Instead of Keeping Them In from Recess, What If…

…we went out with them and played a bit?

…we told that one kid on their way out that we hoped they had a terrific break and could come in fresh to try again?

…we sat down with that child who will. not. finish. that assignment, and discussed alternative opportunities for him/her to practice/demonstrate learning?

…we spend those 15 minutes contemplating that child’s strengths and how we might tap into those in order to overcome the current difficulty?

…we found ways to create more flexibility within our own schedules so students don’t necessarily have to work on the same assignments simultaneously all day long?

…we created positive calendars, complete with “publishing parties” for kids to anticipate?

…we deliberately worked on teaching time-management skills, rather than assuming they are already developed?

…we worked on making our classroom a place kids hardly ever want to leave, rather than a place they can’t wait to leave?

Just a few questions from a teacher who has kept way too many kids in from way too many recesses. Inspired by Chapter 8 of George Corous’ Innovator’s Mindset. And still wondering…

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Having Better Conversations on Global Awareness #TeacherMom

A few months ago when I shared the book, “This Is How We Do It,” with my 7 year-old, I remember getting flustered over one of the conclusions she drew: that just because that one kid in Peru looked poor, all kids in Peru are poor. I knew my frustration was more about my lack of ability to help her understand relative wealth of individuals vs. countries.

But it’s a misconception that’s certainly not just limited to young children. We make assumptions all the time about what life is like for people in other countries; stereotypes are reinforced by limited media coverage and of course, Hollywood.

This week’s provocation centers around helping our students start having better conversations on how people live across the world.

Resource #1: “See how the rest of the world lives” TED-Talk by Anna Rosling Rönnlund

Resource #2: Dollar Street interactive tool described in the above video!

Resource #3: “If the World Were 100 People” by GOOD Magazine

Resource #4: “Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats by BBC, set to start at :30 to save time (this is a MUST-WATCH, especially if you share the above video!)

Resource #5: This Is How We Do It picture book by Matt LaMothe

Provocation Questions:

  • What are living conditions like across the world?
  • What impacts quality of life?
  • What are patterns you observe when it comes to how people live around the world?
  • Why are their differences in how people live their lives?
  • How is the way people live changing?
  • What is our responsibility to understand the differences in the ways people live around the world
  • What are the different perspectives on what makes a quality life?

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Who Owns Documentation? (Also, the 7 year old wants to blog) #TeacherMom

Last week, I wrote about the pressure we feel to do it all ourselves. Today, I want to follow up on another facet of this pressure that manifests itself differently for both parents (especially moms, it seems) and teachers:

Documentation of milestones/growth.

As moms, it seems we feel we must be these momento-keeping wizards/hoarders, which of course, includes a large dose of guilt when we inevitably fall short. But if somehow, we do manage to create the perfect scrapbook and trophy shrine, we’re put on a pedestal of “good moms.”

As teachers, we know that documentation is important, but it’s all we can do to stay on top of benchmarks for reading, writing, and math, let alone those special art pieces or project artifacts. But don’t parents love those Pinterest-worthy files at the end of the year packed with student work?

The common denominator in both scenarios? Absence of student ownership. If it’s all about capturing our kids’ growth, why not give it back to them? Why not have them document their own mementos and aha moments?

All this came to mind when my daughter came home from school to find me blogging. We’ve talked about what I do many times, and she told me, “I love that you share your writing with teachers around the world…Did you know I have a blog at school? But only my teacher can see it. I’d like a real blog.”

Of course, TeacherMom that I am, I immediately jumped on that opportunity. I got her all set up with her own Weebly, added her posts to my RSS feeds, set the comments to “requires moderation,” and reviewed safety. Then, equally important, we discussed what kinds of writing she might share!

But I’ve been blogging for 4 years now — why haven’t I tried this idea of helping her share her writing sooner? After all, she has loved writing for as long as she could form letters.

It seems that once again, it’s fear that holds us back from allowing our kids to take on this kind of ownership. From fear of loss of control (what if they miss documenting noteworthy items?), to fear of Internet safety issues (usually emphasized more than the positive ways kids can harness tech), we hesitate, and then we take on more than we should.

It’s time to ask ourselves how we can better help our kids share the load of their own learning process. We can teach them the skills and give them the tools to take more ownership. When we do so, we can alleviate many of the stresses we have unnecessarily taken on ourselves to begin with.

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On Pacing

I recently had another “aha moment” as a result of reading Seth Godin’s blog. Check out this passage:

“I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.”

Pacing was my biggest opportunities for growth in the classroom. I’d plan on a “mini lesson,” only to find myself talking at my kids for 20 minutes before letting them get started. Or I’d try to keep it brief, and then find myself interrupting them again and again as I added additional thoughts.

Of course, pacing isn’t just about the length of our lessons. It’s also about gauging our kids’ learning and development in general. How soon and how fast do we push? How much room is there for students’ voices and inquiries amid the curriculum we have “to cover?” This is where the fear can also come in that Seth mentioned in his post; how often do we allow our fears to keep us letting go of control?

Either way, when our pacing is off, it’s often because the focus has strayed more to our timetable than our kids‘ timetable. Just as great sourdough is “ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be,” kids are ready when they’re ready. The best way at being more in-tune with our kids’ needs is by listening to their voices. This might include:

  • using a suggestion box/holding class meetings
  • using wrap-ups at the end of our lessons to reflect collectively on the understanding thus far
  • co-constructing rubrics and soliciting kids’ definitions of success (both for specific units and for learning in general!)
  • talking less
  • inviting kids in on the planning
  • tapping into kids’ process for work (rather than focusing solely on compliance)

Even when we think we’re too short on time, when we choose to seek out students’ voices, we will more often find ourselves uncovering great learning and great learners.

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21st Century Literacy Opportunities You Probably Overlook #TeacherMom #IMMOOC

I’ve decided to join this year’s #IMMOOC as I finally read George Couros’ book, Innovator’s Mindset. I’m looking forward to making new connections with teachers around the world and to finding ways to push my thinking and comfort zone over the next 5 weeks!

Here’s a passage that has stood out to me most for this week’s reading:

“We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids to not stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.”

It seems that the older my kids get, the more often I hear about the dangers of screen time, online predators, and cyberbullying. Rarely if ever do I hear parents share the amazing ways they are engaging in technology with their kids.

Apart from this being a missed opportunity to build positive associations with the possibility tech affords, it also misses out on some serious opportunities for literacy (both traditional and digital).

As rare as it is to hear about the positive examples among parents, I actually observed an impromptu example just this weekend as my mother-in-law sat at the computer with my nephew. They were searching out some fun gadgets together on Amazon, but what quickly caught my attention was the language my mother-in-law was using with my nephew. As they looked at new products, she helped him scroll down the page, saying things like, “When I’m looking at something I think I might like to buy, I look first at the 1-star reviews. That helps me find out what I might not like about it.”

I listened as they read the reviews out loud together and then discussed whether they thought those would be relevant issues. And as they navigated new products, it was clear my nephew was quickly becoming more discerning about what he was viewing.

Who would have thought Amazon could be rich soil for literacy? But I guess if we’re paralyzed by fear, we’re not exactly on the lookout for ways we might invite our kids to join us in our screen use.

Now, to be clear, if our kids’ device use is also limited to moments we “give in” due to begging or boredom, that’s also a missed opportunity. The key is in how we are engaging with our kids, and in positive, practical ways. I’m looking forward to finding more ways we can show kids what they can do with tech, both as parents and as teachers.

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Do We Give Students The Opportunity to Show Their Best Selves?

I came across this incredible story this morning:

As moving and remarkable as this story is, it makes me wonder: would this kind of response be unique to just that group of students? It seems to me that this highlights the broader goodness that is inherent in our kids, if only we give them the opportunity to rise to and express it.

And what does that take? Clearly, this teacher has taken the time to form a relationship with her students. She describes a classroom environment of shared ownership as her students step up to write on the board and pass out papers as she’s confined to a wheelchair.  She gives them the opportunity to find and share their authentic voices.

Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of these things amid all the obstacles we face as teachers. Pressures of time. Pressures of curriculum. And, like in the circumstance of this Detroit kindergarten classroom with 38 students this year, pressures of resources.

We can and should do what we can to fight for improvements in our schools. But even as we wade through these limitations, we can always find opportunities for student voice/choice and agency.

This might take the form of:

  • inquiry-based learning and provocations to help them make connections and discoveries.
  • regular class meetings in which students help address issues and express concerns/suggestions.
  • Authentic problem-based learning in which students investigate personally-relevant issues.
  • Less dependence on contrived-learning (ie, boxed or computer programs that take the person out of personalized learning), and more meaningful co-constructed learning experiences.
  • Teaching them ways to positively harness the power of social media and digital tools (rather than solely focusing on cyberbullying/safety).

As we work to find ways to give our students their voice and ownership, we will be astonished again and again at their ideas, their empathy, and their capacity to lead as the next generation.

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Why I Focus On Agency #TeacherMom

The beginning of Netflix’s rendition of The Little Prince begins with a mother unveiling her child’s life plan to ensure admission to the “right school.” She tells her daughter, “Let’s face it. You’re going to be all alone out there. So we can’t afford to make any more mistakes. You’re going to be a wonderful grown-up.”

While it’s certainly an over-the-top portrayal, when we think about all the societal pressures to ensure our kids’ success, it’s more representative than it might initially seem.

I remember a day a few years back when I was feeling like a particular failure as a parent. I decided to make a list of all the things that were stressing me. In so doing, I realized that it wasn’t so much the daily to-do list itself that was weighing me down; it was the fear of what would happen if I failed at any given item on the list (ie, make sure the kids get quality outdoor play each day OR ELSE they might not develop proper health habits and someday contract heart disease; make sure the house stays clean OR ELSE they might grow up to be hoarders featured on some reality-tv show, etc, etc).

Dire consequences were attached to every task. And it came down to me to prevent every one of those consequences.

As I continued my list, I came to the essential realization: I had thought my actions were driven by love; turns out they were actually driven by fear.

At first, it may seem that what’s driving the action is irrelevant, as long as the results are the same. But upon closer inspection, we realize what happens in a fear-driven environment:

  • We focus less on others’ agency and more on control.
  • We don’t share the load, even with people who have an interest in it.
  • We trust less.
  • We worry more.
  • We stress over timetables & milestones.
  • We are exhausted.

As I have instead worked to start from a place of love, I have found that I focus more and more on the agency of those around me. Because only when I stop worrying about whether I’m enough can I more clearly realize see their strength. Their capacity. Their courage.

This quote from William Stixrud resonated with me so much that this is my second time sharing it in as many weeks:

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.””

When we’re driven by fear, the burden rests with us to prevent calamity and shape the world.

When we’re driven by love, the burden rests with us all in an open, thoughtfully-discussed, and shared manner.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto