Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inspiration from a Friend

The following was written by a friend and was shared with his staff in an email. John O'Brien serves as the principal at Rabiner Treatment Center. In many ways, what John has written applies to our work with all students at some level in relation to our aspirations for them.

The more I ponder the more I’m realizing that these children we work with are children without much hope. The Lord knows that we all have high hopes for them, but do they have the same aspirations that we have for them? The difference here is that we can loosely throw around the hopes we have for them, for in our view, the hopes are as plentiful as the grains of sand on an ocean beach, but is that a shared vision? I believe they are holding tightly to the small handful of sand they were able to grab just before they were carried away in the turbulence of their young life and they are not so willing to share their small portion.

We spend many moments attempting to convince them that the future holds wonderful possibilities for them, especially if they would just buckle down and concentrate on the concepts we lay before them. Then when they reject our efforts to help them, and acknowledging here that rejection hurts, we experience frustration. What does frustration look like? What does it sound like? Is your neighbor frustrated? How do you know this? How do you deal with the frustration in you and in others?

I truly believe the answer to that is in our ability to understand who we work with, kids without much hope. So how can we instill hope in the hopeless? Maybe we should start at their level, to where they cling to what little hope they have left. You may think I’ve really lost it but I have seen it work, I just didn’t know what to name it.

If you want to know what they hope for just ask them, not in some superficial way, but in those special moments you have with a kid. You all do it, it’s that time when things are real with these kids and they trust you. Can hope be drawn with a pencil? Can it be written down? Can it be taken through the lens of a camera? Can it be shared through a song by a favorite artist? Can it be discussed in the proper moment? Sharing their small portion is not something any of us can take lightly and it is truly a gift when given. Treat it with all the dignity and humility that you can for it happens rarely, but be ready for it for if we ask, they may answer.

Once they share their hopes with us we also get a glimpse of their fears. Think of the fears that these kids have in their life, it’s frightening. Do you think that the void left by the hope that has been torn from them is replaced by fear? I believe it has.

We see the outward sign of those fears daily and wonder why that kid is running from our room, or out the building. Do they trust us enough to come back on their own or do we add to their fear by threatening or humiliating them when they return, or do we welcome them back? That difference says a lot about you in the eyes of these children.

Let’s all work in helping these kids find their own hope so while with us they can reflect, sometime in their own future, back to the time spent with us as a significant moment in their life’s journey.

Staff, thanks for all you do for the children entrusted to our care, job

John J. O'Brien
Principal, Manson Northwest Webster
Rabiner Treatment Center
1762 Johnson Ave.
Ft. Dodge, IA 50501

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Future Is Now.... For Education

There has been much talk within and outside the walls of Manson Northwest Webster about what education should look like. Many within the community experienced education that looks like the picture below. Straight rows, lecture based, listening to the “all knowing teacher.” That was the education that many of us grew up in. So what should education look like, sound like, feel like? This becomes the debate for many.

Jeff Utech, the blogger of gave his viewpoint after being posed this question by an educator, “will teachers ever be replaced by machines.” His response was. We are not going to be replaced by machines, but individual teachers will be replaced by communities of learners. In those communities everyone will be a teacher and everyone will be a learner. Wow, a community of learners, what a concept! What does this community look like? In my mind it feels and looks more “work-like.” Many of us everyday go to work as part of a “community of learners” working collaboratively for a common goal or working to solve a common problem. (Additional information on this subject can be found at! )

Curtis Wong, from the website writes about the future school day. Curtis says the following about what education should look like: The teacher is more of a coach and provides suggestions for areas to explore rather than giving answers to questions. Students are challenged and seek out resources to help themselves to understand and build the solutions that help them make progress to understanding bigger problems. This is a great vision of what a community of learners would look like. Is the teacher important in this environment? Heck yes, very important, very needed, but very much part of the learning community but as a lead learner.

I also want to take a minute to reference a blog post from Jeff Dicks, Superintendent of Schools for Newell Fonda, which turned into a sophomore English class project. Jeff blogged on MLK and What is Your Dream? All of Jeff’s statements pertained to education, I have included some his highlights. Moving At The Speed of Change blog can be viewed at
•That people stop others when they begin to talk negative about education while not knowing facts
•That students embrace and excel with the tools we provide
•That our students can connect with learners from all over the United States
•That business and industry connect with schools to move change

Mr. Richman’s sophomore English class piggybacked off of this post with the following, “I Have A Dream” statements.
•I have a dream that one day cancer will no longer exist. -Maranda Olson
•I have a dream that someday people will stop abusing kids. -Miranda Simpson
•I have a dream that people won’t be afraid to be themselves, instead of being what other people want them to be. - Callie Paterson
•I have a dream that school bullying will end completely. - Garret Carman
•I have a dream that when a little girl is born, no matter where she is born, no matter what nationality she is, no matter if she can see or can't, can hear or can't, she will be treated as an equal and not placed in a category and judged. - Melissa Johnson
•I have a dream that happiness will rain over all the unhappy people in the world. - Drake Harman
•The rest of the I Have a Dream statements from this sophomore class can be viewed at

How has education changed within the walls of Manson Northwest Webster. Below are some links to learning that is taking or has taken place. These projects show a shift away from random facts, lecture based experiences, where students are sitting and getting, to learning experiences that are more a “community of learners” in nature, to learning experiences where the students are more in charge of their learning. Has Manson Northwest Webster mastered this? Are we at the end of our journey? NO, but we are most certainly off to a good start. The Future Is Now!

As Lilies Fade, blog
What evers NEW!, blog
Imported Beef, video project
Newton’s Laws of Motion, video project
7th Grade Symbaloo
7th Grade Symbaloo
Modern Warfare, website
Euthanasia, video project
Something Eargasmic!, blog
Virtual Reality images,