As I have mentioned before, I am in the last phase of earning a PhD in psychology and applying it to secondary education. In previous phases of my education, I have written many papers. Sometimes there is stuff you like that you wrote but it is deemed inappropriate for the paper I was writing. However, some of this stuff I liked so I saved it, hoping to use it at a later date. Perhaps in another paper. It never happened. So I thought I would share it here. It may be a little to autobiographical and maybe a little ego investment. However, I believe it reveals a little about my process and views towards education. I hop that you enjoy it and I would love some feedback on this experimental writing.
Land surveying is a good example of this practice outside of education. Land surveying is similar to teaching mathematics in several ways. First of all, the nature of surveying is 50% procedural and 50% concepts. Similarly, concepts lead to procedures, much like teaching mathematics. In the practice of land surveying in the field, all jobs can be done proceduraly, unless something unknown is thrown into the equation. For example, if a surveyor turns angle that hits a tree or a building, procedure must be broken and new calculation must be made. In this type of situation, the person in charge has two options; call an office engineer to recalculate the missing point or points or the field surveyor, knowing the concept, can recalculate the new point himself. Therefore, it is obvious which option is more expedient. In turn, it is most efficient if the entire crew knows the concepts behind the procedures they perform.
In most cases, many surveying crew members are only high school educated and are mostly poor high school math students. Occasionally, the concept could be explained abstractly and, since the crew member knew what was trying to be accomplished, the crewmember has an immediate understanding. However, often this is not the case. When this happens, the use of free-hand diagrams, walking the area to be surveyed, or using the provided maps and diagrams can further explain the concept.
However, the classroom had fewer natural opportunities for natural demonstrations, as compared to field land surveying. However, the student experiences are very similar. That is, there are few students that can understand a mathematical concept by just showing an abstract definition. For the rest, some physical demonstrations must be made. This when the teacher must be rather creative in giving demonstrations that match the concept. Similar to the survey crew members, some students require several layers of representations before the concept is fully understood.
Dreaming, Active Imagination and Me
When I started doing dreamwork in late 2009, I had never even heard of Active Imagination. However, over the next five years, it became probably my strongest tool of personal growth.
In the Fall of 2009, my wife was watching an episode of Oprah! On the show was an author named Rodger Kammanetz. He was promoting a book called The History of Last Night’s Dream. He spoke of the importance of respecting dreams and using them as a spiritual resource. During his talk, he mentioned an organization called North of Eden, located near Eden, Vermont. Part of the organization is a website with the address of NorthofEden.com. On the site, it offered the opportunity to have a dream analyzed for free. My wife immediately took the plunge. After some consideration, I followed suit in December 2009. When I started, I thought to myself, “This is kinda interesting but I have nothing I really need to work on.” I could not have been more wrong.
A few months later, I decided to take the work to a new and deeper level. I was invited to participate in Dream Retreat in Vermont. The experience was an eye-opening experience. All the participants met with each other the entire week. We discussed dreams. We acted out each other dreams. We discussed what was happening in our dreams and what they meant to us. We talked about lives, the good stuff and the terrible stuff. I was amazed by the honesty and the raw emotions. I was amazed where these interactions took me and where I made a conscious effort to avoid. I have never cried so much. I have never seen others cry so much. I met some people who seemed whole and balanced. I met people that seemed almost delusional. I met people who set themselves apart but having the best intuition I have ever seen. Some were just odd in my eyes. By the end of the week, I was really starting to see who were beginning a path to wholeness and who, like me, were mere novices. In the end, it gave great perspective of what this kind of work looked like and where we are intending to go.
Over the next five years, my dream work became the catalyst to many positive changes in my life. At the time that my dream work began, I working as a land surveyor for a city in Northern California. The pay and benefits were really good but I was very unhappy. I was doing a job that I could do well but I was not always doing my best. I believe something unconscious was causing me to make small mistakes in my work and have disagreements with my bosses, partly due to my immediate supervisor being a perfectionist, which was the polar opposite of what I was at the time. It was a job I could do but I had no passion for it.
Within a few months, I was convinced, through dreams and discussions with my dream mentor, that I should pursue a Master’s degree in Psychology, with an emphasis on Sports Psychology. This completely made sense because I had always loved sports and I really enjoyed the psychological side of sports. This marriage of ideas resulted in some great results; I received my degree within 18 months of starting and I graduated with a 3.9 GPA. (I graduated with 2.6 GPA in my undergraduate program, with a rocky 0.25 GPA to start my degree.)
After graduating, while continuing my career as a high school mathematics teacher, I looked for work as a sports psychologist. I could not find any that fit my current situation. In the meantime, I started coaching our high school’s volleyball and tennis teams. Using the things I had learned from my education and dream work, the teams I helped coach were rather successful. The volleyball team made the state playoffs for the first time in the school’s history and the tennis team won the first round of the regional tournament, also school’s first time.
A few months later, my mentor recommended that I apply to work on a PhD. When I heard this from him, I smiled because it felt good that someone thought so highly of my potential. However, inside of me, I felt unworthy of such a lofty goal. I was not sure if was trying to inspire me or he thought that I had a chance to do something great. It was something I could not see for myself. In any case, I asked for information from the University of Georgia, Saybrook University and Pacifica University. Georgia, my undergraduate alma mater and the nearest university to my home, never responded back. Meanwhile, Saybrook and Pacifica talked me into applying. My mentor told me, “If I was to do it all over again, I would go to Pacifica.” With that in mind, I applied to both schools. Within weeks, both schools accepted me. At first, Saybrook offered me a $1000 scholarship. I was still not sure. A few days later, when Saybrook offered me a $5000 scholarship, I was sold. (This was the first and only scholarship I have ever received.)
However, education was not the only change that was prompted by my dream work. I had some changes in my professional life. When I was early in my Masters’ degree, I was a land surveyor for a city in California. On the surface, my life was good; good-paying job, great benefits including plenty of vacation time and living in the most perfect weather I have ever seen. Despite all of this, I was very unhappy. I was always disagreeing with my immediate supervisor. I second-guessed just about every decision he made. Meanwhile, I had a few life-changing dreams.
First of all, I had several dreams where I was teaching in a school or I was on my way to get a teaching job. From these dreams, and some conversations with my mentor, that my true professional passion was teaching high school. I had left teaching a few years previous because I was disappointed about its low pay. However, in the years since, I really missed teaching and interacting with teenagers. I decided that I needed to return to teaching. Since it was now my passion expressed passion, I no longer cared how much I got paid. Through the dream work, I had learned that, if it was truly an expression of my inner Self, then things would work out to my highest advantage.
In addition, I had another dream where I saw in big letters (made of macaroni) a sign that said, “Go Home.” Although I was born in Norfolk, Va., I saw Athens, Ga., as the place that felt like home to me. After milling over these two dreams, my wife and I agreed that the wisest thing to do for us was to move to Georgia and get a teaching job. I applied to several school systems in Georgia and waited. I waited despite friends in Georgia telling us that some teachers were getting laid off there. One Sunday, as we were entering a restaurant for lunch, a region supervisor for DeKalb County School system in Stone Mountain, Ga., called and asked me how soon could I get to Georgia. I told her that I would we would be there in a month. That was September 2010 and have been employed by this district ever since. Despite all the struggles I have as a result of the move, it was probably one of the wisest things I have ever done. Every struggle I had I saw as an opportunity for growth. I owe so much to the discovery of Jungian dream work.
At the point where I first learned the basics about Active Imagination, I was finishing a Master’s degree in sports and performance psychology. During my pursuit of this degree, I started wondering how I could combine my loves at the time; sports and Jungian dream work. At the time, I envisioned becoming a sports psychologist and helping young athletes over their personal psychological issues as they tried to improve their performances in their sport. (Near the end of the pursuit of the degree, I was helping coach girls’ high school volleyball. As I watched the community coach do his work, I thought about writing a book describing how Carl Jung would coach a sport if he were not a psychologist.) I soon learned how hard it would be to break into sports psychology at my age and with no experience or exposure to elite athletes. It then occurred to me that it could be applied to my current career, teaching high school mathematics.
The Guynn Approach to High School Mathematics
With conventional teaching setting the tone and providing the model for my teacher, I started my teaching career in January 2000 in northern California. After working very hard on a degree in mathematics education for four years, I showed up to my first school, they handed me my class rolls and teacher edition textbooks, showed my rooms and kids and said, “Now go teach.” There were no fancy introductions or warnings. They just put me to work. After being taught all that theory, it really just came down to using my wits and my knowledge of mathematics. The only advice came from a seasoned math teacher who gave me the best advice I have ever received for teaching; “The key to teaching is showing that you love them without really saying those words.” I have varied that theme at times but that pretty much sums up my teaching philosophy.
The general structure of my classroom teaching is very similar to Marzano’s four-part lesson plan. The class starts with a warm-up, is followed by instruction, which is then followed by student practice and ending with a closing of some kind. However, in my case, this framework is a flexible structure that bends to the needs of the classroom and its human contents. Also, Marzano’s foundation is to teach only with methods that are backed by research and standard practices. The Guynn Method’s foundation is to teach with simplicity and flexibility and replace “research-based” with following one’s gut and common sense. Marzano’s system relies on logic, while the Guynn approach relies on heart.
The warm-up in a conventional mathematics classroom consists of several problems from previously learned math concepts. I feel that this intimidates and raises anxiety in most math students. It reminds them that they are in a place they do not really enjoy. Therefore, the Guynn approach takes an approach that is based on Lockhart’s math definition of “detecting patterns.” This is accomplished by presenting a dream, quote, song lyric, poetry or any type of visual art to the class. The students are then asked to respond to the art form with their own personal symbolic interpretation. This essentially warms up their minds and is, therefore, the student is ready to attack some mathematics.
The middle part of the class is almost the duplicate of the conventional classroom; instruction and practice. However, the influence of the opening changes the atmosphere of the class a little. By using the different type of opening, students tend to feel more comfortable in the classroom with the teacher. This leads to a more trusting environment because students feel that the work has been assigned for their benefit rather than an attempt to control them. This trust usually increases as the semester proceeds forward.
The next step in the classroom routine is the closing. With about 10 minutes left in the period, the students are instructed to write a journal entry. For these classes, a journal entry are given the following instructions; “On a piece of paper, give a description of what happened in class today, using your favorite mode of creativity. When I say creativity, I mean it can be a story, a cartoon, a joke, a dialogue with a concept or a part of you, etc. It will be graded 50% for its math content and 50% for its creativity.” (There will be more details on this later in this paper.)
It is also important to point out that this routine is not a template of any kind. It is only a loose framework. In my experience, there is never just one way to teach anything mathematical. There are several ways to present the concepts and sometimes many of these can be used on one class. By the same token, no two classes should ever be carbon copies of the other. The teacher should be able to change things whatever way she or he sees fit at any point.
The preceding paragraphs are about the structure and routine of the classroom. However, there are other things that make this approach different from others. First, the framework leaves room for other types of assessment other than paper and pencil testing. This is the first option but certainly not the only option. This method allows other types of testing like group testing, group projects (like a PowerPoint presentation) or mathematics-based group activities. Of course, it is also open to any other type of non-traditional testing.
Another part of this approach that is different from conventional teaching is the de-emphasis on standardized testing. The goal of teaching high school mathematics is not to become junior mathematicians, although this happens in many cases. The purpose of high school mathematics education is to build better citizens through using mathematics to show students how to think abstractly. State tests and college entrance exams are not necessarily part of that equation. However, if the education is done right, then it could lead to better scores as a secondary consequence. This is a truth that is hard many parents, students and administrators to accept but, in my experience and view, it is an essential truth.
I start off the class by drawing a large circle on the board. About an inch inside the original circle, I draw another concentric circle. I label the area between these two circles as the Persona. I then draw a much smaller concentric circle inside the bigger circles and label that as the Self. I then draw a line that separates the larger circles into two regions such that the upper region is much smaller than the lower region. This line must not intersect the Self-circle at any point. I label the upper region as the conscious mind and the lower region as the unconscious mind.
I then start to define all the regions;
- The persona is the part of a personality that displays all the things about the person that he or she wants her outside world to know about. For example, the clothes one wears, the car that you drive, the house and neighborhood you live in and other things that are reflections that the person feels that they are. It is the layer that protects a person from the outside world that may judge the true contents in a negative way.
- The Self is area that holds all the things that are deeply important to the person. It contains what the person is really about and what its life purposes are. It is what a person strives to find out their entire life. Some people believe it is where God exists inside of them. For these people, this where the Soul resides.
- The conscious mind is all the things you have experienced and can remember quickly and on demand.
- The unconscious mind is all the things you have experienced and cannot remember. It many cases, the person believes that this information is gone forever. I point out at this point that, if you experienced it, it probably exists in one of those places. I also point out that some of the information there can never be retrieved.
After explaining the terms, I relate that Carl Jung (1969) once stated that there are only three ways to become aware of the contents of the unconscious; through dreams, fantasies and Active Imagination. With this as a backdrop, I then state that I believe that memories contained in the unconscious can be retrieved in a limited number of ways. The prominent of these are a deep needs and strong emotions. For example, if a person feels he or she will die or suffer pain if he or she does not retrieve certain important information, then the information quickly rises to the surface. Also, if the information is tied closely to love, hate or fear, then it can be quickly retrieved. Therefore, if one can find a way to love the subject matter (or maybe hate it strong enough), then it can be more easily retrieve for, say, a test.
I then tell them about something that I like to call “unconscious reading.” This is where I read things quickly without immediately comprehending it, at least not consciously. I let my unconscious mind read the passage and store it where it sees fit. Then, when I feel I could really need it, I can probably retrieve it for a paper such as this one.
Of course, these latter theories are of my own composition and may or may not be true. I have done little or no research, formally or informally, on the matter but my experience convinces me that these theories are at least partially true.
While I have planted the previous seed, I move onto the idea that, as the conscious mind retrieves more and more of the unconscious mind, the borderline between conscious and unconscious moved towards the bottom of the big circle. When it does this, part of the Self is revealed to the conscious mind. It is at this point that the person starts to realize his or her life’s purpose. Once again, this is a theory of mine that has not been proved or verified but is an extension of Jung’s views.