Monday, August 29, 2016

Why wait to write... A blog for teachers teaching thoughts

When I have an idea I toss it around, write about it right away to let it sit, talk about it with others for feedback, and just marinate on it for a while.  Sometimes this is days, weeks, or even months.  But I always try to follow this procedure with big ideas.  I follow the footprint that Adam Grant explains in this TED talk about procrastination.

When I taught and from what I have seen in classrooms writing generally begins either with something read, a brainstorming session, a writing prompt, or a quick reflection on a personal experience.  It could be a letter, a poem, a persuasive essay, a summary, or an opinion to name a few.  It usually starts 3-4 days before the final product is expected and you work diligently through the process getting some feedback and edits before submitting the final product.  All in all 3-4 days is the average time.

What if writing (at least the longer pieces) started weeks or even a month before the eventual expected date of being finished.

So let me take a standard:

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.  

This is an overall standard, not meant to be all inclusive, but will use this to explain my idea.

One morning or afternoon and a lot of days before the eventual date of final copy you ask your class to write for 5 - 10 minutes about something they have done that they could explain to someone else.  Have them put it in an open discussion platform if you have the availability to do that even.  If they are younger they could record themselves or draw a picture to explain.  Let it sit there a few days.

In the mean time ask others, for 5 - 10 minutes, to go in and respond either with questions or compare/contrast to a similar topic or ideas that they could explain.  Then have the original author, having been given a few days, think about the concept and get feedback from peers.  Have them rewrite or add to their original writing.  Do this 4-5 times before you give them the assignment

This written assessment I see as coming in the form of something they read, let's say "how gemologists determine the value of a diamond?"  Maybe not the most interesting topic, but the assignment for the class is to write an informative/explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

Make sure they:
  • Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
  • Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).
  • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.
The idea is that they have informally without threat, already done this a number of times leading up to this moment.  Obviously there would be more practice, explanation, modeling, and showing that I have left out.  The point being why not allow students time to practice and think through their ideas over and over before you get to these big landmark/benchmark assignments that show mastery of standards.  

If they are able to show you they can do this after practice, you have satisfied more than just the writing standards I listed above.  The main point is to give them many many chances to formulate ideas and think through the process before the unit or curriculum brings you to that moment of truth.  We all have moments of truth when you have to hit publish or submit.  I think the trick is allowing plenty of opportunities to hit save and redo before.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Educators First Day of School - #cddolphins

The first day of school begins with the last day before
A new beginning with new students wanting more

Energy, anxiety, feeling of purpose in your head
Certainly 3 am is the appropriate time for bed

Looking at plans, making sure room is right, school is tight
You only have one chance you think, before you say good night

I will mess up, what if I come off wrong, what if it is awkward and weird?
Will they like me as much as their teacher last year?

I will smile, I will hug, I have my clothes ready to go.
I think about those kids that come in smug not ready to grow

How that will hurt, how that will feel, how can I turn it around this year?
That is my job, I tell myself, already worried about how I will help.

I am confident in me, I have had so much success.
Why am I still the most important and difficult one to impress?

I wake up early, get coffee, and double check the space.
I say "hi" to colleagues, but only thinking about that face.

The face of the students, special, each and every
The time I spend this year will be a forever memory

I have that control, I have that influence, I have that power
To change ideas, show new learning, and allow them to climb great towers

I will now go to bed knowing this is paramount, this is mine
For tomorrow will be the beginning of the most important time

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Educational Beliefs

I believe that no matter what we think, every day our students come to school wanting to be loved, learn, succeed, and smile.  I smile at them and tell them it is going to be "great day".

I believe that given a little confidence even those that struggle at times will stop the class or his/her partner and tell them, “I got this… let me try…” One of my favorite memories ever from last year. I know it happens every day in your classes, allow it to happen.

I believe that given the right motivation a group of students will not only work together, but want to share what they are doing, and get so excited about learning that it almost becomes a management issue.  I believe management issues when you are calming students down because they are so excited about learning are okay!

I believe that no matter how difficult the home life of some of our students, the abuses, neglect, trauma, and questioning of whose house they are sleeping in at night or who is feeding them dinner, don't take away from their desire to learn. They still are willing to get dirty with us, in learning, if we allow it, and support it.

I believe that our students just have friends. They see each other differently than we see them. They judge differently without experiences we have had.  They need to be able to continue to think this way as long as possible.

I believe our students are excited to come to school everyday, They even wake themselves up early at times, get their own food, dress themselves, cross streets, and show early. Everything ready to go. Make sure when you show up, you are ready for them.

I believe our students want to read outside, they want to lie on the floor, they want to close their eyes and just think for a minute in a quiet room.  They want the experience of school to be more and better than we could even imagine.  For many it is their everything, let’s make sure we remember that.  

I believe regardless of what their faces show you, they deserve the same patience, respect, and love.  Even if you know all the reasons for their struggles, even if you know the horrible "true" story, this does not change what you believe, just maybe your approach. They should all be pushed and forced to struggle at times, while providing supports to help build their confidence in their academic abilities.  

I believe there are moments in each year when things get tough, you need a break, so you just stick your blue tongue out as my students do at times and... You move on realizing that your beliefs and feelings have not changed, just the way you were looking at your current attitude, needed an adjustment.

I believe they want to be pushed, they want it to be “not too easy”, they really want to just “show us” their work.  Give them many ways to do this, don’t just ask them questions and wait for answers, ask them to show you what they mean with their statements and their problems.  

I believe when I say good bye in the afternoon that they all don't want to leave. Many of them want to stay and do more. The best part is that we are going to do it all over again the next day.

I believe in the power of you, we, us, and them. These are our students, our community, our staff, our supports, and me. I believe we do this every day because of everything I listed as beliefs and so much more... What do you believe to be true no matter what and can never be taken away?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't Celebrate My Failures! Please Don't!

Educators please stop saying that we celebrate failure.  It is condescending and quite frankly a little annoying.  If you came up to me after I failed or am struggling with something, smile and say, "This means you are learning and growing..." I may want to grab you and shake you.  Failure does not equal success.  There is no correlation.  Failure often leads to quitting, giving up, and not trying again.  There is NO one to one correlation between failures and successes.

I get it, we all know that in order to be successful at something you will need multiple attempts, you will need your thoughts questioned, and you may have to try over again.  I was on the bandwagon of struggle, I still am, I think it is important for our students to feel this struggle in a supportive environment.  It builds academic resiliency, academic persistence, and academic stamina, all are super important.  But I am moving away from calling out the idea of struggle or failure as a good thing.

Just to be clear:

Necessary = Yes
Positive = No

Failing or struggling should = Angry and if it can be used to motivate, even better!

So I am not celebrating this failure idea!  It is more a realization and acceptance like in the summer I wear shorts and t-shirts because it is hot outside.  Do we even need to give it as much attention as we do?  This quote, that quote, this talk, that talk... I don't announce every summer day, "I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt today!"  That would be ridiculous, just like I think yelling, "We fail to succeed..."  "You need to fail to move forward..."  etc.

If just failing were the answer, I would sign up for a "world's strongest man" competition next week. Maybe I should try and free climb Half Dome in Yosemite with no free climbing experience?  I really should enter that Bike to the Beach race with my son's first bike with training wheels.  I would certainly fail at all of these!

Accept that failure or struggle is part of process and to me failure is just not trying, but whatever...  Acceptance is not celebration, and should not be confused.  I accept that each day has 24 hours, but I celebrate when I am able to get through my To Do list in that amount of time.  I accept that I am getting older physically and celebrate when I have a good work out.  I accept that not every day at school is going to be perfect and celebrate when I see students and staff working hard.

So acceptance is realization, celebration is reserved for actually accomplishing something positive.

Failure is not positive, necessary yes, positive no.  Super easy equation.  Please don't mix them, it makes successes seem trivial.

Do no celebrate my failures!  Get angry with me!  Question me!  You can even yell at me!  Please, Please, Please do not celebrate them!

Also don't expect a failure all the time.  If I or someone else is successful the first time, more power to them!  That you can celebrate!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Your internal struggle #edubabble

As we struggle to find purpose and meaning
We are constantly talking and questioning

I think our eternal struggle holds us back too much
Voices in our heads tell us "yes" and "no"

I do not feel the same way about life
There seems to be for some a game of strife

I had it worse than you, you don't understand me
Time is spent convincing deaf ears to what you see

Many feel like you need to struggle to succeed
I don't know if I totally agree

I was on the bandwagon, to persevere is the key
Struggle, be knocked down, and get up

Dare to be great and you are courageous
I don't think it is that dangerous

Not to ignore issues or problems you face
Race, gender, family, situations can all leave a bad taste

The biggest struggle is the deals you make with self
Getting past you... to realize your worth

If you can agree and deal with your head
You have an advantage over your life

Just live and know you are never done
Realizing you have never won

Have a passion, drive, stay healthy, and don't give a sh...t
It is that simple and you also have to be legit

The difference is not in the celebration of struggle
Realization is part of forever problems my other #edubabble

We all have our issues, but the largest is our internal voice
Gain an understanding of that, you have chance and a choice

Start by convincing yourself and not some other
Your internal will then be your sister or brother

Monday, August 8, 2016

Building Blocks a simple analogy/metaphor

The building blocks are simple, the formula is easy, the upkeep is a little more work, and the power is amazing.  It was one of the first things that propelled humans out of caves and still to this day is unchanged in necessity and simplicity.  I am going to use it as a metaphor and analogy to talk about school. 

Wood, paper, or anything flammable will work.  By themselves they are simply objects with their own unique properties, but they are alone inactive.  Add a source of heat; matches, lighter, the right combination of sticks or rocks.  Friction is created, a spark is seen, and  before you know it you have a small  flame.  Apply this flame to a larger pile of flammable material and a large flame or multiple flames will begin to appear.   One note:  The conditions must be right...  Your wood or paper can not be wet, you can not be in a vacuum deprived of oxygen, and you probably need to make sure to have good ventilation.  If things don’t work out right away or you are not getting the desired effect you adjust placement or you can add an accelerant.  This becomes necessary when the spark does not catch, conditions are not quite right, or if you want to move things along a little faster.  Assuming the flames look good and things are beginning to warm up you will eventually run into a problem.  All fires will eventually burn out if there is no maintenance and upkeep.  You will need to add more wood or whatever to the flame.  You will need to adjust, poke, and possibly clean out some of the ashes if it burns for a while.  I will add that once the fire is burning you can adjust the intensity of the heat in multiple ways.

Fire is school
Fire is organizations
Fire is structures of growth

I think in metaphors and analogies often to help me better understand more complex situations.  I think that there are so many ways that building, maintaining, and enjoying a fire relates to school that it is almost uncanny. 

Kindling or paper that starts the fire are like your early adopters
Gasoline or lighter fluid you add is like an initiative or idea to push change.
Poking, water, or anything else to increase or decrease the heat is feedback

Getting a fire started takes some planning, gathering of materials, a little knowledge, the right conditions, and combinations.  

Ever try putting kindling or paper on top of the larger logs to set up before the fire is burning?   It does not work out well.  So there is a system and organization that needs to be thought through.  This is the work, this is the experience you can draw from others.  This is where you need to do your research and a little experimentation.   You will know when you are ready to light, that moment that tells you if you have set things up correctly to get started.  Assuming you get it lit as this is the most important part of the plan, you then go into a new stage.  You stop thinking about planning and begin to think about maintenance. 

When you know the fire is going pretty well, you could walk away from it for a few minutes and come back trusting it will still be burning bright.  That is the sweet spot.  Then it is just minor adjustments, moving a log here or there, letting it burn itself out a bit, just to be reignited, and sitting back a bit.  Enjoying the warmth and the flames a little.  Celebrate what you have done, but understand that to keep it going, you will constantly be working, finding new logs to add to the fire.   

This is also when you need to start to think about outside influences like weather conditions and if you have enough fuel to keep the fire going.  Put up a tarp to keep rain away, search far and wide for more wood, whatever you need to do to not let the fire go out totally.  

If either of those things are a threat to your fire, how are you going to adjust and plan for them? 

What can you do now, to make sure you can keep the fire going?

A fire can be as big or small as you want it to be, depending on how much work you want to put into it and dependent on how you have set up your area, conditions, and can account for outside factors.

Find your spot, start your fire, enjoy it a bit, but understand that fire maintenance, like organizational maintenance and schools are a lot of work.  You will get dirty, you will make mistakes, so have that poker ready to rekindle and restart the flame.