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Chris Mercogliano: 20 Characteristics of a Good Teacher

All good teachers:
1. Genuinely like children and enjoy being around them. Just like parents with their own kids, they take pleasure and pride in their students’ growth and development.
2. Genuinely enjoy teaching, too. This is a critical factor because teaching is essentially a modeling process and students learn much more readily when their teachers exhibit joy in what they’re doing. And as a result, good teachers feel energized at the end of the day, not drained.
3. Are openhearted. They care about their students’ lives, present and future, and they address their students’ shortcomings and transgressions compassionately, not judgmentally.
4. Recognize that teaching isn’t something they do to or for children; rather it’s a reciprocal exchange of energy within a relationship. Good teachers also realize they are continually learning from their students too.
5. Trust in the innate wisdom of the learning process and in their students’ intrinsic desire to learn. They don’t try to force learning to happen by resorting to extrinsic motivators like rewards and punishments.
6. Are authoritative, not authoritarian. Authoritarian teachers are highly controlling,consider their authority non-negotiable, and maintain their control with punitive discipline. They feel threatened by a child’s expressions of independence and individuality. Authoritative adults set firm, consistent limits on out-of-bounds behavior, but don’t hem students in with restrictions. They maintain their natural adult authority while at the same time respecting the child’s point of view and encouraging verbal give and take. As their students grow more responsible, they extend them increasing levels of independence.
7. Understand the fundamental role that emotions play in a child’s complete development. They are emotionally self-aware and make sure the environment is welcoming and safe so that their students feel comfortable being themselves and don’t feel they have to hide their vulnerabilities.
8. Continue to work on their own personal and professional development, because as Joseph Chilton Pearce once said, “Teachers teach who they are.” Good teachers realize they can’t guide their students to places they haven’t already been themselves.
9. Are facilitators of learning, not taskmasters. “Facilitate” literally means “to make easier,” and the most fundamental purpose of teaching is to help the student learn how to learn with ease and efficiency.
10. Acknowledge the individuality of their students and don’t expect them all to be interested in the same things at the same time, or to learn in the same way.
11. Assume it’s their responsibility to present things in a way that every individual learner can understand, and not the learner’s job to adapt to the teacher’s methods. Good teachers continue to try different approaches until they find the key that unlocks the door to the learner’s understanding.
12. Are good communicators. They speak clearly, with honesty and respect; and they make sure that their criticism is constructive and always based on “I” messages. And then they listen carefully to what their students have to say, encourage them to speak freely, and value their opinions.
13. Understand that learning doesn’t happen under duress. They make sure that anxiety and stress have no place in the learning environment.
14. Are flexible. Aware that a lot of important learning is serendipitous and synchronistic, they are able to shift gears quickly in order to stay in synch with their students’ shifting moods and interests.
15. Know how important it is for children to take responsibility for their own education and their own actions, and so they share initiative, power, and control with them.
16. Respect a child’s inalienable right to say “no.” They don’t force their students to do things they aren’t ready or willing to do.
17. Build strong relationships with each and every student. They also facilitate students doing the same with one another.
18. Recognize the deep developmental value of play. They provide ample free play opportunities for their students, and they also make sure there’s enough play in their own lives because they know how much play re-energizes and restores them.
19. Understand that experience is the best teacher. They minimize the amount of instruction they do by creating a rich, resource-filled environment—with abundant connections to the outside world—that enables students to learn by doing and discovering.
20. Consider teaching to be a calling. They view their work as an authentic sharing of themselves and a way to make the world a better place, not a professional role that confers them status and a paycheck.

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Peter Berg’s Report on the AERO Conference

It happens every year. I come back from the AERO conference inspired, invigorated and ready to keep the education revolution moving forward.  This year’s conference was held in New York at Long Island University’s Post Campus.

What AERO does that very few other organizations do is bring together people from anywhere in the world who are interested in the idea of humans as natural learners and learner driven education.

If we all talked to each other, shared our best practices, resources, and energy learner driven education would be the norm, which in my opinion would lead to a more just, sustainable world.

The AERO conference kicked off with two documentaries: Screenagers and Movement which prompted dynamic discussions.

The next day started with a keynote talk by Danya Martin, sharing her work of creating educational freedom for children through mentoring others on the nuances of radical unschooling.

The day continued with min- talks from Jamaal Bowman, Michael Hynes, Brenna Gibson Redpath, Joanna Faber, Jane Macdonald and Debra O’Rourke on topics ranging from what learner driven education can look like in public schools, and homeschooling options, to youth created alternative free schools and the power and nature of creativity.

The evening got underway with a group meet and greet session led by Jerry Mintz, the Executive Director of AERO followed by Jerry reading excerpts from his new book  School’s Over, How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education which signified its official launch.

Shortly after, participants were treated to Adler Yang’s documentary If There Is A Reason To Study followed by a Q & A session with Adler.

As happened every evening many conversations and impromptu meetings lasted well into the late night hours as conference attendees shared their work, resources, passion, and knowledge with each other.

The next day saw many of the incredible, diverse and dynamic workshops kick into high gear.

The day concluded with two amazing keynotes from Dennis Litky on his work of revolutionizing public education through his work with The Big Picture schools and Peter Gray  on the natural way humans learn through play and observation and have been doing so for millennia, and a panel discussion with Peter Gray, Dennis Litky, and Akilah Richards 

As conference goers awoke the next morning they had a variety of workshops to choose from as well as plenty of time for networking and sharing.  During the lunch break German Doin delivered a fascinating keynote sharing his journey of making education documentaries.

The day progressed with more workshops some of which were delivered by students who attended the conference.  As dinner ended attendees piled into the LIU Auditorium for Jonathan Kozol’s keynote on educational freedom, inequality, and justice.

Immediately following, Peter Gray joined Jonothan Kozol in a unique panel discussion where Peter Gray posed some questions to Jonathan Kozol before they both responded to questions from the audience.

The last day of the conference was marked by a dynamic energizing keynote from Akilah Richards where she talked about how self-directed education can and should be available and usable to all.

John Taylor Gatto prepared a written statement, since he is unable to appear in person, for the next keynote which was read by Jerry Mintz and followed up by Gatto publisher David Rodriguez.

The conference ended with an evaluation and call to action session.  Many participants stayed after the conference officially ended to continue their networking and work on furthering the education revolution.

During the conference, the AERO team recorded podcasts with Brenna Gibson Redpath & Anna Smith from Urban Homeschoolers on the ins and outs of homeschooling and some common myths surrounding it; Students from The New School and The Highland School on what it is like to live and learn in a democratic school, and what democratic education looks like, and Akilah Richards on liberating all communities through educational freedom and self-directed education.   Be on the look out for these wonderful podcasts as they will be released shortly, as well as audio CDs of all presentations, and DVDs of the keynotes and mini-talks.

AERO is happy to continue to bring such incredible diversity of educational thought, experience, and practice together in all of its work and has already begun putting together next year’s conference as well as many exciting new initiatives in 2017-2018.

Thank you to all the keynoters, presenters, volunteers and participants.  You are what makes AERO the organization that it is.

 

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Living in a Democratic Dormitory: A life changing experience

I came to The Highland School at ten years old. I first went to a Sudbury school in Berlin, Germany which I enjoyed but found something lacking. My mother heard about a democratic boarding school in WV, from a staff member at my Sudbury school. After a year of thinking, wanting to be more independent, I applied and was accepted. Once I was there, I fell in love with it, and with that, my dorm life started.

I have been in the dorm for seven years now. Life in the dorm has changed over my time depending on the people who are in it. When I first came, there were four other students in the dorm and two staff. Over the years we’ve had differing ratios of boys to girls; some kids stayed for years, others for a semester, and many came from different countries. Our rules changed with them, and also our ways of doing things. Some rules we keep and others we change based on our experience. We make those changes democratically in our meetings.

General School Meeting

At The Highland School we have a weekly General School Meeting which is run democratically by an elected chairperson. Every school member from the youngest to the oldest has one vote at the meeting. The General School Meeting is one of the most important aspects of our school. It is where we make the majority of our decisions including any new rules. We also create subsets that are called clubs and guilds. These special interest groups are responsible for specific areas, for example, Tree House Committee, which deals with the building of tree houses or Conservation Club, which deals with recycling, Adopt a Highway and preserving natural resources.

How we do things in the Dorm

We are responsible for taking care of many things ourselves. We do our own grocery shopping. We usually go on the weekend to a variety of stores in nearby cities that we decide upon in our dorm meetings. We each currently get a hundred dollars every two weeks for our grocery shopping trips.

We’ve set up housekeeping chores which include cleaning the kitchen, laundry days, and general clean­up. For example, on dish nights we load/unload the dishwasher and clean the rest of the kitchen, we also do our own laundry. The way we set this up changes. Usually, everyone does a night a week and then work together if we don’t have enough people for all the weekdays. In Dorm Meetings, we also decide such things as whether we have quiet hours and when they are. Our Dorm Meetings answers to the weekly General School Meeting. We use Dorm Meetings to resolve any disputes that are not covered by our judicial system. We can also decide on small trips after common school hours and deal with other things that come up such as planning to cook meals together, we deal with disputes about whose stuff is in the sink. If no one remembers, usually someone volunteers or we come up with a different solution.

Life in the dorm

Living in the dorm with all kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds can be fun. It is also challenging.

I still remember an experience in 2012. There were two boys named Tom and Harry. Tom was a type of person who liked to poke fun at people. Harry was a bully and thought he was on summer break. Sarah and I were in our early teens and the new boys were older. So, as you can imagine Sarah and I didn’t get along that well with Tom and Harry who often poked fun at us. Especially me since I was a very emotional kid and would tear up at any insult. There were many judicial complaints and long meetings.

One evening, we were all in the dorm living room and someone mentioned the video game Blockheads. We talked about how we hadn’t played it in a while. After some reminiscing, we went into another room. We formed teams of Sarah and Harry and Tom and myself. We played the game for hours and for the first time that semester enjoyed each other’s company. Sarah and Tom made fun of us, for turning off the devils which made the game easier. We laughed and had a fun time, all together. The next morning we were back to our feud, but it was less intense. To this day, I think of the fun we had that night and smile.

I have also made friends for life at Highland. My first year there was a girl named Alex. We always watched Futurama in her room and even finished it. Even though she left at the end of my second year, we still talk to this day. We even do the same silly things; just that she is in the Philippines and I’m in West Virginia.

Often the interactions in the dorm are similar to sibling relationships. We have highs and lows like brothers and sisters. However, the key factor is that we live in a democracy, where our individual rights are protected by the system we create together. We hold each other responsible for our actions. In the case of Tom and Harry, there were ways for me to deal with them through our judicial system. If it had gotten to a point where they wouldn’t stop harassing me, I could have brought them up for expulsion at our GSM, but we worked it out on our own.

Why I think boarding school is valuable. It is a unique experience to live away from home and share a place with people from across the world and figure out how to get along with them. You get a new perspective on life by taking care of yourself and being responsible for your own things. The dorm is another step towards being more independent with the support of others if needed. You are always able to reach your parents and talk to friends, but you can also find out who you are on your own.

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SHURE: A DEMOCRATIC UNIVERSITY IN TOKYO

By Yan LI

 

From the oldest continuously running democratic school Summerhill founded in 1921, till now, democratic education has developed into a global movement, from kindergarten to high school. There are a number of democratic schools at the pre-school, primary and intermediate levels but at the higher levels, there are less. I was then curious to know how are the principles of democratic education implemented at the university level?

Shure University in Tokyo is a 27-year- old college where students have the freedom to choose what and how they learn and where they use a democratic decision-making process among students and staff. Mr. Kageki Asakura is one of the founders of Shure University. We met at the First Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC), which was held in the Holistic School, Miaoli County in Taiwan from July 18 – 24, 2016. During this conference, keynote speeches in the morning were given by appointed speakers and after that, most time segments were open space where anyone can sign up and share their own experiences in workshops, discussions, and other formats.

During the keynotes, Mr. Kageki interpreted the speeches to the students who gathered together and listened intently. On the 22 nd , Japan Democratic School network held an Open Space about “Japanese School Refusal and the Democratic School Network Movement.” Apparently, school refusal in Japan is a huge issue in the field of education. Many democratic school students go through the process of school refusal. In the beginning, the students who went through this process themselves, explained what school refusal is, why the students refuse to go to school and how the democratic schools meet the student’s need.  They don’t really refuse school for economic or health reasons but for deeper reasons that question their sense of self, their values and identity.

One student shared her own story: at the state school she felt bored and was under pressure to perform because everything was measured by how one’s accomplishments compare with the others. There were expectations which she had to try and live up to. She refused to go to school.  At nineteen years old, she went to Shure University and spent one week trying it out. During that short experimental period, she realized what was taken away from her – that idea that it’s okay to pursue something you are interested in. That idea empowered her to alter her self- perception and turn her life around. From somebody who did not believe in herself and had a very low self-esteem, she became self-assured and motivated to pursue her own unique path in life (https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/opening-up/). At the APDEC, she went on stage to express her idea of offering her photographs for sale at the fundraiser. She was active, confident and creative in front of the participants. In another open space, Shure students presented the Japanese tea ceremony, paper folding, self-designed stamps and so on which attracted a lot of participants. I was impressed by their kind, caring and calm smile and then began to gather more information about this democratic university.

In Shure University brochures, it says: “To live as I want. To get the world back to the self. To study, to express, to be reborn.” Shure Tokyo is the parent organization of Shure University, an non-profit organization founded by students in 1999 who wanted to continue their education. There are no qualifications necessary, no pre- defined curriculum, only freedom. In China, students are measured according to their academic performance at a college entrance examination. We judge students by the grades they get, not by who they are. We have a compulsory curriculum. If the students fail, they can’t get their degree.

“Accepted” is a 2006 comedy film made in the United States about a group of high school seniors who, after being rejected by all colleges to which they had applied, create their own college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Accepted_(film). The students decide what they study based on their own individual schedule, how to spend their tuition, how long it takes to finish the course. They don’t have traditional teachers, classrooms or library, however they find their creativity and passion for learning with a desire for self- growth. Ironically, true learning takes place in this fake college. The students don’t need society’s approval to tell them what to learn or how to learn. It’s about total self-acceptance. When I introduced this American film to my students in Psychology class, they began to feel inspired, but later they said it was just a movie and not real.

Reality

I was eager to see how the concept of democratic university works in real life. Not long after the conference, on August 4, 2016, I visited the Shure University in Tokyo. Located in a two-story building, including one room for teenage democratic students, Shure University put the dream of democratic education into practice. Although that day fell on their summer vacation, the staff and students of Shure University were busy preparing for the Shure University International Film Festival all the way until night time. It was to be held a few weeks after so as the students labored, Mr. Asakura showed me around the building and patiently answered my questions.

Philosophy

Shure is an ancient Greek word, which means a place where people can use their mind freely. Mr. Asakura and his previous democratic school students started Shure University, because the students didn’t want to go to the traditional university to further their study. They wanted to continue the practice of making democratic decisions about the way they learn, including the tuition they pay, the curriculum they cover and the years they spend in college. Before establishing the Shure University, Kageki had already been teaching at free schools for decades and taught sociology at the University.

In Shure University’s website, the philosophy behind their school is best embodied in the phrase “creating your own way of life.” Society usually expects people to graduate from high school and university, get a job and be a productive member of the community. Democratic education posits that this is not the only route to take. “Changing yourself to match society’s expectation is only one way to live. Another way is to create your own values through your own interests and experiences for the purpose of suiting your own lifestyle. How do you want to work? How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to build relationships with others? Students here try to create their own values with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University.” (http://shureuniv.org/english)

Administration

Now, there are around forty students, four staff members and almost fifty professional advisers from various fields. In the end, the students in Shure University do not receive a degree. Why then do they choose to attend? For them, education is about true learning, and not merely a certificate. The tuition cost is higher than the state universities but below the private ones. Without recognition by the Japanese Ministry of Education and comparatively low tuitions, Shure University has no economic advantage to attract famous experts to teach here. However, there are still fifty professional advisers such as Serizawa Shunsuke, Hirata Oriza, Shin Sugo, Hau Yasuo, Ozawa Makiko, Ueno Chizuko. The university attracts the people that they do because the students are highly self-motivated and tend to excel in the things they do since they choose it themselves.

Referring to the advisers, Mr. Asakura said that “We need fifty of them because interest of students are so diverse.” Even though the school only has forty students, the interests are so broad, spanning philosophy, anthropology, music, law, drama, cinema, history, documentary and others. These also change over time so the university has to be ready to deal with the evolving interests. Sometimes, the adviser comes to the university to hold a workshop or a class while other times, the student can visit the adviser’s office to have a personal tutorial or consultation.

It is understandable how diverse the composition of experts and advisers are because there are many unique courses available in Shure including: Alternative Education, Academic History, School Truancy, Family Discourse, Life Discourse, Cultural History, Politics and Economics, World History Research Seminar, Creating Your Way of Life, Literary Discussion, Pop Music, Computer Science, Tokyo Cultural Activities, Live Theater, Modern and Fine Arts, as well as language classes such as English and Korean. Project-based classes are also available including Film, Drama, Music and How to Build and Race Solar Powered Cars (http://shureuniv.org/english).

Evaluation

There are unique personal courses and a number of group projects. Students here decide how many classes they have and how many years they attend. They explore their own path with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University. The graduate is evaluated on individual and project-based performance. One of the Shure University students, Yui Sakamoto explained that there is a meeting each semester to discuss and reflect on the seminars and group projects, what they want to get during the present semester and what they got during the previous one. Each student has tutorial time when they talk about their individual plans and reflect on their own work. Each student makes a presentation around March including an evaluation of their own work while other members give a response or comment on the presentation. They don’t use numerals to evaluate anything or anyone. In a sense, according to Yui Sakamoto, this is more challenging so when she needs to get a deeper understanding, she has to ask questions to grasp what she wants. For her, the most important thing is “living her own life and making the kind of world that she wants.”

At the APDEC 2016, American psychologist Peter Gray, author of Free To Learn explained how he would evaluate an educational system based on two questions: 1) Are the students happy? and 2) Do they live satisfying lives and are productive in society? (https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/at-the-roundtable/) From this perspective, the graduates of Shure University seem to fulfill these standards. The majority work at an NGO or take care of senior citizens. Almost none of them takes part in the commercial field. They become responsible, caring adults.

The next APDEC will be held in Tokyo at The National Olympic Youth Centre on August 1 – 7, 2017. People from the Shure University will actively be involved in organizing this major, international event. Joining it may be an ideal way to continue learning more about this exceptional university and about democratic education in general.

 

About the Author:

Donna (Yan LI) is a Educational Psychology Lecturer at the School of Communications, Tianjin Foreign Studies University. As much as she possibly can, she wants to promote the ideas of democratic education and hopes to start a Democratic School in mainland China someday.