Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Canceling Extracurriculars #TeacherMom

A bouldering class sounded like the perfect idea. As a former rock climber myself, what could be better than getting my adventure-loving daughter started early?

But then the class got pushed back into a more hectic territory for our schedule. As we tried to rearrange schedules and manage dinner and arrange transportation, I suddenly realized: it was more than ok for us to just drop it.

Here’s my highly scientific equation for why:

Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!

There’s already enough hustle in our lives just to keep things running smoothly.

Which is why extracurriculars are having to meet an increasingly stringent set of requirements at my house:

  • kids must be able to walk or bike there (which means I don’t have to play my least favorite role of taxi, we get exercise, and we help our air quality. Win-win-win.)
  • cannot compete with meal times (I’ve found that it’s way too slippery a slope for me to be like, yeah, fast food is fine just for now…)
  • must have a compelling reason to take kids away from free play time (which is at least as valuable as the vast majority of extracurricular activities). See #BeTime video below:

Yes, the bouldering class would have been fun. Yes, we probably could have made the schedule conflicts work for a while.

But life is made of all our decisions for today. I’d rather stop putting off when we’ll live exactly the way we want to, and start doing that right now. And that starts with eliminating any activity that doesn’t carry its weight. No regrets.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Strategies to trust students to own learning when they seem uninterested

Sonya asked a question that is so important to acknowledge when we’re working to cultivate student agency and ownership over their learning:

This is different from non-compliance. Non-compliance asks, “how can we get them to do what we ask?” And interestingly enough, for many students, non-compliance issues are often resolved when we shift to the agency-based question that Sonya’s tweet is really about: “How can we inspire students to own their learning?”

But what about when they do comply, and they do take some ownership of their learning, but, as Sonya writes, they “are satisfied with the minimum possible effort?” Here are a few thoughts.

1. Partner with parents. It’s entirely possible that if you just ask, “What have you found motivating for your child?” you’ll find the parents have been at a loss, too. But you might find more success if you try asking something more specific, such as, “What are the top 3 topics that make your child light up?” or “Can you share with me a time when your child was excited to take the lead on something?” This is also an important step to take to check if there might be something bigger going on in the student’s life that is making learning a low priority.

2. Hold regular conferences. I appreciated the details of what makes a conference effective in the recent post by Lanny Ball, “What to do when a writer doesn’t say much?” It’s geared toward writing conferences, but the same qualities can be applied to any kind of conference feedback:

  • “Happens in the moment

  • Specific and calibrated

  • Focused and honest

  • Offers one (maybe two) practical tip(s)

  • Lays out a plan for follow-up

  • Demands a high level of agency from the student”

3. Demystify coming up with ideas. For many students, coming up with an idea can seem like something only those people can do. Help them demystify this by showing them process, process, process. Talk about your own process. Highlight peer process. Share experts’ process. Julie Faltako’s “The Truth About the Writing Process” below is a great example of this (as is her Twitter account, as she regularly turns to others for ideas). And of course, keep a chart of strategies nearby for when we get stuck!

I also love “Where Do Ideas Come From” by Andrew Norton

4. Use “Must, Should, Could” for time planning with exemplars. I absolutely love David Gastelow’s “Must, Should, Could” chart with his young students.

from IB Educator Voices blog

For students who struggle with coming up with ideas, I would definitely provide a menu from which they can select, hopefully gradually opening up over time as they become confident.

5. Expand their knowledge base & sense of self-discovery. 

I love inspirational videos like the ones below–I often include them in the provocation posts I write. They help lift us out of the rut of the everyday and help us glimpse issues and passions we might not have even considered. Sharing this kind of work with students, and then finding opportunities to research deeper, might help provide the knowledge base that will awaken a student to a sense of his/her own capacity.

Speaking of knowledge, check out this simple but illuminating visual from Margaret (Maggie) Lewis in Sonya’s thread:

None of the above is foolproof. Working with human beings is messy and will requires serious trial-and-error. As Alfie Kohn recently wrote about motivation:

“Working with people to help them do a job better, learn more effectively, or acquire good values takes time, thought, effort, and courage.”

It’s why we need each other in this process! If you have additional strategies or resources, I’m sure we’d all be grateful if you could add to the list!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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I Was Right To Fear Lack of Routine #TeacherMom

When I became a stay-at-home mom 4 years ago, it was the first time I didn’t have bells telling me where to be for the first time since I was 5. And I was terrified.

How was I supposed to structure my time wisely without anyone checking off my attendance?

How was I supposed to feel productive without someone to report my work to?

How was I supposed to find routines that worked my (then) 2 very small students as well as myself?

I can now say with confidence that I was right to have all these fears. They are exactly what makes being an at-home parent so difficult. They are some of the things I miss about being in the classroom even now.

But having navigated them for the last 4 years, I can say that I am grateful to have experienced them. They give me more insight on why it’s so important to honor student agency and teach them to be masters of their own time and learning before they leave the structure of the bells.

They have also given me a lens to how messy real life is — and to accept and even celebrate it. Reality is…

….some days, we feel like we’re on our A-game, and other days, we just don’t.

…some days, we feel inspired and energized, and other days, we have trouble even remembering that we were once capable of energy.

…some days, the very small students in our lives are agreeable and engaged, and other days, they are cranky and irrational (this one tends to change by the hour or even minute at times).

All of this is not only ok, it’s what makes life rich.

I continue to take my current role as an at-home parent one day at a time. I still look forward to classroom teaching again in a few years. But I now know that each day of this messy, bell-less life is a blessing for me now, and will be for years to come.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home #TeacherMom

When I read Edna Sackson’s “Building a Culture of Agency,” my first thought was to bookmark it for when I return to the classroom.

But as another typical day progressed with my 3 small students, I kept thinking of Edna’s post. I realized I could definitely benefit from inventorying my culture of agency at home, not least because of how I’ve learned that more agency leads to less classroom management — and we could really use less “classroom management” in our home right now!

The questions in bold below are her overarching questions, to which she also attached sub-questions for more in-depth reflection (be sure to check out her post to read those)!

“What sort of language will you use?”

Overall, we have good metacognitive dialogue happening, including naming learning skills (“Wow, you are making an interesting connection right there!”) and referring to my students as authors, scientists, etc.

Two questions that stood out to me most as opportunities for growth were, “Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work” and “Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?”

It’s so easy to get swept away by all the tasks that must be accomplished each day, and it becomes a temptation for me to focus on the work, as well as to multi-task everything. But I have noticed that when I do make time for undivided attention, it goes a long way in the culture of agency at home.

“How is the environment organised to foster agency?”

This one is always a work in progress, but overall, I feel like we’re moving in the right direction for agency.

“What sorts of opportunities are offered?”

Right now, I’d say that many of our learning opportunities come from the books my kids select at the library. For my oldest, she also has the choice to share her thoughts for a broader audience on her personal blog (see “In Which the 7 Year-Old’s Blog Post Gets More Comments than Mine“), Youtube (her stop-motion video-making is still going strong) and even occasionally here on this site when we co-write posts.

As I reflect on opportunities for my two- & four-year olds, my thoughts turn to games, blocks, Lego’s, play dough, and other creative experiences we could engage in together with more regularity. I think that especially as my daughter starts school again, I could renew the self-selected magnet schedule below for my 4 year-old to consider the possibilities for his time.

from “What Child Autonomy is Not”

“How is time managed? 

Self management of time has often been encouraged, and our approach is constantly shifting (especially to make sure my kids aren’t wasting their time “waiting for the teacher”). In addition to the magnet schedule above, we have tried…

…the week wheel:

from “Rethinking Calendar Time”

…general week/month planning:

…planning hours to scale (½ inch = 1 hour)

from “Agency is not just for school”

…digitally shared to-do lists:

from “No Secret Parent Business Either”

“What dispositions do you model?”

All three sub-questions Edna asks here regarding openness and vulnerability fluctuate with my emotional state. I notice that when I’m feeling stressed and behind-schedule, I am less likely to discuss my process with my kids.

However, my kids are merciful; when I share how I’m feeling, they tend to be patient. All the same, I would like to do more to explain my strategies for getting back on track so they better comprehend self-regulation.

“What routines are in place to encourage agency?”

I actually just recently added a visual prompt for our morning and bedtime routines. Secured to the bathroom mirror with packaging tape, these little pictures help my kids get on with their daily routines independently. 

“What kind of expectations are clearly set?”

We’re always having conversations about the importance of intrinsic motivation. But there’s definitely still a major learning curve for initiative over compliance. Part of this may be that initiative still looks pretty destructive for my 2- and 4 year old boys. But I am working to adjust my expectations and our environment to meet their needs.

Here’s a recent example: from time to time, we check out what’s called a “Discovery Kit” at the library, a themed box including new toys, books, puzzles, etc. We love playing with them, but it’s difficult for me to keep track of everything, and the fines for missing pieces/late dues add up fast.

One day I was telling my 4 year-old that I didn’t know if we could get another discovery kit because he had misplaced one of the pieces. Later, I expressed my concerns to my husband, and he thoughtfully said, “Well, he is 4. Maybe it’s just that the discovery kits require us to supervise them.”

Another option would be to stop borrowing the kits for now, but I see now that I would want to make sure my 4 year-old knew that it wouldn’t be his fault.

We have high expectations for responsibility, but developmental readiness must factor into those expectations.

“How do interactions foster agency?

I really like the question, “Can they tell that you trust them to learn?” It’s clear through his expression that even my 2 year-old can tell a lot about what I’m feeling about him and his choices. When I work to reassure him, especially when he’s trying new things, he grows in his confidence to act independently.

“What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?”

Processing my thoughts through this inventory has been a great step for me today. As parents and teachers, we need to be honest but kind with ourselves in this process. Working with kids is messy, but as we work toward a stronger culture of agency, they will astonish us with what they are capable of!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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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

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How To Get Good Grades

Success in school is often measured by the grades you get. For some of us, getting good grades is more than difficult–it seems like no matter how we try, we can’t follow through. With this list on getting good grades (that applies to all levels), maybe we can change that and get on the path to good grades…


Five steps to getting good grades

I. Get Organized

If you’re anything like any of us at HGU, we sometimes get caught up in the organization and forget to move past the step. We sometimes find ourselves lost in endless check-lists and to-dos that never get done. Don’t get us wrong, organization is important (hence why it’s on the list), but don’t get lost in it!

  • Get a planner. Most phones have calendars, and smartphones have apps you can download for daily checklists. (See our top smartphone apps post here). At the beginning of every semester, get your syllabus and go through your calendar/planner and mark all the due dates, tests, and projects. You can even color code if you’re feeling crazy.
  • Organize your workspace. This helps avoid losing things, and it helps our minds feel in order if our space is in order. Don’t believe us? Try it out!
  • Schedule time for study. Decide how much time you need to devote to each class and pick specific times at which you will buckle down and study.

II. Learn the Information

They key to getting good grades is learning the information. This seems obvious, but so many people try to get by with cramming and learning just enough to get through each test. That method is more stressful and less predictable. Sure and steady is the way to go! As a similar warning from the organization section, don’t let your desire for perfect flash cards take you so long that you don’t actually get to study them.

  • Figure out your learning style. Are you a visual learner? Auditory? Hands-on? A combination? Figure it out, then apply those methods to your study and your in-class note-taking.
  • Read the texts. Everyone hates this, everyone tries to avoid this and most people don’t make it past this point on the list. Why? Because college reading is hard, we totally understand. That’s why we made a post with tips for college reading. If you’re not in college yet, this is still incredibly helpful and it can’t hurt to prepare.
  • Take good notes. Notes are critical to good grades, because the things that are taught in class are what you’re going to be tested on. Like we said at the first bullet of this section, your learning style demands you take notes in a certain way. If you’re an auditory learner, don’t spend the class time with your head in a notebook; instead, listen and during breaks or lulls, take a moment to write/type the things you remember from class. Write in the margins of your books. Place sticky-notes in important places. Clearly mark them.
  • Study your notes. If study guides aren’t provided by your teacher, find out what will be on the test and make your own. Review your class notes during specific study times that you’ve set apart for the day or week, even if the next test isn’t for weeks. This helps cement the information and you’ll find yourself actually learning!
  • Get friends involved. Friends or classmates are great for helping you learn the material. Ask them to quiz you. It’s important to say your answers aloud. This forces you to form your thoughts into sentences and makes concepts turn into more concrete statements.
  • Participate in class. There’s a reason participation is usually part of your grade. Those that participate in discussions, activities, and study groups are more likely to understand the information from multiple perspectives. Also, this is a great skill to practice for situations outside of school. Being able to discuss respectfully and maturely are great qualities.
  • Ask for help. If you don’t understand, ask. Teachers are there to help you. It’s literally what they get paid for. Ask the questions. If you’re not comfortable doing it in class, ask for a meeting, but sometimes you asking a question in class will help other students who might also have that same question. A lot of schools offer free tutors to students, so check out those options at your learning institutions and take advantage of them.

III. Do. your. homework. Seriously. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

The hardest part for most people is doing the assignments or readings that feel like busy work. Well, whether you like them or not, agree with them or don’t, if you want to get good grades, you have to do them. It’s important to realize we’re not entitled to good grades. You have to work for them, and like most things in life, that sometimes means doing things you think are stupid, dumb, or of no use. Good grades get you to good colleges which give you more opportunities–and then you can make the rules!

  • Do assignments ASAP. Starting assignments right after they’re assigned will help you remember and apply what you learned in class. Even if the assignment isn’t due for two weeks, do it right away. Nip that procrastination flower right in the bud.
  • Do extra credit. Yes, it is more work that isn’t required, so why would you do it? Here’s a great life lesson: people are separated in life by whether or not they choose to go the extra steps by doing more than is required of them. Boom.
  • Make homework a top priority. There’s a story of a man who has a to-do list. He prioritizes activities for the day by assigning them a number. 1’s have to get done ASAP. 3’s should be done today, but are optional. He finds he would rather start with the 3’s because they seem more fun. Don’t fall into that trap. Make priorities and stick to them. True discipline is doing the dirty work before indulgence.
  • Have study parties. If you really just need your friend-fix, invite a few friends over to work on homework. The only stipulation is that everyone must bring assignments to work on, or else conversations will spring up and no one will get anything done. Great excuse to order a pizza, too.
  • Don’t plagiarize. Just don’t. Do your own work. You might be able to fake it for a while, but no one can fake knowing things for very long–not to mention getting caught could put an end to your college career. Some schools won’t accept students who have been disciplined for plagiarism.

IV. Prepare for your Tests

  • Stop cramming. As was mentioned before, cramming is stressful and will likely make you frustrated. Some students take pride in staying up all night before a test to cram all the information they can. Wouldn’t you rather be the one who has learned the information over a long period of time, and the day before the test is simply a review of the most important information? Wouldn’t you rather approach a test calmly and with confidence? Confidence comes from a solid foundation built over time, not scrambled together all at once.
  • Get sleep. Being well-rested, eating a good breakfast, and being relaxed are great tips for life in general–especially for tests. If you have to choose between staying up to study and sleep, pick sleep. It’s much better to go to bed early and wake up early. You’ll feel better.

V. Make Good Decisions

If you want good grades, you have to make decisions of a Grade-A person. You have to be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle.

  • Choose the right classes. This doesn’t mean choose the easiest classes, but maybe don’t schedule your whole semester with the hardest teachers. Balance out your schedule with the hard, impressive classes AND the simpler ones. Don’t take 25 credits in one semester. Heck, don’t even take 18 unless you want to hate yourself! (Or have your grades suffer). Know your limits. Be honest with yourself.
  • ATTEND YOUR CLASSES. Does it matter how well you choose your classes if you don’t go? No. So go. Even if you don’t feel like it. With some teachers, just showing up to class is enough to earn extra points–not to mention the stress it will be to try and catch up.
  • Keep track of your grades. See how you do on tests and learn from it. Ask teachers for clarification if you don’t understand.
  • Manage your time. Be wise, young grasshopper. It’s important to be well-rounded and have a well-rounded schedule. Don’t spend 100% of your time on any one thing, or you will go insane.
  • Haters gonna hate. People might look down on you for prioritizing your studies. Who cares, do whatever feels best for you.

In conclusion, there will always be sacrifices. You may have to sacrifice a night out for a night in to finish a paper; however, if you find yourself sacrificing a social life in general, maybe you’ve given yourself too big of a workload. It’s all about balance! Have confidence in yourself! You can do it!

 

Featured Image: Stefano Montagner

Sourcehttp://www.wikihow.com/Get-Good-Grades

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