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Philosophies

Quotes and other things that I find to be worthy of applause, discussion, implementation, and (at least) re-posting:

A Learner's Bill of Rights
  • Every learner has the right to know why they are learning something, why it is important now, or may be important to them someday.
  • Every learner has the right to engage in questioning or interrogating the idea of "importance" above.
  • Every learner has the right to be confused and to express this confusion openly, honestly, and without shame.
  • Every learner has the right to multiple paths to understanding a concept, an idea, a set of facts, or a series of constructs.
  • Every learner has the right to understand his or her own mind, brain wiring, and intellectual inclinations as completely as possible.
  • Every learner has the right to interrogate and question the means through which his or her learning is assessed.
  • Every learner is entitled to some privacy in their imagination and thoughts.
  • Every learner has the right to take their own imagination and thinking seriously.
With the above list should be a list of learner rights should be a set of inherent "learner obligations" such as:
  1. Every learner is obligated to know their own learning style
  2. Every learner is obligated to devise, discuss, and implement personal accommodations.
  3. Every learner is obligated to be the change that they want to see in themselves
About student behavior:
  • The problem that you (teacher) sees, is their solution to the problem that you don't see
  • There is a belief behind every behavior
  • Connection before correction
  • Self esteem comes from doing esteemable acts

The Opinions and Philosophies that Guide My Actions and Programs

Teachers are interesting creatures, each with their own views and personality. It never ceases to amaze me how kids adapt to so many different teachers over the 12+ years of their academic career. I certainly had my share of eccentric teachers "back in the day", and spent a good amount of trying to predict their moods and actions. In order to avoid the possibility that my students would have to put any energy or worry into trying to figure out what I believe or why I do the things I do, I have written them here... in fairly random order, with varying degrees of explanation and at distinct risk of audience-less self-indulgence.


Student Freedom and Self-Responsibility: This topic has to be first because it is closest to my heart and at the root of my teaching philosophy. The principal that first hired me to Kennedy always dealt with students in a way as to give them "dignity and respect," and that credo of his has rung true with me as well. Students sense deeply that I care about them and value them as individuals, regardless of their academic, social, or discipline status. I try to treat kids with a high level of dignity and respect, often combined with a bit of humor and an unwavering level of honesty. This translates to a wide range of unwritten class policies as well as myriad instantaneous interactions in and out of the classroom. There are some freedoms in my room that are uncommon and perhaps unorthodox -- but not unanalyzed. I believe that if students are given freedom to make their own decisions in many areas, and are held accountable for the results of those decisions, then the foundations for lifelong lessons are learned. The privileges and trust that I give kids are granted at the onset of the year and thrive as long as they are respected and honored. Students, don't expect me to give you the quick answer to your question or to tell you right from wrong -- life's greatest lessons are best learned through experience, tenacity, and introspection. My job is to provide the cleanest connection between your actions and their effects and to give you the trust and support to create your own web of knowledge and values from those connections.

Excerpt from a weekly newsletter of mine (potentially redundant): The next topic is a complex one worthy of a great discussion far beyond the monologue of an email, but it is valuable to scratch the surface here in order to clarify and communicate my thinking.  Here's the issue:  I'm putting a lot of time and energy into getting kids on task and in focus during class, and I'm noticing some resistance (both passive and overt) from some kids in both my classes.  That isn't a bad thing, but it does bring up the question as to how much prodding/encouragement/threat do I offer versus letting the kids work (or not) at their own pace and with their own preferred level of engagement, intensity, and attention to quality.  I am in conflict about this and have both sides of this argument battling in my head.  One says that I have to tighten up the relaxed atmosphere, assign seats, and assert greater control over the social interactions that are competing with instruction and productivity.  The other side of the argument reminds me that kids will engage at their own pace and in proportion with their developmental readiness, that autonomy is a rocky road, and that all learning should be interactive and take place in a comfortable, stress-free, and often social environment.


I know that you all have high expectations for your students and the quality of their experiences in class.  I do too, and classroom atmosphere as well as student-management issues are crucial components of the learning environment.    I'd love to hear your perspective on this topic, so if you have a chance this weekend, please let me know where you feel a good teacher falls on that control-autonomy spectrum, how much energy and time should constitute the "grace period" for a student, and what positive actions or consequences might work best with your (or other) 8th grader(s).  My preference, of course, is to have student self-control and communal responsibilities be enough to inform and regulate student behavior, but it often isn't.  I, by no means, feel that my classes are out of control or unproductive, but it is loud at times and I find myself repeating instructions quite often and most often to those that chat at the wrong times.  It is a big issue to me right now because I want to have my values clear and my policies well thought through before the need arises to impose increasing levels of control over student behavior, volume, accountability, and consequence.

Modified Instruction and Self-Advocacy: There are many many different learning styles and almost as many teaching styles. The chances that a student's learning style completely matches a teacher's instructional style are quite slight, but when there is a match it is extremely powerful -- the kind of situation that makes a lifetime impression on all involved. More likely, however, some adaptation has to be made by a teacher and the learner to best facilitate an "effective compromise." As a kid I spent enough time in situations that were outside of mainstream instruction to realize that the most powerful things that I had to learn were the nature of my own learning style, the tools and tact of self-advocacy, and an understanding of the limits of an education system designed to manage the masses. My parents, teachers, aides, and administrators gave me a great deal of responsibility as well as support as they challenged me to build my strengths, devise alternatives, and achieve high standards. As a teacher, I believe strongly that students of all abilities should set the bar high, maintain a triad of strong parent-student-teacher communication, and take the lion's share of the responsibility for their own academic, social, and moral education. I resist situations in which students with special needs/abilities are passive within the dynamics of their own educational programs and am strongly opposed to the silent epidemic of lowered expectations, politically-correct assessments, and social promotion. None of those things will serve the student, the educational system, or the society in which they operate.


The Teacher-Friend Balance: In college I wrote a paper entitled "Students Learn Best From Teachers That They Like." It espoused naive ideas of student-teacher partnerships in learning and a school wide climate of camaraderie and common purpose. Although experience and age have tempered my views slightly, I still feel strongly that without the interpersonal tension and adversity that often plagues teacher-student interactions, classroom learning can be an enjoyable process for all parties involved. I have seen some situations in which a teacher striving for the friendly environment lost sight of the priorities and let the learning goals get overshadowed and their adult status get compromised. When faced with a decision to be the teacher OR the friend to the students, I would choose the former, BUT it is my passionate contention and personal experience that both can exist simultaneously.


Teaching Is A Well-Compensated Profession: Someday I will write something here that will alienate me from my colleagues who see teaching as an underpaid and unappreciated endeavor. I feel quite the opposite. In my opinion the money is fine, especially considering the job security, the contractual working days and hours (187 days at 7-ish hours per day), and the relative autonomy. Add to those, the amount of parent support, the fun interactions with students, and the unending supply of energy and helpfulness that constantly exudes from the students, and you've got an incredibly rewarding profession. Until the someday that I get the courage to voice my uncommon perspective more loudly, I'll stay quiet in my own little appreciative utopia.


My Presumptuous Postulate on Parenting and the Pre-Adolescent: The following excerpt is from the first issue of the "Heumann's Happenings" Newsletter: "As kids make the journey through seventh grade, they may experience adventures like none other that they have known before. They are well prepared for the road ahead. Many are equipped with a good sense of direction but no map or itinerary can provide a complete lay of the land or prevent the blind curves and bumps in the road, so their skills may be tested from time to time. I will try to support them with a balance of guidance and freedom, compassion and objectivity, and most importantly, trust and responsibility. Thanks for trusting me to help guide your travelers along their most amazing journey through middle school."


About Copying, Cheating and Self-Deception: In this area I have watched the personal integrity and moral strength of students decline over the past 20 years of teaching and it concerns and saddens me. More kids cheat, to a greater degree, more often, and with more impunity every year. Now, having said that, I can also understand why it is happening. The pressure students are under has grown, their invisibility amidst the school has grown, and the technology that enables them to copy has grown. Although I don't approve of cheating, I do accept that it happens -- I try to be an optimistic realist. My message to students about cheating has much more to do with practicality than it does about morality. I try to explain that IF a student copies another person's assignment, then they need to admit to themselves that they aren't learning or gaining anything from the assignment, except for perhaps a bit of handwriting practice. If a kid cheats and receives a high score, they should be careful not to fall victim to the false belief that they understand the material. Instead, I feel that they should make a contract with themselves to learn the material some other way. The student who receives a B on authentic work has much more to be proud of than the student who receives an A on unauthentic work.


Class Pets and Aquariums: For the first few years of my career, my classroom was quite crowded -- even if no people were around. We had snakes, toads, marine fish, insects, plants, and a guest bird or two. But I learned a harsh reality of life after a few years: They die. Every animal that I have had in my class has died before its natural time, and I like animals too much to continue that trend. Perhaps the animals sense that I don't believe that they should be confined to cages in a classroom in the first place and they interpret that as being unwelcome. Or maybe I just don't take care of them well enough and adaptation to their non-natural environment simply takes too long. Whatever the cause, animals (and even plants) never do well in my room and so I don't have them around any more. If you have something at home that you are willing to bring in for a day, please let me know so I can make time in the daily schedule for the class to learn about your plant or animal (or fungus, or protist, or bacteria) -- don't let my bad luck with classroom pets limit the experiences that the kids in your class can have!


The following 4 questions don't really belong on this page, but they do describe my teaching philosopies fairly well. Please forgive the self-promoting tone -- they are from a job application!

1. Describe your background in implementing thematic, developmental learning in a classroom setting.
Effective educational experiences are those that have context and relevance to the learner's life as well as the cognitive and developmental framework in which to be assimilated. I've experienced the power of thematic and developmental education as a student, as a teacher, and as a parent. As a part of my elementary schooling I attended an alternative education school wherein the classes and lessons were structured according to themes and topics that had context and relevance to our lives. Then in middle school my parents opted to enroll me in a pilot program that is quite common today -- an instructional team that spanned the academic subjects, working together to teach a common set of students in an integrated and thematic style. As a result, I became an independent learner with a passion for knowledge and a level of engagement that has lasted my whole life.

In the early 1990's, during the formative years of my teaching career, my principal hand picked me to help design, build, pilot, and evaluate a thematic teaching approach for middle schoolers. I, along with three other teachers and 180 students, created the first "village" at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino which quickly grew into a district-wide model for effective education. My science and math curricula were thus built with strong and natural connections to the other disciplines. For example, in that pilot village, I headed up the creation of a cross-disciplinary unit called "The Pyramid of Discovery" in which the students explored the behind-the-scenes aspects of a well known discovery or invention in order to uncover the less-known details about what people, controversies, or issues may have been involved. The students discovered that there were often research assistants of minority or color who were crucial to the outcome but unknown to the public, or that the discovery strayed from the accepted paradigm of science at the time. In addition to learning about the scientific method as required by the California State Standards, they went much deeper by uncovering (rather than just covering) the content. Though the project was highly collaborative, it did require my leadership, persistence, and understanding of the power of thematic student-driven learning. It was an amazing experience for all of us and set the tone for my long-term career. In the decades since that first project and pilot village, I've had the great fortune of working with professional learning communities to create and refine a yearlong life science curriculum of highly effective lessons that tap into the strengths and dispositions of middle schoolers. My psychology degree with it's focus on cognition, my knowledge of learning theory instructional design, and my constantly growing knowledge of science content and teaching strategies have put me in a unique position to be an effective educator, colleague, and champion for education.

As a parent I also believe strongly in the education of the whole child and the power of thematic and developmentally aligned educational practices. My wife and I chose to put our daughter at Christa McAuliffe Elementary school because of our convictions regarding that kind of education, and since then, all three of our children have attended and thrived in an International Baccalaureate School. Thematic learning is deeply entrenched in my learning, teaching, and parenting strengths.

2. Describe the types of teaching methods you believe work best in a learning environment that promotes supporting the whole child and developing life long learners.
Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships are the 3 R's that are the litmus test of my own teaching practices.  I believe that learning is a rigorous, active and challenging process that involves the students in demanding yet rewarding work. I adapt the content and complexity of lessons in ways that use the student's existing knowledge as a springboard for further learning. I challenge students by expanding their perspective or interests using activity and investigation as a vehicle for engagement. The inquiry model of science instruction gives students control over their own learning and provides an authentic connection between the curricular concepts and the real world. My classroom is a place where hands-on experiences are crucial, choice and differentiation are common practice, and the mind and body work together to bring learning from the head down to the heart and then back again. A deep understanding of a concept is not just isolated to an "a-ha" moment, but instead is the staple diet of a hungry and open mind.

Providing relevance is of paramount importance in the middle school years because it is a time when lifelong decisions are made about keeping curiosity alive and setting the stage for a healthy, balanced, and effective academic career. The final "R" of the three stresses the fact that education is not an independent or solitary venture. In work, in school, in family, and in community, the individual is a part of many diverse relationships. As a teacher I create lessons and experiences that tap into the power of connectivity and communication. Peer interactions, cross-age collaborations, and a high level of discussion and discourse all catalyze learning, and my students develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that extend far beyond the classroom and timeframe that we share. They are challenged yet always feel supported, their learning is both conceptual and concrete and always connected to their whole world, and by interacting with each other, they become passionate and active members of a learning community.


3. Describe the role technology plays in the learning environment and in which ways you would incorporate technology into your lesson planning.
The beginning of my career in teaching (late 1980’s) coincided with an exploratory influx of computers and video technology into schools, and I was hired into a school that was chosen by the State to explore and pilot ways in which technology could enhance instruction and/or professional productivity. As a part of California’s Model Technology School’s Project of the 80’s and 90’s, I sought out and implemented a variety of emerging technologies as well as developed or adopted best practices that increase student engagement, interaction, and learning. As a result, my curriculum and teaching practices were developed and refined with the highest level of technology integration as well as under the tutelage of high-level curriculum leaders and innovative corporate leaders. As a technology trainer of teachers for the UCSC Teacher Training Program, HP/Intel/Microsoft’s ACE (Applying Computers in Education) Project, and the Krause Center for Innovation’s Merit (Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology) Program, it has been my professional life’s work to explore educational technologies, utilize them in powerful and innovative ways, and then share the best practices with other teachers. I’m an effective technology trainer for teachers because I’m an effective technology user with students. I walk my talk, often into uncharted territory and innovative practices. The breadth and depth of my use of technology is vast, but the ones that I find most powerful are the use of my interactive whiteboard (Promethean), student response system (eInstruction), and collaborative online tools (GoogleApps). I've written grants to provide 1:1 laptops for students because I believe that the seamless and effective use of the internet is crucial to student learning. I've created a video journalism class and utilized video production in my science and math curricula as well. To best support students and parents alike, I have a class website that provides exhaustive information and resources so that learning can continue beyond the school hours and grounds. There are very few industries that don't utilize the tools that technology provides and so my teaching style and learning environment should prepare students to actively participate in and positively influence the technological and information age in which they are immersed. 


4. Describe your experience working with parents in an education environment and what you believe is the best way to utilize parental support in a classroom.
Parents have been a vital part of the educational community that I try to create with my students. Although some students are at a stage in their lives when they disavow the existence of parents, it doesn't take much to have the students reverse their perspective. I've had many parents come to my class to do presentation and experiments including a respiratory therapist, a nutritionist, a genetic engineer, a cardiac surgeon, a waste-management technician, and a landscaper. Each brought their own experiences and expertise to the students in a different way, but the common result was an increased level of interest from the students, a powerful and positive working relationship with the parents, and, almost always, the subtle smile of the student who comes to know their parent more as a source of pride than as a source of embarrassment. Parents have also helped the students and I produce and publish monthly newsletters, take weekend field trips, and build and maintain a life-lab nature center area that takes learning far beyond the four walls of the classroom. I have also utilized parents for program improvement focus groups, hypothetical grant funding panels to which students do presentations, and class-wide science project judges.

The home-school connection is a well-traveled path in the landscape of my class' learning community. Parents and teachers are complementary partners in the education of their children as well as that of their classmates. As the classroom teacher I am the coordinator of an immense talent pool as well as the facilitator of a learning community that involves students, parents, and often community. I am humbled and honored by the valuable position I hold.

Great Quotes about Teaching & Learning:

  1. The great teachers are the great students, and vice versa
  2. If you think you can or if you think you can't, you're probably right.
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