There is Room for Us All. There is Room for Us All. There is Room for…

What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage.  Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me.  Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters. ~Allison Stanger

These are the words of a professor who participated in an attempted campus event for Charles Murray to speak (attempted because chanting, chair/window-banging, fire alarm-pulling, etc. ultimately prevented his voice from being heard).

Most, if not all, teachers I know advocate for the principle that we teach our students how to think, not what to think. They invite debate, research, critical thinking, and civil discourse.

So, what is happening here? What is getting so broken when assumptions and hatred win over open-mindedness and compassion?

I believe it comes down to dehumanizing those that seem on “the other side,” even as we work to dispel intolerance. And while I want to make it clear that I don’t believe teachers are to blame for this occurrence, I believe there are some important questions we can ask ourselves to ensure we are, at the very least, not contributing to the problem:

  • Do our students get the sense that there’s a “right answer” when discussing social justice issues?
  • Do we make more room for social issues that align with our personal ideology than with a wider scope (ie, issues facing only one group, a specific political agenda, etc)?
  • When there are misconceptions, do we work to familiarize our students with the individuals around whom those misconceptions center? (see a great example of Pernille Ripp’s class Skyping with a refugee).
  • When we direct our students to research material, do we ensure it is as neutral as possible, or at the very least, balanced?
  • When we disagree with our students’ (and usually their parents’) opinions, how do we respond? What measures do we take to ensure a safe exchange of ideas to promote learning for all (see lessons I learned when parents of one of my 5th grader started pulling their student early each day to miss our read-aloud that involved race)?
  • And perhaps most important of all: When we encounter opinions that sharply clash with our own, do we ourselves start to define that student/parent/colleague more by that opinion than by their humanity? In other words, do we fixate more on how we differ than how much we share in common?

As I have continued to ponder this matter, I realize that I keep seeing this message again and again — that there is genuine power in focusing on what makes each of us human. Here are a few examples from recent resources:

#1: From “Why do Labels Matter?” by SoulPancake

“If we get curious about each other and don’t stick in our bubble, I think that actually can save the world…Because that is where you get to the unifying things…You realize, oh, someone who has been criticized their whole life for what they look like — all of a sudden I remember the places where I’ve been criticized and I go, We have common ground there. So in a sense, we are all the same, but it’s through the differences that you get there.”

#2: “Drawing a Line in the Sand” from Seth Godin’s blog

Problems aren’t linear, people don’t fit into boxes. Lines are not nuanced, flexible or particularly well-informed. A line is a shortcut, a lazy way to deal with a problem you don’t care enough about to truly understand.

#3: “The Tough Work of Improving School Culture” by Brendan Keenan

via Edutopia by Brendan Keenan

#4: Trailer for Accidental Courtesy by Daryl Davis

“For the past few decades the black musician, actor and author has made it his mission to befriend people in hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan by calmly confronting them with the question:

“How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?””

Even when we vehemently disagree, there is room for us all. Because of our humanity. And this is a message our students deserve to have both protected and modeled in every classroom.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

A Provocation into Online Research, Media Litearcy, & #FakeNews

The content for this week’s provocation began with me investigating all this viral talk on #FakeNews. The more I researched, the more I came to two conclusions:

1. The need for educators to help students discern accurate sources is not new, though the stakes are getting higher if we don’t succeed.

2. Rather than focusing on the current FakeNews frenzy, it’s more valuable for us to step back and examine the big concepts surrounding the issue.

So yes, this provocation is useful if you’re wanting to talk to your students about Fake News. But more importantly, it’s more useful for helping your students recognize all that online research entails: the good, the bad, the ugly, and why all that matters for them.

Resource #1: “Where Things Come From”

Resource #2: What IS Media Literacy?

Resource #3: What is Media Literacy?

Another resource from TED_Ed on verifying factual news.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why do we ask questions?
  • How does online research compare with other research (from books, newspapers, etc.)?
  • How has online research changed over the years?
  • What is the power of information that can spread quickly?
  • What is our responsibility to cite and share accurate information?
  • Why are there different perspectives on what sources are trustworthy?
  • What role does social media play in research?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Mirage of Success: Learning the Math Trick

If you, like me, have ever waffled on the debate of whether we “just teach them the trick” for math before, take a careful look at this side-by-side comparison of students showing their math thinking.

Example A:

Example B:

My question is this: even if teaching the trick gets students to pass the test and ace the class and get into the college–have we, as educators, truly done our jobs?

If we’ve never heard their creative approaches to making sense of math because we’re too busy telling them the right way to “borrow,” have we joined them in their learning journey, or are we scripting it?

If we just keep focusing our energy in helping them memorize, are our students ever going to see themselves as competent mathematicians? 

featured image: Shubhojit Ghose

Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores With My First Grader? #TeacherMom

“What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose of childhood, all in furtherance of some hoped-for admission to a tiny number of colleges or entrance to a small number of careers, that that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids.” (Julie Lythcott-Haims from the TED Talk below)

This quote comes to mind as I review my 6 year-old’s first academic report from the first month of school. I look at the paper and wonder what I should with it (besides discussing it with my daughter, as per the instructions at the bottom).

Should I high-five her or take her out for a treat because she has high scores in literacy? If we did that, what exactly would we be celebrating? The scores or the literacy? And if we celebrated scores when she has only ever read or written because she loves reading and writing, would she start loving the scores more than the reading and writing?

Should I have her stop writing so many stories after school to make way for more math practice because her scores aren’t quite as high there? If we did that, what exactly would we achieve? Raised math scores? Lowered writing scores? A sense of pressure associated with mathematics?

All these thoughts swirled as I obediently reviewed the report with her, when suddenly, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you telling me all these numbers?”

It made me stop and wonder, why was I? Was I conveying the idea portrayed in educator Edna Sackson’s comic below?

ednasacksoncartoongrades

So far, scores don’t mean anything at all to her. She simply sees herself as a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, thinker, and artist. Why should I should I get in the way of that by pushing her, when there is already such a strong intrinsic pull toward learning? As Edna also so eloquently shared years ago,

“School is often about push. Push to succeed. Push to get high grades. Push to achieve. Push to fit in. Push to participate. Push to comply. Push to work harder.

But the above might not be the most motivating ways to engage students and promote learning…

Learning is about pull. A strong provocation that awakens curiosity. A powerful central idea that excites interest. Essential questions that draw students into meaningful learning. Learning experiences that encourage wondering, exploring, creating and collaborating. Opportunities to construct meaning and transfer learning to other contexts.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the report and I deeply appreciate all her teacher’s efforts in conveying her progress. The comments regarding her behavior were especially valuable in our discussion.  And had her numbers conveyed concerning trends (ie, consistently low scores and signs of significant struggling), I would be anxious to be aware in order to work with the teacher for interventions and support.

But for now, she learns because of her intrinsic love of learning. And I’m happy to continue to provide opportunities at home (and hear about those that occur at school) that continue to help pull that interest and enthusiasm.  

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What If? On Coauthoring Learning Reports

I feel a pang of annoyance. Parent follow-up every day? I wonder if I should feel insulted by a lack of trust. And doesn’t that parent know I have 25 other students to monitor? And what if all of their parents requested the same level of communication?

Sadly, such was my attitude when I first started teaching whenever a parent asked for more frequent communication on their child.

Fortunately, over time, I started to recognize just how important it is for parents to have a better window into their children’s learning–not just because of the fact that they have entrusted them to my care for 7 hours a day, but also because I came to grasp just how really terrible grades are at conveying meaningful learning.

Student-led conferences helped me take one of the first leaps forward in creating that window. The student ownership, the authentic conversations, and the overall sense of meaning facilitated unprecedented parent/student/teacher communication. (the link above will take you to that process, along with a lot of pdf resources)!

Student blogging came next in furthering the communication cause. I knew I wanted my students to be able to showcase their learning journeys in ways their parents could more easily access. The students loved commenting on one another’s blog posts, but the real joy came as parents started leaving responses, too–words of encouragement, support, and love.

Now that I’m away from my classroom, I have time to reflect on how I can further build the school/home window.  Michael Bond-Clegg’s recent post, “Are We Prioritizing the Tradition of a Report Card Over Student Learning?” really got me pondering this when he writes:

timely-learning-reports

Here are just a few of my what ifs for now. I would love to hear your feedback, especially if it’s something you’ve tried/dreamed about as well!

  • What if teachers and students regularly coauthored learning reports (do you think something like this would work–I was thinking that notes could be added in each relevant category as learning developments worth noting arise, not as a chart to be completely filled each week)?
  • What if teachers openly discussed our anecdotal notes with each student and asked for their feedback?
  • What if parents were able to write and respond to notes with what they are seeing at home with regards to specific learning goals?
  • What if students were able to write and respond to notes with what they are experiencing with regards to specific learning goals?
  • What if we completely eliminated surprise “grades” and moments like those illustrated in the meme below?
Meme Binge
Meme Binge

featured image:

Examining Learning vs. Education: Introducing the 2017 HGU Scholarship

Ownership over learning. My favorite element of 21st century education. It stands for much of what has often been missing in the history of formal schooling: encouragement to pursue personal meaning, challenges to take risks, empowerment to share a voice.  As I carefully selected this phrase in one of last year’s prompts, I hoped to witness some of these moments of authentic student ownership through our scholarship’s five creative mediums.

Though the efforts of last year’s applicants were inspiring, authentic, and reflective, it quickly became clear to me that this notion of true ownership over learning is still a mirage for too many of our students. Too many have been trained to believe that ownership is simply working hard enough for the grade, or otherwise looking outward for the measure of success.

But with companies like Google completely abandoning typical hiring standards like GPAs since they have found no correlation to successful employees, and other companies looking for digital portfolios instead of resumes, the traditional model of schooling is quickly becoming less relevant. As Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte stated:

“Companies want someone who thrives on challenge [and is] willing to learn something new.  [They want] a seeker of information, willing to adapt. If you’re the type of person that wants to be told what to do, you might be a straight A student. In fact you might even be a better student than the other type of person.”

And of course, it’s really much less about what 21st century companies want, and much more about cultivating personal authenticity. It’s just that fortunately, it seems the world is starting to recognize the convergence of the two.

So instead, for this year’s scholarship, we’re asking students to examine the issue themselves. The 2017 prompt is as follows: Represent your views about the concepts of education vs. learning.

It is my hope that it will encourage greater reflection and dialogue on what matters most during the many years we invest in formal schooling.

For additional information on our 2017 creative multimedia scholarship, see the overview here (note the graphic at the top–for someone with a longstanding awkward relationship with creativity, I’m grateful for opportunities for growth like these as I try to lead out in pushing my comfort zone), and detailed FAQ’s for each medium here. It is available to high school seniors and college students with at least one year left of school, and has a deadline of April 16, 2017.

Finally, my reflections from last year’s participation have prompted me to also share a list of some do’s and don’t’s. These are meant to help promote the creativity, rather than to impede it (not to mention, to make sure that we will actually be able to review your submission)!

DO:

  • Do have a great time expressing yourself through your medium! The joy always shines through!
  • Do double/triple-check the sharing settings so we can view your file. There were quite a few that we could not evaluate last year because of this.
  • Do choose a creative title to help your piece stand out and to do it justice!

DON’T:

  • Don’t try to force a medium for your piece that isn’t a natural fit (ie, submitting a video that is really just you speaking would be better suited as a written piece).
  • Don’t submit a random assignment from a class. The lack of meaning and connection to the prompt is always apparent.
  • Don’t submit a formal ESSAY! This is a creative, multimedia scholarship. The creative writing medium is for creative pieces, including short fiction stories, poetry, screenplay/scripts, monologues, etc.

In My Future Classroom…

Though I know stepping away from the classroom for the time being was the right decision for me, I can’t help but continually dream about my future classroom upon my return. Today, I realized I need to get it down in writing for several reasons:

  • To create a working blueprint as my PLN continues to teach and challenge my thinking.
  • To establish personal accountability One of my worst fears is that I’ll instinctively return to old habits and comfort zones despite all I’ve learned and will continue to learn in this interim!
  • To remind myself and others that meaningful change is possible no matter our location/circumstances. My last classroom was at a PYP school where student inquiry and concepts-over-content are thoroughly embraced, and I’m not sure I’ll have that same opportunity again. However, no matter my future environment, I want to plan for what will be within reach instead of worrying about what won’t.
  • To concretely reflect on and prepare for the day I interview for my next teaching job. Thanks, George Couros, for inspiring me to do so with your recent post on interview questions for innovative teachers.
  • To encourage other teachers to share their classroom visions for next year, whether they have been away from the classroom or not. Please share! I would love to collaborate and learn from your vision, too!

So here we go. In my future classroom

…my students will have choice. The default has always been teacher control unless there’s a good reason for student choice. Why not change that default to student choice unless there’s a good reason for teacher control? Daily 5 literacy centers. Student-led conferences. Conversations about metacognition to help students internalize their own learning process and needs.

…my students will have voice. In our local community, I hope to help our students search out ways to apply and extend their learning in our classroom, school, and neighborhoods. In our global community, I will be on the hunt for networking opportunities that best suit their needs and audience, from blogging to building PLNs.

…my students’ parents will have a window. Our classroom and student blogs met this purpose beautifully in the past. But I’m also open to new possibilities when I return based on what would be most accessible for parents–Facebook, email, even home visits. I’m also looking forward to watching new platforms unfold by the time I’m back in the classroom.

…process will be proudly displayed and celebrated. I used to love our publishing parties at the end of writing units, and while I don’t think I’ll necessarily abandon them, I hope to search out ways to better celebrate the process along the way. Visible Thinking Routines have particularly caught my eye in recent months as a great way to better bring that process out of obscurity.

…my students will be seen as individuals first. Blind demands for achievement and performance are not about students–they are about rigid notions of “accountability” and timetables.  And when we allow ourselves to be swept away by these demands, we risk losing sight of our students as individuals. The lyrics from Donnie Darko’s  “Mad World” recently reminded me of what this can feel like for our students:

“Went to school and I was very nervous

No one knew me, no one knew me

Hello, teacher tell me what’s my lesson

Look right through me, look right through me.”

I will make the effort to look beyond data sheets and behavior issues so that my students know that I see them. That I see their perspectives and preferences. That I see their strengths and interests. That I see their stresses and victories. After all, real learning is messier than a benchmark chart would have us believe.

…learning will be valued above “doing school.” I used to think compliance was a tool for helping students learn respect, discipline, and cooperation. Now I know that it often ends up diminishing learning–not to mention that it’s less effective at instilling the above values than I thought anyway. I’ve also learned that activities and tasks can have the appearance of learning while actually being bereft of deeper, concept-based understanding.

…assessments will be ongoing and meaningful. My heart recently sank as I read Bill Ferriter’s “Are Grades Destroying My Six Year-Old Kid?” But his final recommendation reinforced my resolve to be part of the change when I resume my teaching career:

“Students — especially those who struggle to master expected outcomes — should be gathering and recording evidence of the progress that they are making on a daily and weekly basis.  More importantly, they should be actively comparing their own progress against examples of mastery and setting individual goals for continued improvement.  Finally, they should have as strong an understanding of what they’ve mastered as they do of the skills that they are struggling with.  Evidence of learning has to mean something more than “here’s what you haven’t learned yet.”

I constantly see new tech for facilitating this kind of ongoing assessment (So far, I’ve found SeeSaw and Google Classroom particularly appealing). But I know that it will be about much more than the tech–it will be about my attitude in helping my students take authentic ownership over their learning process.

What did I miss? What’s on your list? Please share below in the comments!

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto