What Really Matters

Today I was sitting at my desk as my Language Arts class was working on creating plot lines for novels they were reading. My classroom is normally very vocal and today was no exception. One girl in particular is more vocal than the rest and has an incredibly “bubbly” personality. She is the student in my class that wants to talk to everyone, help everyone, and be a ray of positive vibes in the classroom. I cannot think of one single time this year when I have not seen a smile on her face.

During class she was up working at a desk near me and I asked her if she acted like this in all of her classes. She replied, “nope.” This kind of caught me off a guard a bit because I just assumed she was like this all the time. I then asked her why she acted that way in my classroom. Her response was, “because I feel safe and comfortable in here.”

This actually took me back a bit and caused me a momentary bit of reflection. Here was this kid who obviously was the social butterfly of my classroom and this was apparently due to the environment of the classroom. I know that I try to make my classroom a fun and inviting place but I never expected a kid to actually articulate the fact that they felt safe and comfortable in it. Of course I would hope all of my students would say this, but it’s not something kids often verbalize.

With that being said, it reminded me of what is truly important in school. If that girl only remembers the safety and comfort of that class and the fact that she could be herself, then I have succeeded as her teacher. Regardless of what writing style she excels at, or how many vocabulary words she learns, I will be proudest in the fact that she could be herself in my room. This also made me think of the students that are not as outgoing. Are they simply shy kids or are they not on that same level of comfort? How do I make sure every kid feels the same way as “Bubbly Betty”? The ways kids feel is more important than any piece of curriculum they will learn and we need to remind ourselves of that fact…

The Silver Bullet of Education Reform

First, let me tell you that the silver bullet does not exist for education reform. As with most things in life there are bandwagons to jump on to and fall off of. Education is no different when it comes to buzz words, initiatives, and silver bullet programs that claim to reform education as we know it. I don’t like using terms like “always” and “never” because with each new class I teach there are variables that I can never predict. I am still looking for the magic bullet knowing full well that it does not exist.

With that being said I have increased the number of blogs I read to more than I should willingly admit. When I read about an amazing idea being shared, I get excited. I think most people do the same. However, I think there are two reactions that take place when we come across a new idea. First, one will think they will not have the time or the resources to put this new idea in play. To me this is not a good excuse. If you wait until you have time or all the resources you think you need, you will more than likely never do it. I try to catch myself from making excuses and try to make solutions.

The other response that people have when they come across a new idea is to fall head over heels with it and sink their very being into the idea. Many will tweet and blog like crazy about this new idea that they themselves have never actually tried in a classroom with students. Personally, my philosophy is read, try, share. When I come across something new I read about it and try to learn how it might work with my students. I will then try it out in some sort of small scale and if I see success I gradually increase my use of this new idea to determine if in fact it is sustainable. Once I determine this, I will share my results and findings with coworkers and my extended PLN through social media. Please, don’t tell me something is greatest thing for classrooms when you yourself have not tried it.

In my opinion, the best way to go about trying something is through action research. Take an idea and test it in a classroom setting. Collect data and look at what the numbers tell you. For me I am a fan of both numbers as well as observational data. Assessment scores can be used to see achievement towards learning standards but levels of engagement go far beyond what can be shown on a test. I want my students to learn as any good teacher does. I just see test scores as simply one indicator of this.

While this may sound like I am against every new idea out there, that is not true whatsoever. If you walk into my class in October it will be very different from my class in February. My students change and mature and I am always trying new things to engage them and push their learning. I jump into many “new” ideas that I read about or hear about. I am normally the first teacher to jump on a new trend but will be the first to pull out if it is going south for my students. I do not do the same thing from year to year. My students change and therefore so should my teaching to some extent. The key to anything is that educators have to realize that there is no silver bullet for education reform. What works in my classroom may not work in yours. Also, we have to be willing to stop making excuses and try new things before we either write it off or praise it as the next big thing.

My Digital Footprint

Recently I wrote a post about my resignation from teaching. I will admit that it was a play on words with the title to “trick” people into reading my blog. A bit shameful I know, but the ploy seemed to work as a few thousand people took the time to read it and many commented. This has caused me to reflect a bit on what I write and how I present myself in the digital sense. Many people talk about your digital footprint which is not something I have honestly thought about in recent years. However, given the recent hype over my post I have started thinking about it.

For me I am a product of the Google age and I go there first. So, that is what I did. I went to Google and typed in my name. The nice thing about my name is there are not a whole lot of us out there so when stuff comes up it usually relates to me. I started actively writing on my blog and using Twitter for about four months. Prior to this when I popped my name into Google all I would get back would be track meet results from my collegiate career as a triple jumper. Now, I get tweets, blog posts, mentions on other peoples blogs and numerous other social media references that initially astounded me.

I was talking to my principal recently about the number of views on my Letter of Resignation and she asked me if it would change how I wrote as a result of the increased attention and “followers”. It was a great question because when you hit that “post” button you never know how it will be received or who will be reading it. You know it is out there but if you are like me you think that maybe a handful of people like you boss and grandma might actually read it.

Back to this idea of a digital footprint, it is a very real thing and should be taken seriously. Will I change how or what I blog about? No, I will not. However, will I be mindful of how I present myself so that my readers get an accurate portrayal of me? Yes, I will. I will be mindful that people will read and what they do read I want it to be something that reflects me and would be something I would be proud of.

With that being said it also brings up an interesting point for students. In most schools, including my own we do not allow students to post videos, pictures, or other work with their names attached. While I am all for security of minors and the safety of our students I do have a question. When I Google my sons' names what would I want to find? Would I be proud to see the pasta and paint project he made in Preschool? Do I want a picture of him proudly wearing the super friend cape at school? I am not sure if I know the answer to those questions but it certainly has me thinking.