I have been wrestling with this post for days. I knew I needed to write it, I just wasn't sure how or what it would look like. But over the last few days, I have had this reoccurring picture in my mind. It was that of broken windows. I grappled with this idea, trying to figure out the meaning. I am writing this today, to help me work through this process...let's see what happens.
So, how does this relate to broken windows? Well, I often speak about looking for the bright spots, the light when things are dark. Windows were created for that exact purpose...to shine light. But what happens when a window becomes broken? There are three options right? Leave it, replace it or cover it. Well, if you leave it...the light that is let in has a much stronger effect, no filter. If we replace it, everything goes back, just the way it was. If we cover it, the light is just blocked and basically disappears.
Now...rather than us talking about windows, let us talk about US. Throughout all of our lives, there have been incidents that have changed our light...that have altered our shine. You know what I'm talking about...they are vivid and they are real. We all have these broken windows...all of us. That is part of being human. When a piece of you is broken...it hurts, it cuts, it crumbles. But as my good friend Jon Corippo said in that same session "Pain is mandatory, misery is optional". So what do we do with our personal broken windows?
If I were asked that question about a year ago...I would say COVER IT UP! No one wants to see it, know one wants to hear it, know one wants to know it...no one wants to deal with it...especially me. But if we continue to cover up the light, our light will eventually get lost. I've tried to go dark...it doesn't wear well on me. For me, this one is no longer an option.
In this metaphor, if I simply replace it and ignore it...there is no chance for learning and growth. "Nothing happened here, keep on moving...nothing to see." And for me, that is a missed opportunity to create some great.
So...what am I left with? Leave it. Just leave it and live with it. Why? Because it is a part of me. Like I stated above...everything we have done up to now, was in preparation. But to think about walking around with broken parts...it just seems painful and depressing...and it is. Unless.
Unless we choose to look from a different perspective. When we become broken, we also become vulnerable...and although vulnerable is scary, vulnerable is good. It is in our vulnerable times that our windows are cracked open, ready to receive something different.
Here is what I have learned over the last few days. Even though only a part of me showed up to the table - a much better, more complete me left it.
Let me explain without explaining:
I have been looking forward to presenting and attending the Leadership 3.0 conference since I left last year's. It was by far one of my favorite conferences. This year I was so excited to actually be on the other side of the room. I was blessed with co-presenting a different session (with different co-presenters) each of the three days. But as I was actually packing for the trip the night before...I picked up my phone many times to send messages to my various co-presenters to let them know I wouldn't be joining them. They didn't need to know why, they just needed to know. My windows were broken and jagged and I was just raw. But one thing about me - my integrity means everything to me...and that means always showing up, always being real and always keeping my word. So those texts were never sent. And THANK GOODNESS!
I needed to go. I needed to put my mind and energy into sharing my passions with the educational leaders there. I needed to talk about "walking your why" and sticking to your purpose. I needed to share my voice, in my why, "making school better for kids". I needed to challenge thinking to remind us to focus on the end users in this education game...the students. I needed to not only share it out but I needed it for me. With every presentation and conversation, something began to happen with those broken windows. The light began to shine through...and eventually it was brighter than before...no filter.
On the flip side, due to the incidents that were thrown at my windows, I struggled to be fully present. I think I would be generous by saying I was half present. This upset me even more, because I let it hinder my experience. I knew there was so much learning and inspiration to be had, that I lost out on. BUT...
I am still in awe of the amazing experiences and incredible people that I just left. Being surrounded by positive, supportive, genuine people- wow- all the difference in the world. People didn't care that I wasn't a "leader", an administrator. They didn't treat me any different, when they looked at what was typed on my name tag. In fact, it appeared they were actually listening to what I had to say...this was kind of new...And to me, that was eye opening! I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. The openness and kind words of the participants in our sessions were amazing. The "after party" conversations...incredible. The "post-conference" reflections I have seen...unbelievable. I want this light that is now shining through my cracks, to inspire and encourage others. I want to share this forward! THAT was my original "why" four years ago...and I am so thankful that I was reminded of that this week.
So now I realize...broken doesn't mean bad...instead, it just creates a space for more light. So I will proudly leave my broken windows, because that is what I am made of and that is me.
Growing up (in fact up until about a year and a half ago) I tried to stay small and quiet. I never rocked the boat, I went with the flow...basically, I was compliant. I am a born people pleaser, and that was my role. But apparently, we have the capacity to change. I did not realize this until a friend said something to me a few months ago. We were discussing why I didn't get a particular job...he told me "You are a disruptor, and that scares people." Little ol' ME, scary? WHAT? I will admit, at first, I think I was offended. I was not one to create waves. I didn't want to be seen as "difficult". Especially if this was a reason to not get a job. To me "disruptor" was a negative word.
But, my good friend David Culberhouse often talks about a "disruptive mindset", which was always intriguing to me. It wasn't a negative, it was just different. And it was a positive different. But I always thought...well that is you, that ain't me!
But here I am, two years into writing this blog, and if I go back and read the evolution of my writing and my ideas, I see it. I see how I have finally found my voice...after *2 years on this earth. And this voice is no longer the quiet, compliant one. It is the one that has chosen to stand up and speak up for things that align with my "why", my purpose. I think I have finally narrowed that "why" down to one sentence (with the help of a friend)- "To make school better for kids."- That's it. Simple. Well, not so much. Under that as an umbrella, there are so many different facets or "hills" to die on.
When I talk with others that begin to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of ideas, my advice is always this:
Because if our energy is split too many ways, it isn't available to do the great that is needed. So I have chosen three "hills" to focus on, in my path to disruption:
1) Make learning sticky: I have written and spoken quite a bit on this subject. I went though school and not much of it stuck. I have many holes in my learning because of this. I think our kids deserve better. How can we create experiences to help engage and empower kids that can solidify their learning?
2) To change learning, we must change teaching: This is when #knowbetterdobetter comes in. Are educators given the proper training, resources and ongoing support to teach differently? We can't expect them to do different, if they don't know different.
3) Be the mirror for others: We are all doing the best we can, with what we have, at any given moment. Without feedback, we have no idea if we are on the right track. And without that information, we tend to make stories up in our heads to connect the dots (at least that's what I used to do, and it wasn't pretty). Let others know what you see in them (children AND adults). Let them know their worth and potential because I can bet, not many can see that for themselves.
I am still learning to navigate how to play this so that I can be heard and not just be dismissed as "causing trouble". I am nothing, if not a work in progress.
This "disruptive mindset" tends to make others uncomfortable, but I no longer think that is a bad thing.
"It is when we are uncomfortable, that we should seek to understand. "
I have found that people do not really appreciate when someone asks questions from a different point of view and that makes me sad. I believe that the only way to make informed, positive decisions is to include many differing voices and points of view. I didn't always believe this, as I used to take someone disagreeing with me, quite personal. Now I know better. When this is done in a safe, respectful way in an environment of trust, it can actually be transformational...we just have to be open to it.
I know that I am not a "leader" by title, but I do know that in whatever leadership role I will have in the future, I will use my experiences to drive my future. I believe that team members should be used for their skills and passions, regardless of their role or title. Some of the most profound ideas come from often untapped resources. We need to be open to listening and learning. I also believe that decisions that are being made that affect teachers and students, should include those end users. How can we make decisions if we are not with or don't intimately know those in which we serve? I don't know if we can.
My call to action is this: Focus on your "why" and let it drive you in your words, actions and decisions. Don't be afraid to cause some disturbance (respectfully, of course) if it will help move forward with your why. If you are a leader, I encourage you to get to know those in which you lead. They may have strengths and knowledge that are yet unknown, that could be of great benefit to the overall organization.
This post has been rattling around in my head for months. Little bits of it have come out in various meetings, presentations, conversations and posts. Today is the day I try to string it all together.
I have found myself in many discussions lately on the topic of math. Student math “achievement” to be exact. When people are put on high alert to fix something, they begin to scramble, they feel an urgency and snap decisions get made. But I caution us to take a breath - take a moment to really examine, understand, grapple with and plan forward. It is difficult to make important decisions from inside the pressure cooker.
One switch for me, is that I would rather focus on student learning, rather than student achievement. If we look at the long view, is it achievement or learning that we want our students to walk away with? I hope it is the latter.
We all come at a problem from a different point of view and background. This is important. We need to be able to look at something from a circle of viewpoints to make the most informed decision. Most imortantly- we need the voices of the end users.
Here is where I come from- if we ONLY look at data, we are reducing our children to a number. Our kids are not a number, they are not a letter and they are not something to be "fixed". Don't get me wrong, data is a very important piece to this puzzle, but it can not be the only piece. What I try to bring to the table is the empathy piece. When I look at tackling a problem like student learning, I take a very human based approach- but I wasn't always this way.
About 10 years ago, I remember going to my principal to ask him why we didn’t have a particular web based math program for our struggling students. His response “Cori, a computer or a program isn’t going to help kids- only a teacher can.” This left me extremely frustrated! I knew other districts that used it and their students didn’t struggle like ours. The next year, I went to him again with the exact same question, where as, he gave me the exact same answer. I believe this may have happened three or four times before I just gave up. I was forced to figure out HOW to help MY students, thank goodness! I didn't know better, until I did. Hindsight is 20/20.
Well, guess what I now say like a broken record? When someone asks “Is there a program we can buy for the struggling students?” My response is “A program isn’t going to help those kids, only a teacher can.” Ha! #knowbetterdobetter at its finest. But I can't and don't stop there...
We are in the human business...the kid business. No one knows what makes our students tick, in terms of learning, better than us. Right? A computer, a teacher’s edition, a box of curriculum nor a packet of worksheets - knows our kids. If we want to grow our students we must know our students. Armed with that information, we need to have multiple strategies, skills and tools to meet them - because each one is so unique.
I was very blessed in the fact that when my principal wanted to change student learning, he knew we had to change our teaching. Beyond that, he provided us with training, resources and support to do different- and so we did. And the results were astounding!
So my response to the question- "How can we increase student math achievement?" is this..."If we want to change how students learn math, we have to change the way the math is taught. Not just taught, but they need a different experience.
Well, what might that look like? Rather than us force feeding them algorithms and steps that they nor us understand, let's provide them with opportunities to wrestle with math. Let’s provide rich tasks where there is sense making for the students. Let's give them a chance to play with and manipulate numbers rather than “beat the clock” on a timed test. Let us create a safe space for students to share different ways to solve a problem and a place where process over product is honored.
"We need to become comfy with the uncomfy and to step back a bit."
Allow for productive struggle yet be ready to guide and support students in mathematical discourse.
All of these ideas are the complete opposite of how I learned math- but guess what? I don’t believe I learned- I had no understanding- I just performed steps, like a robot, to get my good grades. Our kids deserve better.
So now what?
In order to teach math differently, we need to do what my principal did. We need to train our teachers in different. We need to flip some switches, change some mindsets AND provide them with activities, resources and ongoing supports in changing the classroom experience for students. Rather than putting kids on the computer or pulling them out for small group work on more of the same, let's put them at the center and craft lessons to engage, empower and enhance their learning experience.
I am only able to do better now, because I know better now. I can only imagine what kind of teacher I would have been, had I not been shown another way. If the only training our teachers receive in math is how to use the textbook, we are shortchanging not only our teachers, but our students. So, how can we fix student's achievement in math? We help teachers to understand and provide them with the supports to teach math differently. When they know better, they will do better.
What if we put money into professional development in this area rather than for some program that will just be a band-aid. Let’s show teachers the power of doing it different. Let’s give them what they need to then do it. And not a “one and done”...but ongoing support, job embedded support: coaching, co-teaching, observing and reflecting.
These all seem to be doable and easily scalable ideas- so why isn't it happening? I am not a decision maker and my voice is pretty small, BUT changing math experiences for kids and teachers IS a hill that I will die on.
I may not know or understand all of the politics, red tape or roadblocks that are holding this back- but one thing I do understand is the definition of insanity...
What does it feel like to have your heart break? For me, it is an aching pain and salty tears. I'm sure many of you have felt this. There is one such heart break that I just can't shake (and that is a good thing). This was a classroom heartbreak...
Teaching first grade was new for me. I had taught the grade before and the grade after, this couldn't be much different...little did I know. I will tell you, I only lasted one year in first grade. With hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that I was the one to blame for the "not so good" experience of that year. I had unrealistic expectations of these little guys and when those weren't met, I became frustrated. I was frustrated with the students and I was frustrated with myself. It was strange because that person had never shown up before, and at the time, I didn't know she had shown up then. Looking back, I don't even recognize that person...because it was in that class, I changed. And it was a heartbreak that did it.
I had never subscribed to the idea that "boys will be boys". I would cringe when I heard it. I had always thought that was an excuse that people used when boys struggled to behave or control themselves. I believed this to be true with Eric. Eric was all boy! He was silly, he was rough, he was messy, he was loud and he could NEVER stay in his seat. He would literally fall out of the chair multiple times a day.
But here was the thing about Eric, he was also kind, he was also sweet, he was also funny and he was also highly, highly intelligent. But what did I focus on? The silly, rough, messy, loud part that always fell out of his chair. I couldn't let it go. He should be able to pull it together, right? He should be able to "behave" and follow MY rules...and when he didn't, it was like a showdown.
I am wondering if anyone that knows me would even believe this, (let me rephrase that...I HOPE anyone that knows me would not believe this), but it's true. And I share this for a reason. I share this because I am not proud of that person...she wasn't around long, but for me, any time as that person, was too long. My hope is to get others to think about the effect that their words and actions could have.
I tried many things to "help" Eric keep control of himself, to make him fit MY mold of what a first grader should be. One of my brilliant ideas was a "happy face" chart. This had been suggested to me by a few others. They told me to make boxes (each box representing a certain amount of time in the day). I don't even remember the amount that each box represented, but I'm sure for a six year old, it was too long. At each time increment, I would draw either a "happy face" :) or a "straight face" :l depending on his behavior. Yes, a "straight face"- I mean, come on, drawing a "sad face" would just be cruel...little did I know.
So day in and day out, Eric would do his "Eric" thing and I would do my "Mrs. Orlando" thing and draw on his chart. Each day, he would take it home to show his mom. Was this chart helping? I don't even remember, but I can bet it wasn't. Each day, a new chart would be taped to his desk for all to see (WHAT WAS I THINKING?). I know what I was thinking- "Every day is a fresh start!"...little did I know.
One day I received an email from Eric's mom. I opened it and it shook me to my core. Typing about this right now is difficult, as I am trying to see the screen through the tears. Even though it is far in the past, it is still so raw.
In her email, she let me know that my "happy face" chart was destroying her kid. Her son. Her boy. Her heart. She let me know that because of the "straight faces" on the charts, Eric thought he was bad. He thought that I didn't like him. He didn't want to come to school. THAT is when I felt that ache in my heart, that pain in my stomach and that lump in my throat. I DID THIS. I broke this six year old. ME. I hurt this sweet, silly, intelligent boy and I was reduced to a puddle. I made this all about me, not even considering him. How could I have done this and how am I going to fix this?
I am so incredibly thankful that this mother was an advocate for her boy! That she was able to share with me what my actions were doing to him. I would have NEVER known.
That's the thing. I have had people respond to some of my #knowbetterdobetter blog posts with "Well the students don't really seem to mind if they ....". And my response is "How do you know? Who are we to speak for them? We have NO CLUE how our students are thinking or feeling unless we ask them and create a space where they feel safe and free to share." Do we do that? We have NO IDEA what the repercussions of our actions are unless we ask their families. They are the ones that are left to deal with the aftermath.
And guess what...once I knew better, you damn well know that I have done better. I NEVER- EVER want another child, another human, to feel badly because of me.
So how did I handle this situation with Eric? I started with a very heartfelt apology to his mother. I got real honest and I owned it. I told her about all of the wonderful things I loved about her son. I told her that I love having him in class because he brings so much. I also told her that I would be apologizing to Eric in class tomorrow. And that I did.
While the rest of the class was busy working on centers, I called him over. No doubt, he thought he was "in trouble". I knelt down on the ground next to him and I cried, just as I'm crying right now. I apologized for hurting his feelings and making him believe I didn't like him. I told him I, in fact, that I liked him very much. I let him know that his sense of humor always put a smile on my face. I told him that his incredible thinking and ideas blew me away on a daily basis. I let him know that he could come to me any time he felt that I wasn't on his side, because I was. We talked about the fact that he yelled out and fell out of his chair. He wasn't even aware he did these things. At that point I realized that his behavior was just part of him, it wasn't intentional, it wasn't defiant- it was just him. I explained to him why I was crying-that it hurt my heart to know that I hurt him. From that day forth, I looked at Eric and every other student, differently. And I vowed to do better.
Now did this six year old understand all that I was saying? Probably not, but I wanted him to know that I saw him for the great kid he was- and from that day forth...I was changed.
I think of Eric often- I attribute my attempts at empathy, to him. Because of him, I try my hardest to think about my actions from a circle of viewpoints. How might this effect others? Am I always on target? Of course not:
Perfection is a ridiculous idea. But what I can promise is that I am always trying, I am always reflecting and I am always growing.
Like Maya Angelou said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better."
I am so thankful that I now know better and strive every day to do better.
My call to action is this: Take some time to reflect on your day, your week, month, year. Think about your interactions with students, colleagues, staff, friends, strangers, family. Now think about those same interactions from the other side...put yourself in their shoes. This is how we practice empathy...this is how we can know better. Now go forth and do better. #knowbetterdobetter
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.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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