Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Let it Come Naturally

You know the old saying that goes something like, you can't force a round peg into a square hole? Well, it applies to our classrooms in a very serious way.  You want your students to learn, that is a given.  The challenge lies in the manner in which it is accomplished.

Just like not forcing round pegs into square holes, you can't force learning on your students.  If you try, you will only be met with fierce resistance and certain frustration for all parties involved.

Instead, you need to focus on providing the means for learning to take hold.  Focus on the areas of your classroom that you can control, and allow the students to learn as a by-product.

But, how is this done?  Is there a special magic potion that you can spread throughout your classroom that will magically result in learning?

Not really, at least not in potion form.

What you can do is follow three simple steps that will envelop the students in a learning environment, resulting in their desire to learn without being forced into a square hole.

First, begin your year together with your students by building true relationships with each and every student.  Get to know your students, beyond their favorite color, team, etc.  Connect with them on a deeper level to show them that you truly care about them as a person first, student second.  This straightforward approach will resonate with students simply because you are placing a priority on getting to know them.  Show them that you care about them, as people, and everything you do in the future will be framed around your first decision to know who they are instead of what they can do.

Second,  involve your students in creating the type of environment in your classroom that best suits the learning goals and aspirations of your students.  Allow your students to help you brainstorm the ways in which they learn best.  By engaging your students in this conversation, you will demonstrate to them that they have a say in the manner in which their classroom operates.  Utilize this activity as another way to learn about your students.  Pay attention to what they are suggesting, for it will speak volumes for the best ways that they learn.  Try to be as open minded as possible during this experience, and begin to construct ideas around the suggestions that your students offer.

Finally, follow through and incorporate as many of the ideas from step 2 as possible.  When you are planning your lessons, refer frequently to the chart that you made with your students and try to find ways to include their suggestions.  Doing this will show your students that you value them as learners, and demonstrate to them that their ideas have merit.  While you will not be able to incorporate all of their ideas in each lesson, the ones that you do include will provide a learning environment that your students helped create.  They will assume ownership in what is happening in their classroom, and that feeling will carry them through their learning.

I know that I said there were three simple steps to take in order for learning to just happen in your classroom, and that it may seem as though there are other words you could use to describe these steps.  But, trust me, for it has worked in my classroom for years.  Each of these steps, when taken as whole, will create an environment perfectly structured for learning - without forcing a round peg into a square hole!

What do you think?  Have I overlooked an integral part to creating a natural learning environment?  I look forward to your input in the comments section.

image attributed to flickr

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Having the Difficult Conversation

Teachers fundamentally have a requirement to do what is best for their students.  

Whether you agree with it or not, this includes having critical conversations with your colleagues.  These conversations are not easy to have, or else they would be called chit chats.  But when your students' instruction is impacted,  whether you are concerned with a support teacher's punctuality, or you question a homeroom teacher's instructional practices,  it is essential that you step in and address the situation.

My principal the other day said something profound about critical conversations; she said to talk to someone, not about them.  This really made a lot of sense to me, as schools are notorious for being gossip factories.  Instead of talking to everyone else about this teacher, put on your big boy/girl pants and go talk to the teacher directly.  

One thought to keep in mind when preparing for this type of conversation is to come at it from a place of empathy.  Teachers are human beings that have lives outside of school- which some of our students may doubt!  Sometimes, stressors from our personal lives carry over to our professional lives and impact our effectiveness in the classroom.  The teacher may not even be aware of the impact that a personal matter is having on his/her effectiveness, which is another reason to have the conversation.

When engaged in a critical conversation, try to steer clear from making it personal.  Keep the focus on the students and your concern for their learning.  While this may not be a fool proof method to keep the teacher from getting upset, it does keep the conversation on a professional level. 

These are difficult conversations to have, as no one appreciates being called out for something they are doing incorrectly.  But, by keeping the focus on what is best for students, you will be able to turn this critical conversation into a learning experience for the teacher that will benefit his/her students in the future.

What do you think about the critical conversation?  How do you handle these types of conversations with your colleague? 

image attributed to icanread

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Are the 4 C's Pertinent to Teacher Learning, too?



Critical Thinking


Those are the 4 C's of 21st Century Learning.  Their intent is related to the instruction that our students engage in.  (Notice I didn't say receive, because students should not be passive bystanders in their learning!)

Truth be told, though, these should be the pillars of a teacher's continuing learning, too.  No matter the curricular area of the teacher, all would benefit by participating in continuing education endeavors that focus on these same 4 C's.

I firmly believe that the answer to my original question is yes.  Below, I lay out how these critical components of 21st Century Learning should apply to learning for teachers, as well.

Collaboration- Years ago, there was a silo-esque quality to our schools.  Some would say that this is still true in some places today.  Teachers planned, taught, and assessed all on their own.  In today's school, a teacher needs to work smarter, not harder.  Relying on true, honest, collaboration with other educators would be classified as working smarter.  To go one step further, the explosion of social media has removed physical location as a barrier, allowing for teachers to collaborate with others around the world.

Communication- It is difficult to separate communication from collaboration, for when  engaged in collaboration, it is imperative for teachers to be able to coherently express their thoughts with their colleagues.  A teacher's thoughts and ideas are all for nought if they are not communicated effectively, easily received and understood by their colleagues.

Critical Thinking- When learning new ways to engage our students, a teacher must engage their critical thinking skills in order to effectively analyze evidence, evaluate alternative points of view, and synthesize and make connections between information and arguments.  Often, when collaborating with others, a variety of ideas will be thrown around, and it is critical that teachers possess the skills to sift through the vast amounts of information in order to make connections with how this new information will apply to their classrooms.

Creativity- Teachers must be able to creatively construct the vision for how learning will occur in their classrooms.  They must be able to think outside of the proverbial box to identify innovative ways to connect their students with the material.  Part of this creative process involves honest reflection of how things have been done, in order to identify ways to change these methods in order to better connect with students.

The idea that the 4 C's of 21st Century Learning only relates to how teachers need to structure their instruction and learning environments leaves out more than half of the equation.  In order to begin to apply these concepts in our classrooms, it is crucial that teachers actively engage these same components in their own learning.

What do you think?  What role should the 4 C's of 21st Century Learning play in educator's continued learning?

image attributed to icanread

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One Activity to Help Your Student During the Summer

A frequent question that teachers get asked near the end of the year is what parents can do to help their child academically over the summer hiatus.

Thinking back to the days when I was in school, I looked forward in earnest to the summer holiday as a time to get together with friends, go to summer camp, and be free of the rigors and scheduling of the school year.  

With that being said, I take a less is more approach to summer learning activities for students.  While there is certainly something to be gained from participating in enrichment activities during the summer months, I feel strongly that there is more to be lost by overemphasizing learning during this time.

During the school year, students are scheduled from dawn to dusk, both in and out of school.  While in school, their time is maximized for learning - as it should be.  After school, many students have plenty of homework to complete, along with other scheduled responsibilities such as sports, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc.   

Thus, when it comes to the summer months, kids need to have time to be kids.  Getting dirty, building magnificent creations, and swimming in the pool/lake are the kinds of activities that they should spend the majority of their time participating in.  Allowing time for their natural curiosity to be their guide is more beneficial to kids than devoting hours on rote learning and meaningless tasks.

So, getting back to the original question, let me share the single recommendation that I make to parents interested in helping their students stave off the summer slide.

Have your child read. Have them read books of their choosing, covering a range of genres, and please do not make them complete book reports after they finish each book.  If you want to have your children complete a follow-up activity to each book that they complete, then engage in a conversation with them about the book.  Ask them to tell you about the story, their favorite characters, the best part of the book, the worst part of the book, and so on.  Participating in a quick conversation about a book they just read will keep the child thinking about what they're reading, and help address any lingering questions they may have. 

Another idea as a follow-up activity would be to have them write a brief response to the book.  I wouldn't recommend having them do this after every book, or they may begin to dread the end of the story!  Participating in this type of activity will keep the writing skills of the child sharp.

Public libraries are always having some type of summer book club for kids, typically nothing fancy, but enough to motivate kids to keep reading.  My local public library has a program where the kids set a goal for the number of books they will read, and if they reach their goal by the end of the summer, they can pick out a new book to take home.  My two children have participated in it the last few summers and have really enjoyed themselves.

So that's it, my only recommendation for how to help your child during the summer. 

What do you think?  Are there other activities that you suggest to parents?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our Hippocratic Oath

Recently, I wrote a post about a teacher in my school that just does not use technology.  You can read it here.  The thought of a teacher not integrating technology in the classroom does not reconcile with what it means to me to be a teacher.  

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine honestly. It is widely believed to have been written by Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of western medicine, or by one of his students.

While educators do not have a Hippocratic Oath per se, we do have a responsibility to do what is in the best interests of our students at all times.  In this day and age, where technology permeates all facets of our students' lives, I firmly believe that not teaching our students how to harness the power of technology for learning violates that responsibility.

I liken this dilemma to the one that many teachers face, including myself, when it comes to standardized testing.  While many of us decry the way standardized tests are used in education today, simply turning a blind eye to the existence of this culture would negatively impact the success of our students inside this culture.

As educators, it is our duty to put aside our personal views and do what is best for our students. Whether that is preparing them to take a standardized test, or giving them the tools to maximize their learning using technology, we can base decisions on what we do in our classrooms on our personal feelings.

It is a travesty to hear teachers profess that they always do what is best for their students, and then turn around and neglect to introduce them to the positive aspects of effective technology integration.  It flies in the face of our Hippocratic Oath, and we must bring it to an end.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Outlining the Move Towards Student-Centered Instruction

This is the fifth in a series of posts about a movement that I am starting in my school.  My school predominantly instructs in a teacher-centered model, and my aim is to shift that to a student-centered instruction model.  This series will serve as a means to flesh out my ideas as I plan for professional development during the 2014-15 school year.

Today's post will share an outline of the monthly topics of my professional development sessions.  In the fall, I will revisit this series to assess how the professional learning is going, identify areas that I need to address, and share any lessons that I have learned. You can read my previous posts in the series here. 

Before you get to the actual plan, let me share some thoughts on how each session needs to be structured in order for the teachers to receive maximum benefit from this experience.  One thing that I am going to place a strong emphasis on is scheduling this PD during the teacher's regular workday.  By having it during the day, I hope to keep teachers from feeling as this is one more thing to do.  When PD happens after school, teachers can be distracted by outside responsibilities involving family, community, etc.  This may also creep in during PD scheduled during the day, but I am hoping it will be reduced.  

Another important attribute for my PD plan will be for each session to be structured as similarly as possible to how their classrooms should look.  It will not be a run of the mill, sit and get PD experience where I do all of the talking.  I do not want their classrooms to look like this, so why would I conduct my PD in this manner?  Also, I would like to make these sessions as relevant as possible for the teachers, so that they can walk out of them with activities, resources, and ideas that they can take back to their classroom and implement the next day.

Here is the plan.  Please feel free to provide any suggestions that you may have to make this as impactful as possible.  This is a work in progress, to be sure, and your feedback will help me greatly.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Relationships over Testing?

In this era of high stakes testing, data aggregation, and maximizing instructional time, teachers may feel the need to prioritize content over relationships.  The prevailing notion may posit that there is not time to 'waste' on the fluffy stuff like relationship building.  It follows that the teacher may feel the need to devote all the time and energy available to making sure every minute of class time is focused on preparing students to succeed on the test.

May I offer up the notion that by taking the time to create a positive classroom culture, built on relationships that allow for empathy and support of each other, can lead to greater gains in learning?

Let's play this out a little bit further.  If you spend time at the beginning of the year, and build time into the day consistently throughout the year, on building those relationships, the payoff at the end of the year will be there.  Whether it is results on the test, as some are focused on, or on taking students to new levels of achievement and developing lifelong learners willing to take risks, as I would focus on; the benefits to students from participating in and developing a positive classroom culture will undeniably lead to your desired outcome.

When students feel safe and secure in their classroom, their inhibitions can dissipate, and they are comfortable in taking risks in their learning.  This risk-taking will take them beyond their comfort zones, to where the real growth can begin.  While the results may not immediately present themselves, over time the effect of these feelings on the students have the potential to be immeasurable.

Students will feel safe enough that they can be honest when you ask for understanding.  Instead of nodding and faking like they follow you, students in these classrooms are comfortable admitting that they do not understand what you are saying.  They will freely ask for more evidence, more examples, or for you to explain it again.  And, that is where you will see benefits of spending time creating the safe and secure learning environment for your students.

What do you think?  Do you feel there is a connection between a positive classroom culture and increased student growth?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just One Year

This is a post written by guest blogger Carrie Gaglione.  Besides being the world's greatest wife and mother, she is an ESOL teacher in an elementary school.  This post analyzes an ethical dilemma that she faces with students that are at her school for only one year.

In early April, I received the all- too-familiar email letting me know that two more students had enrolled at our quiet little elementary school—one from South Korea, the other from China. As the lead English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, the screening, placement, and assessment of these new students would fall to me. These students were the last of ten new enrollees since January who qualified for ESOL services. They were the eighth and ninth “just-one-year” students to enroll this academic year. These students are the children of highly regarded visiting professors here for just one year, usually coming along more for the language and life-experience than the academic offerings. Typically, these students have basic English vocabulary, some rote phrases/sentences, and listening comprehension ranging from single word recognition to basic interpersonal communication. On rare occasion, the student arrives with intermediate to advanced level language proficiency. The newest arrivals were typical, entering with relatively low English language proficiency, having just completed academic years in their respective countries, and here for the experience. I teach in a well-regarded, academically competitive, and ethnically diverse public school, with a relatively small but growing English Language Learner (ELL) population, in which the niche “just-one-year” subgroup is increasing most quickly.

With just under seven weeks of school remaining, and only two weeks before the annual, standardized state assessment, the panic set in quickly. Upon reading the email, I’m reticent to admit that I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and worry. It was so late in the year, we’d be out of school very soon, and the bulk of instructional time had passed. Still, here they were, ready and with any luck, eager to learn. The comments, questions, and concerns about these students were familiar and came quickly, “They speak very little English and are here for just one year. Just do what you can. Stick them somewhere in your schedule. It’s the end of the year, no worries! When will you take them?? How long can you keep them?? Please, give us something to do with them! What could we possibly do with them? They don’t understand anything, how are we supposed to teach them anything?” that’s what they said and, frankly, I get it…this would be just-one-more-thing on an already full plate. What would we do with these students?

Regardless, when the comments, questions, and concerns came pouring in for my just-one-year students, this is what I heard, “Start over--again. Work miracles or do nothing—no worries, it doesn’t really matter. Please, take them and teach them, it doesn’t matter when or how…but keep them for as long as possible. Also, if you can, send them back with seatwork, partner work, websites, flash cards, workbooks, anything…just help us keep them busy. Tell us what to do…please, help! Thank you for taking them out of our rooms, for keeping them busy.” Again, I was filled with concern. What would we do with these new students? What do we do with all of the just-one-year students? They come for so little time and need of so much of ours; the irony is lost on nobody.

Sometimes, I think that I barely know what to do with these students…and I am the expert in the building. Knowing that, it is understandable that the classroom teachers feel as they do about the addition of these students to their already-too-full rosters. Teaching is difficult work, homeroom classes are too big (30+ in the upper grades) and the demands and expectations placed on teachers are arguably the highest they have ever been. Adding ELLs who are beginners AND here for just-one-year introduces an entirely new dynamic that challenges teachers and presents ethical and instructional dilemmas. Where does a teacher whose time and resources are stretched-too-thin put his/her efforts? Is it ethically and instructionally sound to devote one’s scant resources to students who a teacher knows is going to leave in one year to return to his/her respective country? Is it ethically and instructionally sound to even consider this fact when teaching and planning? This is the conundrum that fills my mind when I think of my just-one-year students. What do we do? More simply, where is the balance in giving these students the time, attention, and respect that they deserve, while being careful to not give them so much that we are neglecting the students (ESOL and non-ESOL) who need support too and will remain in the school system for their entire academic careers? This is where the dilemma lies.  

To be clear, I am not saying that I (or any teacher, for that matter) dislike these students and don’t want them in our classrooms. Honestly, I love working with beginners, which includes this subgroup. I love to see their growth, the pride on their faces when they realize that they just said something for the first time, the light bulb moment when they understand a new concept that seemed out of reach. My favorite thing is seeing their personalities emerge and expand, for better or worse, in a trajectory parallel to their language growth. I love these kids and so do their classroom teachers. It is, as one of my colleagues always says, an honor and a privilege to teach them--but it is not perfect and it certainly is not simple. The just-one-year students are often incredibly smart, teach us new and interesting things about their cultures, are sweet and appreciative of our efforts, and bring richness to our school that wouldn’t exist without them. Rather, I am saying that there are considerable challenges in educating these students in a meaningful way; a challenge that, at times, leaves me (and, I suspect, others) feeling conflicted.

The just-one-year students come into our classrooms and we teach them, we help them, we differentiate for them, we love them, but the question remains, what do we do with these students when it’s just for one year? When it’s so much of our time, but so little time overall? When they grow linguistically, academically, and socially, but leave us too soon? When their knowledge is tested and measured long before their language level allows them to comprehend what is being asked? When our performance as educators is tied to and assessed by their achievement on these tests? What do we do? How do we teach a child with meaning, passion, and sincerity when it is for just-one-year?

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Reluctance To Take Charge

I participated in last night's #byotchat, and this exchange about the reluctance on the part of some students to take charge really got me thinking.

In the student-centered classroom, students take ownership of their own learning.  While last night's chat centered around the byot mindset, there are many parallels between the two concepts.  The question that JD Ferries-Rowe was responding to related to helping students achieve the byot mindset.  (Dr. Tim Clark explains the byot mindset in this blog post.)  

His answer, and the follow-up conversation that included Heather Theijsmeijer, focused on the importance of not providing the students with the answers.  While the teacher used to be the sole source of information in the classroom; in today's classroom, that is no longer required, or even advisable.  

Heather likened the students response to her not giving them the answers to being told to eat your broccoli.  I have tried to get kids to eat broccoli before, and it is quite a challenge to overcome their protests!  To get that same response when not giving students the answers they are seeking leads me to wonder about the reasons behind the actions.

Teachers like to help their students, it is in our nature and one of the main reasons we are teachers.  But, is this willingness to assist our students resulting in some unintended consequences?  Have students become so accustomed to us helping them that they have lost the ability to take charge and go and find the answers to their own questions?  

I posit that yes, there is a strong connection between these two ideas, almost like a learned helplessness on the part of the students that teachers are reinforcing.

What do you think?  Are there other reasons for this reaction from students?  Are we doing too much handholding? 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Do Your Actions Belie Your Statements?

I have never heard a teacher say that they did not want what was best for students.  More likely is a teacher telling the world that they do everything with the best interests of their students in mind.

It is easy to say that, but much harder to allow your actions to reflect that.

What if I walked in your classroom tomorrow?  Would I see in action, that which you profess in your words?  Is your classroom structured in such a way that it is all about your students?

Do you still instruct circa 1982?  Teacher in the front, desks in rows, and complacency from students the norm?  Worksheets in place of engaging learning activities, individual work instead of collaboration, or serving as the primary source of information for your students instead of any number of information sources?

You can say what you want, and even believe it yourself, but unless your actions support your statements, no one is buying it, least of all, your students!

image from icanread

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Teaching Hero

This is a blog post that I am writing as part of the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community.

This week's challenge is to share the story of my teaching hero.  So, Mr. Deluca, this is for you.

My father was a teacher, so too was my uncle and two of my aunts.  I never really entertained the idea of teaching when I was in grade school.  I always dreamed that I would either play in the National Hockey League or become an airline pilot.

That all changed in 4th grade.  That year, I had Mr. Deluca for a teacher.  I remember at the time being upset that I did not have the same teacher as my older brothers had, Mr. Denio. He was the funny one, the cool one, he even allowed kids to chew gum in class!  How awesome was that?  A teacher allowing his students to chew gum in class!  Man, was I disappointed!

This feeling was only reinforced early in the year.  One day, after recess, my shoes had a lot of mud on them, and the mud began to accumulate under my desk.  Right in the middle of teaching, Mr. Deluca stopped what he was doing and pointed this out to everyone in class.  He only directed his disdain for the mess at me, but everyone else in class became a part of our conversation.  

I can hear him telling me that I was making a mess and that I needed to get paper towels, crawl under my desk, and clean up every last bit of mud.  If I close my eyes right now, 27 years later, I can picture everything about that moment.  Every single pair of eyes on me, the struggle of cleaning up mud with a paper towel, the bright lights in the classroom- it is like I am there again.

You might be asking yourself, how in the world can this guy be your hero?  He was so demeaning (at least in my eyes) and left this scar on you that still stings 27 years later.  Great question, but remember that that was in the beginning of the year.  There was still a lot of time left for him to leave positive memories with me.

Mr. Deluca was passionate.  About everything.  He was excited about the US Presidents.  All of them!  So much so, that he made us memorize each of them, in order.  I can still list them today, 27 years later.  Was that feat evidence of deeper learning?  No, not really.  It was strict memorization, a low level activity.  But, his passion about learning the names of the Presidents was infectious.  That passion still sticks with me today, 27 years later.

Mr. Deluca wore a suit and tie to school every day.  Not all teachers were that well dressed every day.  I remember thinking that there is something special about this guy, he gets super dressed up for us every day!  Surely, there was a reason for it, maybe he cared more about us than the other teachers cared for their students.  

By about the third month of school, I began to work on my mom.  I had to have a suit just like Mr. Deluca's.  I either wasn't aware of the potential ramifications of wearing a suit to 4th grade, or didn't care.  I had to have one, and I needed it yesterday.  

Eventually, I convinced my mother to buy me a suit.  I was so excited to wear it to school, to show Mr. Deluca that I could get dressed up for school as well.  The suit was spectacular, all the way down to the clip-on tie that I had to wear because I was too little for a grownup tie.  I can even hear my brothers calling me 'Captain Clip-on'!  

None of that fazed me though, because my hero wore a suit, therefore I needed to as well.  The first time that I wore my suit to school, I was excited beyond words.  I can still picture myself walking to the doorway of my classroom, and stopping at the threshold.  I wanted Mr. Deluca to see me, in all my glory!  I just knew that that day was going to be the best day ever.

I don't really remember the reactions of my classmates. They may have made fun of me, most likely they did. But, I do remember the reaction from my hero.  He met me at the door, and made me stand there so he could check out my new suit.  He remarked that I looked fit to lead the class, that I was dressed better than some of the teachers!  

That was all I needed.  He affirmed my risk taking in wearing the suit that day, and immediately wiped away anything negative that I may have felt about him.  In that moment, I felt validated by my hero, and there was no better feeling in the world at that time.  I knew then and there, that I was going to be a teacher.  

I also knew, that when I became a teacher, that I was going to do my best to live up to the ideal of Mr. Deluca.  

As the years went on, I still dreamed of playing in the NHL, but eventually reality took over, and I resigned myself to the fact that getting paid to play hockey just wasn't in the cards for me.

But, teaching was in the cards for me.  My new dream became to one day become a teacher and connect with my students in much the same way that Mr. Deluca had connected with me.  I was going to bring the passion, the energy, and the desire to make him proud of me every single day to school.  

And so, while I didn't get to live out my dream of playing in the NHL, I ended up living out an even better dream, paying forward, to my students, what Mr. Deluca had given me.  For that, I am forever grateful for my fourth grade teacher, and I only hope that I can achieve some of the impact that he had on me with my students.

So, Mr. Deluca, thank you for inspiring in me, for caring about me, and for believing in me.  I can only hope to pay it forward to my students of today.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Teaching is...

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, The Center for Teaching Quality — a group that has been working to raise teacher voice and to redefine the teaching profession  for the past 20 years — is encouraging teachers to spend the week sharing reflections about just what teaching is all about using the hashtag #TeachingIs.

Teaching is what I do.  It is complex, yet so simple at the same time.  There are many components that makeup the art of teaching, but when you boil it down to its simplest level, it is about doing what is best for students.  Period.  Every decision I make as an educator is viewed through this lens.

Teaching is hard.  There are many variables that present new challenges, that try to steer you away from your primary focus on your students.  It is difficult to stay the course and not be swayed by those variables.  

Teaching is inspiring.  It is inspiring when the light bulb goes off for my students.  That light bulb validates everything I do, and encourages me to press on in the toughest moments.

Teaching is reflecting.  In order to be able to do what is best for my students, I need to reflect on what I am doing to ascertain the impact it is having on my students.  It is equally important that my students see me reflect, for it is a learned skill that will take them far in life.

Teaching is painful.  It is painful when you have a student doing everything to succeed and they still don't.  It is heart wrenching when your students are not successful.  But you can't give up, you must reflect, reassess, and reteach until they are successful!

Teaching is fun.  It provides countless opportunities to laugh at myself on a daily basis.  It allows me the opportunity to inject humor into the lives of my students, especially for those that may not experience at any other point of the day..

Teaching is the greatest job in the world.  The highs are higher than any other, and the lows can be lower than any other.  But, in the end, it is all worth it because you are able to learn from the greatest teachers... the kids!

Friday, May 2, 2014

If It's Worth it, They'll Find a Way

I work in a Title 1 school with over 60% of our students receiving free and reduced lunch.  I tell you this to you a glimpse into the economic status of many of our families.

Our families must make difficult decisions with where they spend their money, like so many of us.  It is not easy for our families to find the money in their monthly budget to spring for a tablet or other device for their kids to bring to school to use in the classroom.  

We are a byot school, and freely encourage our students to bring their technology.  But, when a family is forced to make decisions between a tablet and other basic needs, buying a tablet for their child is not a priority.  Our parents are very supportive of their child's education, so it is up to us to showcase that these devices are beneficial for learning.

So, how do we do it?  How can teachers demonstrate to the parents that it is worth it for them to make the sacrifice to invest in these 'extras' when they have so many other needs?

  1. Instruct Using a  Student-Centered Model
    When a classroom is predominantly student-centered, the students are more in charge of their learning.  They are researching, creating, and demonstrating their learning in ways of their choosing.  Having their own device to accomplish these activities can illustrate to the parents how their purchase benefits their child.
  2. Share the Work with the World
    Instead of having students create for the audience in the room, invite the world to see the great things that the students are doing.  Utilizing tools such as VoiceThread, blogs, and Skype, allows students the opportunity to engage authentic audiences in reviewing and supporting their classwork.
  3. Pique Your Students' Natural Curiosity
    Curiosity is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning.  When our students are curious about the world they live in, they want to learn more and more about everything around them.  When our classrooms cultivate this curiosity in our students, the desire will still burn at home, providing evidence to our families of the benefits of purchasing these learning tools.

When we provide our students with opportunities to show their parents that this decision is worth it, the parents will find a way.  It is up to us, as educators, to create this environment for our students each and every day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oh, We Don't Use Technology in My Classroom

A teacher in my building was excited to share some QR codes, that she had made, with her grade level team.  She did this during a team meeting, and afterwards gave each teacher a few copies for them to use in their classroom.  Her teammates were very excited to try out this new idea, save for one.  When she went to give it to this particular teammate, she was greeted with an upturned hand, and the response "Oh, we don't use technology in my classroom."

After hearing of this exchange, I let it roll around in my head for a few days.  I didn't react, didn't share it with anyone else, just let it kind of sit in my mind.

Then, it hit me.   This teacher was dismissing a new idea out of hand.  While it was directly related to technology in this case, it made me wonder what other new ideas did she dismiss?  If this teacher was so adamant about not using technology that she freely admitted, in front of her team, that 'we don't use technology in my classroom', surely this wasn't the first time she turned down a new idea.

Carrying this out a bit further, it really makes me wonder how she reacts to other new ideas?  What are her students missing out on, without even knowing it?   How can she, as a teacher, be so close-minded to new ideas?  What if a student made a suggestion for trying something in a different way?  Odds are, that student's idea will be dismissed as well.

Is this what we should be teaching our students?  To fear new ideas, without so much as a second thought?  Students often take cues from their teachers, and this is one that I would certainly not wanted copied by her students.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What My Students Need to Hear

This is a blog post that I am writing as part of the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community.

The blogging challenge this week is to read Chase Mielke’s post entitled What Students Really Need to Hear, and then to craft your own blog post with a message about what your message would be to students.

There is a plan, contained inside the four walls of my classroom.  It may seem disjointed, rambling, and utterly hopeless.  But it isn't.  No, there is a methodical plan.

That is what my students need to hear.  They need to be reassured that behind the scenes, maybe WAY behind the scenes, there is a blueprint that lays everything out.  That everything we do in my class is done on purpose.  That I am not just throwing ideas against the wall and seeing if something sticks.  No, that's not how I decide what to do in my class.

You see, my plan is to create lifelong learners.  I can't come out and just tell you that in class, because that really isn't too inspiring.  Instead, I do the old head fake trick.  This way, you'll develop into lifelong learners without even realizing it, because then you won't have the chance to dismiss it as uncool, nerdy, or a waste of your time.

At this point of the year, it is too late.  I have already got you hooked, there’s no escaping. 

You thirst for knowledge constantly, as the result of being able to choose how you learn the content. 

You always take extra care in making sure your presentation is just so, because you decide how to share what you’re learning with us, and the world.

You always are asking more and more questions, because of the curiosity that runs rampant in the room.

You see, there is a plan.  A real good plan, if I must say so myself.  And, it has turned out pretty well. 

Do you see why I couldn't come out and tell you this?  Is it clear to you now why I had to hide it away, undercover? 

I worked on building up your trust, because I knew that if you trusted me that I would be able to push you beyond what you thought you could achieve.  I could enact my plan, carry it out to fruition, once I had your trust.

I understand if this makes you upset.  It won’t hurt my feelings if you want to throw me against the wall to see if I stick.  You see, after you throw me against the wall, you’ll have this need to figure out why I did or did not stick to the wall.  You will design a set of experiments, test out your hypotheses, and come to conclusions… all the while enjoying every step of the process.

You see, there is a plan…