What About When They Don’t Choose What’s Best For Them? #DCSDBlogs Challenge

This is in response to the #DCSDblogs challenge prompt on sharing mistakes. (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)!

We talk and share and write about giving students a voice and choice. To encourage them to own their learning process and make thoughtful, personal decisions along the way.

But after all the choices we give them, what happens when they don’t choose what’s best for them?

Like when you allow them to choose the classroom layout — and they choose rows, the most collaboration-unfriendly arrangement?

Or when you ask them for input on classroom management and rules — and they clamor to institute a stickers/candy/otherwise extrinsic-reward system?

Or when you turn time over to them to decide what kind of literacy word work task they will pursue — and they choose the option you know is least valuable to them right now?

In the past, when I encountered each of these, my response was to withdraw, clamp down control, or persuade.

But as I’ve learned from amazing teachers in my PLN (like Taryn BondClegg’s example when she encountered the exact experience of kids picking rows!), these, too, are precious learning opportunities. If we could just set aside our fears of falling behind or causing inconvenience, we might find a veritable goldmine of growth mindset/#FailForward/metacognition learning moments.

In the face of possible failure, if our response is to always snatch away the reins, our students will never have to opportunity to investigate and discover for themselves why and how these processes work. That means stepping aside and honoring their choices, no matter how painful it might be. 

Of course, sometimes their failures have more to do with our own failure — for instance, in the literacy example, we might not have done enough scaffolding to teach stamina, metacognition, or other tools to empower students to take informed action (see, “That Time I Failed at Inquiry“). In these instances, we can and should be constantly making adjustments in our approach as the teacher. But even when we’ve made mistakes, we should seize the opportunities to model our learning process!

In this way, the only real failure is when we try to mask it, hide it, or preempt it with control. Instead, let’s bring it into the light. Bring it into the learning.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How “Use Your Resources” Shaped My Classroom

“How do you spell _________?”

“What resources could you use to decide?”

“My pencil broke.”

“Could you use your resources to be a problem-solver?”

“I don’t get what we’re supposed to do at this point in our writing.”

“I bet you could use your resources to figure that one out.”

This was one of my go-to phrases with my students. But it wasn’t one of those silver bullet, use-this-and-the-kids-will-do-more-themselves kind of phrase. It took quite a bit of behind-the-scenes effort.

For one thing, there was a lot of ongoing dialogue behind it. 

We would discuss what it meant to be a problem-solver. I would always tell my students, “You may solve your problems in any way that doesn’t cause problems for you or anyone else.” For some, it took months before I could fully convince them that I meant it — for instance, that they could, in fact, use the bathroom without asking as long as they weren’t causing problems.

I would also continually spotlight when students would solve their problems in particularly creative ways, and would praise students for using resources effectively.

For another, I worked to set up a resource-rich environment that students felt comfortable using freely.

Whenever I gave any verbal instructions, I also wrote them on the board so they had that reference. Whenever we worked to uncover new writing or math tools, we wrote our strategies on anchor charts and then posted them as resources to check on. Whenever I brought in new supplies, I told my students about them and asked where would be the most effective storage place.

And perhaps most importantly, I worked to listen to student voice.  

They were always full of remarkable ideas for using and creating resources I hadn’t thought of.  The easy part of listening to student voice was keeping a suggestion box that we would review during weekly class meetings. The hard part was letting go to truly honor that voice by allowing sometimes imperfect or messy ideas to move forward.

After all, if “use your resources” meant they were only permitted to use my resources, or to solve problems within my set of solutions, I wasn’t actually cultivating an environment of student ownership. Real autonomy comes when those in charge don’t pretend they have all the answers.

I was certainly an imperfect executor of this ideal, but I’m enjoying the way I can use my current resources to learn more from my PLN to return to the classroom with a greater commitment to student voice, choice, and ownership.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Are You Sure?” #TeacherMom

It’s spring break, which means my 2 year old gets to have his big sister home from school for more make-believe play together. Yesterday, I overheard them playing “house.”

In the course of their play, I heard my daughter ask her little brother how he wanted his kitchen to look. After he gave his idea, she asked, “Are you sure?” She proceeded to try to convince him of all the reasons for why her way would be better.

It was like looking into the proverbial mirror.

I knew I was witnessing my 6 year-old simply playing out the many times I’ve asked her the same question — after all, in their game, she was the mom.

It made me pause and reflect on the idea of autonomy. I’ve written about its benefits for our students before, but I wonder just how effectively I walk the walk with my own children. When we offer them a choice, but then cast doubt on their decision, we don’t give them the full opportunity that real autonomy affords.

Of course, that’s not to say that my young children get to choose in all things, just as my students did not always have a choice. But if we want to build trust, confidence, and ownership, honoring the decisions they do get to make is pivotal.

And when we don’t, well, I guess we’ll just watch the cycle start all over with our own children…

featured image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto

A Teacher Flowchart on Innovative Learning

As I continue to pursue my one-word goal of synthesis, I’ve decided to give another graphic a shot! I love the process of visually uniting the learning concepts on my mind, as well as the opportunity to sift through recent ideas from my PLN that have inspired me most. I would love your feedback on this project! (Below is the jpeg version. See the clickable version here!)

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Reasons 1st Grade Isn’t Too Early to Teach Digital Citizenship #TeacherMom

For a kid whose internet use is still limited almost exclusively to Netflix, I’ve been surprised just how enthralled my first grader has been by White Ribbon Internet Safety Week. I’m sure that this has more than a little to do with all the prizes her school is raffling off for participation, but still.

She came home eager to chat about all the Internet safety “power boosts.” What surprised me even more than her enthusiasm was her ability to make important connections, even without the context of full internet use.

So today’s #TeacherMom post is a follow-up on my post entitled, “3 Reasons High School’s Too Late to Teach Digital Citizenship.”

#1: It helps them build intuition and confidence.

In the course of our conversation, my daughter and I watched a Youtube video about cyberbullying that featured some boys taking a picture of a classmate, adding unkind captions, and then circulating it through the school. When we finished, my daughter told me about how an older student asked to take a selfie with her at Halloween, and she wondered if that had been cyberbullying.

In that moment, the protective mama-bear side of me just wanted to blurt, “Never let anyone take your picture without permission [because cyberbullying]!” But instead, we discussed that moment in the video when the boys sneakily snapped that girl’s photo and walked away laughing. I asked her how that moment felt, and how it compared to how she felt when the student asked to take a picture with her in their Halloween costumes.

She concluded that the older student had not intended any harm in her situation, and was able to begin to learn about identifying and trusting her own gut feelings. And since I know I won’t be there in most of her future moments of uncertainty, I’m grateful that she is learning such discernment now.

(I also loved that she made a great connection here with a phrase from her teacher: “Hurtful or helpful?”)

#2: It helps them learn to be true to themselves.

Given that my daughter doesn’t yet have much of an online presence, it was a bit confusing for her when we discussed the “power boosts” that involved friends doing or saying silly things online. But we were able to start the discussion about how some people think that their internet lives are different than their “real” lives, and so they do and say things online that they would never say in-person. I loved that we are already building the foundation that we should “ALWAYS be the same in person as you are online” (LivBits, an inspiring young digital citizen I recently wrote about). As a result, she doesn’t even have time yet to develop the notion that her online self will differ from her in-person self.

#3: It gives the opportunity to model our own digital lives. 

Because the White Ribbon week focuses on safety for young kids, one of the power boosts says, “I will use tech to connect with my REAL-LIFE friends. People online are not always who they say they are.” In this context, we discussed how there are people who try to “make friends” online and get kids to meet with them to cause harm. However, I also got to tell my daughter about how now, as an adult, I get to connect with and learn from teachers all over the world that I haven’t met. But we also returned again to safety measures that I take now as well.

When my daughter wants to play outside with friends in our neighborhood, we talk both about the safety and the possibilities. I am grateful for the opportunity to lay the same foundation for her digital life.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Recovering from Perfectionism for Our Students, for Ourselves

Can you picture the first time you tried to write bubble letters? I don’t know about you, but for me, it did NOT go well. The letters bunched at the end of the page. Some parts of each letter were too fat. Others were too skinny. I knew my attempt looked nothing like my older sisters’ bubble letters, and even less like the cool typography I saw on posters.

I didn’t want anyone to see the ridiculous letters I had drawn. I wanted to hurry and throw the paper away and quickly revert to normal writing — quick! — before anyone could see that I had tried to deviate.

And that is pretty much how I felt about failure throughout my childhood.

AJ Juliani recently wrote about the difference between fail-ing and fail-ure, emphasizing the fact that when we focus on failing, we focus on the process and on how we pick ourselves back up. On the other hand, failure doesn’t have anything to do with getting back up, or with that resilience and determination.

And this is key for that wily perfectionism.

As Brene Brown wrote in The Gifts of Imperfection,

“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s 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.”

For our students, who are particularly susceptible to making efforts based on peers’ perceptions, we owe it to them to model what shaking off perfectionism looks like. To show the fails and, more importantly, the subsequent attempts.

These days, I try to be honest about what my “getting back up” looks like on a regular basis (When DIYpd Goes Terribly Wrong…Or Does It; That Time I Failed At Inquiry; What Driving Stick Shift Taught Me About Teaching). Where our students are concerned, I think that’s the least we can do if we expect them to take risks and to be courageous as they stretch, fail, and grow each day. And let’s be honest — it’s the least we can do for ourselves.

Here are a couple of videos (by New Age CreatorsDiana Laufenberg) that have inspired me in my continued journey to let go of perfectionism, and to truly learn from failure. May they do they same for you!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Happens When The Author Becomes A Person #TeacherMom

I admit it: when it comes to reading to squirrelly toddlers, I’ve cut corners. I’ve condensed paragraphs. I’ve skipped pages. I’ve proclaimed happily-ever-after’s within 17 seconds flat.

For the sake of packing in as much story as possible before a cardboard box won over audience attention, I even used to omit reading the author’s name. Fortunately, as my oldest’s patience for storytime grew, noting the author’s name was my first step in making literary reparations.

I would never have guessed the ramifications of such a small course-correction.

First, I noticed that my daughter started “reading” the authors’ names, too.

Next, she started memorizing said authors’ names and would make requests at the library accordingly (“I want a Kevin Henkes book! Can we read Mo Willems? How about Steven Kellogg?”). She started trotting right over to their shelves, recalling the location of those authors’ books even though she was a long way yet from reading.

When she eventually started writing her own stories, she was always sure to list herself as the author, too. And the illustrator. And she made sure everyone in her world knew that she wanted to be an author/illustrator when she grew up.

These days, the author is often as much a part of the conversations about books as the stories they’ve written. I tell her that I think she’ll love Clementine because I read Pax and loved Sara Pennypacker’s style. I show her other Shannon Hale fairy tales when she kicks off Princess in Black. We even got excited when we saw that Brendan Wenzel was the illustrator and author for the first time with “They All Saw a Cat,” (having already enjoyed his illustrations in “Beastly Babies” and “One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree”).

In short, the authors and illustrators have become people. We admire not just the work, but the people themselves — people with unique voices, styles, and humor. We get excited when they write a new book, not just because it’s a new book we enjoy, but because it’s something new from that beloved writer.

This practice of spotlighting the author carried over into my classroom, too, with discussions like, “Did you see what Charlotte Zolotow did in that poem?” or “How did Gail Carson Levine’s use of a super comma work there?” We started to notice the deliberate strategies and craft behind what made the writing magical. As a result, we started to see ourselves as capable of developing those strategies, too, recognizing the fact that every author once started where we are now.

When authors come to life, so does our own self-identity as writers. Because if they are real people instead of an abstract idea, then we can see the possibilities for ourselves, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto