My name is Greg Schnagl. I am an educational consultant specializing in supporting the needs of elementary educators.I’ve reviewed The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer because it correlated to my theory that the mindset of the teacher is the single-most influential factor in the professional growth of an educator. Gains in student achievement come only from gains in professional confidence.
Palmer has local ties as he attended Carleton College in Northfield as an undergraduate. He has published a dozen poems, more than one hundred essays and nine books to date.He taught at USC-Berkeley and Georgetown University.He is the founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal. They oversee the “Courage to Teach” program for K-12 educators across the country. Palmer’s organization helps teachers in their first five years of service.It doesn’t provide technical training or address issues of school reform. Courage to Teach is designed to focus on the inner life of the teacher. To renew and help teachers achieve a sense of internal balance.
He opened the book addressing the emotional rollercoaster all teachers go through. Some days flawless, others entirely flawed.He presents the notion of addressing the inner self of a teacher. In alignment with this Courage to Teach program, he supposed that supporting the emotional and spiritual growth of educators will lead to positive school reforms.He offered a different take on professional development. He focused on making “who” teaches a priority, not so much “what” is taught or “how” it is taught.
In this chapter he presented the premise on which the entire book was built:I quote, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher”Basically, we bring all of our prior experiences into the classroom and it is from this place, we teach. Good teaching comes from good people.It’s the whole, “if your heart’s not in it” cliché.Throughout the chapter Palmer speaks to the teacher knowing themselves well, acknowledging their biases, as we read about in our articles, and employing reflective practices. Its all very ethereal, but I get it. I often use what may appear to be subjective intuition when making curricular decisions. Rationally, I know each decision is based on years of experience, as well as current data, but its still my gut feeling that drives the final designs, my choice of technique.
Palmer breaks down the systemic elements that create and atmosphere based on fear that s most prevalent in the leadership styles of American classrooms, schools and districts. He forced me to address my use of coercive techniques rather than working to create a connectedness with my most troubling students.I’ve employed a more distributed form of leadership since reading this particular chapter. My students had a say in their desk arrangement and with whom they sat. The atmosphere of our classroom has transformed into a much more calm environment.Parker presents scenarios regarding the very difficult, unmotivated or defiant student. He recalled a college dean, David start listening, he mentioned a college dean that was frustrated that his staff was constantly complaining about the quality of the students. When Parker asked what the Dean’s response was the Dean said, “I listened as long as I could, but they could not get off their blame-the-student shtick. Finally,…” continued the Dean, “…I said that they sounded like doctors in a hospital saying “Do not send us any more sick people – we don’t know what to do with them. Send us healthy patients so we can look like good doctors.”I thought this was a poignant metaphor for our natural tendency to look externally for causation and solution. Parker suggests teacher face the fear of ownership within them selves, look a ourselves subjectively, eschew objectivity for a moment. Look for creating relationships with problems, or as Dr. Dixon our superintendent calls them, “Opportunities for Growth”. He closed the chapter with a confusing monologue about fear and how we can have fear, but do not need to be fear. The closest I came to connecting with this concept was “I can have a cold, but not be cold.” but I can’t make a connection to leadership or teaching regarding the closing concepts of this chapter.
He presents good teaching as a compilation of paradoxical relationships. My identity leading my teaching through external techniques that help me to express itPersonal teaching in a public environmentOur years of experience preparing us for the newness of each dayOpening students emotionally to open them intellectuallyParker continues on to address the ramifications of ignoring a component of any of the educational paradoxes. Emotionally disconnected students hearing but not listening to teachers that talk but do not see their students.From here he asks us to reflect on our own limits and untapped potentials. He forced me too look at what I was getting form the relationship of teaching. What did I want form my student, emotionally. What needs do they fulfill in me each day? He felt dependent upon his students for affirmation, so it deeply saddened him when they were disconnected. It could be ignorance or arrogance speaking to me, but when a student is not with me my concern goes to them. To the learning opportunity they area missing out on, I immediately connect it to their future, I speak often of employability even when I taught first grade.I have yet to get an honest answer from myself about the benefits I am receiving. I’m not open enough just yet, but I’m working on it.He concludes the chapter focusing, ironically, on techniques to create paradoxes within the classroom. I am particularly fond of his phrase “holding the tension of opposites”.The use of wait time is the most tangible application of this theory. Basically, I understand it to be a relinquishing of totalitarian control. Let things happen and facilitate and guide the students’ collective stream of thinking toward your envisioned learning objective.
In the next three chapters Palmer helps us to look at community, the kind of community that best facilitates learning.He writes, “to teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced”Parker presented a therapeutic model of community wherein intimate relationships are the goal, we share our deepest thoughts, fears with one another and trust it all to be safe. I believe teachers need to, at least partially, subscribe to this utopian paradigm. Even though I know it is not attainable, my self-defeating optimism believes that all my students will achieve at great heights academically, socially and an inner peace will come over them all as they will leave the classroom at the end of the year with complete confidence in themselves. A the leader I hold this vision and strive each day to bring my actions into alignment with it.The most interesting aspect of this chapter is his challenge to shift our attention, as teachers, from objective to the subject of our lessons. IN the former the objective comes through me, the teacher, the expert, I act as a filter between the students, the amateurs and the objective. They only see the objective as I, the teacher, allow because I am standing in their way. Parker asks us to place the subject o our lesson at the center and allow the students, as well as ourselves, to act as knowers. We all see the subject as we know it. We share, discuss and debate what we think we know about the subject. To me, this is the K-W-L technique I utilize for a comprehension activity for nonfiction. We address what we know, that is the K, we record what we want to learn, that is the W (want) and after reading the article we list, discuss what we have learned, the L in K-W-L.
Here Parker provides examples of subject-centered classrooms. The scenarios illustrated the importance of a passionate and knowledgeable teacher facilitating the process of discovery, helping students to tap into their schema and share what they already know of the subject. The teacher's role changes from a traditional teacher dissemination information to an educator facilitating discovery. Principals, professional growth coordinators, superintendents leaders of all kinds can subscribe to these ideals, as well. A medical school dean worried that the graduates were too concerned with their grades and competing with other classmates. He did not see efficient application of the skills and knowledge supposedly learned within his programs. They started a program wherein first year students had contact with real patients frequently. As time went on, they saw greater application of skills, higher test scores and most importantly empathy for the patients. The patients were no longer objectified. Students were taught to focus on the medical subjects as they pertain to real and relevant patients, with names, smiles, tears and families.
Chapter six brings us to the glass walls in which we teach. He calls teaching “the most privatized of all public professions.” With all the talk of inner self and subject-centered classrooms, it is still done in nearly a complete vacuum. Parker called educators to take heed when he wrote, “instead of call this the isolationism it is and trying to overcome it, we claim it as a virtue called “academic freedom”: my classroom is my castle, and the sovereigns of other fiefdoms are not welcome here.”I have learned more when mentoring a student teacher than through any professional growth workshop training or class. A sense of accountability and professionalism is generated when we are teaching our craft. It seems to be another paradox. Even though our craft is teaching, we seldom spend time teaching our craft.Parker suggest spending more time talking about teaching, about ourselves. Teachers can grow from subject centered dialogues relating to their inner struggles and professional strengths. Ground rules are a key: topics must not technical but fundamental issues of teaching regardless of content, protocol for conversation and support form leaders who “expect and invite us to join the conversation”
In the final chapter Parker laid out four stages articulating the dynamics of applying the inner self, student centered, open community ideals to school reform. IN stage 1 isolated individuals decide to live and teach anew, with subject-centered lessons and reflective practices. IN stage 2 these individuals find one another, probably via social media, and create communities of congruence offering mutual support and opportunities to create a shared vision.Stage 3 calls for going public with their concerns, accepting and expecting critiques and criticism all the while staying true to the vision. The last stage generates motivations or the members of the community to preserver through the social resistance.He readily admits that these stages are not linear, they are more Venn like in appearance as a group progresses through them.No mention of a leader is offered in any of the stages, however. I would suppose that a leader must emerge when, or even before, the community goes public with their ideals. To form and align various members of a group, common interest not withstanding, can be daunting.Communities of people have been changing the world these past two years in northern Africa, others are sitting on wall street, literally, sitting together in a “community of congruence” hoping to create reform.My take away om this book resides in the reflective practice. I am, to a fault my wife would say, to analytical, to retrospective, I over think things. Parker’s perspective has forced me to look at my motivations. Why do I self-critique so deeply? Is it a fear of failure? Of success? I believe Parker’s model of respecting the inner self, creating subject-centered classrooms and generating social reform through community is feasible. I will close with a quote that, I feel connects with all of the aforementioned ideals.In his inaugural speech, Nelson Mandela said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. As were are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The Courage to Teach review
The Courage to Teach Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer 1 | Greg Schnagl prepared by Greg Schnagl
In this presentation I will share: • Reference & Resource • External Reviews • Biography • Chapter Summary – Key Points, Vocabulary or Theories – Relativity to Leadership – Personal Critique & Application 2 | Greg Schnagl
Reference & ResourcePalmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass.http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker 3 | Greg Schnagl
External Reviews"Our history books are filled with examples of the efforts of"Its the worst-kept secret in education: the"A heartwarming collection of essays about thecommitted education employees who helped to make thispassionate and talentedof the Courage to Teach teacher makes more ofcountry what it is today.insecurities, and life-changing Storiesdoubts, passions,challenges todays teachers to see themselves not only asalla difference than any school policy. Yet for schoolmoments of teachers." children, but as leaders in theiremployees, dedicated to serving reform, little getsthe ink spilled over school-American School Board Journalschools and communities."written about what makes a great teacher tick."-Bob Chase, president, National Education Association-New York Times 4 | Greg Schnagl
Who is Parker J. Palmer? • Writer • Teacher • Lecturer • Activist 5 | Greg Schnagl
Intro: Teaching from Within • Inner Self • “Who” Teaches 6 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter I: The Heart of a TeacherIdentity and Integrity in Teaching • Identity • Integrity 7 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter II: A Culture of FearEducation and the Disconnected Life • Fear vs Connectedness • Blame-the-Student • Be Fear? 8 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter III: The Hidden WholenessParadox in Teaching and Learning • Paradoxical Relationships • Limits and potentials • “Holding the Tension of Opposites” 9 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter IV: Knowing the CommunityJoined by the Grace of Great Things • Therapeutic Model • Subject of Our Lessons 10 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter V: Teaching in CommunityA Subject-Centered Education • Subject –Centered Classroom • Leaders Can Subscribe 11 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter VI: Learning in CommunityA Conversation of Colleagues • Glass Walls • Talk About Teaching 12 | Greg Schnagl
Chapter VII: Divided No MoreTeaching from a Heart of Hope • Four Stages • Emergent Leadership • Reflective Practices • “Powerful Beyond Measure” 13 | Greg Schnagl