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.

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In Which The 7 Year-Old’s Blog Post Gets More Comments Than Mine #TeacherMom

Last week, my daughter came home commenting about a new bathroom rule at her school: all girls now have to use the restroom 2 at a time due to the fact that girls keep writing on the bathroom walls. As a teacher, I understand why the rule was implemented. As a parent, I understand why she feels frustrated.

Since she just recently asked me to help her set up her own “real blog” (ie, can be read by a real audience), I asked her how she would feel about blogging on the subject. She took to that idea right away — especially once we figured out the speech-to-text feature so she didn’t have to keep fretting about spelling (teacher note: I really like the way speech-to-text requires the kids to pause & reflect to figure out exactly how they will verbalize each sentence).

Once she had her post written, “Fair School,” I, of course, went ahead and shared it with my PLN.

She was amazed to watch the comments pour in, and even took action on a couple of their ideas. She has since shared the post with her teacher, and she plans to try and see if she can meet and then introduce her classmates to their custodian(s) to create more empathy (Thanks, Abe, and everyone else!!)

This has also led to a lot of discussion about how we can inspire people to do good things rather than just try to get them to stop doing bad things. Not an easy task for anyone, that’s for sure, but a very rewarding approach!

Once again, I have found this whole experience to positively reinforce the concepts of digital citizenship, flattened classroom walls, and #StudentVoice. When we provide opportunities for students to share their authentic voices on things that matter to them, powerful learning happens.

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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.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry Into Student Blogging

After a summer of enthusiastic research, I jumped headlong into the world of student blogging in 2013. None of the dozens of blogs, videos, or how-to’s could quite prepare me for just how much goes into it.

Even all these years later, I’ve continued reflecting on how I could improve. While recently reading “It’s Not All About Blog: The Work Before The Blog” on Two Writing Teachers, it came to me: why not share the preparation with students through inquiry?? One of Deb’s tips is to expose kids to lots of great examples of blogging. Today’s inquiry is designed to help kids explore quality exemplars of student blogging!

Resource #1: Edublog Awards

This is where you can find Edublog’s yearly student blogger awardees. This is a great resource if you’re looking for blogs built and maintained by students.

Resource #2: AutisticAndProud

This blog is run by Fionn and his mom with the following goal: “a boy with aspergers gives some views through his eyes…” It’s a wonderful example of how blogging can help us refine our feelings and experiences with words, while also inviting others along that journey.

Resource #3: TheLivBits Blog

I highlighted Olivia as an example of powerful digital citizenship at the beginning of this year. Her blog is another great source for students to look for peer-written, inspiring content — particularly when it comes to books, words, and being true to oneself.

Resource #4: Edublogger Class Blogs (sorted by type/grade)

These class blogs aren’t necessarily run by students (some are run by teachers, etc), but it can be a helpful place to go if you are looking for blogs in a specific group (ie, 1st graders, art, mathematics, etc).

Resource #5: Professional blogs

Checking our professional blogs run by grown-ups can always be worthwhile, too. A few of my favorite consistent blogs as an educator include ones by Pernille Ripp, George Couros, and Seth Godin.

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the connection between writing blogging?
  • What do you notice about the purpose of blogging?
  • What do you notice about how they set up their blogs? (font, text size, About page, widgets in the sidebar, etc)
  • What are the responsibilities of being a blogger to yourself? To your audience?
  • How do comments work?
  • How is perspective connected to blogging?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Connect Where Connection Would Previously Have Been Impossible” #DCSDblogs Challenge

This is in response to the #DCSDblogs challenge prompt, “What is the best thing you’ver ever learned from another teacher?” (Note: While I’m not associated with the Davenport School District, I’m grateful for the warm invitation to participate in their blogging challenge, which is a wonderful initiative to encourage teacher blogging)!

A couple weeks ago, I had the following opportunity:

It was delightful to share with those first graders my pantry and the school lunch I’d packed for my daughter, describing what fresh vs. processed foods we eat and why. They had some incredible questions that really made me stop and think, too!

Later, the folks at Skype reached out to me:

When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite ways to learn was to pop into other teachers’ rooms. Whether I was there to observe instruction or simply to drop in after school for a chat, I felt like I almost always walked away with fresh ideas or perspective.

Now that I’m away from the classroom for the time-being, this ability is no longer available to me. But at the same time, thanks to my amazing PLN, I can still “pop into classrooms” all over the world.

This small Skyping experience is just one of many opportunities for me to “connect where connection would previously have been impossible.”

Take my RSS feed for instance (I love Feedly because I can neatly organize all the websites I like to follow without flooding my inbox with email subscriptions).

As I was finishing up browsing the latest posts from my PLN in my feed a couple days ago, my mom came by. I was casually explaining to her about how thrilled I am to learn so much from so many incredible educators around the world, citing a thought-provoking post I was reading at that moment by A.J. Juliani:

The Game of School vs. The Game of Life

As I turned back to my feed, I commented aloud at a second post that resonated with me by Jennifer LeGarde (aka Library Girl): “The Difference Between I Can’t and I Won’t.”

And that was followed by a third by Pernille Ripp: “On Counting Down the Days.”

And then a fourth by Donalyn Miller: “Desertification by Donalyn Miller

Four in a row! Writing that made me feel, think, and reflect — each tugging me a little further along a path toward change. Pleased with the ready confirmation of what I’d been explaining to my mom about my PLN, I kept exclaiming to her, “See, here’s another! Look!” reading excerpts, and just geeking out in general.

Then, there’s Twitter. Every day, I get to browse photos of classrooms from India, Australia, Canada, Vietnam, and more. We exchange tips, share aha moments, and lend support. In this way, I still almost always “walk away” with fresh ideas or perspective as I did in my old building.

This ability to connect where before, I would have been completely cut off from the teaching world is nothing short of a miracle to me. I am grateful every day to be a “global citizen” and feel confident that when the day comes to return to the classroom, I won’t have too much catching up to do!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Lessons from Blogging for More Authentic Literacy Teaching

I expected that this opportunity to blog regularly would bring benefits to my writing over time — if nothing else, at least train words to flow a little more easily as I typed more and more.

But I did not anticipate the powerful lessons about writing that would also come my way, lessons that I can and most certainly will apply when I return to the classroom. They all stem from a place of authentic, raw honesty about what it really means to be in that writing arena.

1 Writing elements and structure are not about ticking off a checklist; they are about making your writing more enjoyable to read. When I skip out on a conclusion on a post, I might have convinced myself at the time that the rest of the content was sufficient and that a conclusion would just be excess. But more often than not, I know that what it really came down to a “good enough” mentality.

When I return to the classroom and we’re breaking down those elements of good writing, we will search together for that sense of completeness. We will analyze how and why pieces do or do not feel quite right, and I will work to help them discover and seek out each of those elements for themselves.

2 “Write only what you alone can write” (Elie Wiesel) Most of us have probably heard some variation of this advice before. But it was only when I really started to take it to heart that I began to understand. If I stuck to writing just what I thought was supposed to go on an educational blog, or if I just wrote about those trending topics all the time, I knew my desire to write anything at all would dry up. The surest way of making writing feel like a burden is to deny it any sense of personal touch. After all, the entire point of writing is connection; if we never connect with what we write ourselves, how can we expect to find meaningful connection with our audience? 

I know that in the past, I have spent far too much time trying to help my students prepare for those state writing assessments or otherwise drilling template, soul-less writing. Even if those tests don’t go away, we can still prioritize the notion of identifying and conveying the messages within each unique individual.

Trust the authentic writing process. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just follow one linear, well-defined process and produce good writing every time? The above-mentioned state writing assessments would have had me and my students thinking so (and we worked hard to meet all those requirements — 1 thesis statement, 3-4 reasons, 3-4 details per reason, x # of transition key words, and on and on).

The reality is, the authentic writing process requires a lot of trust. Trust that as we live our lives and engage in the things that matter most to each of us, inspiration (those stories only we can tell) will come. Sure, the viciously practical part of me might prefer to have the next 6 blog posts all neatly planned and ready on the assembly line. But if I am to truly discover the rich stories and powerful observations woven into the fabric of real life, then I must engage with real life, compartmentalizing less and engaging more.

I’m far from a perfect blogger or writer now. But I know I can hope for greater capacity and joy in the future as I work to live and write as authentically as possible.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto