Yesterday my daughter came home and asked to talk to my wife and I about friends issues. She is in third grade and apparently there is already friend issues. We have had conversations before about how to handle the stresses of juggling friend requests, or having friends not want to play your game that day. We have talked about advocating for yourself, being nice, and hopefully all the things parents should be telling their child to prepare them for navigating the treacherous world of elementary playgrounds.
Last night was different. She told us that a friend's older sister said she was fat. I am struggling to continue to write this post because I am fighting back tears. My daughter is the kindest gentlest person I know and in an instant this one word FAT is defining her. It is causing her angst, frustration and pain.
As I woke this morning I thought back to my childhood and my experiences. I was called fat and much worse. I was picked on for how I looked not what I knew or could do. It began to define how I saw myself and my self worth. It continues to shape the decisions I make and my interactions with others. I struggle with how others see me, do they see and judge what I look like, or what I have to say or contribute to the conversation.
My wife talked to my daughter about standing up for herself. To tell the girl that it isn't nice, it hurts peoples feelings... she gave her good advice about self advocating. What I saw in my daughter was difficult to find a word to describe but she began to cry. She was afraid of upsetting the other girl, she was afraid to put herself in this difficult position. I saw myself in her. I struggled to stand up and truly confront the bullies in my life. As I watched her, listened to her I realized she is beginning the same struggles I went through. The issue isn't really about whether or not she is fat. The issue is other people have labeled her and that is already impacting her. Our children are not labels, they do not fit into neat categories like the A student or the trouble maker. They are more than...
Remember You Are More and so are each and every child!
I am angry and frustrated that at age 9 my daughter has to see the ugliness of human behavior and that I can't shelter or protect her from it. I can't hug her and take the pain away like when she scraped her knee while learning to ride her bike.
Our children deserve better. We deserve better. I cannot change the behavior of others that my daughters will interact with throughout their lives, but I can help shape who they are and who they become. I can shower them with praise! I can help them see how awesome they are! I can teach them to stand up for themselves, to advocate, to fight to be a strong person! I can be there to support them, guide them and take the journey of life alongside them. I can help her see that her worth and value is not and should not be tied to appearance but what she contributes to this world.
Always remember they are not labels, because labels leave a lasting impression. They are children who deserve our best! I can do better for every child I interact with and I hope you do the same.
I am just days removed from my first ICE conference and have come away with a number of lessons. One of the first things is that ICE is an amazing conference loaded with great sessions and incredible educators. It was a great experience and I am looking forward to returning to ICE again next year. The sessions were filled with amazing takeaways presented by passionate educators sharing some of the great things they are doing with students. I learned about ways to offer Professional Development, creating videos, gamification,
One of the highlights include a guided tour of the resort with keynote speaker, the amazing Adam Bellow. It was an opportunity that happened by chance but more importantly because he is an phenomenal individual who is incredibly down to earth. ICE provided opportunities to spend some real quality time with some really big name educators because it is an intimate venue jam packed with educational awesomeness.
Another cool experience was Steve Dembo's session on MEMEs. It was entertaining and filled with many examples of how to use MEMEs for classroom activities. You can have students present their understanding of a topic using a MEME, a fake tweet, or other short text visual. There were many examples that stood out in his session, but what I will take away from that session was his interaction with his son who was in the front row during his session. Earlier in the day his son presented a session with him. This father son connection in learning made me think about the possibilities to connect with my daughters in creating learning activities.
1. Authentic Learning is Key
I have been a proponent of having students complete tasks for audiences beyond the classroom teacher for years. After attending the session on authentic learning by Tracy Crowley @tracycrowley77 I was inspired by what was truly possible in terms of authentic learning. A couple key points she made were that authentic learning is not creating tasks for parents or another class in your school. Authentic learning is about solving a problem a real world problem. She provided a few examples from her own experience. One of those was elementary students creating PSA video about an issue they were having with their playground. They wrote, directed, and edited the video asking their superintendent to add more wood chips to their playground so their classroom would be a clean safe learning environment. This stood out because the kids were completely engaged and in the end they were successful. Learning needs to be meaningful, authentic and based on things that matter to students.
2. Technology needs to be used purposefully
Tech is a tool and implementing tech into a lesson will not automatically make it better. This may seem strange advice especially at a tech conference but this message resonated throughout many sessions I attended. Technology should not be something that we simply check a box to say we used it. Instead it should be purposefully implemented to enhance best practices. During the lesson planning process we need to have a vision for what we want students to do and how they will show mastery. While I am a huge proponent of technology, I am a champion for engaging students in the learning process even if that means there is no technology involved. I want to see best teaching practices utilized regardless. With that said, we need to continue to assist teachers with their growth in the use of technology. I attended a great session called Techventure where the two presenters created a game based strategy to provide teachers with individualized tech PD offerings. Teachers can do training modules when it fits their schedule and earn badges and certificates when completed. The layout of their site and their vision is inspiring. I am already working on ideas for how to implement this in our district.
3. No matter how many times you interact with someone or hear about a topic there are still learning opportunities.
I don't think this is a new idea for most of us. I am sure there are times when you reread a text, watch a video, or talk to someone about a topic on a second or third occasion. My revelation came when sitting in a gamification session with Michael Matera. He and I first connected a couple years ago and have connected via Twitter more times than I can count. We have been at edcamps and even co-presented a session at one. I have attended multiple sessions on gamification he has presented as well. It was during his mini-games session this past week that I realized that no matter how many times I hear or talk with Michael about gamification I continue to learn. The more we explore a topic the more knowledge we extract about the topic. This is not only a lesson for us on our own quest for knowledge, but should be used to guide our instruction of students. We need to provide students multiple opportunities to engage in important learning. Learning focused on skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, creation, and inquiry.
4. Not being the smartest person in the room is awesome!
ICE is a conference loaded with phenomenal educators who are extremely knowledgeable and are true leaders of change in education. When attending an event like this I quickly realized I had no chance of being the smartest person in the room. What a freeing feeling. Unlike the feeling we sometimes experience in front of students who have a plethora of questions where we may think we need to know everything. At ICE, I felt no pressure to have all the answers. I found that I could ask questions and best of all I was able to learn and learn from some of the most amazing educators all in one place. I got to turn off my teacher hat and put on my student hat.
5. Teachers are fun!
This conference was a blast. The opportunities to learn were incalculable. I have outlined a few of those already. One of the most significant lessons is that Teachers are truly a fun group of people to hang out with. I got to know colleagues in ways I wouldn't normally in the confines of a school setting. I was able to connect with and learn about members of my PLN that I had previously only known via social media. The true lesson is to let your personality shine through in your classroom! Teachers wear many hats and we sometimes have to take off the hats that get in the way of letting others see more of who we are.
6. Get up early- the plumbers come early and water is good.
The final take away is all about preparation. My colleague and I were able to stay off site with a relative of his. One thing that we overlooked was that the plumbers were coming early on Friday morning. We woke to the sound of the plumbers beginning their work on the water pipes. What we quickly realized is to do the work they needed to shut off the water. This resulted in our lack of water to complete the most important morning ritual the ever popular shower. So ICE was a great experience even with a little hiccup in the adventure.
Thanks to all those who organized, presented and attended ICE. It was something I won't soon forget and appreciate all the connections I made.
I The other day during a car ride with my daughter we embarked on an amazing learning journey. She was watching a video on Slavery from BrainPop. The video did a good job of providing an overview of the issues of Slavery and the causes of the Civil War as related to slavery. It detailed the beginnings of slavery in America and including the Triangular Trade Route, treatment of slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some really good details in the video, but as I listened, I was compelled to ask my daughter some questions to delve into deeper levels of understanding.
I asked her if she thought all the people in the North wanted to end slavery, that they all disliked it? After she responded, I added details about my educational journey. That it wasn't until my junior year of college in a African American literature class that I truly began to see history as a complex web of personal stories all told from various points of view. I began to see the events that shaped this country were not exactly what I was led to believe in history text books, or the multitude of classes I had attended.
I didn't explain this to her, instead I told her that when I was her age I thought everyone in the North disliked Slavery and everyone in the South wanted desperately to hold onto the practice. I truly saw the North as the benevolent Abolitionists and the South as morally corrupt and despised them. I continued the conversation adding an overview of the economic differences as they impacted the need for the different labor practices. And as I am reading this I realize it sounds like the conversation would go way over her head. I realize I am not doing a good job with the dialogue we had. What I am really trying to portray the learning that I experienced during this conversation.
While I was trying to explain to her the causes of the Civil War especially looking at the idea of how one side was trying to tell the other side what to do I saw the connection between so many other events in history. The revelation is simple. We too often overlook the point of view of certain parties/groups/people involved in history by telling the story from the victors point of view. Now this might not be ground breaking for many, but in this instance it led to a flurry of potential examples. I began to see a multitude of historical events in a new light. We have learned about history from a particular lens that often doesn't include the multitude of perspectives or their complexities.
From this I had the honest question- how do southern states teach about the Civil War? In the North we focused on slavery. Yes as I got older there was more talk of other causes, but honestly slavery was still front and center.
As I began to ponder the question about how the south would teach this, I took a step back and thought about how the south viewed the causes of the Civil War. I wonder if their version would have focused more on the tyranny of a distant government trying to impose its will upon them. The actions of this government in the North trying to take away their livelihood.
The lessons for History!
This perspective lead me to a whole list of similar events in history that made me take pause and consider from a different point of view.
America celebrates Independence Day, how does Great Britain view this day and more importantly the Revolutionary War?
America fought to make the world safe for Democracy, how do the countries where we engaged in war view our presence and our actions?
America worked to create peace in the Middle East. In doing so it funded Iran with the Iran-Contra Affair as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Both countries were waging war agains the other going into battle with American made weapons. How do these people view American involvement and how has that impacted modern events?
America considers the colonists who fought against the tyranny of Great Britain's rule as heroes, yet the southern secessionists could be considered traitors. Or another example the colonists were freedom fighters from America's point of view for standing up to a government trying to impose its will and its way of life on others. Would groups like Al-Queda and ISIS see themselves as terrorists or freedom fighters? Why is it important to consider their point of view?
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to bring the US into WWII, and America dropped the only Atomic bombs in history on Japan to end the war. How would Japanese teach these events in their history classes? How does the world look at America for being the only country to use these weapons on other human beings and yet today strictly controls who is able to have access to this technology.
How do we tell the story of inequality throughout the world?
How do other nations view America's excess, disposable technologies, and affluent lifestyle, when they are unable to obtain adequate food, water and healthcare?
How do the 42 million Americans living in poverty view politicians, superpacs, the rich debating what is best for America- talking about jobs, entitlements when they struggle daily?
How would the industrial workers in America tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
How would Native Americans retell the events of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion?
How would our textbooks and historical perspective be different if we recorded the Immigrant POV and not just an overview?
How would we view war if we told it from the Soldier's POV like Stephen Ambrose attempted to do in Citizen Soldier?
Our current system of education is antiquated. It is designed to produce workers in and industrial society, not 21st century careers many of which currently don't even exist. The discussion of changing our educational system is not something that I could do justice to in one post. For now let's look at an aspect of education that is within our immediate control to change and can assist in the revolution to improve education in general.
We are in an uphill battle in education. We are fighting TTWWHADI That's The Way We Have Always Done It! Education is rich in tradition however we often hold onto ways that are outdated and in some cases detrimental to our students. I have had many conversations with adults of my parents generation discussing how education was when they were in school. They discuss having to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution, and other facts, never having a snow day, the ruler smacks to the knuckles and other horror stories. Some I find difficult to believe but they do tell the stories with passion. The point being they reminisce about their experiences as being sound educational practices.
There In order to make change we need to first reflect on what we currently do, and what we hope to accomplish. The second part of this conversation should not be done in isolation. To truly understand what our goals for education should be, we need to engage in conversation with other educational leaders. We need to seek out other's to shape our vision for education. Through the examination of our current practices through the lens of where we want to go, we should be able to see areas of best practices and areas we need to improve.
There are amazing conversations about education both the great things happening and ideas for reform occurring daily. These discussions happen in person in school hallways, at conferences on line via Social Media, and in many other ways.
Recognizing that there are so many amazing conversations already taking place, shouldn't there be positive change being made globally? There are a number of issues hindering the positive revolution to reform education.
1. The establishment. There is a large bureaucracy in education that is often difficult to make progress due to the size of organization.
2. Outside forces. Educational decisions are often influenced or made based on powerful forces like legislative bodies, educational supply corporations like textbook or testing companies.
3. Contentment. - There are those who believe that the way things have been are as good as they can or should be. Those who think if it was good enough for me when I was in school, why do students need it today.
4. Lack of Funding.- To create innovation we often have to invest in new or different resources. This is often expensive when you apply the multiplier effect. It is often difficult to get public funding when it is one of the few opportunities taxpayers have a direct say on whether they want to pay more taxes. There is no vote on funding war, or other policies, but there is a vote for education.
5. Lack of cohesive vision.-
There is a definite need for a common vision for education. To revolutionize education and truly change the way we educate and support students we have to not only continue the conversations about the great things happening but to take action. One of the most important aspect of this revolution is the Vision for Education. I have engaged in many conversations about the vision for education. There are many ways I have heard this answered. This is an issue with making the change many passionate educators want to see. We all have our own version of what what that vision should be.
There may never be one agreed upon vision for education, but we need to formulate some non-negotiable aspects of our vision for education. Here are some possible examples:
1. Education must be student centered.
2. Education must be relevant and meaningful for students
3. Education must be engage students as active participants
4. Education must give students voice and choice.
5. Education must develop student skills to be problem solvers, thinkers and creators.
I could add other ideas that should be considered such as rethinking our grading and homework practices. There are still those who think extra credit for turning assignments in early, or bringing in school supplies deserve extra credit. Or those who think we should punish students for not doing homework by down grading them for turning it in late or not at all. Those are topics that people still debate about. These are just a couple examples of why a common vision in education can be difficult to achieve.
It is however worth engaging in the difficult conversations to challenge our own thinking and that of others because each time it leads us closer to making changes in our own and other's educational practices. The real change in education may come through grass roots activities generating large support that eventually grows into systematic change. We must start with dialogue on vision and mission and back it up with modeling best practices for others to emulate.
I have been fortunate to work with some amazing educators in my career. In recent years many of those have come through online collaboration and connections via Twitter or other social media. Those interactions have formed me into the educator I am today. Colleagues were there to support me when I needed it, but more importantly to challenge me when I wasn't measuring up. They pushed me to want to do more and be better. I am by no means an exemplary educator, who did extraordinary things with my students. I am someone who has that as a goal but isn't there YET. I think there are a lot of teachers who aren't there yet. These are the individuals we need to support and provide guidance in their journey.
In my new role I am fortunate to be invited into teachers' classrooms and assist in both planning and execution of lessons. This for some is difficult because they are vulnerable. They know there is another set of eyes in the room making note of what happened, or in some cases didn't happen. This in my opinion is a good thing. I used to invite others into my classroom. It leads to great conversation and growth if both parties approach it this way.
They're not there YET moments!
When I am in classrooms, I sometimes see or hear things that make me cringe- like "You need to do this because it is worth a lot of points." I cringe because I used to say that early in my career. It was how I was taught and taught to teach. I used phrases like that and I take notice of it because I once was that teacher trying to do their best to get kids to buy in, to connect, and accomplish the goals. I now know points and grades don't motivate students, in fact I have had some of the most amazing products and learning experiences happen when there were no grades assigned. I also take notice because I realize our young teachers are still being taught this way and they need help breaking away from those traditional methods to truly unlock their own potential of that of their students. They are on the cusp of greatness, they just aren't there YET! Our conversations are a way to help unlock this potential and we both learn from the conversation.
When observing areas where teachers aren't there yet, I approach it with my coaching hat. Meaning I am there to help them grow and move forward, not judging them. We can all do better and most of us are aware of that fact. All teachers need to be encouraged and shown a reason for making that growth and changing because let's face it change is hard.
The Call to Action!
How do you support your colleagues? How do you help them grow and prosper?
We all have opportunities to help other teachers whether it be those in our own building or connections made online, we have the chance to make positive change. Each of us has the potential to make a positive impact on those around us by doing some simple and some difficult things.
First the simple things:
The Difficult things
As I was finalizing this post, I came across this challenge on Twitter from two amazing Admins, Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf - LeadLAP Challenges This is one in a series of challenges for Leaders to embark on creating a positive school culture. I love this week's challenge of visiting other teachers' classrooms. During our observation cycle we were expected to get into other teachers' rooms to observe. This was a great experience because I got to see great teaching. It gave me great insights into how to connect content and to build relationships with kids. I saw a lot of different content areas and many different teaching styles. I would encourage you whether classroom teacher, or admin to take on these challenges. Visit classrooms, see what is happening and start conversations to learn and grow together.
What are the top 5 things you would like to change about education? - Go list them now!
What are the top 5 things you would like to see change in your own school or district? Name those!
I bet it didn't take you long to come up with a list of 5. You may even have been an overachiever and come up with 15 things without blinking. Why is it so easy to come up with the things we don't like about our current reality?
Now that you are hopefully pondering the potential for change, let's talk about making change!
Changing Student Behavior
If you have been in education for any amount to time I am sure you have experienced some issue with student behavior that you wanted to change. These things could be very minor things to potentially defiant behavior.
During my career I have found myself in this situation, and at times I struggled to find the proper response. I share my failings because I want to be very clear when writing these posts that I am not in a position to judge others. As the saying goes, to err is human, and honestly I am very very human. I have not always lived up to the ideas I am going to share in these posts, but I at least realize that the way I have done it in the past were not best practices.
What I have realized in my own reflection of situations is that we need to ask better questions. I have many times asked the easy question, and what I mean by that are the questions that led to my expected answers. The questions we really need to ask are those that challenge our current practices and force us to evaluate and modify our beliefs and values.
There are a few scenarios I have encountered in my career that allow us to investigate and find out more about our students and our classroom environment.
Scenario 1 - Student Behavior
There is a student you are struggling with in class whose behavior isn't inline with your expectations. We can fill in the details for what those behaviors are. The behavior has prompted your decision to contact other teachers who have this student enrolled in their class. This is the critical point in your quest for making change.
Potential Pitfalls - Asking the wrong questions
Don't ask if the student is a behavioral issue for others! Asking if others see bad behavior is a negative question. Whether the response is yes or no doesn't help resolve your issue with the student. To Illustrate this, if the teacher responds yes, this potentially reinforces the belief that it is the student alone who is creating this behavior and that you can write this off to the student being a behavior issue. This leads to little or no change in the teacher and also tends to create a strained relationship between the teacher and this student and could result in broader negative classroom consequences.
If the teacher responds NO, you still don't have insights into what motivates this student to behave in this manner. You are still searching for the resolution to your issue and a way to connect to this individual student and help them feel connected to your classroom environment.
Potential Resolution - Ask better questions
In the above scenario, the teacher made an effort to learn about their student, however as pointed out, the question likely doesn't result in the information necessary to create a successful resolution. When inquiring about student behavior whether with another teacher, guidance councilor, administrator, coach, or others we need to ask better questions. I also think we need to enlist people beyond school personnel to help us get to know our students. We should contact parents, they know their kids and have tremendous insights into their own child's behavior. Also think about their peers when beginning your inquiry. I put this group last because I think you need to choose both your questions and those you ask those questions carefully.
Focus on the positive
Why are students behaving the way they are in my class? We looked at a potential question that tends to lead to validation of the idea that the student is a behavioral problem. How do we avoid that pitfall? Ask questions that seek to learn more about the student.
When meeting with the teacher, parent, etc. ask them "What are some good things you are seeing of this student?" Imagine the difference in potential responses compared to the previous inquiry. This changes the focus to being positive and something you as a teacher can use to build a relationship with this student. If you find out they like to hunt, bowl, read, run, whatever it might be, you have information you can now use to explore this interest with the student. If it isn't an interest to you, let them teach you about it. I have had many conversations about engines, video games, stereos/electronics that were well beyond my on knowledge level. Each conversation let the student showcase their interest and let me peek a little more into their personality.
Another aspect of this conversation is that your questions could be directed to both academic and behavioral performance. In both cases the responses provide more detail to help us resolve poor behavior or academic issues because we can utilize this information to build a positive relationship with our students.
Scenario 2 - Student Engagement
I have seen students who don't speak a word in my class laughing and telling stories with their friends in the stands of a sporting event or at the lunch table. I am overjoyed at seeing that they have a group that they feel comfortable enough to share themselves with. At the same moment I am struck by that ominous notion - If they are so gregarious in laughter and storytelling here, what is the obstacle for them in my classroom? What do I need to change to assist them in their journey to be confident and comfortable in my classroom? How can I make them feel like they belong in OUR classroom?
My initial response to this situation is that I need to build a relationship with this student. I need to look at the actions I describe in scenario 1 to begin learning about this student. I also know this must include creating opportunities to spend time with the student in conversation. I know it is easy to say get to know your students, and that is the most important thing. I say this with the understanding that we are all faced with lots of expectations and demands that pull us in different directions. However if we put student relationships above all other things in our classroom environment, many other things take care of themselves. I also say this honestly admitting that I didn't always put this first in my classroom and didn't always break down those barriers with my students. I don't have all the answers but can speak to the fact that not making relationships my first priority had negative consequences on my learning environment.
1. Give up your stage! - Being the sage on the stage where you dispense information to students with few or infrequent opportunities to participate does not bode well for relationship building. You hold the keys to who and when can have a voice in your classroom. I am not saying that Direct Instruction has no place in education, but it can't be the one and only format.
You need to put the students in situations where they are collaborating or working independently. This provides you with opportunity to observe, and jump into conversations with the students.
2. Meet them where they are! - Catch them at the door and engage them as they walk in. Sit with them at least a few minutes at lunch. Anything you can do to show them you are interested in who they are. This is not about academics, but about them as a person.
3. Genius Hour- While I definitely gave up the stage and tried to do more to engage with students outside of class, the greatest game changer was Genius Hour. I instituted this in my class, and it provided so many opportunities to get to know more about students and their interests and passion. I can't say enough about giving students an opportunity to follow their passions. They will shine and the insights into who they are is priceless.
4. Give Students Choice! - Much like Genius Hour, give students opportunities to decide how they will demonstrate their learning. I have heard teachers say, my students have checked out- My response, how can we check them back in? Why aren't those students interested in our classroom or our activities? Provide students a variety of products to choose from. This could include a choice board where you have skits, songs, essay, movie, advertisement, art work, etc. that students are able to adapt to their personal learning strengths.
The other important aspect is to create meaningful learning activities. Students will engage when they believe the activity is valuable to them.
Scenario 3 - Homework
Homework has become a debatable topic in the past few years. Some think homework is key to learning, others that there are multiple obstacles to student completion and so we shouldn't assign it. I started in the camp of assigning homework because I was told it was an expectation. Students were expected to work to earn credit. I was also told that if students didn't do it they weren't being responsible. To not do homework was showing insubordination to class expectations. I heard and likely even said, well they wouldn't be failing if they would only do the homework. What I learned was this mindset created a barrier between myself and my students. I battled with them about doing their homework. What was lost in that behavior on my part was that by giving students a zero for not doing homework didn't show their level of understanding of the concept. I have found many issues with how I had dealt with homework during my early career. I share those failings in hopes that you will engage in the conversation to find a better solution for you and your students.
What if when students don't do homework we ask not only why they don't do it but go further - what is the purpose of homework and am I assigning meaningful authentic work?
1. Don't Grade Homework! - If homework is a part of the learning process, but not the end result, then why grade it? I stopped grading homework my last year in the classroom. I provided students opportunities to engage in the material outside of class, but used it as formative assessment. Students would come to class and we would discuss the learning task. The task showed up in the grade book but counted as 0 points and 0 percent of their grade. I just recorded it to help track their progress and provide more details to aid in the discussion of student progress.
2. Assign Meaningful Authentic Work- This can be the most difficult to change to achieve. However it is also the most important to truly change the dynamics in your classroom. I am not claiming to be good at creating meaningful tasks on a regular basis, but I have seen the tremendous positive response by students to these tasks. I have heard of teachers having students spend hours working on what they called side quests, and my students have demonstrated similar as part of non-graded Genius Hour projects. When students are interested in the task and see value in completing it, they will do amazing things. They will put in extraordinary effort and the results are phenomenal!
3. Don't Assign Homework- If you struggle with homework, and it hasn't provided the educational benefits you were looking for, then don't assign it. If students can do well on your assessments of learning, cumulative projects and tests, but don't do the work, then is the homework necessary?
I struggled with homework for a long time. I described this struggle earlier. I must admit that I only made it to suggestion 1 in my transition. I was working on reinventing homework to fit suggestion 2, but definitely had not embraced number 3.
I am not here to tell you that there is one perfect view on homework, but rather to challenge your thinking on the topic. I have freely admitted my shortcomings in all of these areas and decided to write this post to generate conversation. I wish others had challenged my thinking earlier in my career. I have always found that when others question what I am doing or why I am doing it as an opportunity to reflect on my practices. Sometimes I have been justified and strengthened in my professional practices. Many times the challenge has lead to change in my methodologies that have helped me grow and improve as a professional but more importantly as a person.
Creating an amazing lesson plan is like creating the perfect recipe. It takes planning organization a vision and most importantly repetition and reflection. Few get it right the first time so we need to examine what went well and what doesn't work.
The first step in creating a lesson should be to decide what your learning outcomes should be. When searching for the perfect recipe you need to figure out what you want to make. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to decide between a torte, cake, brownies, cookies, pies, etc. Let's say you choose cake, you then have to decide chocolate, carrot, red velvet and the choices go on as well. There are so many potential choices made in this process that it can seem daunting. The same is true of lesson planning. Both are essential to the process. In order to read your desired outcome, you have to define it clearly. In Lesson planning, if we want students to walk away with a specific understanding, they need to know what it is we want them to know.
Today I am working with teachers as they design unit plans and lessons. They are using Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I am a fan of this curriculum design methodology. You need a clearly defined goal and then think about desired results. What will students learn and do with the content. What Essential Questions will students wrestle with and what will they produce to demonstrate their level of understanding. This is the framework for a lesson plan much like you have your vision of what your desired desert will look and taste like. Now you can begin to pull together your ingredients to achieve your goal.
Now that we have a plan for our desired outcomes, we have to fill in the details to turn the idea into reality in our classrooms. I will admit that throughout my career I have pillaged and plundered lesson plans. I am a huge proponent of beg borrowing and stealing others great lessons. However just because it was a magical experience in their classroom doesn't mean you will be able to reproduce that spark in your students. This is the premise for this post. While I think finding inspiration in others lessons and ideas, in the end you must make it your own and adapt it for your learning environment. Just because something is amazing for others doesn't mean it will have the same results for you.
One example of a great lesson that I borrowed was from Bill Bigelow The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play. I found it amongst many other Zinn Education resources. I liked the fact that it put students in position to make the difficult decisions that those in the past also had to make. I thought students would be able to channel the spirit of their group by embracing their roles and thinking about the impact on themselves and others of their decisions. The students would spend time creating their position and then debate the issue. I did the lesson as was instructed, but if flopped. Students didn't embrace their roles. They didn't fully see the interests of their group or the impact of the decision they were making. They weren't able to truly comprehend the complexities of their assigned roles.
Something was missing! Just like great recipes that have been fine tuned throughout the years, so are great lessons. Sometimes the things that make them great are little things that the author doesn't put on paper or is something that is less tangible which is the culture that has been created up to that time.
I contacted Bill Bigelow and told him about my experience and he told me the key for him was the planning section where students work in their small groups and create their position statements. This is time where he has conversations with the groups. I had students create the statements, however I didn't jump into their conversations as much as I should have. I didn't delve into their thought process, challenge their ideas when they didn't match their historical counterparts thinking. I didn't push them to dive deeper about the consequences or to justify their decision. He had some suggestions for questioning and conversation starters that I hadn't thought about because I wasn't the author. I need to know that key piece of the activity in order to raise my version of the lesson to the next level for my students.
I figured out what was missing in this lesson. The challenge to teaching is that each lesson just like a recipe is there are key elements that can make or break a lesson. We know this in our own classroom. One class period will rock a lesson, and the next won't measure up even though you taught it the same way. Each experience is dependent on the human beings engaged in the experience and as we know each of our students is unique. What resonates with one student or class may not have the same level of connection for all students.
Teaching is an art and we are all unique artists, each painting on a unique canvas that is our classroom.
Sharing lessons and ideas is caring. The more we share the more we grow and it's good for kids. So continue to share, however with the power of Twitter and other social media we are able to contact or be contacted to help others find those key elements that make the lesson a magical experience.
Lesson planning requires a clear set of objectives that should start with the end in mind.
Lessons like recipes should be constantly reflected upon and refined to reproduce the great product repeatedly.
This past week I ran my first 10K. Previously I had only been able to run 4 miles, so this was a major accomplishment for me. I had planned on running this with my daughter with the expectation that we would run and walk together to accomplish this. Well the week before the run my daughter got sick and wasn't able to do it with me. I decided I would still do it, I mean I paid for the registration and had the t-shirt, so why not?
When I got there I was nervous, doubting that I would be able to run beyond the 4 miles I had previously done. I met a couple of people before the race and we started talking about what brought us out that morning and what our motivation and goals were.
I met an 11 year old and his mom who were running it for the second time, and he was looking for 10 minute miles. I thought wow, I haven't done that in my few runs this spring, so that would be difficult. But part of me saw this as a challenge. If an 11 year old can do that pace, so can I. Well that was my mentality at mile 0.
The Elite runners start at 8 am while the rest of us move through our corrals listening to Chariots of Fire waiting for our turn to meet the challenge that awaits us. Some look at this as a training run, others a personal mission. I mention this because before I started the race, the Elite runners were finishing the course. The top finishers crossed in 29 minutes, my 5K was 31 minutes so by now you can probably figure out I was not on a training run or an Elite runner.
Why the Title?
You are probably wondering why I would use such a self serving title to a post about how I am an average runner at best. Why do I think I am incredible? What did I do that completing a 10K was so amazing that I should write about it and take your time to read it?
The answer could be that for 1:03:45 I felt like I could do something pretty special in my own life. As I ran those 6.2 miles through the streets of Green Bay with about 14 thousand other people, and seeing so many others come out to support I was inspired.
The sincere and true reason for the title is that it isn't about me. The above story is what inspired me to write about how we can apply this to eduction. I definitely don't think I am incredible, I know I didn't set any records for this run. In fact I am finally finishing this about 2 months after I started because I struggled with the title. The premise for this title is that we can all be incredible at times, at least we can feel this way. The crowd, the people I met, my kids and family after the race made me feel like I had done something pretty special.
I started thinking about this post as I ran the first few miles. I was feeling good, there were people playing music and holding signs cheering for loved ones and friends. As I progressed along the course, there were people spraying garden hoses to cool us off, others handing out cups of water. After mile 4 I started to feel the strain of running, my feet started to hurt, my pace slowed a little but then I started to see the signs saying "You are Awesome!" not directed at anyone individual but all of us. I felt like I was being supported by everyone out there. I pushed through mile 4 then 5. I reached mile 6 and was tired, but the crowd was amped up was so loud and positive, I couldn't walk, I had come so far, I needed to finish. I rounded the corner to the finish line the last few hundred yards and tried to sprint (I use the term loosely) but didn't have anything left. I finished and was tired but exhilarated. I ran the farthest I had ever run. I was close to my 10 minute pace, and I had people cheering me on. A side note, my feet hurt so badly after the run that I struggled to walk back to my car, which I couldn't remember which direction I had parked, so I experienced the agony of da Feet
For anyone who has participated in an organized event like this whether a run, as a member of a sports team, you have likely had people cheer and support you. However there are groups of our students and many of our colleagues who may not hear how awesome they are often enough. I found in my run that as the crowd cheered I became more energized, and pushed myself to finish strong.
Make Every Student Feel Incredible!
In our classrooms do we provide this support to all of our students? Do we treat them all as they are amazing? They are all different, but all of them and teachers all need to feel like we are doing good things. Getting excited when a student who doesn't normally participate shares something will likely help that student feel valued and be more willing to share more often.
How powerful it is to have a cheerleader rooting for you, supporting you and letting you know that you can accomplish something you think is difficult. I began to think about how we can leverage this with our colleagues and students. How can we be the cheerleaders for them? They need to feel supported, cared for and most importantly that they are incredible and capable of phenomenal things in their lives. We need to build them up every chance
Students need cheerleaders, fans, boosters and most of all people in their corner regardless of the type of student they are. We are here for them, never forget that and always let them know that is your first and most important reason for entering school each and everyday.
My First ISTE and IGNITE Sessions
I attended my very first ISTE earlier this year. I have to start by saying that finding ISTE on Twitter a couple of years ago was a game changer for me. I followed the feed and feverishly bookmarked the links and favorited the tweets being shared by the amazing educators. I spent much of the rest of the summer checking out the links, connecting with the amazing educators who shared out, and changed the way I taught as a result. Well this year I made the transition from having my own social studies classroom to being a tech integrator and I owe a huge thank you to ISTE and the educators who help me learn about things I had never heard of. If not for that learning opportunity I wouldn't be where I am today.
My ISTE experience kicked off with an amazing IGNITE session. If you unfamiliar with IGNITE sessions they are 20 slides and 5 minutes with no animation, video or other supports. You are in the room that was set up for the key note. So picture the largest room you have ever seen add 2 of the biggest screens maybe short of Dallas Stadium I have ever seen and then add the pressure that the audience if filled with your peers. Oh and don't forget you are 1 of 15 amazing educators many of whom could be the keynote speaker and there you have an ignite session.
What made this IGNITE session so amazing? Besides being my first ever because that in itself makes it phenomenal, but add in the amazing pool of presenters and you have a powder keg of awesomeness. However that isn't the key ingredient of spectacular. What put it over the top for me was seeing a colleague Jon Spike @Mr_JSpike present his keynote on being a Karaoke Kid. He is such a humble person that he didn't tell the rest of us about his IGNITE session himself. I am continually struck by the awesome things my colleagues are doing, many times hidden from view. What I mean by this is many times educators don't advertise their efforts. They simply do great things as part of their every day existence.
Sorry for this little sidebar, but it was this presentation and then my experience the rest of the day that provided my ah ha moment and the reason for this post. Jon discussed ---- putting yourself out there- being a Karaoke kid-- Please take a few minutes and check out Jon's Ignite session. It was unique, it was entertaining, but most of all it has a message that resonates
My ISTE was filled with evenings of Karaoke. This was not in my plans when getting on the plane and leaving Wisconsin, however it seems fitting that this would be how the week would go. After watching Jon's Ignite, I started thinking about how I wanted students to view me? I wrote another post about Get up and Dance that talks more about that relationship. Jon's vision to me was able taking risks, having fun, doing things that might be unexpected, and knowing it's okay. This is something that some people in the world of education with High Stakes testing, Educator Effectiveness etc. might cringe at. What does he mean take risks, we are being told what to do and when to do it. This may seem to be the case, but you are still in control of what happens in your classroom. You get to decide if you want to make Fun Friday, or make Fun every day that ends in DAY! You can introduce GeniusHour or Genius YEAR! You decide how you engage with your students. You get to decide if you will be and allow your students to be a Karaoke Kid!
Otus Gathering- let the magic happen!
I am sharing these images from the Otus Gathering at ISTE- they created an amazing event with, you guessed it, Karaoke! I included images that I hope demonstrate my vision for this post, the risk taking, and support shown by complete strangers. It is not my intent in anyway to embarrass any person in the photos.
Karaoke and the Lessons of Life!
The message from Jon's Ignite of taking a risk and be daring for your students was already resonating with me, but then we went to the Otus Party and saw educators dressing up, (I did and there is a pic I just couldn't find it), jumping on stage, and signing and dancing whether on stage or not. Watching the interactions of these people, many who had just met this week, that day, or during the event were joining together to support each other and create an epic event. This got me thinking and led to my thought about how a Karaoke Jam Session could connect to education. Here goes:
What do we want our classrooms to look like? What do we want to be as educators? How do we want our students to feel about themselves while in our care? How can you create that learning environment where students are nurtured, challenged to be great, supported in failure and will never ever not even for a second not believe they matter!
As I watched the multitude of people jump on stage and sign, many very well, some made me think I could potentially get up there, I realized a few things. Those who were signing were taking a risk. They were likely getting out of their comfort zone. They were likely nervous and a little anxious about how well they would do, especially if they followed someone who could be on American Idol. I also watched the crowd, and if you look at the images, you see people clapping, singing, dancing along with the singers. You see that they were there supporting perfect strangers. I was among this group. I was having an amazing time no matter who was singing or how well they did. The crowd chanted, cheered, sang along to fill in the melody and threw their hands up. They did whatever it took to make the people on stage feel like they were a champion. I watched this go on performer after performer for hours. I saw the reaction by the crowd never waver in support. I can only imagine how amazing it must have felt for those on stage. And then a question hit me.
Do our classrooms look like this? Do our students feel this support in everything they do? If not why not? If not now, when? If not, what needs to change? How can we make that change? Can you do this alone, or do you need support? Who will you seek out to help? I do not ask these questions to call anyone out, but to rather broach the subject. Why would perfect strangers support people singing Karaoke at and educational conference but we don't always see this in our classrooms, faculty lounges, etc. We can do better!
It is time that we put kids first- we need to stop testing and start supporting them. We need to stop judging or labeling them and care about all of them. We need to embrace that education is not about content its about the person, the individual. It was No Child Left Behind, not we must teach every factoid. We aren't creating Ken Jennings to rock Jeopardy because Jeopardy is not our students reality. Don't prepare students for when they will be in the real world. They are in the real world! Students go home to a variety of living conditions. Some are nurtured, loved, accepted, many face a different reality. This is still the real world it is real to them, it is impacting them. It is impacting all of us. When they enter the doors of your school and your classroom will you embrace them as your student, your child and someone you are going to invest your time and talents into nurturing their abilities to see them grow and succeed, or do you see the multitude of labels our world places upon all of us. Where we come from, our circumstances, our mistakes and failures do not define who we are. It is how we respond to those shortcomings that do. Remember this when you deal with students. Be forgiving even if the person hasn't said they were sorry. teach them how to be problem solvers, inquiry driven individuals with a quest for learning and creation. Don't sell them short, don't sell yourself short. #YouMatter and your students matter most. Make sure you tell them and show them everyday that matter to you and to this world.
While at ISTE earlier this summer I went to a number of social events with co-workers, colleagues and just amazing people in general. Over the course of the five days in ISTE, we had opportunities to connect with so many people. I talked education, technology, and where to get the best Philly Cheesesteak in town. I have to admit if we didn’t find the best it wasn’t from lack of trying. My doctor would frown at my dietary choices. To the point, I was presented an opportunity to attend an amazing conference with thousands of passionate educators and there were so many choices I had to make each and everyday. Each would determine how my experience would unfold and what I would be able to take away from this opportunity. I could write about the laundry list of takeaways from ISTE, but I wanted to focus on one simple idea that stuck with me. Shut up and Dance!
A group of educators found ourselves at a social gathering where karaoke was rocking so loud we heard it from down the street. When we got there, a few in the group immediately signed up to sing. That is not something I do because I know I can’t sing. However I made the choice to dance- to get out on the floor and have fun. I knew there could be cameras there - this could be posted- this could be embarrassing- I danced in front of coworkers when I wouldn't do this in front of family members at a wedding. What is the difference between the two situations? I made a choice. Simple as that I made the decision to have fun, to dance to be part of something bigger than myself. I took the cues from those around me that this was a safe place to "let my hair down" and dance.
Listening to a great IGNITE presentation, and yes I might reference this a few times because I am thoroughly impressed by this young educator I have been able to work with over the past year, Jon Spike @Mr_JSpike. In his presentation he references the idea of being wild and crazy for the kids. To do things that are a little different and wild. This is an area in my life both in and outside of the classroom that I struggle with. Many times I put on my teacher suit that confined me to the persona of a professional. Now I am not saying that being a professional is negative, but in my case it meant building a wall between myself and my students. While I think we all have a border to maintain proper relationships, my wall was too often too tall and too think. Picture the Great Wall of China. It didn't allow me to show my students who I really am. I am someone who can relate to the quiet kid in the back of the room who knew the answer but was afraid to draw attention to themselves. I relate to the student who feels overwhelmed in math class but is afraid to ask questions because they don't want to feel stupid. I connect to the person who could be the class clown and someone who at times takes risks.
I was all of these people at the same time and yet only show my students one snapshot of me. Unfortunately, early in my career, I never took off my teacher suit in front of my students. I continued to let this wall stand between us. In the last ten years, but more honestly the last five or six I really began to make the transformation from my old rigid teacher suit to more of a leisure suit. A more flexible, hip, (at least I hope) and honest presentation of who I am. I am still a work in progress, but I am continuing to make the decision to connect with my students, get to know them, build relationships and grow.
I made the choice to dance. I hope you will too!