Rules of Engagement

1. Know your students names. You have the latitude to mispronounce them once. In many cultures all of ones ancestry and history are embedded in a name.

2. Before launching into the year, find out something about whom they are and life outside of school. Things like what languages are spoken at home, what kind of music they listen to, or what they imagine they will be doing 10 years from now. These are not ice breakers. They are relationship builders.

3. Learn to listen not merely hear. Silences are important spaces in between. They communicate meaning as well.

4. Observe like a point guard with court sense: who does most of the talking and who stays quiet. Don’t monopolize the floor. Distribute it.

5. Pay more attention to the questions than the answers. Questions are the language of curiosity. The trick is to cultivate the art of posing and pursuing complex questions.

6. Distribute expertise. Everyone has something they love, that makes them happy, that inspires. Could be the kid in the back with a perpetual yawn who is a master chess player. Or the girl with the quiet eyes who never talks, but is a budding poet. Distribute expertise and knowledge, and enthusiasm will spread, like democracy, when legitimate opportunities are created.

7. Curiosity. Pledge allegiance to the most important element of the learning process. Use every verb in your arsenal to seed it. Then watch it germinate. It s a perennial plant in the garden of becoming human.

8. You can’t fake it. Either you are passionate and deeply committed to what you do. Or aren’t. Both are obvious. And kids, as Hemingway said of writing, are consummate  crap detectors.

9. Make connections. Eschew information without context. It only serves to reinforce knowledge as a textbook of linear facts with questions to answer at the end of the chapter. Life is not organized according to subjects. Help them see the natural linkages to what they are learning and the world they are inhabiting.

10. Be an advocate and a mentor. A guide and a coach. Don’t be a friend. Don’t blur boundaries. Kids will let you set the bar higher if you respect and support them.

About David Penberg

David Penberg is an urban and international educational leader. He has held leadership roles in non-profits, community-based organizations, independent, international and charter schools, and in higher education. He has a deep grounding in progressive education, the cross-cultural experience and leadership development. Dr. Penberg has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He was a fellow in the Carey Leadership Program at Bank Street College (1982-84) and Klingenstein Fellow for International School Heads at Teachers College, Columbia University (2008). He was the founding director of the nationally recognized Liberty Partnerships Program at Bank Street College. Since then, Penberg has held posts as Head of Studies and Head of School in international schools in Mexico City and Barcelona. He was most recently the Head of School at Innovate Manhattan Charter School in the lower east side and is an adjunct at Pace University’s Teaching Fellows program. He abides by Auden's dictum "We were put on earth to make things."
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