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

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

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

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

What Trust Is Not…

Whenever we talk about trusting our kids, reservations inevitably arise. Safety? Wasted opportunities? Wasted time?

Often, these fears grow from a convoluted interpretation of what it means to trust our kids. So I’d like to start a discussion here on what trust is not. Trust is NOT…

negligence. Quite the opposite. When we define all the timetables, we are directors of our students, which really can take place at an arm’s length (I assign the work, you complete it by the end of class, test, repeat). When we trust, when become learners of our students, watching and listening as we immerse ourselves in their progress, offering guidance along the way. I found this approach to be beautifully captured by Faige Meller here:

We always wonder if they’re learning, if we’re doing a good job, if were covering the curriculum and if they’ll be ready for the next grade? We test, we do running records, we talk, we ask questions and we write report cards. But I have another idea!  How about we also watch the kids, we listen to them as they’re doing the learning. We see how they incorporate what we’ve taught in their authentic application of the learning as they write graphic novels; how they laugh gleefully reading to each other, discovering something in the story that was new to them; how they figure out how to cut paper to make pop ups (there’s math there folks,) and how eager they are to share with their teachers all that and more!

turning a blind eye. Sometimes, our students will waste their time, just as at times, adults waste time. But that doesn’t mean that clamping down on trust for them all is the answer. Trusting our students involves getting to know them extremely well. and then using that information to make more whole-picture decisions when they seem to fall short. This example from my friend Monte Syrie went viral on Bored Panda because people know it’s not about ignoring problems, but acknowledging the whole context with humanity.

a total lack of boundaries. That, of course, would be educational suicide. The nature of boundaries in a trust/student-centered classroom is a much more nuanced conversation. But mostly involves a lot of conversations with our students, both on the individual level and as a whole. More on that discussion here in “Baby Gates & Boundaries.”

insisting on too little structure too soon. Especially after years of being trained that teachers make all the important decisions regarding their learning, it’s understandable that many of our students struggle with ownership being given back to them.

We recognize that working toward greater levels of trust, along with that “gradual release,” is always an ongoing process, guided by how well we’ve come to know our kids and gaining their trust in return. (planning on centering next week’s provocation around this!)

lack of planning. When we become more focused on following and trusting the child, we work to become experts of the mandated curricula so we can identify where to help students make connections in their own learning paths. Sonya terBorg describes this well in her post on control:

Giving control of learning to the child doesn’t mean sitting in the corner with your feet up and letting them flounder.  It means becoming an observer, a guide, a road map of sorts – ready to be referenced.  It means being attuned to what is going on in your classroom and being prepared to ask for clarification from the children in your class.  It means posing the right questions, sharing the right provocations, providing the appropriate amount of time for them to work their magic.

unwarranted risk. We may face the raised brow by those who claim that the system — the programs, the lectures, the testing, the teacher control — is working just fine. For the few that still believe that, it may be hard to convince them that any deviation is necessary. But for those of us who see that kids aren’t retaining information fed to them in traditional school, aren’t applying learning in ways they find meaningful, or aren’t developing the skills the 21st century (and 22nd) will demand of them, we see we really don’t have a lot to lose with making a change. You’ll find a lot of us on Educator Voices, a shared blog of teachers who “share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo!”

In the end, we may worry about what might happen if we trust our kids, but what we should be worrying about is what might happen if we do not. The benefits and opportunities far outweigh the perceived risks of trusting our students, as Taryn writes, “to make mistakes, fail, run out of time, learn, reflect and, inevitably, grow.”

(by the way, I have to throw out that this totally has #TeacherMom applications, too. See one of my favorite parenting sites, LetGrow, to learn how we can better trust kids to own their own childhoods).

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Mindful of the Messages We Send About Their Book Choices #TeacherMom

My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:

Jennifer Holm

Ben Hatke

Ben Clanton

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Raina Telgemeier

Dana Simpson

Geronimo Stilton

Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?

Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:

Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!

Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.

What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

Can We Talk About Rationing Screen Time? #TeacherMom

First, let me be clear. I am not in favor of kids spending excessive amounts of time on their devices. The addiction factor, sleep issues, and even growing risk of depression/suicide are all well-known issues for me.

7th grade teacher Pernille Ripp has even recently gone #phonefree in her classroom for these last couple of months, a move her students seem to love as it allows them to more comfortably share vulnerable learning processes.

What I want to discuss is the impact of rationing screen time for our kids. I’m talking about bargaining for behavior, tallying minutes, and otherwise keeping such a tight grip on the amount of time our kids spend on screens that they begin to fixate on it.

It reminds me of what happens when we focus so thoroughly on “forbidden foods” that we end up binge-eating.

What if, instead…

…we regularly discussed the importance of balance?

…we explicitly taught even our young kids that tech can be a tool for empowerment, rather than just an device for entertainment?

 

…we created reasonable default screen time allowances our kids can count on so they don’t have to spend their days worrying when they will next be allowed to watch a movie or play a video game?

…we talked honestly with our kids about our screen time habits — both how we use it for practical and/or positive purposes, and how we are trying to improve not-so-positive habits?

…we set up rules and limitations in a shared manner, learning together about what helps us achieve balance and healthy lifestyle?

Our kids have been born into an remarkable and unprecedented age of technology. Let’s find ways to work alongside them as they work to develop healthy, positive, and balanced habits.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto