A New Chapter & An Open Path

Decision

I reached the decision to leave Personalized Education Group, DBA Christa McAuliffe School of Arts & Sciences (CMASAS) – resigning my position in the company I cofounded in 2009.

 

Reflection

From piloting a similar program in 1997-99, to a decade later synthesizing 1000s of pages of doctoral research for initial accreditation, CMASAS initially seemed like a capstone for my career.

A fantastic proof of concept, at the time of its inception it was one of the most personalized accredited schools offering Carnegie Unit standard credits. It also became one of the pioneers paving the way for other personalized learning programs.

One of my favorite moments was reading about a university class in Ireland responding to an article I wrote about my personalized education philosophy.  They liked the idea – it resonated with them – but thought that trying to do all of that at once was “too radical.”  I told several colleagues, “dudes, we’re radical!” and wrote the professor to explain that it can and had been done.

Since then, that philosophy has been refined, and many colleagues in the field have continued to create exciting student-centric programs of various forms and niches. CMASAS will likely continue to grow and morph over time as well.

It wasn’t a capstone after all; it was a chapter.

 

Turn the Page

I am both moving forward and coming back full circle to what started me down this path: nurturing individual voice, choice, and well-being, with education being one of the vehicles. Neurodiversity and trauma healing continue to be top focus areas. Also, recent family events clarified priorities and created a sense of urgency to focus more on the work that Luna and I started a long time ago.

I also realize now that this path is an Open Path… 

 

Open Path

What is a message, skill, or other gift you would like to share with the world? Or perhaps there’s more than one?

Kevin, Cass and I are teaming up to help outside-the-box thinkers present their ideas through seminars, workshops, and online classes. Instructional design, videography, and marketing are part of what Open Path offers, similar to a publishing company but while being respectful of people owning their own intellectual property.

We’re all in this together.

 

Abuse Culture Project

My first Open Path project is with Luna. For years, in fits and starts, Luna and I have been collaborating on how to raise awareness of abuse culture as well as how to promote a culture of compassion, consent, and respect. Now we’re diving in, and many of you have already said you’re with us!

We’re starting with Luna’s research on cults, specifically brainwashing tactics, and how people can heal from such experiences.

Then stay tuned to learn about the next topics and activities, including seminars that will be both face-to-face and live-streamed online. We want to build a community of support for all of us.

 

What More?

Well, part of that might depend on you. Let me know if you have an idea for Open Path, or if you see another area where I can serve.  No pun intended, I’m open to ideas – just so long they align with my values and personal integrity. My LinkedIn profile states my current interests and activities.

And ferrets. Seriously: creating a class on how to be a good ferret owner in collaboration with a veterinarian and a shelter in Washington is literally on my current to do list. Because ferrets.

 

Gratitude

Thank you to everyone who has been there for me through this time, and continues to be there. Several of you wanted me to make a different decision, and yet every single one of you were understanding and remained unwavering in your support. I look forward to… a nap, actually. But then I look forward to where this current path seems to be heading.

 

With love,

~ Tamra

 

Beyond Learning Styles: Preferences and Needs

Are learning styles dead? Should we be concerned with recent articles saying that there is no evidence of learning gains by teaching only to that student’s primary learning style?

Being open to new research is part of how we remain cutting-edge in our field. However, we need to be careful in how we analyze and make use of that research.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If a researcher does not find evidence of something existing, it typically means one of two things: 1) that thing doesn’t exist, or 2) the thing does exist, but the researcher did not conduct a study in a way to find evidence for it.

Taking one aspect of one category of learning styles, and trying to teach a student through only that one aspect, is not likely to result in optimal learning for that student. That’s like throwing flour in a bowl and complaining that it’s not a cake.

For example, one category of learning styles is perceptual modalities. Of the six or more modalities, one is auditory-listening. Having a student only learn through listening, and no other means, will not likely yield the best results. Usually students need to learn through multiple means. There have been studies that showed evidence that students initially learning through primary learning styles, and then following up with secondary and tertiary learning styles, did have stronger learning gains.

However, learning styles include more than perceptual modalities. Other categories include environmental, social, psychological, neurotype considerations, conditional-situational, and more. Learning styles inventories – or typologies – vary in how many categories they include.

Every typology is limited to what that typology measures or inventories. For example, a super simple modality inventory might only have three options: visual, auditory, and hands-on. A slightly more complex modality inventory will recognize the difference between visual-text and visual-picture, or between auditory-listening and auditory-verbal, and so on. An even more sophisticated inventory will begin to account for the possibility of synesthesia and other perceptual input considerations. And that’s just modalities.

Some typologies include modalities plus several other categories. For every single category, the typology is only measuring for the possibilities that it predicts to exist. Each person is more complex than what even the most complete typology can show.

However, it’s a start. It’s a conversation-starter. A learning styles or similar assessment can facilitate the beginning of self-awareness, hopefully provide some affirmation, and serve as a catalyst to communicate needs and preferences.

Communication is important for learning, and word choice is important for communication. The phrase “learning styles” has been defined and applied in a variety of ways, making communication and research about learning styles problematic at best.

Learning needs and preferences is better terminology than learning styles. Most can agree that a student who is blind is not likely to learn from visual means, and that a person who is Deaf will not likely learn through auditory means. They have learning needs that seem obvious, wouldn’t you agree? Where do we draw the line though? How about a student with a processing disorder confirmed with fMRI scans; would this be accepted evidence of a learning need? At what point do we draw the line between a need and what we would instead define as a preference? And should we?

There’s value having students experience learning in a variety of ways, and even growing skills and strategies for different approaches and scenarios. Active reading strategies help with processing text. Note-taking practice can help process auditory information, and using technology such as recording and speech to text can also be a great tool to discover. Learning how to work independently is important. Learning how to work with others, or even to oversee a group in a project management capacity, can develop valuable skills. Some students will be more capable of using certain learning approaches than others, both due to learning needs and preferences.

Why would preferences matter?

What it comes down to is this: emotions matter. If you get a student who needs to be detoxed from previous experiences, or who is coming to you from trauma, or who simply has a poor self-image as a learner, having that student begin the learning process in ways most comfortable and manageable could be vital for that student to move toward a growth mindset. Some students don’t have bootstraps; and if they did, what happens when you try to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps? You fall. That’s the original meaning of this phrase.

Emotions impact motivation, as well as the ability to learn in the moment no matter how motivated. Affirmation, being seen or validated, and gaining a sense of self-awareness can lead to an empowered learner. A sense that success is possible – an increasing internal locus of control – and that one’s own unique strengths and traits are valuable, makes it easier to try. Starting with preferred ways of learning, experiencing success and building upon that foundation, can put the student in the position to stretch and try new things later. It’s part of a complete recipe for success.

Err on the Side of Compassion

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Teachers were reacting
To an article about a former student
Who had been raped
Before she came to us
Who had not told anybody
Until after she left us

Nobody knew

How can we make sure that we know these things?
The teachers were asking

And they began to brainstorm

Student information system
Digital documentation
Communication applications

And I interrupted.

And what will you document?
You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Then we need to ask, the teachers were saying. We need to inquire and open up that communication, and…

How?
Do you introduce yourself and ask, “Have you been raped?” Or go down the list of many, many, other possible traumas?

You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Because you cannot know.

And did you know… it isn’t your right to know.

It isn’t your place to demand this information. You are not entitled to this.

Yes. Mandatory reporting, is a must
But until you have that trust
You might miss the signs, and the actual danger might be in the past.

Because those signs look different ways for different kids.
Often misinterpreted, or totally misread.

Trauma a year ago feels like trauma yesterday, so the past is now even though there’s nothing to report.

Yes, I know you want to help, and that this information would make it so much easier to do so. I understand this. But you won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

So what can we do?

Err on the side of compassion.

If a student is struggling, assume that there is a good reason for it. Even if you are given what seems to be a weak reason, know that this may not be the only reason, or even the real reason… and err on the side of compassion.

No, this doesn’t mean become a doormat. This doesn’t mean putting up with you or others suffering abuse. I don’t speak of enabling bullying.

I speak of not being the bully.

I speak of creating a safe space. So maybe the student can share with you. If they… so choose.

I speak of empowering student voice. So they can have a say in their education, in their life, and move forward the best way they can. With or without telling you everything.

I speak of holding space. Say, I am here for you, if you need me. No judgment.

No judgment.

Err on the side of compassion.

The student who was a rape victim gained her voice over time. With a stronger voice, she was able to break her silence. And now she is serving as the voice of others.

SHE did this, this healing…. During the time she was with us. She blossomed. Without us ever knowing. We erred on the side of compassion.

So that’s what we continue to do.

For so many other students who come to us this way, this is what we do.

And there’s no app for that. This comes from heart.

 

 

 

The Secret Life of Trees, and Me

I find myself sharing variations of the above information, and here’s why:
 
Saying/thinking “all things are connected” and “I am connected with all that is” is part of how I deal with Complex PTSD.
 
This strategy comes from connecting with nature since I was an itty bitty – since the earliest of memories. I would try to explain to confused adults that the trees communicate, of how the ground beneath and between them “breathes”, and of the energy that I sensed connecting all the things, ALL, including me.
 
In nature, I wasn’t alone, and nature held me. I would sink into a thick gathering of foliage and snuggle in there. Held. And often visited by critters who decided I was safe. Safe. In the moment, safety surrounded me. Unlike elsewhere….
 
Sometimes you will still find me like this! There I will be, out in the middle of nature, snuggled in. Loved ones now jokingly call me Snow White or Disney Princess because of the critters. 
 
Science is catching up. How I experience the world, sensing the connections, and seeing through the eyes of an empath with synesthesia, is no longer just “woo woo.” :p I might still be a freak, but I’m a scientifically documented freak, thank you very much.
 
All things are connected. I am connected. It is a state of being that is neither good nor bad. No judgement here. Even Death simply “is”. Here is where I can take deeper breaths. Feel the ebb and flow of all. And then continue the path I find myself on in this world.
 
Thank you for being here with me. 
 

See First

pic23What if a student was highly intelligent, perhaps even with stronger understanding of complex concepts than you and me, but was unable to speak or write or type. What then? How would we know? How would we see?

I recently had the pleasure of talking with wonderful parents of a boy who was considered to be nonverbal until he got his hands on a letterboard — a way to communicate that didn’t require fine motor skills. It turns out that he processes auditory information quite well, is very bright, and is now on a path to prepare for a college education likely in physics. That letterboard was a game changer.

His story reminded me of Carly Fleischmann whose inner voice could finally be “heard” by typing. The part about Carly’s story that stuck with me was her dad reflecting on how they used to talk about Carly with Carly in the room, as if Carly was not able to understand. He later found out that she was comprehending everything, and the regret weighed heavy in his voice.

These stories are awe-inspiring, but what about the more mundane stories out there?  There are so many other students who are being assessed by methods that are limited. The limited methods… limit our ability to truly “see” students for all that they are. This is more common than not. One of the problems with most school assessments is that they are limited to “paper and pencil”, or perhaps computerized, tests that required verbal-linguistic skills.

Why do we do this? It’s a cycle. Those who did well with verbal-linguistic skills, along with meeting other neurotypical expectations, are the ones who go on to become the test-makers and evaluators of the test results.

Now it is time to see beyond. The first step is gaining awareness through stories like Carly’s and studies such as the following:

Words Say Little About Cognitive Abilities in Autism by Nicholette Zeliadt, Spectrum News

Interaction Takes Two: Typical Adults Exhibit Mind-Blindness Towards Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Edey R, et al. J Abnorm Psychol. 2016

Note that second one isn’t about verbal so much as nonverbal, and the title caught several people by surprise when it was first posted. This reaction shows how pervasive our preconceived filters can be, including in how we frame our research.

To quote Douglas Adams, “See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise, you will only see what you were expecting.”

 

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