I'm Going Streaking

I have decided not to make New Year’s Resolutions this year…no lists of fluffy feel good things that I will more than likely fail to live up to.  Instead, I am going streaking. Yes, you heard that correct. I am going streaking for the first time in my life. I just hope I can do Frank proud.

Specifically, I am going to attempt to start two different streaks on New Year’s Day. The first is a streak to run every single day for the year of 2012. This is certainly going to be a difficult challenge for me as I have battled a knee injury since my collegiate triple jumping career. I am choosing to do this for a couple of reasons. First, is actually because of my wife who has recently committed to a run streak and at the time of this posting is sitting at 37 consecutive days of running at least one mile. Many of her runs have been in the double digits for miles and she is inspiring me with her dedication. The second reason is for my own personal goal setting and physical growth. I am the type of person that needs a goal in order to motivate myself. In the past, I would run if I was training for a race or some sort of competition. Hopefully, by taking this challenge and making it public on my blog I will stick with it…feel free to drop me a line on twitter ( @stumpteacher ) to make sure I stay honest!

The second streak I hope to start is nothing new and nothing that many of my readers have not already done. It is the 365 photo-a-day project. My goal is to take a picture a day and post it on my posterous site. I will be travelling a great deal as the Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2012, so I hope to share some of my travels and have a snap shot of my year.

So, maybe these two streaks are actually resolutions and I am just another hypocrite…but oh well. I am going to try to stick with these two things for as long as I can. What streaks do you want to start this year? Watch an episode of Seinfeld every day? Give a family member a hug every day? Take a walk every day? Take time to read every day?

In thinking about my two impending streaks, I am brainstorming how to bring this idea to my classroom. How can I incorporate streaks with my students? What streaks can I start with them? How can I help them create yearly challenges and then support them? 

Twas The Night Before Testing...

Twas the day before testing, when all through the school
Not a student was learning, not even the fool.
The pencils were sharpened and laid out with care,
In hopes that learning soon would be shown there.

The children were crowded all cramped in their seats,
While visions of bubbled answers danced on the sheets.
And teacher in their desk, and student their chair,
Both settled their brains for a long blank stare.

When out in the hall arose such a noise,
Students sprang from desks, the girls and the boys.
Away to the door they flew in a flash,
Tore down the testing sign and left in a crash.

The hallway lit with the glimmer of neon light,
And students called back to seats with fright.
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But endless questions and answers to fear.

With children back in their seats,
They settled for testing feats.
More quickly than lightning, directions were read,
As teachers spewed and spit words of dread.

“Now fill in the bubbles with pencil number two!
Use your time wisely for the minutes will be few.
Do your best and show what you got,
There may be pressure but perform on the spot."

Kids said not a word but tried their best,
And worked continuously without rest.
Some were finished and some were not,
Regardless all were done when clock hit the spot.

Kids sprang to the door and down the halls,
Answering their texts and taking their calls.
Teachers collected the tests in a nice neat pile,
Brought them to the office, heels clicking on the tile.

As all tests were collected and locked up so neat,
Teachers and students both happy it complete.
A day without these tests both are yearning,
They wish to say, “it’s about the learning.”

Happy Testing to All and To All a Good Score!

Holiday Break Sucks

Christmas Break.
Holiday Break.
Winter Break.

In the immortal words of New Kids on the Block, “call it what you want”. Bottom line is many of us look forward to the time of year when we get a bit of time off to relax, recharge and spend time with loved ones. However, it is at this time of year I am always reminded how much these break suck for many of our students. I can name a handful of my students who are dreading the upcoming time away from classes and their behavior is a clear indicator of this fact. Is this because my class is that awesome? Not a chance! Do these kids love homework and extra credit projects? Not even close! These particular students simply have nothing at home worth looking forward to. 
  • Many will be heading to a break filled with fighting, yelling, and domestic unrest.
  • Some will attempt to hide in a home where divorce has wrecked their “normal” lives.
  • Increasing numbers of students will experience less than bountiful loot left from Santa under the tree.
  • Some students will spend their breaks parenting siblings while their parents work.
  • Others will be working themselves to help support their families.
  • A few of your students might not get to read a book because they have none of their own.
  • Many will head to homes not able to pay the heating or electric bills.
  • Some may not even have homes to go home to.

We often take for granted these breaks and cannot possibly imagine why anyone would fear them. For those about to head on break, remember when those students start acting out there might be a reason behind it. They might be afraid of leaving the safe, calm, and loving environment that is school. Many students view schools as their safe haven and impending breaks from school are scary and potentially anxious times in their lives.

The Only Standard We Ever Need

I have often been accused of over-simplifying things or making things more black and white than they should be. When it comes to the increasing number of standards being imposed on our students, I am beginning to feel rather frustrated. As a country we are concerned that our students are falling behind in the sacred tests to other countries. Yet, as I sit in my desk helping students do math during study hall, I have a tough time believing that. These 6th grade students are tackling concepts that I am confident I was not introduced to until late junior high or early high school. More and more content is being pushed down in an effort to help kids get ahead. So what gives? Why are the test scores not going up if kids are getting “smarter” earlier?

For me, I wonder if it is simply a matter of breadth over depth. We are exposing our students to as much content and curricula as inhumanly possible in the time we have them. Yet, due to the sheer amounts of standards and content, teachers cannot hope to go into any true depth. How can teachers deepen understanding when they are given such a laundry list of standards to teach in one school year? Students are certainly being exposed to more content today than in the past, but at the expense of what? True understanding and depth of knowledge?

The other day I spent some time playing and learning with my son in his preschool classroom. In one of the classrooms the teacher had hung the multitude of learning standards each child was expected to master by the end of the year. It struck me funny as a parent to think my child would be exposed to all that content in one academic year. Honestly, I was blown away by how many there were. As I looked them over, one caught my eye.

This standard truly does sum up my beliefs on learning. How would your teaching change if you put this standard in your list? What if this was the only standard that drove your teaching? In my opinion we move too far away from “active exploration” in lieu of rigid curriculum coverage. Is it possible that this is the only standard we ever need? 

Social Media is not the Problem

I recently came across an article in the New York Times on social media. The basic premise behind the article is laws and boundaries are being put in place to protect both teachers and students from inappropriate relationships or interactions as a result of social media use. My initial gut reaction was not positive to be honest. A few statements stuck out at me specifically.
“Some teachers have set poor examples by posting lurid comments or photographs involving sex or alcohol on social media sites. Some have had inappropriate contact with students that blur the teacher-student boundary.”
Yes, this is a true statement. Some teachers have used poor professional judgment in what actions they have taken in regards to student relationships online. Due to discretions of the few, why must we mandate for all? Should we ban all youth football programs from universities due to the infractions of a few? I believe whole heartedly that educators using social media sites for inappropriate means should be dealt with and prosecuted as such. To say that social media causes these negative things to occur is ignorant at best. If anything, social media brings to light such behaviors that could easily remain hidden behind closed doors. Poor decisions cause problems, not social media. In addition, when brought to light via social media, those instances have to be dealt with and not swept under the rug.
“School administrators are also concerned about teachers’ revealing too much information about their private lives.”
This is another statement that I took a certain degree of issue with. Many teachers are not comfortable sharing personal information with their students in any form. That is fine. However, some of the most influential teachers are those that are able to walk that line between professional and personal. Parents and students alike, respond best to teachers that are “real” human beings and part of that is sharing personal information. I tell my student’s parents that I have children of my own and often share stories and relate to them. Is that not a good thing to do? When talking to my students I often share personal stories about my life experiences as they pertain to them. Does that not help me build rapport and better connect with my students? How about helping teachers negotiate those lines rather than removing the line completely?
“What worries some educators is that overly restrictive policies will remove an effective way of engaging students who regularly use social media platforms to communicate.”
I agree with this statement completely. If we remove a viable option for parent/teacher/student communication we are just shutting doors. In the current economic and social realities of the world we live in, teachers need to use whatever means at their disposal to connect to students and parents. Social media is just another option on the table that if used properly can be highly effective.

Yes, we need to protect our students as well as our teachers. However, as history has often proven, banning never has the desired outcome or intended results. Let’s instead use a policy of guidance and education to help both our students and teachers use these powerful tools for good. Oh…and most teachers are already doing this!  

Chrome-Tweetdeck Tutorial

It has been too long since I made my last tutorial...so here is a new one. This one goes through some ways in which I use the new Tweetdeck Extension within Chrome as well as some other Twitter-related Extensions. Enjoy and let me know what I missed and what you want to see next!

Complaining and Campaigning

It is that time of year…the time to complain and campaign for the annual EduBlogs Awards

There are those that have been nominated who will be campaigning very hard in the coming days for you to log in and vote for them. The coveted badge means a great deal to them and they will do their best to “earn” your vote. For them winning is a big deal, as it vindicates the work they have done and they cherish that coveted jpg file for their site. On the other end will be those that have been left out and therefore complain about the whole award process and encourage you to boycott the entire enterprise. They lash out from a place of either jealously or just an overall hatred for the institution of awards.

Now in full disclosure, I have been nominated for an EduBlog Award in three different categories. I am honored that my work has been noticed and acknowledged by my peers. Regardless of my status as a nominee, my thoughts remain the same. The “Eddies11” are a great way to pick up new people to follow and blogs to read. Go through the nominees and I am sure you will pick up something new and possibly some inspiration. There are great people doing great work that needs to be shared. If you don’t want to vote, then don’t vote. Read, learn, and share what you find. Let’s focus more on the work there instead of winning and losing.

Another concern that arises with the “Eddies” is the campaigning. Don’t tweet out, “vote for me” or lament that you were not nominated. If you are blogging and tweeting for awards and badges, then maybe you are doing it for the wrong reason. I keep hearing..."Badges....we don't need no stinkin' badges!" in the back of my head. :) When we share good work and acknowledge it, everyone wins. I remember looking through the nominees last year and picking up some great blogs to read and people to follow. The Eddies are a venue to share good work and learn from some great folks. However, let’s not get wrapped up in the winning and try to avoid the complaining and campaigning.

We are all better when we learn and share from and with each other. I encourage you to go through the list of nominees and add some more blogs to your readers and names to your follow list. 

Thank You Mr. Smith

As a teacher you are lucky if you find yourself teaching in a building with inspirational and influential people. In this area, I feel incredibly fortunate due to the high number of people that would fit this description in my building. However, there is one teacher that stands above the rest for me personally. He has inspired me to write this post that I hope to serve as a thank you to him as well as a learning opportunity for others. I will not use his real name for both personal and professional reasons.

This particular teacher, Mr. Smith, teaches the kids that many others don’t want to, or simply can’t handle. These students are difficult, to put it mildly, and make up the so called “E-D” population which are students with a host of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. His caseload ranges from year to year and fluctuates in both numbers and intensity of needs and he has been at it for 25+ years. Many of the students that walk through his classroom doors have witnessed and experienced things that most people will never see in a lifetime. Without going into great details, Mr. Smith’s students often are known by the local police departments, hospitals, social workers, and armies of therapists. In any given year his students will come and go due to hospitalizations at treatment centers or problems with the “law”.

Press photograph from the George Grantham Bain collection

What amazes me most about Mr. Smith is that he is like a prize fighter that gets his bell rung nearly every single day and yet keeps getting right back up. I have witnessed kids screaming at him and cussing him out while throwing classroom furniture. Yet, within minutes of these altercations, he is there rebuilding the relationship and providing the love and support these kids so desperately need. It is often a thankless job that largely goes unnoticed by other students and staff, who routinely try to avoid his room for fear of what is happening down in “Room 13”.

I have spoken and written often about my belief in relationships being the key to a successful teacher-student relationship. Much of my feelings and beliefs have come from the dreaded Room 13. When Mr. Smith’s often hair trigger students are having a bad day, he will dance and sing a “Grumpercism” which is one of his many creations to help his students crack a smile and relieve the tension. He will literally do anything for his students who are those that struggle the most with authority and the general institution that is public school. It is very easy to talk about relationship building and supporting kids in a so called “normal” class. However, teachers like Mr. Smith prove it can be done in the most difficult of spaces and takes away any excuses the rest of us might have.

What are you doing to build relationships with your students? Do you connect with the kids that are difficult and often pushed to the side? What about the kids that scream, yell, and throw furniture? Do you build relationships with them as well? What about the students in your building that are in “room 13”, do you take the time to know them, understand them, and have empathy for them?

Lots of educational talking heads keep saying we are “Waiting for Superman”. I am not. I work two doors down from him every day and I along with many other teachers in my building are better because of it. 

Sitting on the Fence

I feel as though we are becoming more and more polarized in our country, especially in education. Often we find ourselves in discussions where it is either left or right and we can’t be in the middle for fear of being looked upon as apathetic. Everyone wants to think they are right and therefore that others are wrong. The more and more discussions like these I find myself in the more I think sitting on the fence is the best way to go.

Now there are certain things that we can never sit on the fence with. Students should always be treated fairly, with respect and dignity. However, there are many things within the educational realm with extremely polarized views.

Some teachers swear by their grade books as an integral part of their teaching. They would think it blasphemy to hear the outrages claims of those saying we need to rid out schools of grades. On the other hand there are those that see no value in grades as a means of feedback and that our classrooms would be better off without them. I would rather sit in the middle and acknowledge most traditional grading practices are archaic and should be reflected upon and revised. If we are up front about what we grade, how it is graded, why it is graded, and detailed feedback on the grading process in our class it is ok. Myself, I use standards based grading as a middle ground. I am able to clearly communicate to students and parents progress made toward a set of learning standards. There is no guess work as to how the grades are determined or what goes into the “A”.

Standardized Testing:
This is one that I may get heat for but again, there is a middle ground here. The issue as I see it is the amount of money spent creating, preparing, administering and grading these assessments. In addition, the amount of class time spent preparing and taking these tests is at a great cost to learning opportunities. Can’t we use small tests to gather the same data? How accurate is this data if so much time is spent teaching to the test? The tests themselves are a greater indication of teacher preparedness rather than student learning progress. If we instead down play their role and use them as snap shots or basic skills only, they can have little use for us. With technology we can offer more solutions with less hindrance on the classrooms themselves.

Standards and Common Core:
This is a hot topic right now with the advent of the Common Core standards and their role in the future of education in many states. On one hand there are the advocates of strict standards and increased rigor as the only means of “saving” education in our country. Conversely there are those that would advocate for more student driven learning where students guide their learning in absence of standards. Can’t we have both? Is it possible to have a loose set of overarching standards to guide our learning progress while giving students a larger role in the process? Standards are not the issue as much as our overreliance on them both as a means to drive curriculum as well as attempt to hold teachers accountable.

Instructional Procedures:
There are many ways in which a teacher can deliver content to a group of students. As with a favorite sports team, many teachers become a staunch fan of one way and nothing else. Whether you are lecturing, using PBL, Flipped Model, small groups, or any of the other numerous models, they all have value. What works one day will not work the next. What works with one student will not necessarily work with another. We need to stop looking for that silver bullet of instructional methods and realize that bullet is flexibility and evolution. The teachers who succeed are those willing to change when needed for the sake of the student.

Technology Use:
Yes, there is certainly opposing views on the value of technology in education. Many see technology as a great tool with unending potential for improving student learning. However, there are also those that see it as a distraction or shiny object flashing in the eyes of our students. I tend to think they are both right. Technology can, has, and will transform learning in our schools. However, if not used properly, it can be a distraction and a waste of resources. Stand in the middle where you use technology to further learning but not just using it to be using it.

Too often we get wrapped up in our “side” that we fail to recognize the value in the other side. It is in this moment that we are unable to learn and move forward but instead get entrenched in our viewpoints at the detriment of all. Often times sitting on the fence is viewed as the easy way out or just being lazy. However, in most situations, it is the dichotomy within issue that breeds inaction and stagnation. Most of the discussions in education have two sides and the middle ground between both is where I see the greatest potential for growth. I encourage discourse, argument, and discussion as a means of growth but we must stay in the middle to a certain degree for the sake of any change happening. 

You're Holding that Pencil Wrong!

I hesitated in writing this post as I don’t want to call anyone out or embarrass anyone. This story is true and happened to someone close to me and I felt sharing and reflecting on it. My friend’s oldest child is in kindergarten this year and recently got his son’s first report card sent home. Report cards are all different but this was a pretty standard kindergartner report card. It had a handful of skills in a column with the tried and true “S” for satisfactory or “D” for developing. One such skill was “pencil grasp” and his son received a “D” in this column.

Now, the grade was not the issue my friend initially had but rather confusion because his son holds his pencil as “normal” as anyone else. So, he waited to bring this up at his son’s parent teacher conference. At the conference he asked the teacher why his son received a “D” for his pencil grasp. Her reply, according to him was, “well, when I tested him, he held his pencil in a fist which is not correct.”

I am not here to defend the way a child holds his pencil but the fact that his grade was based on a one time “test” of pencil holding ability. Knowing this kid, I am sure he was just being a stinker at that moment of the test. In addition, I have personally witnessed this child hold and use his pencil in the “approved” manner. Yet, this teacher did not base his grade on what I would assume would be multiple days of in class observation. She had to have seen him write, color, and draw on countless occasions during the few months he had been in her class. His grade was based on a so called snapshot moment that clearly did not illustrate his abilities.

For me, there a few reasons I find this story problematic. First, I happen to know this was a first year teacher that was probably just doing what they were told. This is often the case in schools where new teachers are products of the environment rather than doing what is best for kids. Second, this is another illustrated example of why standard and district assessments are too often a snapshot and not the whole picture of a child. Yet, so much value is given to these assessments. Finally, this points to the problem with grades and how they often fail to articulate a child’s abilities. If you were an un-involved parent, you would see such a report card as my friend and assume there was a problem with your child.

In looking at lessons learned here…if you are a teacher don’t let a child’s grade be based on a snapshot. Do everything within your power to use grades and any other feedback you have to paint a clear picture of a child’s abilities. On the other side of things, if you are a parent like my friend, make sure you ask questions. Teachers can learn from parents as much as anybody and their perspectives are often underutilized. 

What Do We Measure?

Last night I found myself in a conversation on twitter with a handful of individuals in varying roles within education. Our discussion ended up essentially talking about what we measure in schools. Here is a snip of the conversation.

I reflected a great deal on this and found myself with a few questions.

What do we measure in schools?
This is the only question I felt I had a handle on. We measure student’s academic knowledge through grades, tests, and other data points. Myself, I use standards based grading where a student’s grade is solely based upon their ability to demonstrate mastery of a learning standard. I need to provide each student a grade in my classes and I choose to have those grades based completely on content knowledge. I don’t believe in inflating grades with homework or extra credit. While this may not be a perfect system, it is working for me and my students right now.

What do we teach that is not measured?
Lately, I have been focusing on having my students think outside the box and be more creative. Is creativity measured? Can it be? I am also working on building a cultural and global awareness within my students. Is that something I can have them “bubble in”? What about other life skills such as empathy and generosity as Dean suggested? None of these things are measured in schools even though they might be observed and noted. At the end of the day, there is not an “A-“ in empathy showing up on a student’s report card.

What should we be measuring?
With both of the previous questions in mind, what should we measure in schools? What is our purpose for measuring students, other than to see who grew two inches over the summer? J Is the reason for measurement to rank, sort, and track students? Is it possible that some of the most valuable life skills we teach in school are not measurable?

As with most things, I have more questions than answers. I feel as though educational culture is predisposed to measure everything and color code it on an Excel spreadsheet. What should we be measuring and what should we just observe and nurture? Are the life skills mentioned above difficult to define and therefore left out of the conversation when it comes to what we value about student learning while in schools? 

Student Driven Learning: My Journey

Many people have asked me recently about my push to make my classroom more student driven. For some, it is a large step and can be potentially scary to think about relinquishing control of your classroom to students. In an effort to help and also reflect on my journey, I provide the following phases of creating a student driven classroom. This is by no means ground breaking or the definitive answer, but simply one teacher’s journey.

Phase One:
As with any journey worth taking, the first step is often the most difficult to take. For me it was realizing that I was no longer the keeper of the knowledge and that I didn’t need to be “teaching” as much as I was. I needed to believe that my students could take more ownership and that I could guide more and instruct less. In order for a teacher to push more student driven learning, they first must be able to resign from teaching and trust they don’t need to be in front of the class at all times.

Phase Two:
Once I made the decision to resign and begin putting more the learning in my student’s hands I started with giving them more choices. This is a really simple and easy step to start, especially for younger kids. For me, I started with giving choices on simple things like projects and daily in class activities. If my goal was to see if students comprehended a concept, why does format matter? Let the students choose what works best for them.

Phase Three:
For me, the next step was no longer dictating the learning steps a student took in order to master a learning standard. Yes, I realize that the very presence of learning standards is counterintuitive to student driven learning, but it is also a reality of my job. I did this in a number of ways. First, I modeled with students how to turn a standard into a learning question. The students then decided how best to answer that question…what resources to use, what method of information gathering, and what format to share or present their learning. I created a series of organizers to help students go through this process and they became quite good at doing it.  

Phase Four:
The next phase is to turn all of the work completely over to the students. I did this last spring when I gave my Language Arts students a list of the learning standards for the entire trimester. They choose what learning activities to do, what order to do them in, and how to show evidence of their learning. I had a calendar and students filled in meeting times with me for mini lessons, small group discussions, and any other assistance they needed. They owned every aspect of their learning with the exception of the standards themselves. I shared many of these posts and experiences during my Reform Symposium presentation

Phase Five:
This is the best and most pure form of student driven learning and I experienced this on one occasion last year. For me, stage five is when students not only choose their activities and evidence, but also the content of their learning. They are not driven towards a predetermined standard but rather choose what to learn based on their passions and learning needs. My example of this was last year during our Innovation Day where students worked towards their own learning goals in whatever method best suited them.

As I move into this new school year, I am planning on continuing to evolve my process and always look for more opportunities to help students take more ownership of their learning. One example that I am looking to pursue is to have more days in phase five where students can create more long term and sustainable learning projects based on individual interest and passion. I am bound by certain learning standards within my class, but I will continue to nurture student driven learning as I firmly believe that is a huge step to creating lifelong learners. 

Celebrate the Small Things

Simple post with a simple idea…celebrate the small things in life and in school. Below is a video of my youngest son demonstrating how he can now zip his coat on his own. They make a big deal about this at his preschool as kids join the official “Zipper Club” after being able to zip their own coats. While this may seem like an insignificant pursuit to most of us, you can certainly see the pride on my son’s face when he gets it done.

How often are we celebrating the small things in our classrooms? Are we taking time to give a student a pat on the pack and tell them we are proud of their work or some seemingly insignificant action? I am not asking for handing out awards but simply celebrating and acknowledging good things kids are doing. 

Standardized Testing

I think there are a handful of issues related to public education such as funding, unions, merit based pay, and standardized testing. Many of these issues are hot topics and are being debated from the teacher’s lounge to the halls of Washington DC. For me, the issue I see having the greatest impact on my students and my classroom is the over emphasis on standardized testing. I am a believer in student driven and individualized learning for all students. Standardized testing flies in the face of this belief or at least appears to do so as it is currently being used.

For me, I see the reason we have standardized testing is more about holding teachers accountable rather than measuring student learning. We want to be able to say that all our teachers are teaching the same content and we are all on the same page either as a school district or a state. The reason it is being used in such a way is that it is easy to use simple test questions and pull data to evaluate and make decisions from. We use these to make decisions on teacher effectiveness and student learning because they are easily scored and measured.

The problem with such an approach to teacher evaluation and student measurement is that it is not the whole picture but often is treated as such. Standardized tests largely require low level thinking skills and ask students to simply recall and regurgitate facts and procedural items. They do not reflect a student’s ability to creatively solve problems, work collaboratively with peers, or use creative problem solving. If we think in terms of life skills and 21st Century Skills, standardize tests are not able to adequately assessing these skills. With that in mind, educators know the value of such skills and yet they are not being considered when a student is evaluated in terms of a standardized test score.

The effects of such overdependence on standardized tests score often have significant consequences in a number of areas of education. For one, curriculum is often driven by these tests. The order of units and chapters are put in place to align with these tests rather than a logical sequence based on best practice or what is best for the cognitive development of students. Scope and sequence for tested curricular areas are being decided by testing schedules rather than by what is best for student’s learning. 

Another effect is the potential implications for teachers whose students underperform on such tests. In some cases teachers are being held accountable for low tests scores or unjustly receiving accolades for high scores. Often these scores are the results of student affluence rather than teaching ability or inability and yet teachers are being held accountable for them. In addition to teachers, whole schools and districts are being blamed for poor test scores. Schools are being put on watch lists and in some cases being reconstituted or closed based on these scores.

In my opinion, the most profound impact is being felt by the students themselves. For many, this is the key indicator or their success or failure within the academic realm. They are sorted, ranked, and placed in classes solely based on a standardized test score. Intelligent students who test poorly are unjustly hurt by these tests as well as students who struggle within the confines of the format of such tests. Too often a student’s academic value is being decided by a one size fits all test. Students are individuals that learn, grow, and demonstrate their learning in unique and different ways. Standardized tests do not allow for this to happen.

In terms of a solution, there are a few things that can be done to help this issue. First, the test themselves are actually not bad if used in a specific way. If they are used simply to determine a student’s ability to recall facts, dates, and definitions, then they are adequate. However, they should not be the sum of all a student’s academic parts. In addition, they cannot be the focus of weeks and months of preparation nor should budget line items be in place for “test prep”. Too much learning time is being wasted in an effort to teach to the test. In addition, they should not be the sole tool used to measure a student which they often are. Yes, it would be nice to not have any tests and trust students and teachers to be constantly learning and making progress. However, that is idealistic and not practical in all cases. Therefore, we need to make sure in addition to tests of rote memorization if required, that we have performance assessments, observational data, critical thinking tasks, and other tools aimed at evaluating the whole student. Students are unique individuals and our assessment of them, when necessary, should reflect that.

My Message

Many of you are probably aware that I was recently named Illinois Teacher of the Year. As a result of that honor, I am a nominee for National Teacher of the Year. Part of the process was a packet of paperwork that I recently submitted to "nationals" last week. Among the many questions and topics was one that asked what my message would be about our profession to fellow teachers and the general public. Below is an excerpt from my answer...

My message would be a simple one; it is all about the kids. Regardless if you are a teacher, parent, administrator, school board member or politician, every single decision you make must come down the kids in the seats. We as educators and those that have any hand in education must be held accountable to the students first and foremost. If we cannot walk up to a child and explain to them why we made the decision we did, then we shouldn’t be doing it.

Students are what this entire profession is about and we often lose our focus in the midst of budgets, meetings, trainings, politics, and indecision. Bottom line we need to be in tune to what the needs of the students are and use all of our individual and collective resources to meet those needs. This has to go beyond words but must be reinforced with actions.

I would ask parents to use all their available resources to help their child be successful at home and trust teachers to do what is best for them. In addition, I would ask parents to respectfully advocate for their child and be as involved as possible in their child’s education.

I would ask teachers to remain focused on the kids in the classroom and do whatever they can to meet the needs of each of them individually. I would also ask them to never be content and always find ways to hone their craft to be better for their students.

I would ask administrators both at the building and district levels to stay in touch and grounded in the work being done in the classroom. They need to be present in classrooms to put student’s faces and names behind the decisions they will be called upon to make.

I would ask politicians and corporate reformers to defer to the experts in education before making decisions. If decisions are being made about education, then I would ask educators to be at the table as well as those being educated.

Lastly, I would say that we are stronger and better together and need to stop competing, hiding and being afraid of the collaboration that will benefit us all and in turn benefit students.

You Hate Kids?

I recently had a comment left on a previous post causing me to pause and think. The comment:

There was some further conversation within the comments but I stand by my original thoughts that you have to remain centered around kids in everything you do. With that in mind, I don’t think you can be a good teacher if you “hate” kids. Sure you might be able to present the content well and be an expert in your discipline. However, so much of a teacher’s effectiveness lies in their ability to create strong and positive relationships. I may be wrong, but if I hated kids, I don’t think I would be even remotely close to a “good” teacher, regardless of your definition of “good”.  How can you do your job well if you hate the very thing your job centers around?

The example that was given in the comment strand was a pastry chef could be a great chef even if they hated croissants. Now, it may be possible that a chef hates croissants.  However, if they do and make a halfhearted croissant the consequence is hardly life threatening. If a teacher took a halfhearted approach to kids, I feel as though the consequences are worse in the long run. I feel as though the best teachers are able to connect with kids on a personal level to create meaningful relationships that I doubt are possible if you don’t “like” kids.

As a parent, I would be appalled to think my son’s teachers hated kids. Kids are able to pick up on those feelings and it will certainly impact their state of mind when they sit in the classroom. In my own experiences, I learned very well in classes where the teacher’s love for their students was evident and came through in the work they did. I even recall a brilliant teacher who clearly knew his subject matter but just as clearly hated being a teacher as well as the kids in his room. His inability to connect with the students ultimately impacted the learning and I can vouch for that first hand.

Am I wrong? Can you be a good teacher and hate kids? 

My First Radio Interview

Below is a recent radio interview I did as a result of "winning" the State of Illinois Teacher of the Year. Normally, I would think of posting this, but I think I actually had a few noteworthy things to say in this one...enjoy!

Naperville Teacher Is 2011 Illinois Teacher Of The Year by wdcbnews

Why I Write

Writing has always been a part of my life. Since I was young, I always enjoyed playing with words and using them to illustrate a point or tell a story. I still have notebooks filled with thoughts, ideas, and poems from my adolescent years. If nothing else, they provide a glimpse into my mind at different periods in my life. I change and so too does my writing. This blog and the writing I have done on it, has changed the way I teach more than anything in my career. It holds me accountable for my words and actions while providing me an outlet for my ideas. The simple act of writing something and clicking “post” is really profound. By doing that I am sharing my thoughts, ideas, and in some case my very being with the world. Some people will hate it, some people will love it and in both cases I am better because of it.

My beliefs and opinions are constantly challenged and therefore always evolving. However, even as those thoughts change, the reasons behind my writing stay the same. 

  • I write because I want to challenge and be challenged.
  • I write to reflect on what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and what I will do.
  • I write in hopes to express ideas that don’t make sense until I put them in writing.
  • I write to share my ideas in hopes it might help someone else.
  • I write on behalf of those who can or will not write for themselves.
  • I write to hold myself accountable for my thoughts and actions.
  • Mostly importantly…I write because I enjoy it.

Why do you write? If you don’t, what is holding you back? 

Does Technology Help?

I think technology helps kid’s learning experiences in school and helps them in life. The problem is I cannot prove it.

Technology in the classroom has gotten some bad press as of late with the recent article in The New York Times. The primary focus of this article is schools where great amounts of money have been invested in technology will little or no gains in terms of test scores. As a teacher that has pushed technology use in the classroom, this was a tough pill to swallow and something I have reflected on at great length since originally reading the article.

With that being said, I think there are a few reasons why this article hits home with some and leaves others scratching their heads. As I have tried to wrap my head around the implications of this article I have come up with a few thoughts and certainly welcome feedback and conversation.

On one side of the argument are those that claim too much money is being sunk into technology at the expense of other programs and in some cases, staffing. I actually agree with this. In many districts, technology is purchased wholesale so that everyone can have an IWB in their room or that the latest and greatest software throughout the district. I have seen firsthand those purchases sitting unused or not used in a way that benefits students. Why not be wiser with our purchasing so that technology is being put in places where it will be used to benefit students. In addition, let’s make sure teachers are training on how to use these new tools so they don’t become glorified paperweights or wall decorations.

Another argument being made is that many technology tools don’t even help students but rather they help teachers. Again, I see some validity in this argument. The best example of this is the Interactive Whiteboard or IWB. Many districts, including my own, have sunk many thousands of dollars into popping these babies on nearly every classroom wall. My initial question is, why? Yes, they are interactive by definition but for who? The teacher? The one student that gets lucky enough to be the chosen one to go up to the board? I have seen more interaction with some dry erase markers, a desktop (an actual top of a desk), and a creative teacher.  If there is not a direct connection to student learning (not test scores) or engagement, then why are we buying it?

According to the article, standardized tests scores are not being raised as a result of technology usage. Standardized tests only gauge an individual’s ability to regurgitate facts. They do not illustrate any abstract thinking or an ability to think creatively or in a critical manner. When “they” say that technology does not improve test scores, they are probably right…but I am ok with that.

So, what good is technology and why should we have it in classrooms? Here are a few things that might not be on “the test” but I think might be worthwhile technology pursuits.

Global Collaboration – Technology allows students to connect with other students around the globe. This builds global perspective and empathy within our students. Many examples exist where students can connect and learn with/from students on the other side of the world. Is this on a test? Can this be done in a textbook?

Ease of Communication – Many technology tools allow students an ability to communicate and express their ideas in ways not normally possible. I have seen non-verbally communicative students able to express simple thoughts through the use of an ipad. Students that are unable to articulate their thoughts in writing have the ability to use voice recognition software to express and record their thoughts. This will not show up in standardized tests, but certainly shows up in classrooms where student’s frustration due to inability to communicate is eased.

Save Time – This might seem trivial but technology can help teachers and students save time. We are no longer typing papers multiple times but simply editing within a word processing program. Why spend hours thumbing through outdated paperback resources when a quick click can reveal more recent and more accurate info? All this time saving leads to more learning opportunities as well as more free time after school. If we can get things done quicker, is that not a good thing for kids and teachers?

Options – Technology is just another option in the arsenal of a good teacher and a good student. Many of the tools available allow teachers to present and share information in varying formats. This helps throw a larger net to engage and interest learners. More importantly, technology gives students options and choice in how they demonstrate and document their learning. For example, there are many ways to illustrate reading comprehension beyond a book report. Technology provides an array of options for students to show the learning beyond a bubble test.

Many of these items I have listed are not tested and frankly I don’t have any data to support them. I only have my observations and opinions for my experience in a classroom. I would encourage and ask you to share you examples of how you see technology helping your students and your teaching. 

Questions For a New Teacher

This coming week I have been asked to speak to a group of preservice teachers back at my old college, North Central College in Naperville, IL. I have been given a blank slate as to what I am allowed to talk about. With that in mind I decided to take my recent post, Letter to First Year Teacher Me, and develop it into a prezi. Here is the result...

A Simple Phone Call

Tonight I was driving home from work while talking on the phone with my wife. We were simply rehashing our days when the house phone rings in the background. My wife went over and noticed that it was my son's school calling and instantly said, "I wonder what he did wrong now." She then hung up on me to take the phone call from the school.

Now, I should explain that my son is...well my son. What I mean is that if he is anything like I was in school, we will be getting many phone calls from the school. That's not to say I was "bad" kid, but I certainly made sure all my teachers earned their paychecks. I knew once I had two sons, that my wife and I were in for a fun, wild and sure to be long ride. In fact, we've already had a few phone conversations with his teacher and assistant principal. Yes, he is only in kindergarten but I did say he was my son. :) Back to the phone call...

As I walked in the door my wife was still on the phone with his teacher and gave me a "thumbs up" sign. After hanging up, she informed me that the phone call was to let us know how well our son was doing both behaviorally and academically. She even went so far as to say he was a good leader in the classroom and a great role model to other students. Needless to say I was a proud father.

I instantly walked over to my computer to email his teacher thanking her for the call. The positive parent communication is something I do as a teacher and now have been on the receiving end of it as a parent. Too often parents only hear when things go wrong or if there is a problem. My own wife instinctively thought something was wrong when she saw the caller ID. This phone call from my son's teacher reaffirmed my belief in the value of positive phone calls and emails. As a parent now, I can clearly say it is a great thing to receive and I wish all teachers would do this as often as they can. Mark it in your calendar or put it in your planner but commit to calling a designated number of parents a week to share good news.

Letter to First Year Teacher Me

Back to future-deloran-dmc-time machine-terabass
By Terabass (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
I am an eternal optimist and truly believe in my heart that time travel will be possible one day. It is with this belief I write this letter that I will one day travel back in time to deliver to “First Year Teacher Me”. Yes, I realize that if in fact future time travel is possible, I would have probably already delivered this but let’s not get caught up in the details of the space time continuum or the true role of a Flux Capacitor.

Dear First Year Teacher Me,
As you are reading this letter I know you are sitting in your desk very early in the morning getting ready for the school day to start. You are staring at a blank sheet of paper because you have no idea what to teach because you never truly had a mentor to help get you going. Well, look no further, your mentor is here and I plan on clearing up a few things you never learned in college.
First, there is no such thing as controlling a class. Yes, you took that classroom management class where they taught you about Glasser, Piaget, and even some Skinner. You even put together a nice binder for a final project where you made a nice cover page and had appendixes of nice rules and consequences. Well, I have news for you; you cannot and will not ever control a kid. When a kid says, “make me”, you need to understand that you can’t. Rather than focusing on controlling the kids in your class you need to build relationships built on honestly and respect.
Next, content is not king. In fact, it is not even heir to the throne in your room. Very few of the classes you took in college will have a direct connection to the content you are teaching in your classroom. In some cases, you will be learning right along with your kids and that’s ok. You don’t need to be the expert and being honest with the kids will go a long way in building positive relationships. Despite what talking heads and politicians will like you to believe, the content crazy culture of standardized testing is not good teaching. Don’t teach to the test. Period.

Another piece of wisdom I would like to impart on you is to surround yourself with positive role models and peers. They will be there when you fall flat on your face and fail and also be there to put you in your place when you start to think you have all the answers.

As your first parent teacher conference comes up, you will no doubt be nervous and bit uneasy. You will think of parents as someone you need to justify your job to or in some cases as the “enemy”. Neither of those thoughts are true. Be open, honest, and find ways to build a positiverelationship with parents. I would suggest you send home a minimum of five positive calls/emails/notes a week. Parents love this and it is a nice way to end the week focusing on something positive.

You will get roped into boring meetings and training sessions that will suck the very life out of you…sorry, haven’t figured this one out yet. J
Many ideas you had about schools due to your own experiences are not necessarily right in today’s classrooms. Here are a few things I know you will be tempted to do because you know no better:
  • Hand out detentions – While discipline in extreme cases is warranted, I urge you to build relationships first built on trust and respect rather than fear and punishment.
  • Grade everything a kid does – Not everything a student turns in or does in class needs to be graded. Athletes are only “graded” on game day…apply that to your classroom.
  • Kick a kid out of class – With the exception of extreme cases this should never, ever be done.
  • Eat the “Double Spirit Burger” in the school cafeteria – Just trust me on this one and don’t do it.
  • Give extra credit for tissue boxes – Always make sure a student’s grade reflect their learning…not their behavior.
Before you do anything on this list just ask yourself the question, “how would I react if I was a parent of one of the kids in my class?” I’ve got news for you; you will have a couple of sons who will test many of your beliefs on education when they start school. There are many more things I will need to pass on but I will save that for another time. Just remember that you are a mediocre teacher at best…but there is hope for you. Never think you have it all figured out and always try to make each year better than the previous. The moment you think you have all the answers and that you are done improving, it will be time for you to head over to a new profession. Surround yourself with educators better than you and learn everything you can from them. Be a sponge and always remember that every single decision you make must be centered on the kids in your class. If not, don’t do it.
Future You
PS: Join Twitter and start a blog…

Painting Pumpkins

This afternoon my wife and I took our sons to the MortonArboretum in Lisle, IL. We have been members there for a few years and go there on a fairly regular basis. Today happened to be a special occasion of sorts with a scare crow walk, food vendors (including some fine micro-brew), and various crafts for the kids. We took the boys to the back of the park where they could pick out and decorate a pumpkin of their choice. Naturally, we paid the nice volunteer for the pumpkins and settled in for some sure to be messy pumpkin painting.

As we sat down, another family with two boys, slightly older than mine, took up the spots across from us on the picnic table. When my boys settled in they began painting their pumpkins without any directions from me or my wife. However, as they got started one of the boys across the table turned to his dad and asked what he should paint on his pumpkin. The dad proceeded to tell both of his sons what they should paint and the boys then began painting their father’s designs. After this happened, my youngest son Kaleb looked up to me, having heard this exchange, and asked me what he should paint on his pumpkin. I simply responded with, “Whatever you want.”

Too often parents and teachers tell kids what to do without giving them the power and freedom to make their own decisions. Kids will generally do what they are told to do…but is that what we want? When they do what he tell or ask them to do, they are learning what we want and in the manner we want. Yes, kids need guidance in life, but guidance and control are not the same things. Give your kids/students tools and opportunities to succeed but leave the decisions and work up to them.

Bringing the Dead Alive!

As many know, I teach social science as well as language arts at the 6th grade level. If you have ever taught in the junior high setting or have a junior high aged child, you know how difficult it can be at times to keep them engaged and excited about a topic. In my language arts class we have been studying biographies and in social science we have been studying Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. These are not typically on the top of any lists for high interest for students. However, you would not have known that this week in class.

With both of these topics I want students to be able to walk away with some basic biographical information about the individuals and their impact on their respective societies. Rather than have students write a paper or do a super-awesome-multi-colored-animated-sound-effected-Power Point, I decided to use one of my favorite programs Crazy Talk. This is a facial animation program that I have used in the past with all sorts of projects. I often refer to these projects and “Bringing the Dead Alive” and we go out of our way to find the creepiest pictures possible.

Here are a couple samples of the two projects that students created. I am a huge fan of options and choices and this is just one way to help students demonstrate their comprehension of a topic. Many students are already asking when we will be using it again and are using study hall time to “play” with the program. 

Parents in the Classroom Part One

Today was a great day at school as I had my first parents in the classroom event. During my three social science periods I invited parents to stop by and take part in the activities I had planned for the class. On average I had about 50% of the parents in each class show up which was higher than I had originally anticipated. The class periods were only 45 minutes long, so it really flew by and was over before I knew it. While parents were there they sat with their child as well as a another student and worked on a couple of Ancient Egyptian “games” that reinforced some of the content we had been discussing lately.

I had a mix of moms and dads and in some cases both parents came in. As the parents were working with the kids, I roamed around and mostly observed the activity in the room. The best part of what I was seeing was the interaction between the parents and their kids. Now, I know these types of interactions happen at home and probably in numerous other places, but this was in the student’s school. How often does this happen? I even had one mom lean over and tell me, “I didn’t plan on learning anything new today…boy I was wrong.” It really was a great morning for all of us involved.

A few of my colleagues asked me why I did this and some with raised eyebrows and skeptical looks.  For me, there were a few reasons why I decided to do it and plan on doing it again.
  • The simple presence of a parent in the classroom shows a child that their parent values the work they are doing in the classroom.
  • Watching a child work with their parent tells me a great deal of the type of relationship they have and helps me learn that much more about my students as people.
  • Events such as this help create and nurture positive parent-teacher relationships that will always help in the long run.
  • It opens me up as a teacher and shows parents they do have a place in my classroom and I do value their involvement.
  • This allowed parents the golden opportunity to embarrass their child just by being in the same room as them and their friends in a middle school!
  • It gave parents a chance to learn with their child in a way they might not have had in a long time.
  • Finally, if I am going to say I value parent’s involvement in their child’s education, I have to back it up and this is just one small step towards doing that.

I highly encourage every teacher to look for ways to include parents in their class and even open the doors and let them in. You might need to set parameters that these days are not a time to discuss their child’s progress, but don’t hesitate to bring them in. Parents are truly an important part of a child’s education and simply saying that is not enough. If we don’t open the doors and let them in and provide them the opportunities to join, we are just talking and that never helps anyone. After the parents left, I sent an email asking for some feedback and here are just a few of the comments I received:

“It's always nice to see the kids in school and get to see how they interact at school and with friends.”
 “Time flies when you're having fun!”
“Junior High is a new environment for my children so it was good for them to realize parents involvement in their educational classroom setting continues beyond the elementary level.”
 “It would be wonderful to be able to participate again, and as a parent , I truly see the value of such an experience.”
“Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of your class!”
"Sometimes it feels like parents are intentionally kept out of the classroom/school building - what a treat to get to be included in that today."

The Little Things

The little things matter in life and certainly matter in a classroom. It is these little things the speak volumes for who we are as teachers. Often times these are overlooked and can manifest into large and significant problems for teachers. Here is a list of little things that I see daily which send a big message.

Classroom Door – Is your classroom door open or closed when you are teaching? What does this say about you and your classroom? Are you trying to hide something? My door is always open and I welcome anyone to stop in and see what is going on. I have nothing to hide and everything to share.

Hello – Do you greet each of your students when they come into your classroom? Do you say hello to students in the halls even if they are not in your classroom? This is such a simply thing but goes a long way to make a student feel welcome and can be a step in building a positive relationship.

Call Parents – When do you call/email parents? Do you contact parents for positives as well as negatives? I try to contact five parents a week for positive comments. Sometimes, just a “hey, your kid is doing great,” means a great deal to a parent. Call early, call often, and work on building that positive relationship early in the year.

Comments on Work – What sort of comments do you leave on student’s work? Is there just a letter or a number on the top of your student’s work? Are you leaving anecdotal feedback aimed at improving their learning? Grades are not feedback…if you truly want a student to learn and grow feedback must facilitate that.

What are the little things in your classroom that are making a difference? 

Classroom Management 101

Many people will share their ideas about classroom management and how to go about controlling kids or keeping order in their classrooms. They will tell you how to create rules and how to keep the kids in line so you can teach your lessons without interruptions. If they are really thorough they might even provide a list of consequence and a nice detention slip as a bonus for you. I even recall in my undergrad work creating a “Classroom Management Binder” for one of my courses. It was several pages of undergraduate ignorance of what I thought was going to keep my class running smoothly with no behavior or disciplinary problems.

Looking back, I now see the futility in such an activity. It is not possible to control kids and anyone that says otherwise is way off base. If I were to do the assignment again I would have one piece of paper in it. On that piece of paper would be this phrase: Build relationships and engage your students…all else is irrelevant. This is all you need to keep a class moving in a positive learning direction.

Building relationships is not a new concept or some radical idea and yet so many never see its true value. Kids will typically not engage in a power struggle or misbehave in a classroom lead by a teacher that has taken the time to foster a positive relationship. This can be done within the classroom but often takes place in the hallway, the gym, or even in the cafeteria. Talking to students and learning about them as kids goes a long way in the classroom. I play bombardment with my students during the winter intramural season. When I have students throwing balls at me before school, I can guarantee you a connection is made that will pay dividends in the classroom. Students are far less likely to act out or exhibit inappropriate behaviors with someone that has an interest in them beyond simply a student-teacher relationship. This is not something that can be forced or demanded but instead must be nurtured and fostered. For me the key is to find that “hook” or connection I can make. Sometimes that connection is a common interest in a sport or novel and other times is a shared hatred of the Yankees or green peppers. Whatever that hook is, find that connection and build that relationship.

Engaging your students in meaningful work is one of the most underrated and yet most powerful classroom management tools available. In my experience, kids will act up/out when they are given busy work, boring work, or basic work. If a student is not challenged by the work or it is given to fill time, you can expect behavior problems. Boredom is also a huge part of this and can cause significant problems in a classroom. When students are bored, they find other things to occupy their time. Many times this will manifest itself as misbehaving. The next time a student is misbehaving in the class, first look at what you are doing before asking the student to stop. Often time’s teachers are the root of the problem due to the work they are asking students to do. I have yet to witness a student misbehave when engaged in meaningful work.

What are you doing to build those relationships with your students and what work are you engaging them in on a daily basis? This simple question is the key to a successful classroom management plan.

Puppet Show "Home"work

There have been many conversations around the world of education for an eternity about the role homework plays in the learning process. My own thoughts are well documented and I personally don’t care for homework in most cases. I have often said that if we do our jobs right in school, kids will want to continue learning when they are at home. This point was driven home this evening when my son got home from kindergarten.

He walked in the door and pulled out a paper bag puppet he made today for Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. They apparently did a number of activities in school to celebrate this folk hero’s special day. When my son came home he wanted to look up some more pieces of information about Mr. Appleseed and then put on a puppet show. Now, is this Broadway material? Not in the least bit. However, it shows that his learning was sparked and continued when he got home. In addition, as you can from the video, he brought his younger brother along for the ride. He was engaged enough with the material at school to want to do something more with it when he got home even though it was not “assigned”.

I often wonder what impact my lessons have when students leave my classroom. Do they continue to learn when they leave my presence? Are they empowered to go home and at least share their learning with others? At the very least are they inspired enough to look forward to coming back tomorrow to learn more? Homework does not instill a passion for learning but good teaching and great lessons certainly can. What lessons are we doing that are inspiring kids to go home and put on a puppet show?

Be Proud of Each Other

I recently read a great post by Pernille Ripp over at her blog titled “I am Nothing Special - Why Are Teachers Afraid to Share theirSuccesses?” I left a comment as it was something I had a strong reaction to as a result of personal experience. Initially, I was not going to share my thoughts on my own blog but felt compelled to share something that has happened to me recently. This is pieces of the comment I left on Pernille’s post with some additional reflection.

Recently, I was named as one of the finalists as teacher of the year for my state. Personally, I was proud of it but also felt awkward because I did not know how my fellow teachers in my building would feel about it. I knew I would get some razzing from my friends but honestly, I would do the same in their position. I posted a link to the press release announcing my finalist status on my Facebook page where numerous people such as Pernille congratulated me. However, not one person that I work with made a comment or even clicked "like" on the post. Every single person that commented was a part of my PLN on Twitter or my own family members.

Since then, I have had numerous newspaper articles written about me and the work I have done, none of which I will be linking to in this post :). In fact, I have put all of them with my diplomas, certificates and other recognition...in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. With the exception of a few of my close friends at work, none of the teachers that I work with on a daily basis have even said a word to me about the it nor even acknowledged it. Rather, I hear whispers of negativity and relatively rude comments about me instead. This bothers me because I didn’t ask for any of this happen. I truly was going about my work and trying to be the best teacher I could be…nothing more. Some may think I am an overachiever or that I am trying to make others look bad. Truly that is not the case as all I ever try to do is be better at what I am doing and share my experiences in hopes of helping someone else.  Plus, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that many teachers are equally and in many cases more deserving of the recognition that has recently been bestowed upon me.

Now, don’t construe this as a rant where I am mad other teachers didn’t come up and pat me on the back or bake me a cake or that I am seeking attention because that is certainly not what it is. I didn’t ask for the attention, and personally, don’t care for it. When newspapers were contacting me I felt uncomfortable with it. However, I know that with this attention I am getting my students are better for it. It is giving me an opportunity to share about the work they are doing and the profession I love. It is not my work that is being highlighted as much as that of my students and it is a testament to my students, parents, fellow teachers and entire community. I would be happy for any teacher I work with to receive any recognition or positive press.

Any time we can shine a light on the great work being done in schools it should be celebrated.
I am not sure if it is jealously or some level of insecurity that prohibits some teachers from being proud of each other. When our fellow teachers get recognition for doing something well, we are all part of that. I know that I would not be where I am at or be getting the recognition I am without the people I work with. I would name names at this point but fear some might be embarrassed for being listed as we don’t go into this profession to be called out and recognized.

However, I will thank the teacher with the fish tank and "living the dream" who taught me the key to teaching effectively is all about relationship building and who models it for me every single day. I will thank the Language Arts teacher in the room over that took me under his wing and truly taught me how to be a teacher and has been a true friend to me every day. I will thank the 7th grade teacher who shows me every day how love and compassion are the cornerstones of every classroom and trumps all content. I would also thank those teachers that doubt me and my work because they inspire me to work harder and be better every day. Each one of these people and everyone else in my school has contributed to the teacher I am today regardless of if they know that or not.

Anytime positive attention is given to a teacher it benefits the entire school community because it brings that positive attention to a profession that is often short on it. We need to help each other be proud of ourselves and to be even more proud of each other. I am not saying I am a fan of awards or gold stars, but we need to lift each other up and create a culture within our schools that promotes and fosters celebration and pride in each other.