Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Why

Have you ever heard someone say, "Why do kids need computers at school? I didn't have a computer when I went to school and I did just fine." Or maybe you've heard comments like this: "Why do kids need to learn coding? They're just playing games. They're not really learning anything useful." Or even a statement like this: "What's the point of the kids making videos? That's not teaching them anything that's on the tests they take."

I can answer that question in one Tweet.

The learning that kids do today -- from what they learn to how they learn -- is not the same as it was for most adults. It's not even the same as when my own daughter was in high school less than 10 years ago. That Tweet I shared is a prime example why kids need access to computers, the internet, and tools that allow them to create, communicate, and collaborate. Because that's how kids learn.

Sometimes teachers feel like kids don't want to learn. But that's not really true. They DO want to learn. They just might not want to learn things the way we are presenting them (or even the things we are asking them to learn). Obviously, there are some skills that are just necessary to learn, but if we can give kids the right tools to learn with -- meaning the tools they are accustomed to use for learning -- and if we can give them some autonomy in their learning, then we as teachers just might be able to hook them into the things we want them to learn, like photosynthesis, geometry, the Constitution, or Shakepseare's sonnets.

When kids have the right tools and when they have some voice in their own education, they do indeed learn. But when we try to force a square peg (learning today) into a round hole (learning the way we used to), it sure looks like kids don't want to learn. But look at that Tweet again. There she is. Learning, Creating. Collaborating. For FUN!

What a profound lesson Miss P taught us.

This post also appears on my work blog for staff in my school district.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Non-Expert Based Opinion About SBG

The district I work for is in the final year of implementing SBG across all grade levels, K-8. I am admittedly still learning about SBG, so it is entirely possible I have no ever loving clue what I am talking about. I was skeptical about SBG at first -- not the learning, but the grading. SBL has been happening in some way, shape, or form for as long as I've been teaching, but SBG, especially in upper grade levels, not so much. But here's the epiphany I had that made me think it might be something good:

My daughter struggled mightily with math in high school. It was rough waters her freshman year, hurricane her sophomore year, and a full on tsunami her junior year. I refused to let her take a math class her senior year lest she fail and not be able to graduate. She had enough math credits to graduate, so despite how much it pissed off her counselor, I kept her out of pre-calc her senior year. Instead, I opted to have her get caught up in math through Kumon Learning Center (they were a Godsend, if I'm being honest). One the problems I ran into with her math teachers is they couldn't tell me where her holes or weaknesses were, and one teacher actually told me he didn't have the time to figure it out and help her. I was grateful for that honesty -- I knew I was on my own to figure out how to help her.

As I've learned about SBG, it had dawned on me that this would have been so helpful for my daughter in high school. I could have had a better idea where she was struggling instead of just assuming she sucked at all of it.

An added benefit might have been less of a blow to her self-esteem. My daughter was convinced she wouldn't get into college because of her grades (she did get into college, AND she graduated, AND she got a good job after graduation). By using SBG, there is less of a stigma associated with the labels used (in my district, they are EPAL -- Exceeds, Proficient, Approaching, Limited). None of them are clearly an A, B, C, D, or F, so maybe she would have seen herself as lacking or weak in math instead of stupid (she idled in the D range for a lot of math).

I've got zero research to use, and I have zero expertise in this topic, but when using my kid as an example, I gotta say, I see some merit.

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!