Paradigm #3 – Conditioned to Compete

As we survey our cultural landscape it is hard not see our world without the lens of competition. It dominates the airwaves as political parties clash for votes, sports teams become the pillars of entertainment, and it even seeps into the very fabric of our educational system and our classrooms. Our society has conditioned countless generations on the psychology of competition. This paradigm of scarcity, benefits no one and self-imposes limits on a pie that does not need to shrink.

Competition is not bad in all contexts and is certainly not bad when held in healthy perspective. What has become fearfully apparent is the utter failure of a forced, contrived competitive mindset into our educational system. Accountability, as word in education, over the past two decades has become synonymous with competition. Competition is peddled as a cure-all to the ills facing our education system. Competing for school funds, competing for students into our school district, offering school choice, etc… I’m all for accountability, I use it in my mentorships as way to ensure mutual growth…not growth at the expense of others. The false narrative around the oxymoron ‘competitive accountability’ continues through the remaking of teacher and administrative evaluations today tied to student success on standardized assessments. Creating a system based on ‘extrinsic competitive’ motivators is easy to do and the results are plain; winners and losers.

Yet, is our education system designed to produce winners and losers? I hope we can agree that is not the case… Learning and education are both relational enterprises, a relationship built on the foundation of mutual cooperation for mutual growth. Competition’s place in this equation should be in a private form, where we push ourselves, personally, to grow in our capacity as a learner, not try to prevent the growth of another.

Creating a system that expands the pie of opportunity for all students, all parents, all teachers, all administrators, all policy makers, all businesses, all stakeholders in the future of our country must be our goal, we should hold ourselves accountable to nothing less. This is a tall, utopian task we may never see fulfilled, but it starts with us. It starts with a shift in our paradigm, from one of scarcity to one of possibility fulfilled through mutual cooperation that generates societal synergy.

Over this past year I was deeply convicted about this paradigm as I think about the agricultural education program I’m involved in guiding. We recently, passed a significant bond that will create huge enhancements for our specific program and we have been planning for these improvements and new building for the past two years. After I visited with elementary school stakeholders during several public bond meetings over the course of the semester I quickly came to realize how narrow-minded and honestly competitively-minded our bond vision had been for the fulfillment of our specific agricultural education program vision and needs.

These conversations during the public bond meetings, caused a deep shift in my paradigm. We could definitely construct a new agricultural education facility, but how can we ensure that we maintain a level of retention of our young families in the community and continue to attract new families who will keep that facility filled with eager learners? It was then I decided to become active in our local PTO as a future father and offer my sweat and service to fulfill desperately needed improvements for the elementary school that was not offered through the bond. My biggest takeaway from this experience, the pie only gets larger when we cooperate. When we see others less as competitive rivals for the same piece of the pie and begin discussing ways to make the most of the pie we have, its amazing at how quickly we can acquire the ingredients together to make a new, larger pie.

Reflect for a moment to our classrooms and schools. Where do we need to change our mindset from one of ‘competitiveness’ to one of ‘cooperativeness’? How can we infuse that shift into our own daily life?

Teacher Challenge: It is easy to create a “competitive” review game. Change it up and try to design a cooperative challenge that forces students to work together and not against. 

Learner Challenge: Understanding the psychology of competition is important. Dive into the link below for a quick primer on the topic:

Paradigm #2 – Education is Viewed Transactionally

As I reflect on my time as a student both in K-12 and college, I’m struck at how pervasive this mindset was for me. I often obsessed more about the grade than the learning. There were moments I choose not to take an academic risk because it didn’t fit the rubric. I think about what I may have lost in the pursuit of a GPA.

Now being an educator, I’m faced with the dilemma that grades don’t truly encapsulate the complete learning process. It evaluates a product of learning, which in of itself is not bad, but it becomes problematic when the student feels there is only “one” proper product of their learning. True, there are historical dates, scientific laws, and certain mathematical problems that do have only one correct answer and there is a place for teaching and learning these concepts for foundational knowledge. Yet, education is filled with many more topics and problems that do not have such a linear answer or end product. In life outside the school walls, this holds true, where there are almost no clear answers to the daunting issues facing our world.

The danger now is the expectation that once I have submitted “this proper product” I must receive the grade I desire or that now I will increase my earning power. Culture has created the expectation that we must receive immediate tangible results for the effort we put forth. This transactional paradigm towards education leaves many without an understanding that learning is a continual process that does not end with the submission of a project or the entering of the grade. How can we begin chipping away at this deeply entrenched paradigm? Below is a phrase from Mark Reardon, a learning facilitator trainer:

“We are what we honor.”
Honor rolls (GPA-based) and Valedictorian (GPA-based)…these are not bad things, but we must consider if these are what we will choose to honor above all else. I don’t know my answer to this question yet, but I’ll pose it anyway: How could we honor the learning process more in education, more in our classrooms? 
Teacher Challenge: How might you be able to create intrinsic motivation to complete an upcoming project or assignment without using a tangible extrinsic reward?
Learner Challenge: It is crucial we challenge ourselves as learners to see multiple sides of an issue. Below are two articles that challenge my views on this paradigm. After reading the articles, how do they change, if at all, how you interpret this paradigm?

Bus 02 Adventures – Wintery Teamwork for Student Success

Thank you to all those who drive buses in the horrid weather conditions we have gotten recently! These past few weeks have been stressful at times as I’ve scouted various approaches to the icy hills on our rural bus routes. As a school bus driver there is a tremendous responsibility in transporting students to and from school. We are the first faces that students see that will set the tone of the day and the last school staff that says good bye.

It takes a team to make a school work and bus drivers are just one of many essential players. If the weather is poor and the busses keep pushing on…be sure to thank those at the wheel who make getting our students to school safely and on-time!

Take care,

Paradigm #1 – Relationship of Economic Performance and Education

If you were to research the academic literature related to educational policy, you would find that a main talking point is the correlation of education to economic progress. Though I do not disagree with the main premise of this position, what is disconcerting, is the obsessive focus on using economic performance measures to make assumptions about both the quality and aim of our educational system. This by no means is a new paradigm, hark back to the landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, to see that this paradigm has existed in some form for the last several decades.

Currently, within the field of economics they are confronting an internal debate about the very validity of the economic measures we have staked our educational futures on. What a growing chorus of economic scientists are insisting is that the economic performance measures used today may not only be inaccurate, but may be mismeasuring our lives to a point that social and policy decisions made based on the economic data could lead to harmful, unintended effects on society as a whole.

Where does that leave us in education?

There is strong research to indicate that, yes in fact, education provides a strong basis for economic progress. Yet, should that be the aim of education, to provide for economic progress? Or is economic progress simply one of many beneficial corollary effects of a robust education system? What happens if education becomes laser focused on one of the corollary effects?

Let’s use the natural process of the honey bee to explore this concept of corollary effects further. To survive, a honey bee collects pollen and nectar to provide energy stores for the rest of the hive. In the process our honey bee transfers pollen caught on its hairs to other flowers pollinating them to produce fruits and seeds. The benefits of pollination are a corollary effect of the bee’s efforts to gather its hive’s energy stores. However, in our fictional world, the bees suddenly decide that they really want to just focus on pollination because they like to see the fruit and seeds grow. What happens then? They’ll probably pollinate quite a few flowers…for a little while, but they will die and so will the hive. No one would argue of the benefits provided by pollination, yet can we not see the insanity of the bees if that was their only focus?

Therefore, we must urge for caution in getting too caught up in calling for massive ‘reform’ of education to pursue what is simply a corollary effect. That will leave us in no better position. The time is ripe for a reframing and a sincere dialogue about the aim of education in our country. The process of reframing this paradigm can start in our classrooms.

Teacher Challenge: Think and reflect about what you feel the aim of education could or should be? Each of us has a stake in the future of education and we must practice the art of articulating our visions for the moment we are asked.

Learner Challenge: Let’s challenge ourselves to learn more about how we measure economic performance. I was amazed at how little I knew as I started to dig into this paradigm piece more. Below is a small smattering of accessible resources you could read for additional learning.

Additional Reading:

Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up

Shattering Paradigms

On Tuesday January 16, 2018 an important conference was held for educational policy makers entitled: ‘Bush-Obama school reform: lessons learned’. At the conference the hope was to uncover what were the highlights of a fairly heated and deeply controversial era for education that effected all corners of our country. Honestly, I’m not too concerned with their findings…we have spent the last century of education in America rehashing the same battles with different technology and different names at the helm. If we look at the paradigm shift graph, that translates to us having been in phase two for quite some time.
What concerns me is the deeply entrenched paradigms that exist about education in our society. These if not addressed will continue to wreck havoc on any attempt to ‘reform’ education. Yet, lest we forget, the ‘reform’ we truly need is a heart and mind check in how we view education, learning, and teaching in a broader societal context. What are these paradigms?
Below is a short list that I have pondered and reflected on throughout my very, very (strong emphasis on the very) brief time engaged in this education journey. As others reflect please let me know of others you see or have experienced. Remember, we are at stage two…the exciting part of the journey may just be around the corner, but it will never take root if these paradigms are not addressed in a sincere manner. My hope is to take a few of my future blog posts to flesh out the thesis of each paradigm. 
1. Education is about economic advancement for without a strong education system we will fall behind as a nation: Almost every measurement metric and accountability methodology is based in this paradigm. What happens if education is about creating better people? Then could we accept that the metrics and methodologies we use are inadequate for that purpose?
2. We have conditioned a generation to think transactionally: I will do this for an ‘A’. I’m doing this right now because I’ve been told to do it and I want that etc… Why has an unhealthy social media relationship arisen with this generation? These tools fulfill the desire for an immediate transaction. That quick like or snap. Can we condition for internal motivation? The human spirit is capable of many things…why not desire for something greater?
3. Everything is limited, therefore we must compete: Students compete against one another for recognition…schools compete against one another for funds…teachers compete for kids in their programs…policy makers compete to be the next thought leader in education…compete…compete…  
4. Bunker mentality, all around: Everywhere we look it is an us vs. them mentality. Look at the screens on television that depict the modern teacher and student dynamic, unfortunately it is usually never in a positive light. I’ve heard in more professional development conferences than I can count that when parents are brought up in conversation the room becomes charged and there is an obvious change of state that would make any parent uncomfortable. Then I’ve been engaged in parental groups that quickly seethe at teachers and how deeply they are failing their kids. Then, we have policy makers so far and away disengaged from the classroom that it causes distrust by educational stakeholders. The list could continue…   
5. Siloing of education and broader society: We have created academic silos and it has seeped into our broader society. These knowledge silos are stifling a lot more than just political discourse. It may be hindering innovative advancement for society…that is where the true danger lies. The greatest moments of historical transformational change in society, science, education, medicine, and all other areas can be traced to the cross-pollination of existing knowledge which has borne fruit into groundbreaking advancements. 
I’m excited to dedicate future posts to further exploration of these paradigms. Today ponder…how have I helped entrench these paradigms in my classroom? How will I shatter them? 
Curae (Take care),
Agimus tibi Dominus (Anthony Meals)
Mr. Meals Notes:
Recently, I’ve officially joined the #CompelledTribe in their educator blogger community. I’m excited at the opportunity to grow with this great group of inspiring educators. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the tribe!  
Works Cited:

Teaching Cognitive Skills

Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote above rings truer today than ever. Teaching how to think…developing those crucial cognitive skillsets.

There is no question that educators, administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders see the value in preparing students with these skills, but the question lingers in how to best assess those cognitive skills?

The National Academy of Sciences stakes out in a 2011 workshop summary report entitled, Assessing 21st Century Skills; that there are three cognitive skills that should be assessed. These cognitive skills include: non-routine problem solving, systems thinking, and critical thinking. The report goes further into four assessment examples that could be used by students. These testing examples are fascinating and I’d be curious in how students would perform on them.

As a teacher who prepares seven different classes each day and with colleagues who do the same we must ask ourselves, how do we realistically help students gain these cognitive skills in the limited time and preparation time we have for each day. Not to just do well on an exam, but to do well in life. Research studies abound about how students do not naturally transfer information from one topic area to another…they have to be taught and practice it.

Teacher Challenge: Choose one upcoming topic you’ll teach and integrate another subject area that students could apply their learning through.

Learner Challenge: Find a study at this link, that peeks your interest. Reflect on how it may influence your practice in the classroom. (I’ve chosen to read Approaches to the Development of Character)   

Works Cited:

National Academy of Sciences 2011 Workshop Summary:

Kindred Kettle Spirit ~ Life’s Manifesto

At the start of the New Year our whole teaching staff received training on the 7 Habits. One of the challenges we had were to select an object that explained our personal mission statement or our life’s manifesto. Below is the capture of my thoughts in a draft:

“Kindred Kettle Spirit ~ Life’s Manifesto” By: Anthony Meals

Our missions so similar,
to prepare and equip for positive change,

The kettle raising water to a temperature worthy of a good brew,
And I raising a generation who will lead profound social change,

Both our work cannot be contained,

The kettle must unselfishly and generously pour out its work to make its masterpiece,
I too must willingly and eagerly pour out my time, gifts, and heart,
to both those around me and for those coming after me,

Both of our missions cannot continue without refilling,

The kettle must have a constant source of water if it is to fulfill its purpose,
I too require refilling through rest, companionship with family and friends, and reading works that expand my heart and strengthen my mind,

We both must make certain we are filled by good works,

A kettle filled with milk or orange juice will produce disgust,
I too must be cautious of what I allow in my heart and mind,
for they say that rubbish in … will only be rubbish out,

Finally, both of us and our missions were designed by a maker,

The kettle was designed by an engineer and created with material made to withstand the heat and pressure of its work,
I too was designed by a loving God, my creator, to fulfill the mission he has placed in my heart,

To him be all the glory. Amen.


If you have not taken time yet to reflect on your own personal mission, do so. It doesn’t come from one sit-down, but continuous grappling. Jot some notes today in a journal and get that first start.

Take care,
Anthony Meals

Learning Through History

If I had not been an Agricultural educator, I would have became a social studies teacher. My passion for history and our mutual past began as a fourth grade student. This young love blossomed from the dedication of three teachers who shared its stories, helped us recreate that history in a living museum, and experience the physical space of history by visiting hallowed sites of our past.

History though is not something strictly for a social studies classroom. It belongs in each and every classroom and content area. The past grounds us in context and allows us to build community within our classroom from a shared story. In agriculture we explore historical trends that are rooted in centuries of agricultural practice. We explore how the current meat processing came to be by exploring paintings and photographs taken from the turn of the century.

These explorations blast open the doors of learning for students and have led to some of our most profound ‘aha’ moments in our classroom.

As we prepare for this age of rapid transformation and change in society, we must appreciate that others have trodden this path before. I dare you to read the accounts of society during the heat of the Industrial Revolution. Though through our lens we would say that their changes came at a snails pace, when placed into their context and time, change was occurring rapidly and at a dizzying pace for many.

Teacher Challenge: How could you incorporate history into an upcoming topic you will teach?   

Learner Challenge: Pick a book that digs into our past and that has relevance to our world today. (Those looking for an outstanding book recommendation, I’ve just finished reading David McCullough’s The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.)

Agimus tibi Dominus

Principle #4 – I Build Community

Learning does not happen in a vacuum. All learning is relational.

“Learning happens in relationship with others.
“The quality and quantity of learning is a function of the 
quality of the relationships in which the learning takes place.” 
p. 26 The Choice: In Teaching and Education  

When a student enters the classroom, they do not bring only themselves. In many cases, they bring their parents perspectives, their peers’ influences, and what knowledge they have gained from others on their life journey thus far.

To ignore these facts and failure to build community within our classrooms and beyond come at a dear cost to the learning process. Again though, community must encompass more than the teacher and student. It should also include, parents, other teachers, and fellow community stakeholders. It truly takes a village to raise a child…so why does our current day education system not reflect this?

How can create community in our classrooms that prepare our youth for the greater community they will enter as adults?

Each person has a stake in the education of our youth, what are we doing to ensure their wisdom and experience is passed to this upcoming generation? 

Agimus tibi Dominus

Principle #3 – I See Greatness

What do I see when I look around the classroom? Do I see objects? Do I sense trouble?

Or do I see students whose lives are as deep and rich as mine? Whose passions and personal context can speak into my own life? Will I push them up to greater heights or will I pull them down with pointlessness?

These are the core questions we face in Principle #3 – I See Greatness.

This principle challenges us to see our students not merely as that, students…but as fellow human beings. Fellow human beings who have as much to teach us as we have to teach them.

When I look around the room I hope to see not merely students, but mentors. I’m not afraid to say how often a new insight I have gained from working with these young mentors. Whether that was in the shop or learning about genetics anew. At times we expect too little of our students today. Lest we forget many of the life-changing figures in the past and our present who started their impactful journey before they would have even graduated high school.

And don’t dare try to tell me that it is simply that society has changed…that is a cop out. Others will rise to the occasion and the expectations we design. (The caveat being that we have a relationship in place with them to do so!) 

We have the power daily to decide if we will see and seek GREATNESS in those we are to teach and learn from. In the same hand we are the only ones with the power to take that decision away for ourselves. I will close this post with a quote from The Choice: In Teaching and Education

“My focus should be on the greatness of others, and in my role as teacher, on the greatness of those I would teach.

This is the way I myself approach greatness — not by seeking for it myself, but by learning to see and appreciate it around me.” (p. 54) 

Agimus tibi Dominus