A lot of my time is spent facilitating professional development. I present within and outside of my own district. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to present within my county and up and down California. Recently I was able to do so on the other side of the country. I tell you this because it is with each of these experiences that I gain new knowledge to grow forward. Every single one of these experiences has been unique. I believe the main reason is because we are in a "people business". When working with people, there is so much unpredictability involved and I kind of love it. Recently, my Superintendent friend posed a question on Facebook regarding PD plans. Reading through the feed, it seems like no one has yet to figure out the formula for complete success.
I do not have the answer, I wish I did. I would be in a very happy place because THAT is a crisis I would love to solve (and I would probably be pretty wealthy, too :)). What I do have are a few ideas based on my experiences.
Yesterday, a group of 60+ district administrators, site administrators, classroom teachers, RtI/Intervention teachers, student teachers and board members came together to learn and collaborate side by side. It was an incredible day filled with inspiration, collaborating, learning and fun. My head is still spinning today. One of my friends asked me what the difference was...what made it a success? I am not sure of the exact reasons, but I will share my thoughts. I felt that a blog post was warranted to answer the question.
Before we get into that, I would like to give you a bit of background. Last month, my team was tasked to run two identical trainings. The first one was a voluntary day for student teachers, the second was a "voluntary" day for our last tech adopters, who were "strongly encouraged" to go. The first day was incredible...they were eager to learn, soaked it all up and were incredibly positive. They went back to their master teachers and shared their learning. The second day, not so much. At one point, one of the teachers picked a fight with me, in front of the rest. Push back is fine, but this was done quite disrespectfully with full intent to cause a ruckus.
As I reflected on those two days, there was a clear divide between the group that wanted to be there and the group that didn't. So my question is, why do we force people to get "professional development" when we know they are not going to grow professionally from it...in fact, their actions may stunt others' growth? My other, more philosophical question is, why do people need to be forced to grow professionally? I don't have these answers and I don't have the power to make such decisions.
So let's move on and fast forward to yesterday. Let me lay it out for you.
We decided to pull together a specific group of teachers- these are teachers at our Title 1 schools and our Title 1 "like" schools. This was offered to the administrators, the classroom teachers, Literacy Coaches, RtI/Intervention teachers and student teachers at those sites. The purpose of pulling them together was to start a culture across those sites of sharing and collaborating. There is something magical when you get educators together that work with like populations. Like I said, Over 60 were in attendance!
We were incredibly lucky to bring out two of my favorite humans; Jon Corippo and Ed Campos, Jr. to work with our educators. This was important. The knowledge, credibility, relatability and inspiration factor of the presenters is key.
*Bonus- Our Assistant Superintendent of Ed services spent the morning with us. Two of our School Board members came by- One participated in all of the afternoon sessions/activities right alongside of our educators.
Full day professional learning with the overarching theme of "End of Average" based on Todd Rose's book. The focus of the day was on both ELD and Math. Math is a big push in our district right now. But if we want to create a change in math, we need to create a change in the way math is taught. This can not be done by buying a box of curriculum, purchasing a program or having a full district, publisher, blanket PD. Our teachers and students deserved better. We decided we wanted to start with a smaller sample size and if it was a success, we could grow it.
Prior to the actual day, we worked very closely with Jon and Eddie to plan both their mini-keynotes and break out sessions. The topics, philosophies and activities were carefully decided based on the need of our end users. There is nothing worse than a Professional Development planned by someone who neither understands instruction or current trends in education and/or are far removed from the classroom, teachers and students. We are fortunate in the fact that we are able to spend a lot of time in the classrooms working with teachers and students. While there, we can learn about their wants and needs as well as where they are currently and where they want to go. We used all of this information to plan out our day.
Check this out...it was on a SATURDAY! A Saturday. Why is this important? Because this means that the people who signed up and showed up WANTED to be there. This changes the WHOLE game. *They were given a very, very small stipend to attend but not enough to be the "make or break" on the decision.
To start a movement...to create a ripple...to shake things up...all for the benefit of our kids. These are our #Saturdayteachers as Jon called them. These are our change agents, they are our first followers, they are the ones that will take back what they have learned and start tomorrow...on fire. They will take risks and share forward so that we can bring others into the fold. They (as do all educators) deserve to be valued and validated by participating in worthwhile, meaningful, inspiring and relevant professional learning. One of the teachers there told her principal "This has been incredible...Let's bring Jon out to work with our whole staff, we deserve this." Good for her, because they absolutely do!
We had a clear vision, we had an administrator who let us run with it, we had teachers who were thirsting for it and we had money to put into it (and to be honest, the monetary part was pretty small, especially considering the amazing impact).
So...how do we know it was a success? Well how else...from feedback. Did we send out a survey? No. We didn't even get a chance to because throughout the day I was receiving hugs, kind words, texts, and emails full of "thank yous" and positivity. Twitter and Facebook have been filled with even more of the same. And guess what is happening?? A whole lot of #FOMO. People wondering what was going on, why they weren't included, how can they get in on the next one- THAT is how we build a culture of learning and sharing. And from the participants...they are asking for more...more...more.
So I am curious as to what the next steps will look like. I have my ideas, but I don't make decisions.
Will there be next steps? What will the support of these educators look like moving forward? I hope this didn't end yesterday. We should fan those flames and keep it moving and growing. It will be fascinating to watch and hopefully be a part of. Until then...
Last week I posted a blog: "When You Know Better" in which I was vulnerable in sharing some bad educational practices that I did in the past. That post has had the most hits than any other of mine, over the last two years. I only share this because it tells me that it resonated with people. Besides that, it has created conversations- which was one of my goals. People connect to our stories. Some have shared their #KnowBetterDoBetter stories and some have asked questions to help shift their practice. This is AMAZING!! So let's keep it going...
Last week I went on an amazing trip, but I am trying to get used to the flying part. Take off and landing are the worst for me. So this time, I tried to use that nervous energy to create something based on those above conversations.
Here I will share some more of my bad past edu-practices- in reading:
Popcorn/Round Robin Reading:
In my first few years teaching second grade, I called on students randomly to read out loud- either whole group or small group. Why? Well that is what I did in school. How else do I make sure they are following along? I was also able to hear many of my students reading, which I knew I needed to do. Why wouldn't it be a positive thing to put students on the spot, in front of me and their peers? I didn't think about the students in this activity. I didn't think about what might actually be happening. It wasn't until my daughter came to me at second grade and expressed her deep anxiety over this practice in her class, that I actually stopped to consider the end user. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: She told me that during these activities, she could not pay attention to what anyone else was reading because she was so worried that she would be called on next. She "followed along" to make sure she knew where the last person stopped. And then it clicked! She had anxiety because she struggled in reading and didn't want to be humiliated in class. I had anxiety, as a student, during this same activity- but it wasn't because I struggled with reading...it was because I was painfully shy and lacked self confidence. So it didn't matter about reading level- during this activity, there was no learning for either of us. I can't imagine that we were the only ones. If students are worried about such things (or if they are not able to read at grade level)- they are not comprehending the content, they are not improving their own decoding or fluency because they are "reading" the words while listening to someone else read. It is highly unlikely that much is getting in.
*Fun (not fun) fact: My daughter is still participating in these practices in her middle school content classes. She has asked the teachers to not call on her because of the anxiety. One teacher obliged, one did not. My kid deserves better.
So let's do better: I am a huge believer that we should be listening to our students read (especially in elementary) on an ongoing basis. I do not believe Round Robin or Popcorn reading is an authentic snapshot into our students as readers. Instead, we should spend time with students individually-listen to them read, talk to them about their reading and use that information to move them forward. HOW do we do that with X number of students? We need to create the time. If we have students working on engaging and empowering collaborative activities, it frees us up to sit with kids. To talk with kids. This doesn't need to be long: 3-5 minutes can make all the difference!
If we add tech into the mix, there are even more opportunities to hear kids read. They can use Flipgrid, (for a 45-day Flipgrid Classroom Trial use password: CORLANDO), Seesaw and now Padlet (new video feature and audio feature) to read. You can pick 5 a day to listen to, gather amazing information and give almost immediate feedback.
When I first began using small groups in reading, it was called "Guided Reading" and these groups were leveled by reading levels. People labeled these groups in different ways: some used colors, some used animals and some even labeled them "High, medium and low". No matter which way you sliced it- the students were being labeled. They would try to figure out our system and regardless if they were correct or not, their perception was their truth. "I'm in the red group, that means I'm dumb". OUCH. Was that my purpose- to label and track kids? NEVER. But I didn't know any better...
Now I know better: Labeling students is not conducive to a positive learning environment. Those labels stick well beyond the time they get slapped onto them. I have also realized the power in bringing all levels together to create rich discussions and learning experiences. Students are not a number and they are not a reading level. Most of my struggling decoders turned out to be my best critical thinkers. I would never have known this if they were always in the "purple" group and worked only on phonics day, in and day out for a year. The door to reading comprehension shouldn't be closed to them because they struggle to decode. The same goes for students who can read somewhat fluently, but struggle to understand what they are reading- if we only focus on making them more fluent- they miss out on the comprehension.
So let's do better: Midway through my career, I had a switch flip moment. I began using read alouds to introduce new skill in reading. These were not passive read alouds, but interactive (this will probably be a blog in and of itself). By doing this, ALL students could access the new learning. When I pulled small groups, they were based on skills needed. These were flexible and students could be in more than one group depending on their need. In these groups, we would work on a particular skill- first together- then they would practice it in their own independent reading book or text at their "level". I would have 5-6 students with me, reading 5-6 different books. As they would practice, I was able to tune in to each one at a time because of the close proximity. They were also able to "buddy up" and learn from each other- this also helped students to access different content and build up a desire to read along with their confidence as readers.
I could go on about each of these for pages, but I hope that I was able to explain enough to get you thinking. That's what I want...I want us thinking and willing to do different for our kids. They deserve it.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments. Share your stories- "This truth telling unlocks us."- Glennon Doyle
When you begin your career as a teacher, you quickly realize that your credential program has not adequately prepared you to work with real live children...at least for me. So what do you do? Well back in the dark ages, when I began in 2001, you held on for dear life. The only resources available were the other teachers you knew and the schooling you experienced as a student. So- that is what I based my classroom on. I was incredibly lucky to have amazing teaching partners and a principal who believed in meeting students above test scores. But I am nothing, if not honest. I could have done better.
For some of the examples that follow, I luckily learned better, while still in the classroom, and was able to make the change for students. For some, I did not come to the realization until it was too late and I was out of the classroom. I believe in what Glennon Doyle says "This truth telling unlocks people", so here I will share my truth in the hopes that it can help just one other to think differently.
I believe as educators, we know that classroom management is one of the most important pieces needed to create learning experiences for our children. One of the pieces that I used for classroom management was the behavior chart. At first it was "color cards" in which I would say "change your color", if a student was not "following my rules". Later, I saw a more innovative version in my son's class and hurried to my room to create it before the students showed up for day 1...this was the "clip chart". It was basically the same thing, except now I was asking these little hands to maneuver opening and closing clothespins after the "walk of shame". Oh...and I added "big trouble". WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Shame on me!
I will say that in every class, we only had to use those the first month of school, but now I know...that was one month too long!
Now I know better: Shaming people, especially children, doesn't work. And please understand, shaming was NEVER ever my intent- but it was the unintended consequence. It may have a short term effect of compliance, but I don't want compliant kids. I don't want students who are quiet and small because of fear. When I would do this TO students, the focus was on ME and MY rules...I can't even believe that was me. Calling students out publicly, making them walk to the front of the room for all to see, is humiliating and my heart breaks knowing that I did this to some kids. Could you imagine if these systems were in place for us as adults? Oh my gosh- I would live in the land of purple and be in "big trouble" my whole life!
So let's do better: Rather than this tactic, why don't we create classroom environments and cultures that honor students? Let's focus on getting to know them and using that information to meet their needs. Let us create engaging tasks that empower them as learners- to take hold of their own learning. If our classrooms are places that students feel welcomed and valued, there should be no need for such systems. Let's instead set up collaborative classroom cultures and have critical conversations, privately, with students when needed. *As with everything, there are outliers and special circumstances and with those we handle on a case by case basis.
Timed Math Drills
I did these as a student and at one point, I loved them. Why? Because I was successful...until I wasn't. I could not memorize my multiplication facts. I have vivid memories of my mom turned around in the passenger seat of the car, flashing flash cards at me on vacation trips. As hard as we both tried, they didn't stick. To this day, I still don't have them. But, I am forever thankful for the calculator I now carry in my pocket.
When I taught grades 2-4, I am guilty of giving those same timed math facts tests. I believe I even called them "Beat The Clock". SHAME ON ME! That's what you did, right? Not only did I give them weekly...but I had a sticker chart where I displayed where each student was. A few years in to this...I saw a different version...an iteration that I hooked on to. The way that the students' successes and failures were displayed for all to see was now in the shape of a baseball field. Much better! NOT. This was a place for me to call attention to where everyone was in the "game". WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: I really wish I could say that I figured this one out before leaving the classroom, but sadly I didn't. Putting a timer on students' skills does not equal increased fluency- in fact, for many, it has the opposite effect. These tests can cause extreme anxiety for kids. Not only that, they can be totally deflating to their confidence level. Is speed what we want students to focus on in school? Is that the skill that will carry them through life? I don't think so. So why do we make it such a focus with these math drills? Many will argue that automaticity and number fluency are needed skills- to this I agree. BUT timed math drills is not the way. Number fluency does not equal speed. Number fluency is the understanding of numbers, the fluidity. It is being able to maneuver them in different ways for meaning making.
Follow the Jon Steven's Twitter thread here.
Here is a personal example: My daughter struggles with memorization. She has not memorized math facts. What she has done, is figured out how to break numbers apart (decompose), put them back together (compose) and move them around to make sense. To me- this skill is going to take her a lot farther than spitting out answers to a clock. She can do this pretty quickly, but that is not the emphasis. She has deep number sense and problem solving skills that will take her well beyond the four walls of the classroom.
So let's do better: Why not create classroom culture where students "play with numbers"- a place where they do sense making. A place where students feel comfortable thinking in different ways- where divergent ideas are shared and honored. Multiple ways to solve are created BY students and explained BY students. Let them own their thinking and their learning. Like I said above- we all carry calculators in our pockets, why can't kids use them? If we are giving questions that end with what can be done on a calculator, we need to rethink our questions. We need to examine the tasks that we are asking students to do.
My friend Alice Keeler says "Let's teach like Google and Youtube exist." which I love. But now I add..."Let's teach like cell phones and Desmos exist". *My 8th grade daughter told me that they are NOT allowed to use calculators in math. When asked if they have used Desmos, her and her friend resonded "Is that the thing the teacher said we could use if we needed help...wait, no that was Kahn academy." We can do better, our students deserve better.
These are only two of the multiple examples that I have of bad practices that I am guilty of...this may just become a blog series. Let's see the reactions/push-back that I get.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.
We learn from each others' vulnerabilities and as educators, we are life long learners, so let's do this together.
Whenever I visit a classroom...I am not looking at the teacher, I am looking at the kids. I want to know what they are doing. Why? Because that will tell me about the learning. The person doing the work, is the person doing the learning. BUT beyond that...what IS that "work"? It matters.
When I left the classroom almost four years ago, any time I had a platform, I spoke about the 4 Cs (Critical thinking, Communicating, Collaborating and Creating)...and I still do. I am surprised how many educators are still not familiar. Every time I speak about it- I spend a little extra time on that last one. Creating. What does that mean? When I pose that question, it is usually answered with things such as art projects, maybe a slide show or two...something to be displayed. I respond with "creating doesn't necessarily mean some involved thing that is to be displayed at Open House." In fact, I hope it isn't.
Creating can come in many forms. To me, creating is any artifact of true learning. Something to show that students have analyzed, synthesized and understood in order to produce something. What is that something? It could be a conversation, it could be a letter, an essay, a comic, a skit, a song, a sketch, a discussion...the list goes on and on. What it isn't...a worksheet. It isn't fill in the blank, circle or draw a line to the correct...It isn't cut, place and paste. Our kids can do more...our kids can do better...they deserve better.
A few years ago, my friend Jon Corippo shared this idea of "Flipped Blooms" and it just made sense. Since then, I talk about it, I present on it, I share it every chance I get. I think now it is time to write about it.
Back when I went to "teacher school"- Bloom's was the "thing". We were told to use it as we lesson plan. We were told it was a continuum, that started with the most important pieces at the base, and we can move students up.
I graduated from a well know college and I honestly can't say I remember much of what I was taught. Why? I had no context in which to connect the learning to. I learned facts and theories, but I don't believe I understood. It didn't stick, and that is sad. Both of my kids have told me that it has been and is the same for them as they move up the ranks. To me, this is a tragedy.
Are my kids prepared for their future? Can they creatively problem solve? Can they take in information from different sources and DO something? I hope so, but I don't believe they had that practice in school.
"Analyze over memorize"- Alice Keeler
That hit home for me! I'm taking that one and using it! My daughter struggles with memorization, always has. Her and I have come up with different techniques for her to compensate. But here is the thing...last week, she had to memorize and "perform" the Pre-amble to the Constitution, just as her brother did and just as I did. She stressed and stressed and stressed. She spent so much time memorizing and practicing this thing. *I'm not saying that there isn't a time and place for some memorization, I just am always questioning purpose and learning. She did it, like a champ, because that's who she is. Afterwards, I asked her what the words meant. She had no idea. She said "I don't need to understand it, I just have to say it." What a missed opportunity.
Now, I'm not saying that the teacher didn't teach it, I'm not saying that there wasn't an attempt at creating understanding. I am saying, that for my kid...it didn't happen. There was no stickiness. In the brain, out the mouth and gone. Poof!
Now, contrast that with an activity she told me about a few nights ago...same class. They each had to create four "bills" that they wanted passed. They then had to take their bills to the "house" and "senate". And it went on from there...the whole process of how a bill becomes a law. They did it. She was able to explain the whole process, with understanding, because she was a participant in her own learning.
Guess what? I had to Google the process. True story. I have definite deficits in my own learning that until very recently, has left me at a disadvantage in life. Now with Google and Youtube at my fingertips, I can research...but to understand...that takes much more.
This post was inspired by my own kids, students, many observations and conversations and the tweets below:
Words have power...we know this...we say this, but let us really think about this. There has been one word that I have been hearing a lot of lately- the word is "can't". It seems as though I am hearing this word, now more then ever. Either that or I am just now tuning into it. What happens when we use this word? What is the power?
I believe that when we use that word, it automatically shuts the door. It puts a stop to possibilities and it puts an end to forward movement. It is one thing when we say WE can't, but it is a whole other-more powerful thing - when we say our students can't.
We have all used the word, I have caught myself saying it multiple times in the last two days. But since I have had this post in my mind, I catch myself and I reframe it. I have heard many educators say "But, I can't..." followed by a reason to justify. Some of these are legitimate, but some might be more of an excuse. When we find ourselves at this crossroads, we need to stop and think...
Is it that we can't, we won't or we don't know how? This is a hard question to ask of ourselves, but the answer makes all the difference.
But, I can't...
This is often heard when someone is being asked to do something differently. I am guilty of saying this, a lot. But I have also realized that it is a great roadblock and I do my best to choose a way to jump over, go around or bust through for kids.
But, I can't...
because I don't have time...
because I don't know how...
because my students have so many needs...
because my students won't...
because my students don't...
because the district...
because my principal...
because I have so much...
because I have so many...
because I don't have help...
Whenever I hear these things, I do my best to approach it with empathy. I try to understand where this is coming from. I pose questions, I listen and I try to help reframe, I try to help come to some solutions or brain storm ideas to counteract their statement. Why?
Because school is about the kids, not us. We can't let our own limitations, place limitations on them. We owe it to our students to let them live in the land of possibilities.
I say- let's take risks for kids. Let's get comfy with the uncomfy...for them. What if something doesn't go as planned? We yell, "plot twist" and keep going. We won't break and we won't break the children. In fact, those moments are an amazing opportunity for growth- for you and them.
But, they can't...
This one is a lot harder for me to swallow. Why? Who are we to decide what our students can and cannot do? By making that decision for them, we take away their power of possibility. We have shut the door, before they even had a chance to approach it.
Our students have already had many doors closed to them before they even walk in through ours. Let us not be another.
But, they can't...
do the work...
figure it out...
So how do we remedy this? We can reframe our thinking. Rather than focus on what we perceive they can't do, let us focus on figuring out what they can do and use that to move them forward. We have no idea what our students are capable of if we don't even give them a chance. We need to know what is going on inside of their brains. We are not minds readers, so how do we do that? Well, we talk with them. We need to know them to grow them. In order to do this, we need to be intentional with our time with students, our talks with students and our tasks with students. We need to make students' thinking visible (and audible), not only to us, but to them and to their peers. It is only then, that we can help them unlock their own learning and their own potential.
Here is a scenario:
In a discussion about students and math, a teacher says "But I have a handful of kids that just can't to do that."
Here is the beauty of math- there are so many ways for students to access, understand and explain...if given the right kind of tasks. If we give "lower floor, high ceiling" tasks- this allows all students to have an access point. So let's get into their minds and see what they can do. Rather than ask students to come up with an answer, what if we asked them how they would solve something? Or ask "where would you start?" With this change in questioning, students' thinking is honored and shared. What if they struggle to come up with a solution? We shouldn't end it there. Give them the key ring to unlock their thinking.
Ask them open ended questions:
What are you thinking?
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?
And then listen...by doing this, you can quickly assess where your students are in the process. Use that information to plan forward. Use what they can do, to their own advantage. They may not be able to produce what you were looking for, but is that what this is about? I hope not. At this point in education, we know that a focus has shifted from "knowing" to "doing". Focus is more on the process, the thinking...these are the skills that our students need to live beyond the four walls of our classroom. We want our students to be thinkers, creators and problem solvers. When we say they can't do something, we close the doors on those possibilities.
*The above isn't isolated to just math- the questions and ideas can be used with any content and in any context. If this kind of questioning is new to your students, know that you will probably get "crickets" at first. Don't stop. Model, meta cognate, support and scaffold...but they can do it. We must operate from the belief that all students can learn. They can do it in Kinder and they can do it with limitations. They just need time, space, guidance, support and a culture where they are comfortable to risk.
My call to action: Be cognizant of our word choice...for us and our students. Reframe things to ensure that we are door openers, rather than door closers.
"I told them what was going to be on the test...they filled out a study guide in class, and they still failed it...what is wrong with these kids?"
Has anyone else had the pleasure of hearing these words come out of a colleague's mouth? I really, really hope the answer is "no"; but I suspect it is more common than we want to admit. That quote was actually something I heard repeatedly from a partner teacher that I had for just one year. Back then...I was small, I was quiet and I kick myself for that. I didn't have the confidence or the strength to stick up for those kids. Those children that would come to me, with their heads hanging low. Those children that came to me crying, scared and broken. I didn't have the back bone, to speak up. But now I do. I speak up for those children and any others that are being made to feel less than. Especially when this is coming from someone who should be a trusted adult.
School should not be a game of "gotcha", it is not "us vs them". It should be us FOR and WITH them.
The other day, I heard that in a high school survey, a majority of students didn't feel like they had any connection to an adult at their site. It is disheartening, but it's true. I picture my own children. My son, who played the game of school, but didn't feel any sort of ties to his school or teachers. My daughter, who on numerous occasions has said "Mr./Mrs. X hates me." *I do talk to her about perception and that this is probably not the case...but it is her truth. And it is heart wrenching.
How does this happen? Why does this happen? I believe it all starts with how we, as educators, answer this seemingly simple question:
What do you teach?
I would hope that the answer is and always will be: STUDENTS. They should be our beginning, our middle and our end. That is who and why we are in this. Let us not lose track of that.
This post was inspired by my friend, Daryl Myers. He is an English teacher, but as you will see...so much more. The other day, we were talking about his class, his classroom and his students. I knew, without him even telling me, that he believed the above. He believes that above all else...he teaches students. Here were some of the hints:
1) His room is not just a classroom, it is a community. It is a place where students feel safe to share and take risks. He spent time and effort to create this culture over curriculum. And it pays off in dividends. His students (past and present) send him emails thanking him for believing in them, for supporting them and for inspiring them. They bring him custom made cakes, memorable t-shirts and even have created a site all about him. I don't share this because of the "stuff" his students gave or have done for him. It's quite the opposite. I share this because it is about what he has done and given his students. I told him that this is not the norm, but it should be. It is a testament to how special he is as an educator and a human, because he IS all about his students.
2) His door is ALWAYS open. His room is packed at nutrition and lunch. His students feel that their classroom is their haven. In fact, they do not even call it a classroom...they call it a sanctuary. THIS is a teacher that students feel connected to. THIS is a teacher that students come back to. THIS is a teacher that changes lives. THIS needs to spread.
3) He understands the power of relationship. He works hard to create a culture and community within and beyond those four walls. When I say- beyond, I am speaking to the fact that current and former students consider themselves "Writers For Life" (W4L) because that is who they are upon entering his class and that is who they become. It means something to him AND them. It is community.
4) He doesn't "teach to the test" (can I hear an AMEN?). What he teaches TO are his students. He teaches TO and FOR THEIR life. He leads and encourages them to write passionately...to find their voice...to express themselves through different means and different media. He incorporates the things that are relevant to the students and leverages that for THEIR own good. His class is more than just the curriculum, it is more than just the subject...his students are more than just a score. And THAT my friends, is what makes all the difference.
Oh, and may I share...this is a middle school teacher? Middle school! I can only dream that my 8th grade daughter could be a part of such an amazing experience!
Here is my call to action: What can you do tomorrow, to ensure that your students know you are in it for them? How can you show them that you are their guide, their activator, their support and their cheerleader? What can you do to change lives? Now do it.
I am blessed with two amazing children. Both incredibly smart, but both quite different. My son, Trevor, used to be that kid who always walked around with a book in his hand. He would read any chance he got. He devoured the entire Harry Potter Series before he entered fourth grade. He loved learning and he loved school...until.
In his first week of middle school, they were asked to bring in a “book of choice” to read in class. He chose to bring Middle School, The Worst Years Of Your Life. He had struggled to find a book he enjoyed, because as he told me, “What’s left after Harry Potter”?. We picked that particular book because of the humor and the relevance. When he pulled the book out to read in class, the teacher let him know that he needed to bring a different book tomorrow, because that book was far too low for his reading level. And that is where his love of reading and school, ended.
He continued to get good grades, because that is who he was...he played the game of school well. He completed the work that was required, he aced his tests...he was compliant. He admitted to me that he never completed reading another book after that and that he learned things only for the test and to get his grade. I am sad to admit, that it was school that ended my son’s love of learning.
He is now 19 and just began his second semester of college. Earlier this week, I couldn’t believe what I witnessed and heard. My son was excited about school...about reading, learning and writing! My quiet kid (technically a man) volunteered to tell me about his day at school. Not only did he tell me about it, he was excited to tell me. Not only was he excited to tell me, he was excited to tell my mom and was dying to share his writing with us. I can't recall ever seeing any of his writing before this.
He talked about his English class and how much he enjoyed the professor, how he made the class "interesting". His required reading was filled with philosophical books, which Trevor was really digging. He was reading about things that caught his interest and sparked interesting discussions. But here is the thing that I have known, I have written about and I often speak about...but just finally witnessed first hand and close to my heart.
Here is where his mind was blown. Not long after he posted it, he received a lengthy comment from his teacher. And this was not a grade, this was not a “good job” or “great effort”...this was well thought out and personalized feedback. Before he read it to me, I wondered if it was going to be some canned response that was cut and pasted on to everyone’s...but it wasn’t. We could tell that this teacher took the time to read through his work, digest it, reflect on it and give feedback. Here is the kicker...this was done almost immediately! This was new, to Trevor. He was so excited to not only read his own writing to us, (which blew me away...I had NO CLUE he was a such a talented writer) but he was excited to read us the comments from the teacher. He was proud, he was enlightened and he was empowered. THEN, he began reading the comments from his classmates. Yes...his peers also gave him timely feedback...and it was good, specific, thought out feedback.
As this kid, my adult son, was beaming, I didn’t want him to see the tears in my eyes. I had tears not only because I was incredibly proud of his work, but I was even more moved by how proud HE was. He saw the power of writing to an authentic audience. He felt the power of real, timely feedback and he was changed.
He then began to read me responses that he wrote on his classmates’ writing. His feedback was authentic, specific and timely. He took the time to really read though their writing piece, digest it and respond...and he was excited! He couldn't wait to go back to school, he was excited to go back to that class and he was excited about learning again.
This all happened on the same night that my 13 year old crawled into bed next to me, upset that she was going to fail her two tests the next day. She was dreading school and all she could talk about that night and on the morning drive in, was how worried she was that she was going to get an “F” on her multiple choice Social Studies test. She has always struggled with memorization, but is highly intelligent and has a great analytical mind. This girl was built for Common Core and the 4 Cs, but unfortunately, that is not the experience she had been receiving. She has learned to make her own accommodations, to play the game- but at what expense? She put undue stress on herself, apologizes to me before she takes a test and doesn't recall anything after the test is over.
As educators, we have great power...we can make or break a child. This is an immense responsibility! We effect students though our words, our actions and in this case, our tasks. Let us be cognizant of these, let us be empathetic to our learners. Let us think about them, that is who we are in this for, right? We are dealing with humans here. We are tasked with serving these important and special humans. Let us make sure we are doing that...in all we do. It makes a difference.
My call to action is this: Let us really think about the purpose of what we are asking students to do. Are the tasks helping them to learn and grow? Are the experiences helping them to think? Are our students, becoming prepared for their future, their life or are they just playing the game of school to survive?
Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a quote lover. For some reason, I connect to other people's words. They seem to be able to eloquently give life to thoughts and aspirations that I can't seem to put in to words for myself.
On this day, we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. - who to me is one of the most inspiring leaders of our time. As I searched some of his famous quotes this morning, I struggled to find a favorite. They ALL spoke to me in one way or another. And so, this post was born. I am going to share some of his quotes that speak to me in terms of education, life and leadership. I hope you find some connection as well.
If we are educators, we are "servant leaders". We entered into this line of work for one reason. To help kids. This profession is one of care giving and that is what we do. For me, this "servant's heart" is just a part of me. In my every day dealings, I am always looking at how I can help others. Two of the easiest ways to do this are free. We can serve others with our words and our time. Words have power, let's use that power for good. Let's be encouraging, helpful, lift up others and be that light house.
Our words can also ask questions. Let us use those questions to serve others. To learn about and connect to them. To find out how to support them. Rephrasing a simple question such as "Do you need help?" to "How can I help?' may just be the difference someone needs. We then must actually listen, hear and act. We can use our time to show up for others. To walk along side to share, behind to push or ahead to pull. Whatever is needed at the time, but just showing up matters.
To me...integrity is number 1. It is saying what you do and doing what you say. It is shown through your actions, especially when no one is looking. It is either who you are or who you aren't...you can't fake that. The true you eventually comes out.
Most people can look like the "hero" during easy and good times. Integrity shows up in how you deal when times get tough, when you fight for things that matter. When you stick to and fight for your core purpose-that is what drives you. THAT is the true measure of you. Integrity matters.
Our jobs as educators is to help mold those that sit before us. Will we help shape students with our content or with our culture, our communication, our commitment, our care? I believe our job is to help students navigate the waters of life. We can use our content as a vehicle, but I think we are doing our students a disservice if we leave out the life skills that they need to succeed. We need to guide students to be creative critical thinkers rather than passive consumers of information. What will they do with the content they are given? Beyond that, we need to model and instill empathy, kindness, caring...good character. Let's create tasks where students can practice it all. What problems do they want to solve? Why and how? Let's have them start from an empathetic heart and move on from there. Character matters.
There are many roadblocks in education and in life. But we can't let those roadblocks stop us from achieving our great. We can't let those roadblocks stop us from helping students achieve their great. There is always a starting point. Find it. Just start. Always keep moving forward. If you need to crawl around, jump over, leap onto or knock down that road block...just do it. It's better than not moving at all. As you start moving forward, you begin to see new possibilities and new paths...it's amazing what can happen if you just keep going. Moving forward matters.
Change is hard, but change is here...always. What do we do with it? Do we ignore it, do we fight it or do we use it as a catalyst? Even better...do we create it, when we see the need for it? Any way you look at it, there will be some struggle. It is through these struggles that we can change for the better. It's all in how we frame it. What if we look at change as an opportunity to learn and grow? Growing pains are part of life, but we can endure them...we can do hard things...we always do. So let's use those struggles, that pain to stretch ourselves for good. Flip the switch and pay it forward. Take that learning and growth and use it in life to help others along the way. Perspective matters.
This post is just a stream of consciousness of all the things that float around inside my head. I guess it all boils down to the fact that YOU matter and what you DO matters. We are given this life, let's choose to live like it matters, because it does!
I wanted to spend the last day of 2017 in my "happy place". I packed up a book, a towel and a chair and jumped into my car. But as I approached my usual beach spot, I kept going...on a whim, I decided that I needed a new perspective. I found myself parking and paying for three hours of unknown.
Hiking is one of my favorite things to do, so off on the trail I went. It wasn't until about half an hour in, that I looked down and realized that I had the wrong shoes and was wearing the wrong clothes. I had no sunscreen, no water and no plan (I also had no map, but if you know me, that wouldn't have helped). I giggled, shrugged and kept on trekking. This is just typical behavior for me. When has being unprepared ever held me back from a challenge? And so...on I went.
While my feet were doing the walking, my brain was doing a lot of thinking. I reflected on how many times over the last two years, my life has mimicked this journey. How many times I didn't know the destination, but just went, anyway. How many times I was not prepared for the thing I was about to do, but figured it out and did it anyway (hopefully well).
On this particular trail, every time I thought I was at the top of this mountain, I discovered more trail. As I climbed higher and higher, I began to lose sight of the top. All I saw was fog. Is it worth it to keep going toward something I can't even see? I ran into a family on the way up and asked the question. The mother's response was this: "It gets clearer as you go up, it is definitely worth it, keep going." Well, there it is. Such is life. These are words that I will tuck in my pocket for later use!
So I did keep going, with every wrap around the mountain, I stopped and took a picture of the ocean, but I also looked back down to see how far I had come. How often do we do this in life? How often do we stop on our journey to gain perspective? To take stock of where we are, where we are going and where we began? If this is not normal practice, let's make it. There is great power in this. Perspective unleashes the power of possibility.
So what happened when I reached my top? I wanted more...a better view. So what did I do? I went off the path, to gain a better perspective. Last time I "off roaded", it lead to a fall, a slide down. I was a bit scraped up and bruised, but I kept going. It is often when we take the unworn road...that we fall, but we also grow. This time, there was no fall...just some really scraped up legs. Worth every scratch, because what I gained was an amazing view, great perspective and a lot of beauty.
I often find myself on these journeys, off the mountain...in life. Trying something new, just to see what happens. Hoping to learn and grow. So far, it has always paid off. Taking the unbeaten path isn't always easy, but often leads to growth. We sometimes can't see the destination through the fog, until we get there. And yes, it is worth the journey...it does pay off to keep on trekking.
Here is my call to action: Next time an opportunity comes your way, don't think...just do. But as you do, stop along the way...look around...look behind...look ahead. Take it all in. It is all important. It is, in fact, what happens during the climb that matters.
The beach is where I go to get away, to recharge, to relax, to think and reflect. I have spent a lot of time there this year. On one of my last trips, as I watched the waves roll in and out and gazed out into the vastness of the ocean, my #oneword2018 manifested itself: Possibility.
I don't take this exercise lightly. Last year, it took quite a bit of time to narrow down the one word that I wanted to live from. I looked back at what I wrote: Good Bye 2016 and I was pleased, reflective and appreciative. My word for 2017 was: Forward. I wore a bracelet every day this year with that word engraved on it, so I wouldn't forget. It was this word that got me through a lot in 2017. No one's journey is easy, if it was, it would just be called a stroll. When I reflect on this last year, there are key events when I wanted to throw in the towel, where I went down rabbit holes, where I just wished to turn back or stop...but I didn't. I just kept moving in one direction...forward. But why? In my professional life, it has always been about the kids. As I am halfway through my fourth year away from the classroom, I am feeling more and more removed from those in which I work to serve. This realization just hit me, as I was writing. This realization makes me sad. I believe that in order to best serve those in our care, we must be with them. I need to be with them.
This is actually my second attempt at this post. I realized that my first draft was really focused on me and my journey. But I don't want it to be...I don't live my life for it to be. I need to refocus back on my purpose...Which a good friend reminded me not long ago is: To change school...for kids.
So how can my #oneword2018 help not only me, but other educators and students? I always start the work by creating a six word memoir. For me, the word constraint helps me to really hone in on the real. Here is my 2018 version: Look for possibility in every situation.
My call to action is this: Take some time to create your 6 word memoir and #oneword2018. Use the time to reflect and plan forward. Share it...live it! The time is now.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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