Join Us For Our Scholarship Webinar Q&A on March 2!

Do you know any high school seniors? Would they be interested in earning a $10,000 scholarship by engaging in a community improvement project?

If so, please help spread the word about our upcoming Q&A webinar with applicants to help support them in their projects! Unlike many scholarships that call for an (often recycled) essay, our Design a Better Future program asks much more of students in working to give to their communities. We want to be there to help guide them in any roadblocks or questions that arise in their work.

The webinar will take place on Saturday, March 2 at 11 am MST. Two of our scholarship committee members, Mary & Lindsay, will field questions & lead the discussion. Register here to receive a reminder and the link to our Zoom meeting!


Inquiry Into the Self Online

I’m taking a break from my provocation series into Sustainable Development Goals for an important inquiry on the way we consume and share online.

With our White Ribbon Week observances & internet safety assemblies, most students know:

  • don’t share personal information
  • don’t cyberbully
  • don’t meet up with strangers you met online

What we don’t talk about as often is the way they feel about their internet presence. Who do they think they need to be and why? How can they use the internet to help fill their cups, rather than drain them?

This week’s provocation is meant to help foster these deeper conversations.

Resource #1: “Selfie Harm” photo series 

Resource #2: Infinite Scroll by Pete Henderson

Resource #3: Side Effects by Chris Cousins

Resource #4: Brene Brown quote

Resource #5: Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger

Provocation Questions:

  • What does authenticity mean?
  • How do the internet & social media invite us to connect? How can that connection be positive? How can it be negative?
  • How does it work to embrace who we are even as we work to improve?
  • What are side effects? What are the different perspectives on side effects of social media?
  • How does balance connect to our self-care on social media?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Things I Want My Students to Know About Me as a Teacher

Olwen recently posed one of her fabulous thought-provoking questions.

What motivates you as an educator? What is it that you really want your students to know about you as a teacher? #KidsDeserveIt #inclusiveEd #pypchat #LeadLAP @ShiftParadigm @ChrisQuinn64 @mraspinall @mary_teaching @cvarsalona @burgessdave— Olwen (@notjustup2u) February 6, 2019

I was going to write a quick, agency-related reply, but then I got thinking some more and decided a blog post was in order.

#1: I believe in helping students take the wheel for their own lives.

I see myself as a guide, ready to help students make necessary adjustments and to help them discover possibilities they had not yet considered. I recognize that this requires sharing ownership over the learning space, honoring student voice & choice, and letting go of my need to feel “in control” in favor of messy-but-essential student-led planning.

#2: I want learning to be as authentic as possible.

Obviously, we can’t always go visit the Louvre to study the art in person, but thanks to the digital world, there’s so much more at our fingertips than our dusty textbooks and basal readers. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Studying mentor texts to learn their craft and technique rather than having drills about those techniques.
  • Exploring landforms using Google Earth or by going outside rather than having a powerpoint presentation about them.
  • Using real-world math problems rather than sticking with endless practice sheets.
  • Making connections by using provocations and focusing on big concepts rather than learning every skill and subject in isolation.

#3: I try to practice what I preach.

If I tell my students to be risk-takers, I want them to know how I’m working on it, too. If I expect them to write poetry, I will work to truly engage in the process right alongside them. If I want them to take action in their community, I will do the same. I never want to be that coach sitting on the ATV riding alongside runners!

#4: I love being a teacher, but I have a lot of other interests, too.

My family is the most important part of my life, and I have a lot of other passions that help me to feel happy and fulfilled, from biking to carpentry to urban planning. I want them to know this not only because it helps them understand who I am as a human being, but so that they also understand that I truly do love to keep learning new things.

#5: My foundation for “classroom management” is a blend of self-regulation, relationships, and humanity.

I am terribly imperfect at this, but it is something I strive for. I would rather put my energy in teaching students the tools to regulate their own feelings and impulses than to try and regulate them myself. I would rather sit on the same side of the table to have conversations with individual students rather than place all the blame on the student. I would rather work on finding a solution together rather than keeping them in from recess.

I hadn’t realized how important it is for students to really understand all these things about me as their teacher until I wrote them down, so thank you so much, Olwen, for the reflection opportunity!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

In Which the Preschool App Gets Me Revisiting Scaffolding #TeacherMom

Have you ever downloaded the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app for your kids? If so, you probably know that they adore & can independently play all the games except two. And you probably know exactly which two I’m talking about:

“Put the Fruit Back Together…”

…and “Match the Fruit”

These two games take more stamina than the others. You can’t just start tapping randomly until it moves on until the next game. Which leaves me three choices:

#1: Do those hard games for him so he can play the rest of the game.

#2: Take a firm stance that if he can’t do it all on his own, he’s not ready to play.

#3: Do the hard games together, helping him hold his finger and talking through the process (where did we see the other banana?).

I have tried all three! The teacher side of me would definitely choose #3 every time, but the truth is, sometimes life gets messier than that. The game is usually only even out when we are at a long appointment. Sometimes, he tries to insist on #1 while I am trying to speak with the doctor. Sometimes, I try to assert #2, but find he really does want to give them a try again on his own.

The more I reflect, the more I realize that the only truly damaging stance when it comes to the scaffolding we give our kids is one that is rigid and not sensitive to context.

We like to think of scaffolding as a nice linear graph, gradually releasing toward complete independence in a smooth, graceful line. But really, there are plenty of dips, spikes, and wild turns along the way, all of which require patience for our young students, and for ourselves.

Even for something as silly as making a monkey cheer you on when you match a pair of honeydews.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Canceling Extracurriculars #TeacherMom

A bouldering class sounded like the perfect idea. As a former rock climber myself, what could be better than getting my adventure-loving daughter started early?

But then the class got pushed back into a more hectic territory for our schedule. As we tried to rearrange schedules and manage dinner and arrange transportation, I suddenly realized: it was more than ok for us to just drop it.

Here’s my highly scientific equation for why:

Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!

There’s already enough hustle in our lives just to keep things running smoothly.

Which is why extracurriculars are having to meet an increasingly stringent set of requirements at my house:

  • kids must be able to walk or bike there (which means I don’t have to play my least favorite role of taxi, we get exercise, and we help our air quality. Win-win-win.)
  • cannot compete with meal times (I’ve found that it’s way too slippery a slope for me to be like, yeah, fast food is fine just for now…)
  • must have a compelling reason to take kids away from free play time (which is at least as valuable as the vast majority of extracurricular activities). See #BeTime video below:

Yes, the bouldering class would have been fun. Yes, we probably could have made the schedule conflicts work for a while.

But life is made of all our decisions for today. I’d rather stop putting off when we’ll live exactly the way we want to, and start doing that right now. And that starts with eliminating any activity that doesn’t carry its weight. No regrets.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Open Letter: To School Choice, From a Teacher

Dear School Choice,

How did our relationship get so complex? Back in college, things were so black and white: you were a shady character I was supposed to avoid (what with those rumors about causing the demise of public education and whatnot).

But then I graduated during the recession and the only gig I could find was at…a charter school. Actually 2 charter schools–the first, where I worked as a TA, was rife with many the problems my professors described. But the second was unique in that it provided the International Baccalaureate program, introducing me to inquiry, student-driven action, and global citizenship.

(see “I’m Finally Using the PYP Key Concepts!“)

Over the years, I witnessed some of your problems I’d been warned about like high teacher turn-over. But mostly, I was grateful to have learned so much about how to help students take ownership for their learning, and to have been given lots of leeway to try new things as a teacher.

(see “When DIY PD Goes Terribly Wrong–Or Does It?“)

So when it came time to enroll our oldest, you and I were in a much more flexible place than when we first met. But I still opted to go with our neighborhood school, which is part of the district, committed to the idea of “lifting where we stand” (and just plain wanting our child to be able to walk or bike to school). In that commitment, I thought I could go back to brushing you off.

But I met too many people that seemed to have compelling reasons to depend on you:

  • traveling with the family so often that homeschooling (worldschooling) made sense
  • transferring to a different school within the district that offered a language program
  • having a child with such severe anxiety that online homeschooling became an important alternative
  • searching out a school with a focus on autism to meet a child’s needs
  • encountering concerns at the local school in which the child’s and/or parents’ voices are regularly dismissed (and choosing another school where the opposite is the case)–especially when severe bullying has been involved

I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve learned you’re complicated. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell parents to shun you. But it’s a lot harder when you hear exactly how their children are struggling, and tell them to ignore available alternatives that might, in fact, be a better fit. For those parents, not taking you up on your offer almost feels like bad parenting.

All that said, I still do maintain some reservations that keep me from inviting you to our next dinner party:

  • There is no perfect school: just because an alternative is available does not guarantee that that will solve all problems.
  • Parents who have the most socioeconomic advantages tend to be the ones most involved in school choice, which means it can contribute to socioeconomic divides & even modern segregation.
  • There is power in a community uniting to find out how they can improve their local school (rather than simply abandoning it).

I hope you don’t take my concerns personally. I do know that sometimes, you’re more focused on bringing something new to the table (like a special program for autism or International Baccalaureate), and not just assuming you’re going to do the same thing as districts but better. And seeing the good you’ve been able to accomplish for families that need alternatives has helped me judge you less.

So, though I expect our relationship will continue to be uncertain, I’m glad we seem to understand each other a bit more. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, and I hope to see more conversations moving forward on how to best serve children and communities.

Kinder Prep Frenzy Continued: On Redshirting Kindergartners #TeacherMom

I have written before about the kinder prep frenzy, but as I prepare to register my second kindergartner, I’m finding the exact same headlines, debates, and anxieties continue to circulate.

Most recently in my state, an op-ed was published about how parents really ought to just go for redshirting if they are on the fence. But I appreciated insight from one reader who commented:

“I noted the author said the older kindergarteners in her class could form cursive letters, and I just cannot see how teaching cursive writing to a 5 or 6 year old is appropriate or necessary. How frustrating that could be for a child who is developmentally typical for his or her age but does not have the necessary fine motor control for cursive writing.
I think instead of making kids wait until they are ready for kindergarten, we need to make kindergarten appropriate for 5 year olds.”

~comment by “arfeiniel”

What’s more, an analysis on EducationNext reviewed claims regarding the benefits of redshirting, finding them to be shaky at best. For instance:

“This initial advantage in academic achievement dissipates sharply over time, however, and appears to vanish by high school

…The positive impacts of being more mature are offset by the negative effects of attending class with younger students.”

~Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

The authors go on to discuss the fact that children of parents with more advantages tend to be redshirted at higher rates, presenting a potential equity issue when it comes to the many parents who do not have the luxury to choose.

They do note, however, instances in which redshirting might be appropriate, such as trauma or extreme developmental delay.

Overall, redshirting seems to involve too much fear, too much short-term, and too much “not-enough-ness.” Barring extreme circumstances, we would all do well to start from a place of trust and confidence in our children, and deal with challenges that arrive as they come. As always, we must respond to the needs of the children, not the other way around.

Maybe I’m just biased as an August birthday here. Or maybe these strong inclinations toward courage and pushing back against the status quo were, in fact, shaped by always being the youngest in school…

featured image: Howard County Library System