It was time to put something new on the white board wall. Yes, you read that right. I have three of the walls in my classroom painted with whiteboard paint, plus whiteboard tables. Talk about thinking space. So today, on a whim, I wrote a question at the top. "What is the best thing about you?" and asked the students to write their responses. Some responses were short, some were long lists, but everyone enjoyed writing something. But the best part, for everyone, was reading the responses. Students put things you would expect, like "I care for animals." and "I'm good at soccer." But then there was "I am color blind." and "I am a loyal and loving friend." There was even "I love math." and "I am a good reader." It was very interesting to see what students chose to say about themselves. I can't wait to put some more questions on the wall. This was such a fun way to get to know each other just a bit better.
OK, so maybe the Anna and Elsa reference is a bit outdated, but for my plans for the upcoming school year, it's spot on. I'll be letting go. Letting go of control and decision making for my students. Not completely... I am the trained professional in the room. But after reading some great books over the summer, I've decided to empower students with more responsibility and choice. If I don't give students responsibility and hold them accountable, how will they ever learn to be responsible adults? So, my students will have many more responsibilities this year, and a much bigger say in their learning. Here are some of the ideas I have planned:
Books to read: (Links are to Author's websites with resources as well as Amazon book link.)
Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz
Learning by Choice by A,J. Juliani
Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle
About a year ago I wrote a post about the 5 C's pointing out that curation needed to be added to the four C's of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Well, I was part way there. Alice Chen has come up with another four.
I have a dear colleague at school who is an excellent teacher and with whom I love to work. However, we are as different as chalk and cheese, as she would say. And so, we often don't see eye to eye and even get frustrated with each other. I'll use a swimming metaphor to explain us. I'm the one running at full speed, cannon balling off the dock, and coming up with algae in my teeth, laughing and splashing around. Give me something new, and I'll try it. If it's not for me, I move on. My friend, however, she'll sit on the edge of the dock, stick in her toes to test the water, lower herself in gingerly checking for the bottom, and then she'll swim about peacefully. So in the real world, I'm all about experimenting, and she likes step-by-step directions. I feel like creativity blossoms when barriers and certain expectations are removed. My counterpart, she's trying to prevent the frustration that leads to burn out.
One day, as she was wanting directions and I was wanting free exploration, I realized she is the yang to in yin. Balance. Yes, we need to fail forward, and yes, we need direction. To go back to the analogy: Niether approach to swimming in the lake is wrong, nor is either necessarily better. So I have realized that in teaching, I need to get out of the way of the cannon ballers in order to let them learn from their mistakes. But I also need to allow time and space for the toe dippers to ease their way into something new, and maybe even hold a hand now and then.
But then of course, it can be good fun to just push someone in.
This post was inspired by my dermatologist, Dr. Miller, who literally saved my life. I was in for a routine appointment and he found and removed a mole with melanoma. He caught it at stage zero, so I'm considered cured. Whew... I had missed it, but he didn't. All he had to do, was his job, and it saved my life.
So what about us educators? I figure we save lives every day. Think of the PE coach who starts the morning running club. Now, that child who struggles academically, runs the most laps every year. The running club may have just saved that child. What about the librarian who finds just the right book that hooks the dyslexic student, and gets his reading started? She just may have saved him. What about the teacher who spent a few extra minutes, letting a student know that she was not alone in her family difficulties? She just may have been saved by that few minutes of caring.
Will any of these educators ever realize the tremendous impact that they had on these students? Probably not, but it doesn't matter because we aren't in this for glory. We are here to repair the world. So here is my challenge to you, teachers: Do your job, do it well, and save someone without every even knowing you did it!
Standards, goals, objectives, for some reason they have been rattling around in my head for the last few days... all thanks to Bill Nye the Science Guy. Yes, the adorkable science video guy whom we all just love. This week I had the privilege of hearing him speak live at the STEM Symposium here in San Diego. His speech resonated with every educator in the room as he spoke about opening the minds of our students to the JOD (joy of discovery.) So this got me to thinking. What are MY learning goals for my students? What immediately came to my mind had NOTHING to do with Common Core, NETS, or other standards. It all had to do with the beauty of watching a child learn and discover. You know what I mean, those wonderful moments punctuated by an expletive such as "Ahhh," "Whoa," "Cool," or even better, What?!?" That being said, here is what I really want for the students with whom I work:
1. May you open your mind in order to experience the joy of discovery.
Isn't this why we teach? Of course it is! We want our students to become lifelong learners who continually seek to better themselves through study. But in order for this to happen, discovery has to occur in its natural, awe-inspiring, wonder-producing state. It certainly shouldn't be scripted away by a teacher's manual.
2. May you understand that asking the right question is more important than giving the right answers.
We've all had those students who can read out loud beautifully, but lack comprehension skills; or the student who has memorized their multiplication facts, but has no idea how to apply mathematical theory to their lives. This is not the point of education. Creating critical thinkers is the point of education. Asking the right question, means that you understand the problem at hand. If you don't ask the right question, then the answer to it is of no use. If my students recognize this, then they can be the Louie Pasteur, Steve Jobs, or Picasso of their field; someone who asked the right question, and found an answer that changed the world.
3. May you attain a sense of accomplishment as you fail forward in order to reach a goal.
There is a lot of talk out there about failure, but failure means giving up. We want students who can persevere through setbacks, tribulations, and mistakes. This is the only way that honest-to-goodness discovery can take place. This is what it will take for one of my students to develop a cure for malaria or develop an inexpensive way to get water to drought stricken farmers.
4. May you discover that learning gives purpose to your life.
I truly hope that same idea, somewhere in my students' educational careers, will inspire them to do something wonderful with their lives. Will they invent a life-saving medical device that stems from their love of origami? Will they become a best-selling novelist, even though they found writing tedious, but still had creative ideas to share? Will they open a shop catering to a niche market of customers that only they had the compassion to understand? I certainly hope so!
5. May you merit the friendship that develops from working as part of a team.
Let's face it, you can be a genius, but if you are a jerk, no one wants to work with you. You have met these people before. They are brilliant, but working with them is so tiresome, that it's not sustainable. I absolutely do not want my students to be "that person." How you play is just as important as what you know, and sometimes even more so. If one of my students is to negotiate peace in the Middle East, then they'd better have well-developed social skills.
6. May you delight in the process of making the world a better place.
And now we get to the real reason I teach. I have admitted it repeatedly, and I remind my students daily. For me personally, the world is an amazing, beautiful, and love-filled place. However, this isn't the case for everyone in our world. I expect my students to make the world better than it is now. And I want to live in, and experience that world. This is their one true assignment, the one by which they, as a person, will be measured. THIS is the assignment where they most need to earn an A+. And darned it if I won't do my damndest to help them do it!
This was the insinuation of a conversation I recently had with one of my soccer buddies. The conversation started with some of us players discussing the various high school programs our children are or will be attending, and the preparation they provide for college. Then the conversation turned to our own college careers. I told the story of my dad asking me, "Are you sure you want to be a teacher? I'm spending all this money on college, maybe you should choose a career where you make a better income."
Flashback: My intentions, pretty much from elementary school, had always been to become a teacher, but I thoroughly considered my father's question and thought I'd try something else, why not? So, my original major was economics. But after struggling to stay awake in class, literally, and squeaking by with Cs I realized my mistake. One day, while studying in my beach chair with my toes in the sand, I had a vision of my future, sitting in an office in pantyhose, a skirt, and heels contemplating just how to end it all by jumping out of my high-rise office window. Good thing I realized in time!
Getting accepted into the post-graduate teacher education program at UCSD was no small feat. A 3.5 GPA, along with prerequisite courses, a long application process, as well as an intense personal interview weeded out the weak. Those of us who made it in had to work through a rigorous program with demanding professors, who purposely placed us in difficult school environments. In all my years of teaching, those were the most difficult. I was a well prepared teacher by the time I had my credential.
But was all of this a waste of the time I spent at a top university? Back to the original conversation with my soccer buddy. His response to the recollection of my dad's question was, "Well, it's not as if it was a UC education." But it was! I received one heck of a fabulous education at UCSD, but the implication here was that it had been wasted by becoming a teacher. The more I think about it, the more I find it distressing that this is the view of educators today. I wish I could share my perspective with others outside of the field of education. I don't make a huge salary, have a corner office, a big house, and a fancy car, but I impact the future. I change lives, inspire kids to make the world a better place, and help other teachers become better educators. That is huge! And every day I am delighted that I made the right decision that day on the beach. I am happy every time that I walk into school.
So the answer to the question in my title... Hell no! There are thousands of students and teachers who are making the world a better place, and who are happy as can be that I am well educated. Thank you Dad and Mom for supporting and paying for a great education. I'm certainly not wasting it!
End of the year... end of an era. After 24 years of having my own classroom, that will no longer the case. My school has invited me to be the K-5 tech integration and curriculum specialist, and I have happily accepted. Woo hoo! Though I will miss having my own group of students, I am happily looking forward to being able to work with all the students in our lower school and to help our teaching staff with their professional development and curriculum planning.
In order to create an all-inclusive, one-stop-shop, for edtech resources for our teachers, staff, and admin, I have created an Edmodo group with an extensive library of resources. I tend to add to the resources weekly, so there is always something new. If you would like access to these resources just join the group with us. You can do so here. Once you register, you're in. You can access the resources through the library or backpack, whichever option shows up on your page. I must leave one disclaimer however. You will be added as a read-only member. The participation features of the group will be reserved solely for the faculty of the San Diego Jewish Academy.
So come join us!
An Infographic by OpenColleges.edu.au
I just happened upon this infographic in the best place on the Internet for teachers... Twitter. Wow! Now in reality, we all know that parents are far more important in the lives of their children than we teachers could ever hope to be. And that is just as it should be. But parents, your direct and supportive involvement has a drastic and lasting effect on your child's education, and therefore their success in life. It is also no secret that income is often directly correlated with school achievement and success. But just look at some of the numbers in this infographic, look at the immediate negative effect that the recession had on certain students students. I wouldn't have thought it to be so drastic.
So, this is a call to action! Parents, break the cycle of poverty and continue the cycle of success by involving yourself, immersing yourself, in the education of your child. If you don't understand what they are doing, have them teach you. Ask the teacher, find a tutorial on YouTube. It will help your child and you can learn along with them. Educators, this doesn't mean you're off the hook, quite the opposite in fact! This means you have to foster parent involvement where it is high, but more importantly, nurture it and grow it where it is low. This is our chance people! If we work together we can improve the education, and the lives, of countless students. This in turn will improve the lives of their families and ultimately of our society as a whole.
All right, I'll admit it here in a public forum, I have very selfish reasons for putting out this call to action. I want to live in this improved society. I often tell my students that when they run the world I expect them to do a better job than those who are running it now. I expect them to cure diseases, make beautiful art, invent something to make the lives of others better, and be fantastic parents themselves. But I also expect them to work hard, to think, and to solve problems both big and small. So who's in? Who wants to live in this new and better world with my students and me? Won't you join us? We'd love to have you!