Monday, August 6, 2018

Technology Limits?

     I love technology. More than most and less than some, I'm always looking for new ideas on how to incorporate it into the classroom. But I admit defeat when trying to manage some technology and how students use it. So what has flummoxed me in the past? What piece of technology has me gnashing my teeth? The cell phone. This tiny instrument has caused me and many teachers I know nothing but angst. Between parents texting their kids just because to work supervisors texting to see if teens can leave school so they can cover someone else's shift (yes, this happens weekly at my school), the cell phone and I are developing a love/hate relationship.
     In the past kids have used their phones to listen to music (remember, my school is an alternative one), occasionally look things up and this year, they'll be using them to check out books from my library. Useful ways to use a cell phone as an instrument. However, they also use phones to Snapchat, Instagram, text each other, text parents and other family members and so on.
     What's the solution? As much as I hate to admit defeat, I am. So to bring things more under control this year, I'm going to institute a cell phone policy. It's not all worked out yet as I've turned to some people for help in figuring this out. Obviously, I'm not engaging my kids all the time. So there's that to work on. But I think it goes beyond that. I truly believe some people are addicted to their cell phones which makes it hard for them to disengage from the device.
     The students probably aren't going to like it. I'm not going to like it. But it is what it is. I'd be interested to know what others do to stem this growing tidal wave of use. Cell phones are great tools, but they can also be
negative . I don't have the you? Share it with could make all the difference.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Lessons Learned from a 7th Grader

      My grumpy me got schooled by a seventh grader recently. For me, it's been a long summer. It wasn't the "vacation" I had envisioned and the lack of action had me feeling pretty ornery. To accomplish something around my house, I hired a seventh grade girl, I'll call her April. So April arrived, Grumpy Me was alive and well, and I told her what needed to be done. I almost used the word "instructed" just now--I "instructed" April what to do. But I didn't, instruct her I mean.And here is where she schooled me.
     April probably thought I was the worst person around. And she would've been right. I realized as she toiled away that she was doing what she thought I wanted her to do. I assumed she knew what she was doing even though I had never told her anything, really. It reminded me of the classroom. How many times do we fail to give explicit instructions, or actually teach the kids anything, and then expect them to know what we want them to do? They'll be like April, tentatively approaching the work without any real direction trying to bring a sense of order to the task at hand.
       The question is do we just assign tasks or do we actually teach what we want our students to do? Do we hand them a work sheet and tell them to do it, or do we engage them in the lesson and make it meaningful for them?
      I hired April again a few days later to help in my classroom. I made sure Grumpy Me was locked up tight. Not only did the day go better for me, but I know it went better for April. I treated her the way I would want to be treated had I been her. We talked and laughed and had a good time. We got the project done in my room because I did a bit of instructing first to lay out the plan. And things went smoothly.
      So what were the lessons learned?
  1. Remember to always instruct, even when things seem obvious. Never assume kids can read our minds.
  2. Grumpy Me needs to be locked away...for good.
  3. Students want to do what you want or how you want things done.
  4. Don't assume. Just teach. 
  5. Relationships matter. When I spent time talking to April and showed a genuine interest in her, she responded accordingly. Invest some time in finding out who students is a game-changer.
     April worked hard and did a terrific job. Me, however? Yeah, I'm still a work in progress, but I'm glad I'm learning new lessons. That can make all the difference.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Every Flower's DIfferent

     I have a saying I like to remember in my classroom. I remind myself of this every week. I try to remember it every day. I've even written about. Obviously, it's something I think is important, and not just for me. I think it's important for everyone. What is the saying? Notice the unnoticed. Notice the kids in my classroom who have flown below the radar their whole lives. Be curious about them. Learn their story. I still believe this firmly in my heart. But an Instagram post by a young woman challenged me. Here's what she said:
     "We've heard the quote about the flower that doesn't think of competing with the flowers next to it, it just blooms, right? I saw these flowers on a hike and I initially thought to myself, 'Huh, I think I'll see brighter ones.' Then that quote hit me ...I stopped and went back to take a picture of the little blooms because they don't care if they aren't the brightest or tallest or biggest flower..."
    There was more, but this was the gist of it. A gist that got me thinking about my own "flowers" in my life. My students. Most of them have long ago given up any pretense of being the brightest or most creative or best student. They see themselves with too many limitations and not enough potential. Most are realistic to a fault about their academic progress and left the comparison game in their past.
     But have we as teachers? Do we mentally compare them to others? Should we compare them? I don't believe so. Most of their teachers in the past have probably subjected their students to this killer. Killer?? Yes, killer. Comparisons kill kids. Instead of accepting themselves and loving themselves, students have a hard time doing this if their teacher is consciously or unconsciously leveling them up against others in the class. Instead of focusing on the negative, let's be like my friend Kristen. Let's notice the unnoticed. Let's not overlook our students in the hopes of finding the bright ones in our classroom. Let's treat all of our students as individuals.  When we begin to accept them as individuals and not try to make them into someone they're not, growth can occur for them and us.
     Instead of comparing, let's build up their confidence. Let them be happy with who they are--maybe not the brightest or tallest, but one who has a beautiful bloom nonetheless. As teachers, let's not overlook the positives each student brings to the table. If we look, we'll find it. And the more we comment on their strengths and build confidence, the taller they'll stand and the prouder of themselves they'll be. Don't kill their confidence with comparisons, build it with recognizing them for the unique individuals they are.
     This fall we're going to have classrooms full of flowers  Let's notice all the flowers and appreciate them for who they are. Let's remember to notice the unnoticed and not to compare. Let's foster confidence in our students so they can be like flowers--content with who they are. It could make all the difference.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Unconditional Love?

     I've had a lot of downtime this summer. A lot. So how have I been filling the endless hours that stretch before me? I admit to having done some curriculum writing, but the main hours of the day have been occupied with reading. Facebook, Twitter, books, e-books--anything and everything I can get my hands on. One article I recently read on Edweek dealt with loving our students unconditionally. To be honest, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on this. Because of my upbringing, I understand where my at-risk students are coming from and can relate to their experiences. This makes it easier for me to have empathy for them.
     However, it seems I have at least one student who challenges me on that every few years. I had my hands full with Brian* (name changed). Brian, who came to us to pass a few classes, was returning to his home school to graduate. His dismissive attitude toward the school and me didn't endear him to me. The more irritated I became with this guy, the more he did to irritate me.
     This continued on for some time until one day as I mused over the situation, a question popped into my mind. Why is he like this? What happened to him to morph him into an irritable, oppositional guy? The answers became my quest. A couple of weeks later he wrote the answer to my question. The assignment was to write to a former teacher who made a difference or positive impact on him. Brian did the assignment, but he did it his way. He wrote about a teacher with whom he didn't get along. Suddenly I realized I had the answer in my hand. I now knew what had happened to him.
     Knowing the underlying problem, a problem that occurred in seventh grade, helped me to develop empathy for him. It helped me see Brian in a different light. It helped me realize he was damaged. I had a choice. I could continue to disdain this guy and see him as a problem or I understand that something had happened to him, a negative encounter with a teacher had marred the rest of his educational experience. I determined, after reading that letter, that I would break through to this guy to the point where he knew I cared.
     Sometimes kids are like this. Instead of disparaging them, we should try to understand them. What's the reason they are acting as they are? Instead of asking them what's wrong with them, we should be asking them what happened to them.
     Unconditional love isn't easy. Some students do everything in their power to make themselves unlikeable. We may not like them, but we can still love them. Treat them fairly, be respectful, be transparent, be encouraging, and be patient. Instead of retorting to what they say, disarm them with love. Let them know, through your actions, that nothing they say is going to move you.
     How did my time with Brian end up? I got him to talk...and laugh. I considered that a major victory. By the end of the class, I could joke around with him. By the time he left my class, we had a truce. By the time he left my class, I had a better understanding of unconditional love.
    Because of Brian, I'm a better teacher. I learned something and changed an attitude that I needed to change Brian and I, we both changed. And that change? That has made all the difference.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Time to Relax

     Another school year is almost complete and while many teachers and students alike are dreaming of sandy beaches, crisp water and languid days, others are thinking ahead to next year. Summer conferences, collaborating meetings with colleagues, and learning new skills are on my summer to-do list. Normally this isn't the case, but this summer I'll have down time to spare. Whatever your summer plans, take time off, to refresh, read, renew, and ready yourself for the upcoming year.
    Most teachers pour themselves into their work, taking work home, thinking about students and their learning or how to more effectively engage learners; they think about this stuff a lot. Teaching,a mentally challenging job, can also be physically exhausting dealing with kids all day. That's why it's so important for the recharge that comes from the summer.
    At one point I taught summer school, but for me, those days are over. I realized I needed to  take a break from school and do other stuff--like ride my bike, visit friends, explore the countryside, travel and take road trips. This is how I get ready for the next school year. I goof off. Whatever I do, I do with gusto, or so I've been told. I embrace the summer and use it to refresh my attitude. What's even more important, is that we need to do this without guilt. If a voice whispers to you that you really should be reading the latest Penny Kittle or Kelly Gallagher book rather than escaping with a copy of Debbie Macomber whatever, ignore the voice and plunge yourself head first into Macomber fluff. 
     Life is too short to be immersed in nothing but work. So go ahead, goof off, take a road trip, explore the could make all the difference.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Relationships, relationships, relationships

     Relationships are key in being a successful teacher. And not just our relationships with students. Just as important are our relationships with colleagues and other staff who work in the district. The longer I'm a teacher, the more I realize how vital all staff are to smooth operations. Here are just a few examples.
     I'm not sure how many times DAILY I turn to the administrative assistant for answers to some question or help figuring out the new copier or aid in figuring out where to find something or...well the list is pretty much endless as to what I look to her for help. In her patient way, she nods, smiles and helps. ALWAYS. Lu has answers to questions I don't have...yet...but probably will at some point. And you know what? She'll answer them in the same patient manner. She is vital to my success as a teacher.
     Recently I received a grant for a lunch time book club offered at my school. Without the aid of the support staff who didn't just walk me through the process but completed the ordering process for me, I'd still be sitting in my room with a goofy look wondering what I'm supposed to do to get these books. Yet here was Shirley, helpful as always, telling my book club partner and me that this is how she makes a difference in kids' lives--by helping teachers. Wow. Just wow!
     And then there's the administrative assistant to our assistant superintendent. She is always ready to answer a question, give help in getting stuff arranged for our WAR conference and give access to our assistant superintendent by helping me schedule meetings in a timely manner. Taunya is so helpful and patient. I think that is a per-requisite for this type of job. Have patience with uneducated teachers and lead them patiently down the paths they need to navigate.
    The list goes on but two relationships I've fostered that have really impacted me has been with our director of technology and the director of the foundation.The director of technology challenges me, almost daily, to look at things from a different perspective. He has also been amazing in helping meet technological needs in my classroom. Joel is a steady force in the lives of teachers, leading in a quiet but strong manner, making his presence known and his help available.
    The other relationship I've found essential to my career as a teacher is with the director of our education foundation. Emilia has helped me find grants to apply for, held my hand through the process, answered my dumb questions about the mini-grants the foundation offers, and been the fiscal agent for the WAR conference. Another steady force who excels at her job and works to help teachers be successful in the classroom.
     Relationships are key in the lives of teachers and not just the relationships we establish with students. The relationships we have with colleagues in our district are just as vital for us to be successful as teachers. My only problem with these relationships? I don't thank the people enough for their work and support in my role as a teacher. And that's on me. The list merely begins with these people. There are many more whose support is vital to my success in the classroom. Because of their help, we can make a difference.  All of us together, none of us apart.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Finish Strong

     In my world of education, we start our last block on Monday. That means I only have six weeks left to make a difference. The countdown is on in our classroom but it's not to see how we can endure until the end, but it's to see how much my students can learn in that time.
      This has been a terrific school year. It hasn't been the kids that have changed. It's been me. My attitude. In January I blogged about defeating Negative Nellie. I purposed to do that for the remainder of the year. Why? Because my students deserved to have someone who saw them in a positive light. To have a teacher who wasn't weighed down by negativity but one who had an optimistic view.
     Since becoming more cognizant of this propensity toward pessimism, I've been watching myself. I've been more intentional than ever in being positive. Guess what? The more I've practiced  this, the easier it's become.
      My  year hasn't been perfect. I still slip into negativity, but it's few and far between.I'm happier in the classroom and my students are happier too. So ]go out strong in May. Don't count down the days, be positive and look at how many days you have to impact their lives. How much time do they have left to learn? Finish strong. It could make all the difference.