I Can Never Go Back

A couple days ago, I was chatting with friend who teaches in our local school district. I shared my plan to teach in the same district when my kids reach school age (due to unfortunate logistics, I won’t be returning to a PYP school). Then I shared that I am nervous about doing so. And then she asked me why.

I was grateful for the chance to really consider the question; I’ve been fretting about it for some time, and fretting is never as productive as reflecting. Why am I nervous? Is it that I’ve been away from the classroom for too long? Am I worried about transitioning back to working full time?

Then I realized the answer rested in a story I wrote on Edutopia a couple winters ago in which I shared before/after approaches to teaching poetry (& literacy in general):

“My students could describe the difference between a limerick and a couplet, but could they articulate why a poem mattered to them? I knew the answer was no.”

In recalling that anecdote & sharing with my friend, I realized I can never go back to teaching in a way that prioritizes memorizing content over constructing meaning. My nervousness stems from not knowing to what degree my yet-unknown future school will let me choose.

If I needed any further convincing about the impact of the latter approach, a parent of one of my former students recently shared a video of his performance as captain of his school’s poetry slam team. In her words,

“Today my son whom is ADHD, struggled reading for so long just lead the first ever Herriman High High School Slam Poetry Team to a 6th place finish. He was team captain and scored the highest of his team with a 27 out of 30. His original poem was on being ADHD and it was remarkable.”

Take a listen. I promise it’s worth the 3 minutes.

And I can never go back. After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.

As if to reinforce this conclusion, later that day, the words from “Come Alive” in The Greatest Showman jumped out at me:

“No more living in those shadows
You and me, we know how that goes
‘Cause once you see it, oh you’ll never, never be the same
We’ll be the light that’s shining
Bottle up and keep on trying
You can prove there’s more to you
You cannot be afraid

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reach it up
To the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

…So, come alive!”

It should be noted that my friend kindly reassured me that she thinks I’ll find a good fit in the district, and I’m sure she is right. Meanwhile, I will try to convert my nervousness into commitment to, as my friend Monte Syrie regularly says, “Do. Reflect. Do Better.” Which is something I know with certainty that I owe to my past & future students, and to myself.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

No Secret Parent Business Either #TeacherMom

Ok, before you think my title means I’m advocating that we expose the Tooth Fairy & abolish bedtimes, let me clarify the phrase “no secret teacher business.” It’s a phrase I hear frequently from teachers like Taryn Bond-Clegg and Edna Sackson, mostly with regards to how we plan our precious time together. It’s about cultivating mutual trust and student ownership to show them they are capable of planning productive days.

So what are the applications here on the parent side of things?

Well, just a few weeks into summer break, I’ve found myself with frayed nerves under the constant onslaught of questions:

  • What’s next…?
  • What time…?
  • How long…?
  • How soon…?
  • When can we…?

Fortunately, right before I lost my mind altogether, I realized that I already make a daily list of tasks and scheduled to-dos in advance in Google Keep.

Better still, I realized there’s a fantastic feature in which one can invite collaborators. I immediately knew I needed to share with my daughter; though I confess that initially it was less about shared ownership and more about preserving my sanity (though it turns out the latter is a happy byproduct!)

Here’s what I noticed when I started sharing “the plan:”

  • An immediate drop in the above-listed questions (phew!)
  • An immediate increase in thoughtful discussions about how we spend our time.
  • Greater independence since it turned out she preferred consulting the Google Keep list to find out what’s next, too.
  • The beginning of actual collaboration — she started helping me with some of my tasks, crossing off items she knew were complete, and even adding some of her own to-do’s!

Inviting kids in on the plan is truly a win-win. When they realize that we trust them to be in the know, they will show us they are capable of truly contributing to the way we plan our time. Together.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Attitudes: Cooperation

As with many other character traits, cooperation is one we clearly value, but how well do our students understand it? For them, is it just the absence of fighting? Or is it something more? This week’s provocation is meant to help students investigate it further for themselves.

Resource #1: What Is Sustainable Development? by World’s Largest Lesson (I plan to begin SDGs provocations after I finish the PYP ones!)

#2: Head Up by Film Bilder

#3: This Too Shall Pass Rube Goldberg Machine by OK Go

#4: Simon Senek on Intensity vs Consistency by The RSA

Resource #5: Flora & the Peacocks by Molly Idle

Resource #6: Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Provocation Questions:

  • How does cooperation work?
  • In what ways must we depend on each other in order to cooperate?
  • Why is cooperation sometimes hard? How do we overcome obstacles?
  • How do cooperation and sustainability connect?
  • What is our responsibility to cooperate with one another as families? As communities? As a planet?
  • How is creativity enhanced when we can cooperate?
  • How is productivity enhanced when we cooperate?
  • How is cooperation connected to relationships? To vulnerability & trust?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Revisiting Debate on Teacher’s Personal Generosity

I first started blogging here when I was put on bed rest, mostly because I needed something to minimize the depression and sudden disconnect from teaching.

Then, when I decided to continue my break from the classroom until our little ones are in school, blogging became a way for me to stay involved in the teaching world while meeting our family’s current needs. Because it’s a sponsored blog, it also became a way I could continue to contribute to our family’s finances in a small way.

All of this seems reasonable enough, but that last bit in particular gave me trouble for the first year or so. I struggled with feeling like I had become an outsider selling ideas to teachers still in the trenches.

None of this was helped by the fact that when I first started, I thought I needed to focus my content on what seemed “clickable.” My posts needed to be as shiny, professional, and appealing as possible on a sponsored blog, right?

All of that worry dissolved as soon as I remembered to simply focus on the learning. My learning as well as student learning. Interestingly enough, this became much more practicable for me when I switched to blogging 3 days a week on a topic schedule — it has me looking for learning opportunities everywhere.

I share this story as a way to continue the discussion on teacher’s personal generosity.

Any time we introduce a business element to the teaching profession we run into this pitfall: it becomes a constant incentive to focus on what would sell over what’s best for students and learning. What’s worse is the fact that the shiny glitzy stuff does sell because, well, learning is messy, and who wants to buy messy?

As Edna Sackson pointed out this week:

In my last post on teacher’s personal generosity, I chose to focus primarily on compassion, understanding that since teachers are so often underpaid and under-budgeted, we should be cautious about judging. I only added a P.S. to watch out for the fluffy extras that have little to do with learning. I now realize that was a mistake, because it fails to acknowledge how tempting it becomes for learning to go out the window when faced with commercialism.

The truth is that whether we’re in or out of the classroom, we’re all surrounded by companies, programs, & yes, “Craptivities” vying for our attention and money. We must be seriously discerning consumers and contributors, filtering out the valuable learning from the time-fillers/control-perpetrators, and welcoming feedback when we fall short (which is, of course, one of the reasons I am so grateful for my PLN!).

Ultimately we can recognize the limitations and strains placed on teachers while also insisting that what we share, buy, retweet, and pin is worthy of our learners — their agency, their voices, and their dignity.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Love/Hate Relationship With Perfection #TeacherMom

I’ve written before on how important imperfection is. Even shared an inquiry on perfectionism to help students investigate how to beat it. And this is one of my favorite Brene Brown quotes: “[Perfectionism is] a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Despite all that, two events over the last 24 hours had me stop in my tracks in recognizing just how hard perfectionism is for me to quit.

#1: During lunch with my 3 little ones, my 8 year old asked if she could feed some of her pasta to her 1 year old brother. Before I could tack on my “be careful,” she added, “I’ll make sure I don’t make a mess!” Then I watched as she painstakingly fed him, fork in one hand, paper towel in the other; she also kept cooing things at him as she fed him like, “We don’t want to make messes, right?”

#2: Coming across Seth Godin’s post, “What do you aspire to be?” He writes,

“The problem with perfect is that when you fail, you have none of the other more flexible human traits to fall back on.” (emphasis added)

The two combined to shake my shoulders a bit with regards to how much I still cling to perfectionism. Turns out what I love about perfection (lack of mess) creates its own kind of mess anyway. Mess is where the learning happens for us all; denying that through thinking that “perfect=ideal” is destructive because it ultimately denies us the very experiences that make us more capable of connection, self-awareness, and empathy.

I think today, we’re going to make some messes at our house. Who knows, maybe we’ll cultivate some of those “flexible human traits” along the way.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Owning My Learning

When we have lofty visions of students taking the wheel at their own learning, it can be devastating when they seem to reject that agency. It’s understandable why this happens; after all, most have years of training that only teachers make the important decisions regarding their learning, & it’s difficult to reverse that dependency.

However, I believe there are still layers to that rejection that can be valuable for us to try and recognize. Often, it may be that they need to develop more skills (see the self-management skills provocation). Maybe they need to better see themselves as inquirers. Or, perhaps, they simply need to have their sights elevated in general as to why personal ownership over learning is so important. That’s where this week’s provocation comes in. As always, I would love to hear how this goes with your students in the comments below!

Resource #1: Cogs by AIME Mentoring

Resource #2: The Power to Create by Matthew Taylor & The RSA

Resource #3: What Adults Can Learn From Kids, TED Talk by Adora Svitak

Resource #4: Most Likely to Succeed film trailer 

Resource #5: True Colors personality quiz

Yes, a personality quiz. But I promise it’s not one of those “which celebrity is your soul-mate” kinds of quizzes — it’s generally based on Don Lowry’s work to help people understand themselves a little better, and might help students recognize their existing strengths to take the wheel at their learning.

Resource #6: Adam Kotsko’s tweet

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to own our own learning?
  • Why does your voice in your own learning matter?
  • How does our ability to own our own learning change over time?
  • How does an uncertain & ever-changing future make ownership over learning so important?
  • What is the connection between creativity and ownership over learning?
  • What are the points of view on kids owning their learning?
  • What kinds of responsibilities come with ownership over learning?
  • What are some of the challenges we face when we start depending less on the teacher and more on ourselves to drive our learning?
  • How might I (as the teacher) better help you access the tools you need to own your learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto