Friday, April 17, 2015

Done With It

As a human we get frustrated with things and are often pushed to the point of declaring, “I’m done with it!” For me this often comes when I am trying to fix something around the house. There are only so many times I can electrocute myself trying to fix a ceiling fan before I say “I’m done with it!” and call in a professional. I am sure all of us can relate and think of a time where our frustration led us to tossing in the towel.

However, as teachers we don’t have that luxury when it comes to working with kids. Or at least we shouldn’t. Yet, I have heard teachers say, “I’m done with that kid.” Now, I will freely admit there are kids who have pushed me near my breaking point and tested my limits and patience to the extreme. Yet, I never give in or give up on that kid. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to at times. For sure, there are students for who it would be much easier to write off and be done with than engage and dig in.

It is much easier to say I am done with a kid’s lazy attitude than engage and learn about why they are lazy or disengaged. It would be simpler to say I am done with a kid because their parents are difficult to work with than it would be to work to bridge that gap and foster a relationship. My life would certainly be smoother if I said I am done with a kid who continually fails in school than trying to mentor, teach and guide them. There are literally hundreds and thousands of reasons we should and could say I am done with a particular student. Many of which might be justified and indeed legitimate. Yet, is that the right thing to do?

If we say we are done, it means we give up. If we give up on a kid, we lose and we fail. This is not the kind of failure we celebrate and think of it as a great learning moment. When we say we are done with a child, we have failed as a teacher. No matter what a student does or says, we have to be there. We have to be there for them for the sake of any potential future they might have. In far too many cases, we the teacher, are the only individual in their life who cares about them and wants them to succeed. Regardless of how many times a kid tries to force us to give up on them, we can’t. We must try and persevere and do everything we can to keep at it. When we think we have nothing more to give, we go further and give more. We do this because we never can truly know the impact we will have on their life and if tomorrow will be the day it finally clicks.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Their Moment

Every year in my school we run a 6th grade volleyball intramural. The kids compete with their homeroom classes during a season where their records are tabulated. It is really a fun competition and gets kids excited to compete for their home room teacher and bragging rights. The top 4 teams then play in a final four where the final match is played during the school day in front of the entire grade level. It is one of the highlights of the school year as the kids get really fired up to support one of the teams in the finals. For the kids that play in the final game, it is certainly a big deal to them. It is more so for the team that wins and is recognized in front of all of their peers. They even get a chance to play against the faculty in a fun game of volleyball. I can't help but think that for some of those students it is their moment; the moment where they truly shine. A moment they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students will never stand as valedictorian or be an all-conference athlete. They will not experience standing ovations during a concert or have their work published in the local paper. Some will, but most will not. However, their “moments” occur as seemingly insignificant events on any given day but stay with them a lifetime. While most of us would not think playing volleyball in front of a gym full of junior high kids is a big deal, for some kids it is an enormous deal.

I am confident that all of us can think back on our school days. Likely we reflect on our moments. Those times where it felt like we were on top of the world and everything was going our way. Some of us have more of those moments than others but I'm sure we can all name one time will the world seemed on our side and we were “IT”. As I think about this and those 6th graders that had their moment in front of their peers at school I wonder how we can help students have those moments.

I've always said that the smallest gesture or insignificant comment can stay with a kid for a lifetime. It is because of this that I'm always intentional and what I say and do around my students. However, I wonder if we can help kids experience a moment; a moment where they stand out and are truly special. Now I don't want that to be confused with the idea of every kid deserves a ribbon or a medal. I truly want every kid to be able to experience that moment or joy and success in a genuine manner. Every kid in our building has a talent or a skill. I just wonder if we do enough to allow those kids the opportunity to have that moment. The moment where all of their peers look to them and celebrate their actions. What are we doing to help kids have their moment?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#PARCC: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For the past several days my students have endured the new Common Core State Standards aligned PARCC assessments. After administering and proctoring for over 8 hours in three days, I have a few takeaways from this high stakes test which we will do all over again in May. It would be very easy to dissect all of the nuanced problems within the test but I thought I would start with a generic overview of the good, the bad and the ugly. This is in large part due to the fact I am not sure what I can or cannot say about the test for fear of violating the consent form all staff had to sign. :)

The Good

I feel it fair to say the test itself presented little overall difficulty for my students. They seemed to navigate the controls with relative ease and many of them finished with ample time to spare in what I would consider generous testing time frames. Many of the students reported they enjoyed it better than the old “fill in the bubble with a number 2 pencil” tests which were the predecessor. If I had to estimate the average student was able to finish most of the tests in around 20 minutes despite being given anywhere from 60-90 minutes for each test.

The Bad

The bad of the PARCC test is that we are using it all together. Over the course of two tests (Performance Based and End of Year) there is massive loss of instructional time. Depending on your level of technology, the tests are taking schools weeks to administer. For schools testing on devices, students and teachers are unable to use any technology during these time frames due to the test monopolizing their use. What is surprising is we are not using other nationally normed tests which take a fraction of class time to administer and get feedback.

The Ugly

Another ugly of PARCC testing is really not specific to PARCC at all but high stakes testing in general. Schools have pep rallies and send home special instructions for the week of testing. Teachers and administrators reach out to the community and ask for children to be well fed and rested. They even go so far as to outlaw homework to keep the children’s stress or anxiety levels low and therefore prepped for testing. Some will have special parties and treats geared towards keeping kids positive and happy for testing week. What is ugly about this to me, is why are we not doing these things every day? Why do we put extra emphasis on the stress levels and health of a child during testing week? What are we doing to engage with parents and kids to promote positive health for kids regularly? Also, why do we have pep rallies and other gimmicks to attempt to convince kids the tests actually matter?

I realize a world without standardized testing may be as possible as a world of hover boards and flux capacitors. However, what about engaging in conversations about the health of kids more than during testing week? Why not limit the testing time period to the absolute minimum? Let’s be mindful of the amount of instructional timing lost and resources spent due to testing. Is testing the worst thing we have in schools? Not by a long shot. However, we can certainly look at the way in which it is used and make it useful to students and learning rather than companies and politicians.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Classroom Management

When we start the journey of a teacher, nearly all of us had the same goals in mind. We wanted to make a difference in the life of a child. Some of us came into the profession wide-eyed and nervous while others came in with a feeling of confidence or even a slight arrogance. However, all of us at some point were humbled by something we were not quite prepared for. This happens more often than not in our early years as a teacher. We realize the possibility our college course work and teacher preparation program may not have been as thorough as we would have liked or assumed it was. In most cases we attempt to seek advice from those around us by way of our peers and fellow teachers. Yet, a realization often comes over us as we begin to seek that help. Many of the teachers we work with have entrenched views on education where status quo and tradition reign supreme.

There are seven critical areas in which new(er) teachers often struggle. These areas are classroom management, motivation, parents, technology, initiatives, traditions, and professional growth. In addition to new teachers, I often see veteran teachers struggle in these areas due to an outdated or potentially engrained belief system. For example, student motivation and the use of punishment and rewards is a largely unchallenged bastion of schooling within most classrooms. Yet research done by many individuals, including Daniel Pink, would suggest alternate ways in which to look at how we motivate students.

To me one of the most critical elements of a teacher’s job is that of classroom management, which is a topic that I have reflected on and given great thought to.

I still remember when I had my classroom management binder filled out with all of my classroom management strategies and rules for the classroom. I probably brought that into my first interview to show off that I knew I was going to be an expert classroom manager. All of those color-coded tabs with rules, procedures, and everything that could possibly happen in my future classroom. Then I got to the first day of school with thirty, junior high kids in the room and I realized the binder was not worth the paper it had been printed on. I started to realize all the cute little tricks and tips and strategies I learned while in college were not the Golden Ticket to a well-behaved classroom.
 At some point in your career, hopefully it’s sooner rather than later, you realize the fallacy of classroom management methods typically taught to new teachers, many still used by veteran teachers.
 The simple truth is you cannot make a child do something they do not want to do.
 You will have a student who will look you dead in the eye when asked to do something and he will simply say, “No.” You will reply with, “You better or else.” The student will look you back in the eye and answer, “Or else what?” You will then realize there is no “or else” because you can’t force him to do anything. Now this might seem like a shock because, as a new teacher, you would hope that you have some power or authority in the classroom. However, in my experience those teachers who feel they have that authority and power are the ones who struggle the most. The moment you get into a power struggle as the teacher in a classroom, you have already lost. If we don’t need traditional classroom management techniques, then what do we need? How can you as a teacher effectively manage a class of students? (Stumpenhorst, 2015)

Classroom management, along with the other six items, is a critically important topic to reflect on and analyze if a teacher wants to stay relevant and effective. My goal as a teacher is to always look for ways to improve on the work I do every single day with students. Teachers who are reflective about their practice are often the ones who evolve with their students and are better suited to meet the needs of the learners in their rooms. Regardless if you are looking at classroom management and motivation or education traditions and initiatives, the most effective teachers are those willing to take a critical look at their craft with the goal of continual improvement. The dynamic of a classroom and what we know about learners is ever changing. As a result, we need teachers ready to start a revolution of ideas and meet the needs of these learners.

For more insights and content regarding Classroom Management as well as the other 6 critical areas to revolutionize your teaching check out The New Teacher Revolution

Friday, January 16, 2015

Educational Erosion

In my heart I believe every single teacher went into the profession with the intention of changing lives and inspiring kids. I truly believe this because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Yet, every single one of us can name a teacher or two in our building who seem to have lost their desire to do amazing work with kids. On the surface you may think these teachers are “sucky” but I think we are being a bit shortsighted and missing the larger picture when it comes to less effective teachers. It is my belief many teachers are simply experiencing symptoms of educational erosion. Just as cliffs along a coastline erode and shrink, I too think teachers suffer a similar fate. There are many variables, which impact the rate of this erosion.

Water Pressure
Just as cliff sides around the world experience different waves, storms, and tides, teachers have different pressures put on them as well. These pressures come in the form of testing, evaluations, initiatives, administrators, parents, legislation and the laundry list of things, which ultimately stand in the way of teachers doing their jobs. While a teacher may have stood tall on day one of their first year, the job and the stressors eventually erode away the tough exterior.

The number of initiatives, programs, and new responsibilities being placed on teachers is increasing to a monsoon level in some schools. Teachers’ very fabric of being which they started their careers with is being blasted out to sea.

Type of Rock
Cliffs can be comprised of different rocks determining the erosion rate and the same can be said of teachers. Some teachers are emotionally and mentally more prepared to withstand the years of teaching with its onslaught of emotional and physical waves. The reality is, some teachers are built differently and can handle all that is tossed at them. Yet, just as it is with rock, they all have a breaking point.

The hardest rock can withstand the strongest Mother Nature can throw its way. However, over time the rock changes and erodes into something different. The inspired and passionate teacher from day one evolves and erodes in the same manner. When you see a “sucky” teacher, stop and wonder what they have experienced to make them the way they are. While this is in no way supporting poor teachers, it is to say sometimes people have been beaten down so much they can’t stand back up enough to return to that person they were on their first day.

As a trail runner I see places where erosion is being stemmed and even reversed through supports such as walls, barriers or other assistive measures. Teachers need support to survive the waves of standards, assessments, initiatives, meetings and everything else wearing them down. This is not to say teachers are pathetic and can’t handle the rigors of teaching. However, I fear we will have a generation of teachers leave the profession because teaching itself is eroding into purely data management and assessments rather than relationship building and learning as a joyful act. I have yet met a teacher who says they are tired of teaching. Yet, they are tired of everything else asked of them, which ultimately gets in the way of the job of actually teaching.

Administrators who step up for their staff to push back and protect them from the storms of our educational systems are to be commended. They are the ones who can help stem the erosion of our teachers so as not to lose them. In addition, fellow teachers need to be able to support one another and help weather the storms cropping up seemingly more and more regularly.

Just as harbors and bays provide shelter from the storms, teachers too are seeking shelter. In some extreme cases, they seek shelter by simply leaving the profession all together. The feelings of stress overwhelm them to the point of exhaustion and they leave. It can be argued some of these teachers should leave but I argue we are losing the good ones too.

Another shelter teachers are taking is through leaving for positions of less accountability and pressure. Instead of teaching tested subjects they head into the waters of electives and other roles where there is shelter from high expectations in the form of rigid standards or high stakes testing. This is not to say these teachers are hiding from accountability but they need a space where they can interact with kids in a positive way without the pressure and stressors looming over them brought on by over standardization and testing.

The final shelter teachers are taking is holing up and shutting down in their rooms altogether. They ignore the new initiatives and everything new being asked of them. For them it is about survival and getting through the day.

Educational erosion may be a made up idea but the reality is teachers erode over time. Most if not all teachers walk into their first teaching job with the best intentions and a good heart. Yet somewhere along the way the system batters them into a shape or form almost unrecognizable to where they started. We must be better to our teachers, especially our new ones, if want them to withstand the weathering of a career in education. Erosion over time can create smooth and polished masterpieces if it is controlled and nurtured. However, if unprotected it will ravage and destroy all in its path.