Wednesday, October 24, 2018

All Means All

Earlier this month, I was incensed to read a story about a transgender middle school student who was not allowed to shelter with her classmates during an active shooter drill because nobody seemed able to decide if she should shelter in the boys or girls locker room. I had to wonder if the kids were all going to take a shower or change their clothes during this drill, because if they weren't, then I can't for the life of me figure out why it matters which locker room she or ANY of the other students went in. If there was a real active shooter, are students going to have to follow gender norms in order to stay safe? What would happen if the boys locker room was locked? Do all the boys have to stay outside while the girls get to be safe? Of course not! But that's not the point I'm trying to make.

Being in education can be tough. We have to think of the students first, not ourselves. That means we do things like pull ourselves together when the kids walk in the classroom after we had a fight with our teenager in the car on the way to school. That means we treat with kindness the student whose parent is a constant thorn in our side and we just don't like. It also means we protect all of our students when they need protection. All of them. We have to put aside any personally held beliefs or prejudices we might have. So when we see kids bullying the little girl who comes to school in the same clothes every day of the week, we step in and protect her. And when we hear kids use a racial slur when talking to a student of color, we step in and protect that student. AND when we practice how to shelter from an active shooter, we make sure all students have the safest possible place to take cover without regard to gender.

If you work in education and you take issue with students based on things like socio-economic status, religion, parents' political leanings, race, ethnicity, religion, immigration or citizenship status, health issues, sexual orientation, or gender, then you don't belong in education. Because as an educator, you have a moral imperative to serve all the students in your classroom and school -- you don't to pick and choose. And, by the way, when I say "educator", I am speaking of teachers, administrators, secretaries, aides, custodians, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and anyone else who works with kids in a school.

If you are an educator and you can't be an advocate and protector for each of your students because you let your own thoughts interfere with the total acceptance of the little humans in your care, then you don't deserve to have the privilege of being in a position of influence for those young lives.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Looking Back

I have been not so great about keeping this blog updated, probably because I maintain two other blogs -- one that is personal and not related to education and one that is for work, sharing items with my coworkers. But now that I am part of ISTE Blogging Buddies, I am going to blog here more, so look out :-)

It is interesting to go back and look at my previous posts, to see what had been important to me over the years, to see how my attitudes have evolved. I am so passionate about education. I love to write about it. I love to talk about it. I love to share it. A number of years ago, I used to be an adjunct at a local community college and I taught a class called Intro to Teaching. It was Education 101 and it was a ton of fun to teach! Of all the classes I got to adjunct, that one was my favorite!

That's why I'm excited to be in this Blogging Buddies group. I've got a group of fellow educators whose blogs I can read, and I've got people to read my thoughts, and it keeps me motivated to write.

So I guess I'm back in the blogging saddle! Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Energy Bus -- Reflection #2

As I read chapter 10 in The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, I kind of thought to myself, "Been there, done that." Chapter 10 is titled "Focus" and features the rule, "Desire, Vision, and Focus Move Your Bus in the Right Direction." I consider myself living proof of how true this is.

In 2015, I considered myself a novice runner. I was slow and plodding, but I could run a 5K with little trouble. But I got inspired that year to run a half marathon, the Chicago Half Marathon specifically. So I researched training plans and diets and bothered all the really good runners I know with all sorts of questions about how to train for a half.

But one of the most important strategies I used was visualization. Every single time I went out to run, all I did was picture myself on that half marathon course. I imagined myself on Lake Shore Drive, I pictured all the other runners around me. I imagined coming around the final curve where I had stood before to cheer on my cousins as they ran that race in previous years. I pictured myself crossing the finish line. What did I want to do -- cry? shout? throw my hands in the air? fist pump? So many possibilities for what would happen when I crossed that finish line.

So, I did everything right. I followed my training plan faithfully. I ate the right foods. I wore the right shoes. I fueled properly. I hydrated properly. And I crossed that finish line, But I know that running isn't only physical. There is a huge part of running that is mental, and I properly prepared myself mentally. I am confident that visualization played a huge role in my ability to finish the Chicago Half Marathon.

And it is a key strategy I employ now as I prepare to run the Chicago Marathon on October!!!!!!
Crossing the finish line at the Chicago Half Marathon.

Wearing my hard-earned hardware!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Energy Bus -- Reflection #1

Our superintendent gave us all a little homework for the summer -- he asked us all to read The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon. I just started it today, and I am already having a-ha moments. I'm the kind of person who likes to process things by writing about them, so I've been inspired to share some of my thoughts here as I read the book. I'm sure that some people will say this is all one big suck up to my boss, and to them I say, fine, feel that way if you want. But people who know me know that I look for reasons to write, so here I am, expressing myself the way I enjoy it best.

I didn't even get past the foreword written by Ken Blanchard before I got smacked with a truth. Written in the foreword is this: "Every morning you have a choice. Are you going to be a positive thinker or a negative thinker? Positive thinking will energize you." Now, I'm going to get a bit personal here, so I apologize for that upfront, and I hope it doesn't upset anyone who might happen to read it (spoiler: it has a happy ending).

I learned this statement to be quite true, and I learned it the hard way. In 2001, my mom and dad split up after more than 30 years of marriage. It knocked me for an absolute loop. That summer, I made a conscious decision to be angry with and actively hate my father, since he was the one who initiated the breakup. And I also allowed myself to feel the same anger and hatred toward my dad's girlfriend as well. At first, I felt really strong and powerful, spewing all the venom and vitriol I could about them. I had some pretty powerful emotions to let out, and I felt energized by releasing them.

The I woke up one day and realized how exhausted I was -- mentally, emotionally, and physically. I realized that it was a direct result of all the hatred I had been actively harboring. It was hard to get up every day and decide to hate my dad. It made me feel lousy. And as I sat there, thinking about how miserable I felt, I realized I was making other people miserable, too. Nobody enjoyed being around me -- not my husband, not my daughter, not my friends. That active hostility permeated outside the bounds of who is was meant for and poisoned every relationship I had. So that morning, as consciously as I had decided to hate my father, I decided NOT to hate him anymore. The situation with him was beyond my control, so I decided to let go of the hostility. I purposely decided to do and say things that showed my father I loved him. I wanted to have a relationship with him. I wanted my daughter to grow up loving her grandfather, not being poisoned by my awful attitude. I wanted to accept the new woman in his life; if she was important to my dad then she was important to me, too.

And by making that conscious decision to stop being negative and instead be positive, everything around me changed. I felt better, I looked better, my relationships improved. It has been 16 years since that summer, and I get along well with my dad and his girlfriend who is now his wife. I remember that summer of 2001 -- it was filled with angst, turmoil, and darkness. But somehow, someway, I found my way past all that. Positive thinking really is energizing. It is powerful. It is life altering. And it doesn't just happen. It has to be a choice, a decision you make. It has to be done deliberately.

I jumped on the energy bus when I made the decision -- and I didn't even know it!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why I Teach: Teaching in the Balance #FBCALbook

The following post was written to be shared with the "Fueled by Coffee and Love" book project. Learn more about this project and maybe submit your own story!

Recently, the high school I graduated from held a career day. They asked alumni of the school to come speak to students about their chosen careers. I briefly considered applying to share with students my experience as a teacher and how I found this career, but I doubted anyone would be very happy to hear what I had to say.

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. Even as a little girl, I always wanted to play school with my brother and my friends. A woman who was a family friend was a principal and she would often bring me copies of sample workbooks and textbooks or extra copies of worksheets from her school and I would be giddy with excitement at these gifts. Interestingly enough, I also knew very early on that I wanted to be an English teacher. Science and history were interesting, math was a challenge, but reading, writing, and even grammar were so much fun for me! I was an avid book reader and creative writer from the time I could read and write. And if I’m being honest, there’s something fascinating to me about grammar and the way our language works. I get enjoyment from creating clarity of ideas from the way words are arranged on a page. So, English language arts teacher was my chosen career path from the very start.

Obviously, language arts class was always my favorite class in school. I was the dork who read every single book and story assigned to me and loved talking about them with people. I was the nerd who loved writing essays and research papers. I was the girl who wrote scores of poems -- most of them lousy, mushy love poems -- as an emotional outlet. I was the person who took meaningful moments in my life and tried to preserve them by writing them as scenes from a story. I was the one who heard a song with exceptional lyrics and thought, “How I wish I had written that song!” or, “I wonder what the backstory is for this song?” I would then proceed to develop a story for the meaning of the song if I couldn’t find one through research!

I’m the same way today as an adult. I love reading and discussing books. I love reading and analyzing poetry. I still become mesmerized by beautiful song lyrics. I love doing my own creative writing. I love doing research projects. And I love doing all these things with students as well as teachers, friends, and family. My love of the language, especially in written form, is just part of my fabric. But it took just one single teacher to almost rid me of that fiber.

She was one of my high school English teachers. Mrs. Jackson (not her real name) taught American literature. Since literature classes were always my favorite, I looked forward to this class very much. But it didn’t take long to discover that Mrs. Jackson didn’t appreciate literature the same way I did.

I can remember three very distinct experiences with her that could have broken me but instead increased my resolve. The first incident came during a class discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown.” Mrs. Jackson was discussing symbolic elements in the story. She talked about the character of Faith and the pink ribbons she wore in her hair. Faith’s pink ribbons are traditionally seen as a symbol of her purity or innocence. I raised my hand and asked, “Is it possible that maybe Faith isn’t as pure and innocent as she seems? Her ribbons are pink, but isn’t white the traditional color of purity? Maybe Hawthorne was trying to show us that Faith isn’t as completely pure as we think she is. That’s why he had her wear pink ribbons instead of white.”

Mrs. Jackson’s response was swift and stinging. “Absolutely not!” she told me. She then went on a rant that sounded something like this: “Her name is Faith. The ribbons are pink, which is a color we associate with innocent little girls. For years and years, experts have explained how her ribbons represent her purity, but you come along as a teenager and think you know this story better than the experts? You don’t know anything. I know this story. I’m the teacher. I’m the expert. You need to understand this the way I teach it to you.”

Teenager though I was, I can remember thinking, “I don’t think that is the way a teacher should tell a student she’s wrong. I just had an idea. I just asked a question.” It was shocking and a little upsetting, but not demoralizing. Because I was a teenager and prone to being obnoxious, instead of being beaten down by Mrs. Jackson, I preferred to be a pebble in her shoe. I spent that year continuing to ask questions about literature -- sometimes legitimate, sometimes absurd -- just to irritate her.

The “Young Goodman Brown” incident quietly rallied my classmates around me. This was evident in the second distinct incident I remember. It was near the end of the school year, and being the grammar geek that I was, I had finished all the exercises in our grammar workbooks already. Mrs. Jackson had given us a few pages to complete in class. As my classmates worked, I made a little show out of closing my workbook and pulling out a novel to read. Mrs. Jackson glared at me from her podium for ten minutes. When it was time to go over the answers in class, she immediately called on me to read the answers, which I did -- and all correctly, I might add! When I finished, my classmates looked at Mrs. Jackson, who was clearly flabbergasted at not having caught me being lazy or defiant, and they broke out in spontaneous cheers. When they were finally quiet, Mrs. Jackson looked at me and said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are, Renee.”

The final incident came at the end of the school year when it was time to register for next year’s classes. Mrs. Jackson refused to recommend me for honors level English, despite having a high B average in her honors level English class and all the honors level English classes previous. She met with my parents and me and told us directly, “Renee doesn’t have what it takes to be an honors student.” That was the only rationale she offered. And just as an FYI -- my parents fought her recommendation and had me placed in honors English the next year, where I maintained a high B average.

When people ask me why I became a teacher, I tell them I was inspired by Mrs. Jackson. Often, people are taken aback by this. Mrs. Jackson was not a very good teacher -- it is easy to see this from the three anecdotes I just shared. How could she possibly be inspirational?

I always imagined that teachers are in a balance: good teachers on one side of the scale, bad ones on the other side. As long as Mrs. Jackson was teaching, then that scale would always be tipped slightly in favor of the bad teachers. I became completely resolved to even out the balance by being a good teacher.

I vowed to myself never to tell a student he or she is wrong, stupid, or silly for having an idea or asking a question. I vowed to myself never to make a student feel any of those things, either, so I would have to be thoughtful in my language and interactions. I vowed to myself never to play “gotcha” with a student or make a deliberate attempt to humiliate him or her. I vowed to look for reasons to help students achieve their goals rather than find reasons to squash them. I vowed never to let students know who I liked and who I didn’t like (because I am only human, after all -- there have been some students I didn’t like). I vowed to myself to be the things Mrs. Jackson was not -- open-minded, friendly, helpful, and most of all, kind.

Why do I teach? I teach to keep the scale balanced, and maybe even tipped in favor of the good guys!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What is the Purpose of Education? #IMMOOC

If I had been asked the question, "What is the purpose of education?" a decade ago, I'm sure my answer would have focused on things like learning material, understanding the mechanics of writing, and other curriculum-based skills. In answering this question today, I still see an absolute need for kids to learn some core skills -- reading, writing, 'rithmetic -- I think the purpose of education has finally gone beyond learning those skills.

In his book The Innovator's Mindset, George Couros says on pg. 3  in the introduction, "Consider this: students have access to better resources online than what teachers could possibly offer." Facing this fact can be a real ego blow for some teachers who fancy themselves "experts". I certainly don't discount the knowledge that teachers have about their areas of expertise; teachers definitely have important information that is worth sharing with students! But teachers are no longer the main conduit for getting that information to students. Teachers need to embrace the myriad of excellent resources available to help them educate their students; other people have done all sorts of legwork for us -- we teachers would be silly not to use what's out there!

So to me, the purpose of education now is to make sure students learn the important information in all sorts of subject areas, but then they also must find ways to put what they learn to use. They also need to learn all sorts of other skills that we used to consider part of the "hidden curriculum" -- things like cooperation, communication, organization, collaboration, research, speaking, presenting, analyzing, evaluation, application. Without opportunities to put these skills into practice, all the content learned will be useless, just sitting there in their minds (if we're lucky, it stays in there -- it's more likely it just fades away).

Innovation plays a critical role in education today because the nature of information is constantly changing. There is always new information -- both factual and false information -- and new ways that information is shared and accessed. In order for education to remain relevant for students, schools need to constantly reassess how their students are learning and change with the times. Without innovation, schools just update themselves but then become stagnant -- and we end up back in the situation so many schools are in now: facing the need for change but fighting the system to make it happen.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's Not The Device, It's You

News flash: I don't think technology is the be-all and end-all of education. I'm sure this makes some people raise their eyebrows. I am the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, after all. Without technology, wouldn't my job be moot?

Just because I am an advocate of using technology in the classroom doesn't immediately mean that I think all technology use is good. I don't think books and teachers should be replaced by computers and online schools.

Good education is about meeting students where they're at. To do that effectively, we need to make sure that we are using the wide variety of tools available in our toolbox. Sometimes kids need a book. Sometimes they need to write something down on paper. Sometimes they need to play a game. Sometimes they need to see a video. And sometimes they need to use a computer or the internet.

When people complain about kids being addicted to technology, it is so quick and easy to blame the technology itself. Common complaints blamed on technology:

  • Kids spend too much time on their phones/iPads/game systems/computers that they don't know how to interact socially with other people.
  • Kids don't get enough sleep because they're on their devices all night long.
  • Kids don't do as well in school because they pay more attention to their device than their homework.
  • Kids have short attention spans and need to be entertained because of everything they do online.
  • Kids can't spell or write coherently because they always use "text speak".
  • Kids suffer health issues from so much time spent staring at illuminated screens.
These are a mere sampling of complaints. But when it gets right down to it, here's the ugly truth: if theses things are happening, it is not the fault of the device; it's the fault of the parent or the adult who should be paying attention to the way the technology is being used by the child. If a child is up until 3:00 in the morning playing video games, it's not Nintendo's fault. The parents should take steps to make sure the child is in bed. If a student turns in a report littered with IMHO's and FWIW's and spellings like "wut" and "b4", that's not the phone's fault; it's the teacher's fault for not taking the time to help the child write correctly for his or her audience.

And while I'm sharing unpopular ideas, adults who can't put their phones down during dinner or act like internet trolls or compulsively post selfie after selfie -- the technology isn't at fault there, either. As adults, we are all responsible for our own behavior. It's a cop out to say, "I'm addicted to my phone."

Placing blanket blame on the technology and then deciding that the way to fix the ills that exist as a result of the abuse of the device is to simply ban the technology is utterly laughable. The technology is here to stay -- the internet isn't a fad. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and our kids' lives. The best way to make sure all that technology gets used appropriately is to model proper usage ourselves and guide our kids through using it safely, meaningfully, and effectively.