. To become loving individuals, we must get to spontaneity.

How wonderful it would be to prize our humanness… to be able to risk, to live and feel confident in our choices. Human beings have many needs, but the most important needs are what we need in ourselves.

I believe we all count, we are all special and that the purpose of life is to have it make some difference that we existed!

“…people need to be seen, need to be known, need to be recognized, need achievement, need to enjoy the world, need to be able to see how wonderful it is to be alive.” Leo Buscaglia.

The Illumination Cafe has been focusing on the brain and how it learns this year.
I have been particularly interested in how music affects the brain and teaching through the arts.
I just viewed a fabulous Nova program on PBS focusing on the work of neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks.  I thought you may be interested as well. You can click on your location and the date and time of the program will pop up. (It is being repeated.) They can even send you an email reminder…how cool it that!

A fascinating book that you may enjoy is This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin…. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Levitin speak this year at The Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York City. He also wrote The World in Six Songs.

George Lucas’s Edutopia hosted a very informative webinar led by Dr. Judy Willis on the brain and how it learns. The doctor is also a middle school teacher which gives her a very unique perspective.
Please check out her web site.

from nikon 591
I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when I attended the LIASCD Spring Conference in 2009. His work is very inspiring and valuable. Eric Jensen led the conference and shared research on brain-based learning. I have been a fan of his work for many years, and it was great to hear him speak in person.
Kindly check out his web site.

P1010340Since the Teaching and Learning Celebration started three years ago in New York City, I made sure I was present. It is always an illuminating experience with enlightened presenters. Here is a pic of Peter Senge speaking  to the group.  I had the opportunity to see Peter once before at a NYC professional development conference. His work is powerful and life transforming.

Peter Senge, Peter Senge, Peter Senge!…My family and friends will tell you, I am often referencing the transformative work of Peter Senge and members of the Society of Organizational Learning. You can check out the web site listed in my links section. I decided to  detail some of the ideas coming out of one of my favorite books. There is a lot, but I believe worth the investment of your time.  The work coming out of the Society of Organizational Learning can guide you professionally and personally.

I will focus on his Fifth Discipline Fieldbook which is full of insightful theories on how to transform organizations into learning organizations. Senge writes about the organization as a system. Peter’s book The Fifth Discipline was published in 1990, and this later fieldbook is a companion book and a great resource. Senge calls systems thinking the fifth discipline because he believes there are five interdependent disciplines important to the success of a learning organization. Thinking systemically is what will bring the organization into a position of learning and change. In the successful organization individuals have the ability to accomplish a desired result. Creative and expansive thinking is promoted and nurtured in a true learning organization. People are free to continually learn together. This type of systems thinking benefits the organization as well as the individuals and the teams. There is a collective ability to sense and interpret the environment. The knowledge gained will be imbedded in the system and transform into desired outputs.

Senge’s five principles develop the ability for an organization to grow and succeed systemically. The principles are Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, Team Learning, and Mental Models.  The whole becomes greater than its parts. In fact, Senge believes that reality exists in circles that in fact goals (objectives) and outcomes (products) are actually beginnings. It is this overlapping and interacting system that creates a learning organization. I believe his theories support the work of Dewey, Gardner, and Deming among others. This fieldbook is a practical how-to. It develops the theories and shows how to implement them using a variety of exercises and strategies. Senge and his four co-authors have come up with a practical guide. This type of book can be read wherever one finds it engaging and it is easily cross-referenced. For the reader who is truly looking for a guide that will instruct members of an organization on how to help their group truly evolve, this manuscript is a wonderful tool. Sadly, Mr. Senge doesn’t feel most educational organizations offer this for their teachers or students. He feels schools are too fragmented and focus on memorization. Teachers should be able to pursue a creative vision. Schools should create environments in which teachers really work together and reflect on what they are doing. Mr. Senge tells us cooperative learning for adults in the system is important. Innovations may be neglected and innovative teachers can be threatening. The change must be in the classroom, in the school and indeed in the school system. It should involve the whole community. This involves fundamental cultural changes. The resistance to change is complicated. When the school system is stratified and fragmented people can fell disempowered. New skills and capabilities must be developed to bring forth change.

There are innovative skills. The principals should create environments where teachers continually learn. Peter Senge believes that the job of the Superintendent is to find leaders who support this. You start with adults and students who envision a school they really want to go to. This requires reflection, listening, and mutual understanding. Schools should focus on thinking skills. We have moved from the period which was called modern industrial technology. The new era has many unknowns, but clearly so much potential. In order to bring change into organizations, including schools there must be preconditions to cope with this change. We must replace bureaucracy with aspirations, values, and visions. Learning takes time and effort. The focus should be on discipline as practice.  The “product” of education is developing happy human beings who continue to learn.

The fieldbook literally welcomes you into it. The opening chapter is actually entitled “I see you.”  It is very engaging and comforting because a 593 page book can be intimidating. As you read it, it is as if you have a mentor guiding you through the principles. “You could argue that we involve each other’s potential by our willingness to see the essence of each other,” writes Senge. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook was written for people who want to make their organizations more effective. The book truly guides you into creating an organization that can learn. The conceptual thinking of understanding and instilling a sense of systemic awareness is exciting. The book tells us how to proceed. The book is actually a collection of notes, reflections and exercises. It contains 172 pieces of writing describing tools and methods. Stories and reflections are shared. Useful exercises and resources are given  to the reader.

Senge acknowledges that while the disciplines are vital, the deep learning cycle is difficult to initiate. The skills needed may take years to master. Let me examine the disciplines for you. Systems Thinking involves participation at all levels. It is not top-down or bottom-up. Organizational learning is energized at all levels. Senge sites as an example the success of Federal Express. The change came from hundreds of little things that employees were doing differently. The customers began to notice a more open and collaborative organization. Pat Wallis, a Fed Ex managing director coordinated a learning laboratory project there. He said, “You are what you eat. If you start thinking differently you see things differently, and all your actions start to change.” In understanding systems thinking one must learn to recognize the ramifications of the actions that are chosen. And also, must recognize the trade offs as well. Everyone in the organization must look at the whole together. There is interdependencies within the system. Systems thinking will certainly bring out the need for collaboration. There must be a commitment to continually examine how the system is working. Leverage for effective change increases as you move toward understanding intangible elements. You can then come closer to seeing underlying reasons for the more tangible elements that exist. A new awareness can actually bring a sense of hope. It is vital that team members in the organization have permission from top management to pursue its understanding. The ideas must be taken seriously. Team members should be willing to take a stand even if their ideas are not popular. By taking part in the change the team members will understand it. Team members must be allowed to experiment and act. An organization must first understand their own situation in order to begin the groundwork for systems understanding.

The team should first present an issue that is important. An inquiry should be made by the team into something that is important, and something the teams wants to understand. The problem examined should be a chronic one.  Choose a problem of limited scope. The problem examined should have a know history. An accurate description of the problem should be examined. The process of  discover diagnosis is all part of systems thinking,( a neutral third partly can help guide an issue). The problem should be stated without presenting your solution up front. As you present the problem you should not be judgmental. After identifying  the problem the team should be allowed to share their stories. This is called model building. The team can apply archetypes to fit their stories. The key archetypes are “ Fixes that Backfire, Limits to Growth,  Shifting the Burden, and Tragedy of the  Commons. “ These archetypes are tools that a manager can use to construct a hypothesis about the governing forces of the system. This will become part of a diagnostic repertoire. You will simply start by guessing which archetype applies to your situation. Peter Senge gives many examples of these archetypes  in the fieldbook helping the reader to become aware of systemic structures. Once the understanding develops, one is compelled to redesign them.

Come back to the site soon to read more on The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook



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