"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.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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