Monday, February 27, 2012

Need To Set a Higher Bar

I met with an assistant principal this morning for my mid-year review. (We're observed and evaluated every three years and this is my year.) Our Performance Assessment is broken into five categories: Planning & Assessment, Instructions, Learning Environment, Human Relations & Communication Skills, and Professionalism.We can be ranked as Does Not Meet, Meets, or Exceeds.

At this point in the year I have been marked Exceeds in two of the five categories, Human Relations & Communication Skills and in Professionalism. In thinking about this I'm not at all upset about not having Exceeds elsewhere. Instead, I'm actually concerned that we've set the bar in these two areas too low. It is too easy to Meet or Exceed in these areas.

Working with pre-service teachers for the last decade I have found that they almost always score higher on the professionalism and the communication categories than anywhere else. Is it really that the other parts of our job are really that difficult? Or do we not expect enough of teachers when it comes to professionalism?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Benefits of Banging My Head Against a Wall

More thoughts prompted from working with an intern (pre-service teacher):

I spend a lot of the first part of the year banging my head against a wall. Not literally, of course. Before we can really dig into academics there are a lot of routines and skills I want to be sure are well established and ingrained.

Some of those are obvious, like getting the attention of the class while they're busy around the room or lining up and walking down the hall. I would guess most teachers practice, practice, practice those skills at the start of each year.

We spend the first couple of week in the computer lab practicing logging on the computers. I know other teachers log their students on rather than take all the time involved in having students do it themselves. I completely understand that.

I've made the decision however, to have my students learn this skill because I know it will be worth it later. Not only does banging my head against this wall for a couple of weeks mean they are able to log on independently for the rest of the year but also they learn the control, alt, and delete buttons and how to type an upper case letter.

It has taken me a long time to learn that banging my head for a bit early on will save me time and frustration throughout the year. The more my first graders can do independently, the more time I can spend on meaningful interactions with them.

Polaroid Remixes from jcmedina's flickr

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflect on Reflection

I'm working with a professor at a local college to do some research on reflection. We're interested in reflection in education in general as well as reflection in regards to working with pre-service teachers and reflection by pre-service teachers.

I'm embedding three surveys here. If you have a few minutes I would greatly appreciate you taking the survey that best fits your situation: one for teachers, one for clinical faculty (teachers working with pre-service teachers) and one for pre-service teachers. Thank you so much!

Monday, February 20, 2012


Reading the notes from a recent Superintendent's Advisory Committee was a bit of a frustrating experience for me. Our district has struggled with levels of high school courses to offer. In the past few years we cut back to just having general courses and advanced courses (AP or IB). We dumped honors courses because that way students would take the advanced courses rather than settle for honors.

Anyway, the district is adding those honors courses back in. The superintendent was careful to be sure it was clear that this would not add cost because the demand is there for these courses. His one area of concern? Teacher workload with multiple preps.

As an elementary school teacher this really drove me batty. If there is any serious concern about teacher workload then someone should be talking to us.

I believe that high school teachers work hard. I just don't believe that people, even people in education, truly have a clue what a day in an elementary school is like.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Little Things Make Me Happy

This is an absurd topic for a blog post but it has made my life so much better and me so much happier I had to share it.

I hang a lot of things on the wall of my classroom. This year, they have all been falling down. I'll come in, especially on a Monday morning, and find numerous things on the floor or halfway there. It's drives me insane and costs me a lot of time as I rehang and rehang.

Another teacher, a first year teacher no less, mentioned earlier this week that how I stick my rolls of tape makes a difference. If I stick them so that the roll is parallel to the wall it will stay better. The theory is that if the tape starts to pull, it won't pull downward and so won't fall.

I was skeptical, but so far so good. I just retaped one thing (the fractions chart above) and walked over in great annoyance. Then I noticed that the tape on it was going the other way. All the other charts I put up this week have remained. That one was taped before I got the tip. If you don't have this problem in your classroom then this probably seems silly. If you do have or end up with this problem in the future, you'll be so happy to have this tidbit of knowledge.

By the way, don't you love the blue wall? It's another thing that makes me so happy. It's not a small thing though, it took me a few days to paint one summer!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To Wait or Not To Wait

As I've mentioned recently, working with an intern is so good for my thought processes. Walking down the hall with my class from lunch we passed a bunch of artwork on the floor drying. The kids were walking really close to the art and I almost said something to them. Something made me hesitate and I kept my mouth shut, luckily. They were walking so close because they were trying to see the art. They were very careful and respectful.

My initial reflection on this was that it's good to hesitate and not say anything, to wait and see what will happen rather than assume what might. With a slightly longer reflection I hesitated (see, hesitation is good). Sometimes I don't hesitate, I step in to keep something from happening. I may walk over to a student to stand near them so that they don't get off task. I might walk near a certain point in our line as we head down the hall.

It seems that when I step in ahead of an issue, I try to do so non-verbally. Interesting. Now it is going to be a goal to only step in non-verbally and otherwise to wait and see what happens. Then, I'll wait and see how that goes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old Man in a Six-Year-Old Body

This little friend, Froggy, has decided that he should teach our intern how to speak Spanish. (Of course, this intern can already speak as much as Froggy has tried to teach him.)

This picture was taken at recess one day as he was working on the word 'perro' (dog). It seems the intern was not saying the word correctly (it sounded fine to me) and Froggy kept pronouncing it, more emphatically each time.

The hand gesture and the facial expression were priceless.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Assumptions and Impositions

With an intern (preservice teacher) working in my classroom my reflections are more focused on certain areas than on others. Sometimes this results from his questions but sometimes it's simply that the presence of an intern causes me to look anew at certain pieces of my practice. Interestingly enough, as a mother of two young girls (ages 8 and 5) many of my reflections on the classroom flow in and out with reflections on parenting.

One current train of thought for me is about what I assume about students. Teachers are constantly trying to understand why students do the things they do, academically, socially, and behaviorally. That's a big part of thinking about how best to help them grow in all those areas.

However, I believe that too often I am making assumptions about students' motives that are, if not outright wrong, at least uncharitable on my part. For example, I may assume that students are not focused on their reading or their writing because they are goofing off. It's quite likely that they are taking a little break (something we all need to do pretty regularly) or are in the midst of transitioning from one task to another. It's also possible that they are working but it's not visible work; they may be thinking about their reading or writing or the conversation they are having with a friend may be about the task.

I've set myself a goal to not assume, or at least to rethink assumptions when I make them.

Along with that, I'm also trying not to impose my assumptions on my students. If I chastise a child for goofing off, or even if I say to them, "Focus on what you're doing." or "Make sure you're making a smart choice." I'm sending them the message that what they are doing at that moment isn't a smart choice or isn't focused. If they are discussing their learning or thinking about it the last thing I want to do is suggest that they are doing something wrong.

This is sending me down a path of thinking about showing my students respect and listening to them more. Those ideas will have to wait for another day for me to flesh them out more fully.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

I Shouldn't Read Newspaper Comments

My morning routine includes spending some time reading online before anyone else in my house is awake. It's a quiet, reflective way for me to start my day. This morning it didn't work that way.

One of the blogs I've started reading recently is a Washington Post one focused on education in Virginia. The two writers, Emma Brown and Kevin Sieff, do a pretty darn good job of contextualizing education in Virginia, especially given how diverse the school systems are ranging from the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia to rural areas. 

Yesterday's post (that I read this morning) was about our governor and General Assembly working to abolish teacher tenure. I have a problem with that term, "tenure" because it suggests a teacher can't be fired which is completely untrue. However, that wasn't my biggest issue this morning.

I foolishly read the comments. Usually there are not a lot of comments on this blog and I ignore them, unlike those for Jay Mathews and Valerie Strauss.However, the sheer number of comments today intrigued me and I checked them out.

It didn't take me long to get irritated. The second comment, actually in response to the first comment, included this little gem:
unfortunately, many teachers out there who outrageously take advantage of the tenure system to slide along and watch the clock, not giving a d*mn about how their kids do in class because guess what: it's impossible to fire them, and the district's hands are tied. 
It's been bugging me since I read it around 6 this morning. I finally realized one of the reasons. Even those teachers who are watching the clock (and I'm willing to assume there are a few of them) are working pretty hard. Their job then is essentially the equivalent to babysitting 20+ kids for 6 1/2 hours everyday. Imagine doing that. Now add on the idea of actually helping those kids learn a ton of stuff, academic, social, and emotional.

If you can truly picture that you should stop demonizing any teachers. I don't care how bad they may be, they are likely working harder than many folks in corporate jobs.

End rant. I'm hoping this will make me feel better.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

EduCon Encienda (Again, I Know)

I wrote before about my Encienda presentation at EduCon 2.4. I'm posting it again, mostly for myself. This was the third Encienda I have done at EduCon and I have greatly enjoyed them all - which is why I keep doing them. It seems I'm the only person crazy enough to do so however, as it resulted in an award from Tim Best (SLA teacher) and Jeff Kessler (SLA student).

Somehow the structure of the Encienda is something I have found to be great fun. Having been able to watch this one (I didn't have video of the previous two) I'm already planning for next year's. I have noted some weaknesses and have thoughts for how to improve it. I don't have a topic yet, but I have ideas about the structure.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Data Retrieval Charts &

I wrote about data retrieval charts for Data retrieval charts clearly work with how my brain functions and I love to use them with students.
Including pictures in our data retrieval charts is something that is fairly new to me. To be honest, I'm pretty disappointed in myself that it took me this long to realize how helpful this would be for my students. I use pictures - ones I draw, photographs, clip art, illustrations, anything I can - in so many ways in my classroom I can't believe I was limiting our data retrieval charts to all text. Sigh.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Educon and Failure

As I go back to the opening panel at Educon my head starts spinning again. The question for the panel was about sustaining innovation. The panel consisted of folks (mostly) outside of education which typically results in conversations outside of the norm for us educators. It's a great way to start the conference.

The buzz on twitter and from those sitting around me was that the panel was missing the ideas of play and failure. Play did eventually get some conversation - not enough in my mind when discussing innovation, but some. I watch my daughters and my students and their play is full of innovation. It's amazing to watch.

Failure is the issue I wanted to hear more about. I had the opportunity, so I asked. I said that the folks on the panel weren't there because of their failures, they were there because of their many successes. They could praise failure all they wanted but how do we change attitudes in our society to make failure less of a negative. (There were no good answers to this which really doesn't surprise me - it's far from simple.)

One idea that flew around, however, is that we teachers could own up to our mistakes and failures more often. If our students saw us fail or err and grow and learn from it they might be more willing to do so as well. We have immense power as teachers and we need to be thoughtful about how we use it.

Another thought is to study the failures of others as much as we study their successes. Just like those on the panel, the people we study in school are studied because of the things they did well. Any one of those folks made mistakes and failed at various points in their lives but we don't talk about that. Doing so would help students recognize how common failure is and how much failing can help us.

Failure is one of those words that carries a lot of baggage. Unless we can change our attitudes about it I believe we are shortchanging our children and missing out on a lot of potential innovation.

Picture from Kevin Jarrett's flickr

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Initial Reflections on Educon

As always, Educon overwhelmed my brain. Every conversation, both the formal ones facilitated by specific folks and those that just happened throughout the three days, challenged me to think and focus. I love that about Educon. It makes me think and it gives me hope. It's hard for me to feel pessimistic about education when surrounded by so many educators who are so smart, thoughtful, and hard-working.

There is so much for me to keeping mulling from this wonderful weekend but one comment from Chris Lehmann that got retweeted again and again has stuck with me.

I wasn't in the session at which Chris made this statement so I have no idea of the context. As a result, my reaction to it and reflection on it may be way off from Chris's intent. He's a good guy and I think he'd be okay with that.

Reading this tweet (again and again) reminded  me of how much we, in education, do to students 'to prepare them for the future.' I frequently hear from teachers comments like,
I use the bubble form for the test because they'll have to use it next year so I want them to get used to it.
They'll have worksheet homework next year so I started giving it to them to prepare them.
 They won't be able to use any type of paper they want in middle school so I'm not going to let them do so this year.
High school teachers won't let students use the book during a test so I don't either.
I'm not actually interested in whether or not any of these things are true (although if they aren't it does seem worse). The important piece to me, is that because students will have to do something in the future we should start doing it now. Let's say sixth grade teachers require every student to write a detailed response to a book every month. So, the fifth grade teachers decide to do so 'in order to prepare the kids.' Then, after a while, the fourth grade teachers think they need to 'prepare the kids' as well. How far down will something go before we decide it's absurd? Will we have kindergartners writing responses?

We want school to be a safe place for students. To me, that means it should be physically and emotionally safe. It is possible to prepare kids for what is coming without reproducing it at younger and younger ages.

School doesn't need to reflect all the challenges and ills in the world. Chris is right - there is plenty of time for kids to learn about the negatives in people. School should be about offering students opportunities to learn and grow, not a place to frustrate them and crush their faith and optimism.

We ought to be thinking about who are students are now and what they need at this moment rather than who they will be and what they must do then.