The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

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Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

This week, I had the privilege to volunteer at my old school as one of the trainers for professional development day. I was asked to focus one of the workshops on inquiry planning and concept-based instruction in science and social studies. But the more I prepared, the more I realized that when it comes to inquiry, it’s not so much WHAT we do, as much as HOW we APPROACH.

So instead of spending our hour discussing science/social studies-specific ideas, we started off with a personal inquiry inventory, adapted from a couple posts by Kath Murdoch.

click for Kath’s post from which this inventory mainly originated

Next, participants used their inventory responses to determine which area of inquiry they wanted to investigate more.

As participants researched, they were also on the hunt for a sentence-phrase-word that helped them determine the difference between the same science/social studies activity used in a traditional teacher-driven classroom vs. an inquiry, concept-driven classroom.

I loved hearing the conversations, and engaging with participants as their research prompted new wonderings.

As everyone shared their Sentence-Phrase-Words, it led to more fabulous, thought-provoking discussions, such as…

  • …the fact that it’s a sacred trust to protect and cultivate the natural curiosity of our young charges — to not allow “the game of school” to drain that from them.
  • …the fact that everyone is on a different trajectory when it comes to adopting an inquiry approach — it’s not so much about how much of your day is dedicated to an inquiry-based instruction, but rather how consistently.

But by far my favorite part of our workshop was finishing up with “I used to think…Now I know…” sticky notes.

In case you can’t quite read them all in the above photo, I’ll list out the content here, too:

  • I used to think that students need to be taught. Now I know that they need to be guided.
  • I used to think the teacher had to give all the instruction using books, videos, etc. to teach about other cultures and countries. Now I know we can connect with other places in the world and talk with REAL people about their culture and country through technology.
  • I used to think that giving students agency can be scary. Now I know that with the right tools, it isn’t.
  • I used to think that joining curriculum and student-driven inquiry was too difficult to join in the classroom. Now I know it’s possible here as it is anywhere & not as hard as we convince ourselves.
  • I used to think that inquiry was complicated. Now I know we are making it complicated.
  • I used to think that questions were used solely at the beginning of a unit to drive the inquiry. Now I know questions can be a result of the inquiry and lead to more exploration.
  • I used to think inquiry was more work on the teacher. Now I know I need to lend it over to the kids — let them be kids.
  • I used to think that you had to fit everything in your lessons. Now I know that student driven lessons are more effective and fun.
  • I used to think that I always had to have an answer. Now I know that I don’t. Students can discover their answers through their own research.

I should add that thanks to the discussion during this workshop, as well as my continued online learning with teachers around the world, I need to add my own:

  • I used to think that to be an inquiry teacher, we must have students directing the learning 100% of the time. Now I know that it’s more about working toward creating a culture of ownership and curiosity, which can be present even during explicit teacher instruction.

Here are the links to all the research I shared with participants. Thank you so much to the many educators who so freely share their thinking and learning. I learn so much every day because of you! Kath Murdoch, Edna Sackson, Taryn BondClegg, Richard Wells, Sonya Terborg, Aviva Dunsinger, Sam Sherratt, and more.

Questioning:

Classroom culture:

Inquiry cycle for forward-moving planning:

Student-driven planning:

Hunter/Gathering for science/social studies:

Agency:

Focusing on CONCEPTS amid curriculum requirements:

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New Here?

As I’ve spent time this week trying to take care of some blogging technical difficulties, my thoughts have turned to re-reflect on why I do what I do here. So I wanted to share the introduction that I’ll be sharing with new blog subscribers:

“Are you the teacher that’s always asking questions? Constantly searching out better ways to reach your students? Daily taking risks in your learning alongside your young learners? If you’re here, probably.

My hope is that through reading and sharing and reflecting as a global professional learning community, we can in turn bring our students closer to a more personalized and meaningful education. I hope you’ll drop us a comment from time to time so that we can learn together — sharing what has (and has not) worked for you and your students.

I want to finish this little introduction by sharing a powerful video that reminds me that we don’t even know how far our students will go, if only we’re willing to help them ask questions, search out better ways, and take risks.

Looking forward to learning together!
Mary Wade”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

Jonathan So recently had the brilliant idea to share his “top 5 defining teaching moments.” I love the opportunity to reflect, so I’d like to share mine as well. Obviously, I have much less experience — only 4 years of teaching, and 3 years into my longterm leave to raise our little ones — but even in that short time, I have become acquainted with certain people, practices, and ideologies that have thoroughly and beautifully challenged my thinking.

#1: Edna Sackson’s WhatEdSaid: The first clear “defining moment” was coming across Edna Sackson’s blog. With eloquent simplicity, especially in her “10 ways posts” she helped me identify practices that were actually standing in the way of learning, including, but not limited to “playing guess what’s in my head,” talking too much, and focusing on control. She also helped me better understand what student ownership, inquiry, and “flattened” classroom walls look like. Just goes to show that even oceans apart, we can make a profound impact on one another as teachers!

#2: Brene Brown & Daring Greatly: I read this book in 2013 and can honestly say that it changed me, both as a teacher and as a person. I recognized that I was harboring all kinds of shame stories, scarcity mindsets (“not enough”), and vulnerability armor. And once I learned to recognize and dismantle these in myself through vulnerability, self-compassion, and imperfection, I started to recognize them in my own students. I immediately printed (with color ink, mind — you know a teacher means business to have something printed in color) and posted in my classroom her leadership manifesto and engaged feedback checklist, sharing with my students my journey toward greater authenticity and vulnerability.

#3: Learning the principle of modeling: Once I really started getting the hang of that vulnerability stuff, I was able to better understand what real, authentic modeling looks like and can do for student learning/relationships. Not only did I learn cultivate the more vulnerable sides of my own learning (such as creativity), but together with my students, we were able to attain a richness and depth in our writing, reading, math, and in everything else that I had not yet witnessed.

#4: When a parent shared with me years later the impact of poetry on her son. I had heard other teachers share the gratification of having an old student or their parents come back to share thanks at some point down the road. But when I experienced it, it was much more than a sense of gratification — it was unshakable evidence that when we make meaning the priority, it has longterm significance. This parent shared that her son had been so moved by our 5th grade analysis of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou that he had performed a recitation of it in high school. So it was with great joy last spring when I had the opportunity to attend his school’s Poetry Out Loud competition to watch him perform it in person.

#5: Recognizing the value of my voice as a classroom-less teacher. I started blogging shortly after being put on unexpected bedrest. For the first long while, I struggled believing that any educator would really want to read reflections from a teacher that wasn’t actually in the classroom. I even had trouble telling people “I am a teacher” in present tense, because, stripped of my classroom and precious students, I felt like an impostor.

But ever since an epiphany a year ago that helped me better organize my blogging efforts, I have been able to more clearly see my contributions, and to better accept and love my current role (especially as a #TeacherMom with my current, very small students). And this is why, when teachers share ways my words are actually influencing their classrooms/students, I am profoundly grateful because it reminds me that we can reach students in more than one way:

In the course of my blogging/PLN-growing, I have learned about so many other practices that also have the potential to be “defining moments,” but many of them will have to wait for full impact until I’m back in the classroom. So meanwhile, I will keep learning, blogging, and sharing (repeat) in the hopes that my thinking will become more refined and able to bring those practices to light for future students!

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

Top 20 Posts from 2016…That YOU Wrote

When I began this extended parental leave from teaching, I could never have dreamed how much I would still wind up learning even while away from the classroom. How many people would be willing to teach me. How often my thinking would be pushed.

When I share blog posts and articles by others in my PLN on social media, I often include a quote that was meaningful to me. I want you to know that each time I do this, it’s because you’ve taught me, challenged me, and lifted me. And I am so very grateful.

Here are 20 articles that particularly made me think in 2016. Their impact has been such that I have continued pondering them long after reading them. They continue to shape and inspire my thinking, writing, and living. Thank you for making my continued professional learning possible, and for enriching my life in all facets!

Working with Adults will Make Me More Patient with Children by Taryn Bondclegg:

Are You the Only Judge? by Edna Sackson:

The Least We Can Do by Pernille Ripp:

The Key to Learner Agency is Ownership by Bill Ferriter:

What If, It’s Not the “Program?” by Faige Meller:

Part of the Journey… by Jina Belnick:

Best. First. Week. of School. Ever by Taryn Bondclegg:

Student Led Conferences by Mr. Ullman:

Life Without a Number System by Graeme Anshaw:

Giving the Writing Process Back to Our Students (Part 2): Teaching Students To Find Their Own Mentor Texts by Jessica Lifshitz:

Slowing the Hands of Time by Darian Mckenzie:

Language by Megan Morgan:

Positive, Negative, or Neutral? by George Couros:

Going Gradeless Part 2 by Jonathan So:

Independent Reading: A Research Based Defense by Russ Walsh:

Allow Choice But Insist on Depth by Sam Sherratt:

Cuisenaire Around the World by Simon Gregg

Tools for Student-Driven Learning by Richard Wells:

Enliven Class Discussions With Gallery Walks by Rebecca Alber:

The New Liquidity Of Learning by David Culberhouse:

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto