Monday, December 31, 2018

Listening

     It's almost the first of the New Year and I feel guilty already. Maybe you noticed the date of my last blog post. Maybe not. Let's suffice to say it's been a while. Even though I haven't been the most consistent writer, I've been busy in the classroom.  Experimenting with new ideas and listening. To my students, to my colleagues, and to myself. If there's one thing I've learned so far this year, it's the importance of being an active listener. If I want my students to communicate with me, my coworkers to share ideas with me, and my internal voice to guide me, I have to listen.
     One area I'm really trying to improve my listening skills is with my students. They smell insincerity a mile away. When I ask for feedback from them, I need to listen intently to what they say, consider what they say, and even implement what they say. That gives them validity and  gives them a stake in what happens in my room. As I pilot a new class I hope to become a reality for students, I seek feedback from kids who have taken the class or who are currently taking it. Having a segmented school year makes this process easier than in a traditional classroom. So when I ask for student input, I want my students to know I'm listening and will seriously consider their opinions.
      That's not the only change I'm working on this school year. Each year principals ask for professional goals. One of my objectives this year was to collaborate with a couple of teachers in my building and offer an integrated curriculum/unit that students could engage in, direct their learning and learn practical skills that would challenge them to learn in a new way. With an idea brewing, I approached our FACS teacher and our math teacher. Both were receptive and enthusiastic to the idea.Now I'm looking forward to actually working with the other teachers to develop this project.
     Finally, I want to learn to listen to myself, my gut. Take the time to consider what I'm hearing instead of acting impulsively. By slowing down and considering things and their value, I know I will become a stronger teacher. And for my students and colleagues, my slowing down could make all the difference.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Choice, Voice, and At-Risk Students

 "How do you think the world would change if we let kids read books they enjoyed in high school? Do you think they wouldn't get into college? No! They would become adults who read for enjoyment and learning."     Donalyn Miller


     Choice in what students read? Heretical to some teachers. Others embrace the idea of choice and squeeze hard, giving their students the rein to go in whatever direction they will. I believe in student voice and choice and try to operate in that realm consistently. Especially in reading books. All I have to do to convince myself is think back to my English class in high school where I was forced to read Silas Marner. I swore, if I ever became a teacher, I would never make my students read such archaic works that were as boring as all get out. For anyone who made it through that book without nodding off, you're a better person than I.
     When I give students a choice and a voice, I'm doing a lot more than letting them pick out a book. I'm letting them know they matter. I'm letting them know I trust them to make  a solid choice. And I'm letting them know they have a say in their education. What do I get in return? More engaged students whom I have to tear away from reading rather than nag into compliance. Give me the former any time!
     My students thrive in this choice-rich environment. They feel as though they are taken seriously and that their opinions matter. Even if they initially don't want to read a book, most of the time they get into the book and get excited about it. I overheard a student yesterday tell a student new to my class that reading the book wasn't so bad because students got to choose what to read. And if it stunk, I'd let him pick another. The student went on to tell the newbie that even if he didn't like to read, he'd like this.Trust him.
     The voice of peers matters. I feel pretty good about engaging kids in reading as long as I give them a voice. What have I learned through all of this? Be versatile in your teaching. Be flexible. Be willing to take a chance on your kids and the choices they make. It could make all the difference.

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 answers....do you? Share it with me...it 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 are...it 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 countryside...it 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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Transparent Failure

     I was with colleagues the other day planning for a PD day coming up. The questions swirled as we tried to hone in on what we thought our curricular area English teachers needed or wanted to learn about. One idea that popped up was bringing in an assignment or unit that didn't work the way it was conceived to have worked so others could give you feedback on it. I nodded my assent but internally was wondering how transparent we would be with each other? Could we admit failure and ask for help? Could I?
     Everyone has heard about failure--it's the latest buzzword. When things don't work out, they are viewed as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. Everyone fails at some point in life. Why not teach kids to embrace it as a chance to learn and grow rather than as failure? As I thought about my colleague's suggestion, I thought of my own failures in the classroom. Then I reminded myself that failures are only failures if I don't revise and learn something from them. Transparent failures--when I'm not afraid for all to see what I'm doing, how I'm doing it and where the failure is.
     The more I thought about this, the more self-conscious I became. Was I brave enough to show my shortcomings to colleagues I barely new, had no relationship with, and who may judge it harshly? Would they criticize what I was doing or look at it in disdain, commenting on how much rigor the lesson lacked or how light the work-load was in the class? All these thoughts took me by surprise. And it wasn't a good surprise.
     Transparency is good. Failure is good. If we learn from it. So how will I handle the PD day? Very carefully, knowing that exposing myself to critiques is a good thing. If we want to become better teachers, we need to accept and learn from failure as well be transparent in our teaching with both students and teachers alike.This transparency could make a world of difference to us as teachers and it could model lessons for our students to learn from. Transparent failure, it does a body good.

Friday, April 6, 2018

What Happened?

     A foster girl changed my life. Really, she did. I'll call her Sandy. She came to live with us when she was 14, a girl other families had shied away from because of what she'd done. Sandy had been charged with five counts of attempted murder. When my husband and I read her file, we asked, "Why?" Why would a kid do something like that? What had happened to drive her to this? It was the most important question we could have asked.
     Sandy changed a lot during her time with us and so did I. I saw her life experiences as the major reason behind her choices. I came to understand that the question to ask isn't "What's wrong with the kid?" but rather "What happened to her?" This understanding has served me well as a teacher.
      There's a reason kids act the way they do. Most of the time it's a defense mechanism to keep them feeling safe or in control when they feel neither in their home environment. Our district has done Trauma Sensitive Schools (TSS) training and learned about Acute Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  This training brings to the forefront the question of "What happened?"
      Recently my principal had us watch a 60 minutes segment reported on by Oprah about kids and trauma. Honestly, it was a segment I think every educator needs to view. It can help teachers see their kids in a different light and ask the "What happened?" question rather than the "What's wrong with him/her?" question. The first looks for the reason behind the behavior. If we can figure that out, we can deal with the root of the issue rather than just be punitive in our reaction.
     When we see kids acting out, let's look for the why they are acting that way--the what happened to them. Kids want to feel safe, secure and loved. When those are threatened, they act out.
      Sandy was the best foster child we ever had. We still keep in touch with her. Today she's married with three kids of her own. As a young teen, there was a reason why she did what she did. We just had to learn to ask the right questions. It truly did make all the difference.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

WAR Wrap Up

     This weekend was our Waging WAR for Literacy conference for teens. It went off without a hitch thanks to the efforts of volunteers and presenters alike . Here are 10 things I learned from the conference.

1. There's no such thing as writer's block. Keynote speaker, author Andrew Smith, made this comment in his opening address and I agree with him. This was one of the quotes that stuck with kids the most,too.
2. Cell phones are art machines. Andrew's point was that cell phones shouldn't be machines that isolate but machines that allow us to create. He went on to show how he could compose music, write, draw, record and so many other things on this crazy machine. It was perfect.
3. Kids will come, but we must feed them. In an  effort to shave time off our schedule, we opted to forego serving lunch and dismiss at 1:00. However, in reading the post surveys food was mentioned....a lot. Ok, we get the message...
4. Sessions should be shorter/longer. I think this depends on the student who said it. Granted, some kids came because they could get extra credit. However, others came because they were genuinely interested. Maybe not  offering bonus points is the ticket.
5. Don't always trust booksellers to show up on time. We sold books at the conference. Well, not us but a vendor. The author was scheduled to sign books before his keynote, which he did, but the line was small because kids were waiting to buy books.
6. Be flexible. Because #5 happened we switched things around and everything worked out.
7. Have a great co-leader and team.  The crew who works to put this on is amazing. Especially my co-leader  Jodi. She is a rock star. I'm a better person because of what I learn from her.
8. Invite Andrew Smith back ! He was an incredible author who connected with the students and did a terrific job in leading his breakout sessions. And nice? I think the word was coined about him.
9. Don't look further than your colleagues for quality presenters. The teachers in my district are consummate professionals. And funny. And good teachers. Book dating, social media, finding your voice, and so many more. When Andrew Smith complemented us on a terrific conference, I thought of the quality of teachers who were there. Outstanding.
10. Good things come out of the Twin Cities. Two of our popular session teachers drove in from the Cities in dire weather (well, for one, at least).  Poet Joe Davis did a brilliant job of engaging and empowering kids while NFL social media content guy Alex Dorner wowed kids with his information and ability to write in 40 seconds.

This was a great conference. One of the best. Someone asked me why we do it--the conference is a lot of work. My reply? We do it because it can make all the difference.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Innovation Means...

     A student wondered out loud what all the fuss was about being "innovative." In fact, what did that even mean? Great question. One we discussed for a while before coming to a consensus. This is the latest buzz word in education. Look at just about any education-focused blog and chances are there's been at least one post on this concept. Let me join the crowd. Instead of focusing on the word "innovation," let's focus on the implementation of that word.
     Change can be scary. Especially when administrators are speaking the latest education-ese in an effort to see teachers foray into these unknown waters. Even our teacher evaluation form has "innovating" as one of the achievement levels upon which teachers are rated. But words aside, what does this mean in a classroom? What does it look like in practice?
     Both are great questions, questions I think can be answered in one word: risk-taking (2 words if not used as an adjective). Being innovative isn't some great and glorious teaching method that you have to build yourself up to achieve. It's looking at what you teach, wondering how you can teach it differently, stepping outside of your "normality,"  and trying a new approach to your teaching.
     Just like some people are more risk takers by nature, some teachers are also more willing to think out of step with convention and try something new. That's all innovation really is. This is something possible for everyone, not just a select few really "innovative" people.
     I consider myself a risk-taker and creative person, but I don't even hold a match to some of my friends/colleagues who amaze me with what they do in their classes. Nothing is too wild or out of bounds for them. Who benefits from this type of thinking and teaching? Everybody. Not just the students but the teachers as well. Teaching becomes fresh and new, not stale from teaching the same content the same old way. When teachers are excited about what they're doing, kids glam onto it and become more interested as well. Being a risk-taking teacher brings an upside to teaching--everyone wins.
     Admittedly, risk-taking lessons bring some angst. Uncertainty about the viability of the lesson. A lack of confidence about implementation. Concern about execution. But the biggest fear may be "what if it fails?"  No one likes to fail...or do they? Things I try fail a lot, but then I learn by evaluation what didn't work and modify to try again. In my current set up with the way my school's calendar runs, this is easier for me to work on than other teachers since I usually have multiple chances to readjust what I'm doing.
     Innovation. A scary word? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be. Instead of focusing on the definition of the word, hone in on implementation, putting aside feelings of insecurity over whether you will be successful or not. Even in failure, you're a success.
     Go ahead. Be innovative. Be a risk taker. It could make all the difference.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Semantics: Watered Down or Differentiate?

     In talking to a colleague recently, I learned how much most teachers, and administrators for that matter, don't get my school. I'm used to the powers that be referring to the "two" high schools in town (ignoring the alternative high school). I'm used to references of the alternative school being for the "bad" kids or the "druggies." Yet I wasn't prepared for the comment shared of how we "water down" the curriculum.That was irritating.
     Alternative education is different, right? In theory, maybe, but in practice we do what the administrators and education gurus say is positive--we differentiate for students. Sometimes we bring materials down but other times we increase our expectations and differentiate up. What does it depend upon? The student. Right now, the start of a new block, I have full classrooms where I'm teaching five classes at once, all individualized for each student. As teachers it's our responsibility to see students learn, challenge them to reach new heights, and help them on their journey. I tell my students it's my job to help them be successful in school, not to give them misleading test questions or confusing assignments. It's my job to teach them how to think and analyze and communicate. What isn't my job is to  water down my curriculum.
      Is it "watering down" a curriculum when a student is at a fourth grade reading level and you give him a book for seventh or eighth graders that is high interest and engages him in the novel or is that differentiating? When he actually reads the book and asks for another rather than Spark Notes the book to get through the writing task and regurgitate what he read rather than what he knows? Is it "watered down" to get students to think about and analyze character motivation in a book or the significance of the motifs in leading to the theme in a book they're excited to talk about rather than one they faked reading? Or is that differentiating? If "watered down" means meeting a student where he's at and then bringing him to a higher level, than I guess I'm guilty as charged.
     Teachers deal with all types and levels of students. We also deal with all types and levels of colleagues--some understand the education process better than others. However, using the term "watered down" is inflammatory and ignorant. Especially in relation to alternative education. We meet the kids where they're at and challenge them to go higher--no matter what level they're at. It's called differentiation. So don't be concerned if you're tagged with "watering down" a curriculum if you know in your mind you're exacting more than what the student thought he was capable of doing. Meet the student where he's at and take him further than he thought he could go.
      Go ahead. "Water down" your curriculum. Or in education-ese differentiate--it could make all the difference to the success of that student. Isn't that why we stay in education? To make a difference?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reading...Just Reading

    Book club started early in my room this block. Why? Because kids asked for it to start. "Why wait until next block starts?" they asked. "Can we start early?" Um, let me check...I think we can manage that. When my partner in book club madness went around pitching the book, a good thing happened. We ran out of copies. Even after ordering five more books, we're still short. Kids are reading just to read.
     This school year I have really been encouraging independent reading as has the other English teacher at my school. The result? Kids falling in love with reading. Here's what one non-reader, ELL student wrote in his course evaluation:
                "More reading time is what the teacher should improve. The book I read in class has 
encouraged me to read more books in life more than just looking at a computer screen."

When I probed a bit after reading this, I found out The Life We Bury was the first book this
guy had ever read in his life. He has been in the U.S. for eight years. Not once during the 
reading process did I have to encourage him to read. He's hooked. How can I tell? 
Because he asked for suggestions for other books to read. He even thinks I should
have kids read more books.
The thing is, what Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller and many others propose is good advice. 
Let students read books of choice rather than forcing them to read something they aren't 
interested in. Chances are Spark Notes will get a lot of action if we force them to read 
uninteresting books. I'd rather the choice be theirs. Sometimes I assign, but it's rare that 
I make a student suffer through something they really dislike. I remember plowing through
Silas Marner myself in high school. I was a reader and I struggled to finish that tome.
It doesn't take much to offer choice. It can hook teens to read more. Book club is a 
result of choice and exposing kids to things they may not pick up on their own. 
Go ahead, let students decide what they want to read. It could make all the difference.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Noticing the Unnoticed, Again

     Another school shooting. Seventeen killed. As I watched the news unfold, I felt helpless. I heard the words of the mayor, a former educator, when asked how to prevent things like this happening. His words rang true to me when he said we need to make sure kids feel connected. Then I thought about my kids. My class. My school. I wonder periodically about this happening where I teach. Do I do enough to make kids feel connected? That made me think of a blog I wrote at the beginning of the school year--Notice the Unnoticed. Here is an excerpt from that blog:

     We all have new students, apprehensive students, or students reticent and subdued. It's easy to engage with the active students, the ones who laugh at your jokes and respond with one of their own. But the student on the periphery? The one who keeps to himself? That's the one we need to reach and engage however possible.
     What are some strategies we could use as teachers to include everyone? How can we train ourselves to "notice the unnoticed?" And once we notice them, how can we make them feel included and ease their apprehension?
     I've said it many times on this blog--relationships are the key to being a successful teacher. Begin building those relationships Day 1, letting the student know you are interested and care about them. Talk to them. Engage them in conversation away from their class. Notice them in the hallway. Smile, use their name, and say hello. It may be the only smile they get today. Make it count.

     Fringe kids, the ones on the periphery who may not fit in, these are the kids we need to reach. Popular kids who are in the middle of activities and friends, these are the kids we need to reach. Middle-of-the-road kids who are pleasant, studious, and engaged, these are the kids we need to reach. In other words, we need to reach them all.
     Teachers have a daunting task beyond teaching content and curriculum. Maybe even before content and curriculum. To reach kids. The mayor of that Florida city was right--kids need to feel connected.
     I'm not saying the culprit in this shooting would have done things differently or that anyone is to blame. But I do  know I'm going to improve my efforts at making those connections, of noticing the unnoticed. We don't need more school shootings, we need kids to know we care. Every. Single. Day. A huge task? One outside our "job" as a teacher? Maybe. But maybe by noticing the unnoticed and letting them know we care, we can avoid even the thought of another tragedy like in Florida. It's worth my effort.
     So today, make a decision to notice the unnoticed. It could make all the difference.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Defeating Negative Nelly

     Nothing speaks hope as much as January in North Dakota. No, it's not "I-hope-I-don't-freeze-to-death" hope. It's hope for spring. For brighter days. If you can make it through January, you can make it. But a lot of enduring the temps comes down to attitude (and a car with heated seats and an auto start feature). I can make it through those below zero days with the wind slicing through me when my attitude is positive. The same can be said for teaching. What kind of attitude am I bringing into the classroom?
      I recently returned to school after missing four weeks due  to surgery.  Honestly, I was ready emotionally to head back to class after week one. Unfortunately, my body needed more time to heal. But when I finally made it to the classroom and through my first day...well, I felt great. I was energized by my students and just by being there. My husband was afraid I would over do it, sending me missives during the day asking how I was and if I was going home. My attitude was positive. I wanted to stay. I could have taken off after the school day ended, but I felt good.
     How many times, though, in the past have I gone to school with  a less than stellar outlook, wanting only to go back home? Nothing was good enough or right, no one understood the stress I was under, no one could reach my students. I was Negative Nelly and everything around me reflected that.
     It takes the same effort to be positive as it does to be negative. But, now, given the choice, I'd rather err on the side of seeing the best in people and believing in them. Teaching can grow cynical people. I was going down that road, but "recalculated" my route to change direction.
     How do we "recalculate" our attitude? By watching who you hang out with . Instead of listening to negative people, I started surrounding myself with "can-do" colleagues, people who looked at failure as a learning experience, who looked at kids as achievers, and people who had a glass half-full mentality.
     Negativity wears everyone down. I don't want that kind of drain on me. It doesn't take too long before I succumb to the pressure and find Negative Nelly talk coming from me. So watch who you hang around. Think positive thoughts about yourself and your students. Give them the benefit of the doubt. It could make all the difference.