Lets Agree to Disagree

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I recently read a blog post that discussed an author’s disapproval of reading logs as homework. It was a well written blog, that gave alternative assignments to these meaningless reading journals. Throughout the post, there was a recurring phrase written by the author, “I don’t mean to offend anyone.”, “Please do not take this into offense.”, and “My intention is not to offend teachers, reading specialist, lit coaches.” I counted many of these “offend” sentences in his post. Why did he feel the need to say this phrase over and over again? Why couldn’t he just write his viewpoint? Why did he feel that he was going to offend others?

I truly believe that we are the most sensitive society in our world today. Nobody has mastered the art of offending people as we have. For Americans, it’s the one thing we seem to do better than anyone else on the planet. We get offended faster and quicker than anyone. It’s not just our speed in offending others; it’s our endurance. We can go the miles when it comes to offending. As I log into social media, it seems that we, in some strange way, enjoy being offended. Some may even consider it a part of the modern American way of life. I cant help but wonder, why are we taking things so personally? Why can’t we state our opinion without being afraid of potentially offending someone?

My students are really enjoying blogging this year. Many of their blog posts revolve around their opinions and views of the world. As I was checking in on their work one Saturday during NFL playoff season, I realized they too were using that phrase “no offense”.

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I was surprised to see the “no offense” statement had trickled down to my 3rd grade learners early in the school year. Are students even using the phrase correctly?

I always thought that the phrase “no offense” meant you were about to say something so powerful and strong, with no holding back, or sugar coating. I thought “no offense” meant your opinions and views were raw and unfiltered. But clearly, the blog post I read, and the title in my students writing suggest something else. In both examples, the message isn’t necessarily powerful. It’s just a simple opinion. One stating that he doesn’t agree with reading logs, and the other simply stating he doesn’t like the NY Giants or the Eagles. Is the “no offense” phrase automatically instigating an angry response from those receiving it? Should we use it when stating our opinion? Are we extra sensitive to one another’s opinions because we have conditioned ourselves to say “no offense”?

“The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it.” ~ Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist

One of the most important lessons I teach my learners is how not to be offended by another’s opinion. I usually teach this during our opinion writing unit late in the year. However, I felt the need to tackle this earlier this year. Disagreeing respectfully with others, especially on issues we are passionate about, is not easy. It requires time, creativity, and maturity. It requires looking inward, not just outward. Just by devoting time to this lesson, it sends learners the clear message that they can disagree, question, or only partially agree with others, but still respect and get along with them. I feel this is a powerful lesson for all.

Here are some tips on teaching students how to disagree respectfully.

Interactive Modeling

I start by having learners discuss various topics. It could be a favorite sport, a favorite book from the Harry Potter series or favorite toppings on pizza. I model with my students how to disagree by using important phrases. “While I don’t support your view that basketball is the best sport, I prefer hockey. I’d like to hear more about why you think it is the best sport.” I also encourage my learners to ask questions to better understand another’s viewpoint.

“I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with that because on this page, the author said…”

“I disagree, but would like to know more about your point of view.”

“I want to ask _____ a question about what he said because I’m not sure I agree.”

Listen to the other point of view.

Being a good listener is a way of showing that you respect and are trying to understand the other person’s perspective. That makes it more likely he or she will do the same for you. When the other person is talking, try to stop yourself from thinking about why you disagree or what you’ll say next. Instead, focus on what’s being said. When it’s your turn to talk, repeat any key points the other person made to show you listened and heard what was said. “You like black olives on your pizza because you feel it adds additional saltiness and sourness to it.” Then calmly present your case and why you disagree.

Teach empathy

There is always a reason for why people feel the way they feel about something. Tap into those feelings; get to the heart of the matter. That’s where empathy plays a huge part in understanding another’s view point.When we teach students that there is always common ground between them and those with whom they disagree, we may be teaching them the most important lesson of their lives.

Here are some additional ideas for teaching the art of disagreeing.

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As I reflect, I realize that I don’t struggle with differing opinions. It may be because I was raised in a Greek household. In my family, if we had something to say, we didn’t hold back. If we had something to say, we said it; without a “no offense” phrase. And along the same lines, I don’t struggle with feeling as though I can’t be friends with people whose opinions differ from mine. For I understand the importance of disagreeing. Most importantly, I understand the need to explain and model to our own children, and learners, the importance of respectfully disagreeing .

Over the years, I have learned that using appropriate language, word choices, and tone is the key to maintaining relationships with others. Even though speaking truthfully may be difficult for many, it’s the approach that we take that allows us to earn the respect of others. This also creates a healthy environment and opportunity for growth. It’s important to recognize that opinions actually matter and have the right to be heard. Because, it’s not so much what you say to others; but it’s the manner in which it is said.

Focus on Hope

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So many posts about the election results on social media today. It was too depressing to even log on. So many people crying, complaining, wringing their hands of what’s to come and worrying for our children and the future. I am worried about our future. I am worried for our children. But it’s not Trump that worries me. It’s the way we are modeling change that we don’t agree with.

I was quite shocked at behavior that was shown during the election, but I guess that is the state of society nowadays. We scold children for being mean to others but, it’s perfectly normal for adults to say horrible things to friends that don’t have the same political views. We tell students to persevere through difficult times. But we throw out how we should move to a different country and abandon ours. We tell children to not be a spoiled sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And yet, here are grown adults voicing over and over again that the “winner” – our President Elect is a –  “loser”.

Trumps degrading words, attitude and phrases that he uses scare me. Yes, I will not lie. I am not 100% on board. But I refuse to stoop to his level.

I know I influence my children and my learners more than Trump ever could. What scares me though, are the adults, parents and friends that have been using similar degrading phrases back at Trump. Do you not see the similarity? You are modeling his behavior. Would it be ludicrous to say maybe our President Elect will change his ways? It’s possible. I’ve seen it.

I remember one school year, my administrators called me into the office to discuss a learner I was to receive the following year. They sat me down and shared some information. He was a tough kid. He did and said some not so nice things. He was being placed with me. I remember thinking “How am I going to reach him? How am I going to have my learners accept him? How am I going to embrace him?” Now, many teachers would probably have persuaded administration to not have him placed in their room. I enjoy challenges. I can deal with change, I knew it was going to be okay.

As I look back, I don’t remember how it happened or when it happened. I just know that by working WITH this learner, by accepting him and his faults, by modeling compassion and empathy…he began to change. He began to blossom. He was invited to a friend’s house and later in the year a classmate’s birthday party.  We embraced him and he followed our example. I didn’t change my love for my students. I didn’t show my frustrations or anger. I didn’t change myself in anyway. I lead the change with the love that was in my heart, the passion that I have for my learners and learning. I met my learner where he was. I accepted him and because I did, he learned a valuable life lesson and so did I.

Can we meet President Elect Trump where he is? Can we model the change that we hope to see? Maybe this lesson is a life lesson of acceptance and compassion for you, maybe it’s for the President Elect, maybe it’s for all Americans. Can you lead the change with your heart? Will you?

When things don’t go our way, when we hit a snag in the road; we need  to think of other things that we have overcome. We need to think of how we can turn a negative situation into a positive. We need to model compassion and acceptance. As Americans, we need to focus on hope. Isn’t “hope” what America is all about?

Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

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“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s  Six Thinking Hats method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking.  Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC  Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs.  Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product. He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before considering all input and choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.

 

 

 

 

Scratch the Itch

I have a love/dislike relationship with running. I love taking to the road and feeling the wind on my face. I especially love running during the season of autumn. I dislike running on the treadmill during winter and I dislike the hills that make my knees hurt. Recently, I have been feeling the itch to try something new.

Hiking is not something I thought I would be excited about. When I think of hiking I think of the Alps, walking sticks and backpacks. I think of absorbing nature, slooooowly. Slow doesn’t appeal to me. I am not a fast runner, but I love speed. Would hiking satisfy this need?

This past weekend I decided to hike a trail near my home. Mt. Tammany is a trail that appealed to me because of the views I had heard about from others. There are two scenic overlooks on the “red dot” trail. When I researched the hike, I saw it was a moderate hike with a steep incline and an elevation of over 1,400 feet. I’ve run many miles, so therefore, I felt I could do this.

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I set out on a sunny, but cool autumn morning. I was surprised how many other hikers were there mapping out their hike, checking their backpacks, and getting their walking sticks ready. I felt sort of foolish at first, looking for the “red dots” on the trees and rocks. As I began, I kept hearing this annoying yodeler from the Price is Right game “Cliff Hangers”. How did this pop into my head?
Up and up I went. I felt good at first, but a bit later I began to tire. How many more boulder stairs do I have to climb? They all began to look the same. Other hikers were passing me, “Good morning!” they cheerfully  said. “Morning” I said back to them out of breath. I began to count my steps and rest after 20.
Finally, I reached the first look out. It was so worth the grueling hike. I felt victorious and this victory fueled my energy to climb to the next look out.


I was on such a high & rush from the view, I set off for the top of Mt. Tammany. I was pumped! I can do this!

img_1495Higher and higher I climbed eager to get to the top.

But then… I began to lose steam once again.

The boulders looked the same.

The hiker I had said “good morning” to earlier, lapped me!

“Hey you’re almost there!”, he cheered.

“Did you just lap me?” I asked in disbelief.

He smiled an easy smile.

What did he mean almost?

 

I kept looking for the bright blue sky, knowing that would mark the closeness of the lookout. So many doubts swirled in my head. Maybe hiking isn’t for me. Why did I think I could do this? I am so out of my league! Should I turn around? Yes, sadly, I had even thought of going back. I am not a quitter. I have never quit anything (or backed down from a dare) in my life! It seemed like forever before I found that blue sky. Once I did, I crawled, on hands and knees, to see the view.

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I sat there admiring the view for quite some time. This hike  provided an opportunity for me to reflect and come to terms with a few things. I thought about my life, family and my passion. I thought about the similarities between this journey  and teaching.

At the base of the mountain, I see complacent conviction. I see teachers who have a stride and pace they love. They have lessons and units that they’re comfortable with. They are not interested in change and they don’t climb mountains. They do not scratch the itch.

Some teachers at the base will want to scratch that itch of change. They don’t ask for permission. They start off excited for a new adventure, when difficulty causes a bump in the road, they will question themselves and be filled with doubt. This is such a critical point. Without encouragement and support from colleagues and administration, some teachers will go back to the base of the mountain, longing for that familiar stomping ground. Only a few will persevere through. These teachers are educational pioneers, true leaders.  They are never stagnant. They don’t ask, they do.

What will you do when the itch of change calls on you? Will you scratch that itch? Will you take that risk? Will you see it through? As for me, well …I will be looking for another trail and mountain to hike. I suppose, a mountain that can induce a modesty in me …and really kick my ass!

The Importance of Building Bridges

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Directions were given. Materials were handed out. I walked quietly as to not disturb them.

Our learners were working in groups. They had numbered materials and images of various bridges. Their task sounded simple; create a bridge connecting 2 tables in the room.

Some groups began brainstorming ideas, other groups began construction immediately. There was one group…the second grade/third grade group…who had questions. I proceeded to assist.

Can we build from the floor up?

No.

Can we use pre-existing structures?

No.

Does it have to be a certain length?

No.

What if we run out of materials, can we have more?

No.

Can we choose more than one bridge design and blend them together?

Sure.

Is there a weight requirement?

Yes.

“We’re done!” I hear from across the room. I walk over to see their bridge. This group of fourth grade boys used 2 sheets of paper taped together to reach the other table, no support of any kind underneath. They mentioned it was “pavement”. I noticed the group of boys fooling around as I examined it. How would you lay the pavement down if there is nothing, not even land, to support it? I asked. They looked at each other, unsure of how to answer. “Keep thinking my friends”,  I said.

I proceeded to the fifth grade group which consisted of all boys. These boys partnered up within the group. Unlike the fourth grade group, the two pairs seemed confident. Each pair were discussing ideas and occasionally would share info with the others . They constructed a rope and wood (popsicle stick) bridge. The bridge seemed well constructed but the group had difficulty deciding how to attach it securely to the ends of each table. They decided on tape,  one piece of scotch tape at each end. They asked for the weights to see how they did. The rope and wood bridge held one weight. However, when a second was added it fell between the center of the two tables.”Don’t be discouraged, you all showed great thinking, keep working on it”, I said.

I watched my second and third grade girls work on their woven truss bridge. They used popsicle sticks for the base, that spanned the length of two tables. They wove Wikki sticks…like a woven basket… and attached them to the sides. “I think we need to add arches underneath for more support” one student said. “If this was a real bridge how would they know how much it would hold?”  another student asked. “They probably would just drive cars over it to make sure”, another answered. “Nah, I think they use some sort of math to figure it out” someone else said matter of factly. “How could we make sure this bridge stays in place? Tape isn’t strong enough for this!”, a member chimed in.

This second-third grade group does not ask for assistance. They do not rush. They are on the floor, on the table, upside down and viewing their bridge from every angle. They were thinking out loud, experimenting and trying various ideas. They were accepting of ideas and willing to take risks. They discussed and talked throughout.

As I observe these groups, I can’t help but think of the different approaches each group took. I can’t help but think how, as teachers, we can fall into similar groupings. Some teachers will rush just to be the first to try out the latest idea or buzz word. These teachers hardly ever collaborate, only because they see collaboration as competition, they may also feel intimidated by others. Inevitably, they will also have to back track and reteach alone. Other teachers will construct and execute good solid lessons with a partner. Their lessons are student centered and teacher driven, but they may have missed the target on an area or two. Two is better than one mentality can bring success as well as oversights. Other teachers will work together as a team to examine all avenues and ensure success. They communicate and share ideas; they take risks and work through problems. Most importantly they continue to question it all, seeking answers together.

I’ve been apart of these groups during my career in education. I’ve been on amazing teams. Teams that worked together, each of us playing a pivotal role in our grade level’s success. I’ve partnered with another teacher. This partnership of helping and guiding each other through new curricula, a new frontier. This partnership can be non threatening, simple and so powerful.  I’ve also worked alone, not by choice. I worked alone because others did not feel the need to progress or to seek change. Choosing to abide by the status quo. This isolation is the most difficult to bear. I often wonder why teachers would want it this way.

If there is something I believe in when it comes to collaboration, I believe in this…

“The greatest resource that teachers have, are other teachers”

 

But sadly, teamwork and collaboration are not commonly found in schools. What keeps teachers from supporting their team and being a team player? Building a team based culture requires administration to set aside time and emphasize the importance of teacher teamwork instead of simply suggesting that it occur on its own. These meaningful conversations can open doors for sharing, for encouragement and insights while establishing the empathy that drives all great schools. Teamwork should not be optional.

With all the change that teachers are implementing in their classrooms, isn’t now the time to increase collaboration opportunities, be they formal or informal?  Does your school make space for teachers to engage in deep conversations about teaching and learning? Where and when do your best conversations with colleagues take place? I think the time has come to build bridges between teachers to strengthen their teams. How else can our students use us as their support structure?

Going Bananas Over Apps

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This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100º mark. It was almost as hot as the Pokémon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with my family, as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pokémon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As Ms. Creativityshe thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators, hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?

 

Don’t Sweat The List

When MIND is WEAK, situation is problem. When MIND is balanced, situation is challenge. When MIND is strong, situation is opportunity.-2

When I worked at a traditional public school, my friend & colleague would wait…and wait… and wait…impatiently for it. During the month of August, she would check her mailbox everyday, sometimes twice a day hoping to spot it. She would stop at our school secretary’s desk, and ask “Is it ready?!”. She would wait in anticipation for that list. You know which one; THE class list. I never understood the hoopla surrounding the class list. What’s the big deal about that list anyway?

“Who do you have?!” she would ask as she tore the list out of my hands. I watched her eyes dart back and forth feverishly quick as she scanned the list.

“Awe, she’s a cutie pie. This one too! You will love her! ”

“That family is so nice, very supportive!”

“Oh …you got him…he’s trouble, watch out”

“You have 7 special needs kids and no aide…tough year for you!”

I heard what she said about my list, but I didnt pay any attention to her remarks. The names on the list are just that…names on a list. Some teachers spend hours analyzing why they ended up with who they ended up with. I don’t. I believe in fate. I’ve always believed that each learner is different in each and every classroom they enter, for each and every teacher they have, and in each and every group of students they are with. Why analyze?

It’s quite different preparing for a new school year as a cyber school teacher. There aren’t any classrooms to set up; no bulletin boards to do. We don’t wait in line to use the copier. Our set up is much less labor intensive, much less expensive too. However, we do have that list. That class list still brings much anxiety to teachers, even in the cyber school setting.

A few weeks ago, I overheard some teachers discussing their class lists. Each teacher was hopeful for a great bunch of learners, yet their tone of uncertainty was clear. Why were they anxious? What is it about a new group of learners, new families that get teachers worried? I pondered this for quite some time, coming to the conclusion that maybe their uncertainty had to do with a lack of self-confidence. You know, that little shadow of doubt deep within us. It usually peeks through around mid-August.

I did sweat my class list… once. I was teaching 1st grade. On the first day of school I was introduce to a student who never attended preschool, Pre-K, or Kindergarten. I was informed to teach both K and 1st grade curriculum, help her adjust to our setting & day. I worried about her and how accepting other students would be towards her. I remember some colleagues telling me not to do anything different or extra for her. “Treat her like you treat everyone else”, and “It’s not in our contract for you to work with her during these times”. Contract? Knowing what I know about this child, how could I even think of not helping her? How could I put a contract before her needs as a learner? My fear wasn’t a union contract, my fear was not doing enough for her. Can I do all this? Can I help her feel comfortable socially, emotionally, to achieve and accomplish all that we needed to? It was quite a challenge. Luckily, I like challenges.

She worked so hard learning letters, letter sounds, writing her name, identifying sight words. We worked together every chance we could. Maybe other teachers would be upset at a challenge like this, but I didn’t have time to think about that. This was an opportunity for me to challenge myself too. I never questioned why she was placed with me, I just kept focusing on the task at hand and her success and achievement. Her growth and progress was amazing! She left first grade reading on a Fountas and Pinnel level J reader. I will never forget the smile on her face as long as I live.

When I think about the many learners on those lists, I realize that they were placed in my room for a reason. Was I going to be teaching them an important life lesson? Would they be teaching me one? Thanks to each specific list of learners, I learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher. All of the class lists of students I had, helped to shape me into the teacher I am today. My confidence, my patience, my grit, empathy and love came from that list of learners. Each and every learner on that list played a very important part in my role as a teacher. Students on that list shape the teacher. They are our opportunity for change, for growth, for us to become better teachers.

What ever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Go to the bottom of things. Anything half done, or half known, is in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.” ~ Lord Chesterfield

As I think back to that day, overhearing my colleagues, I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had told them what talented educators they are. I wish I had told them that there’s no need to sweat the list because whatever learner comes their way, they would reach them, teach them, inspire and motivate them. I know they’re going to be up at night thinking and planning, writing and revising, correcting and grading, molding and shaping; working to the bone to ensure that their classroom of learners have every opportunity to be successful. I wish I had told them that list doesn’t matter. It’s not that list that ensures you a great class; it’s YOU as a teacher. It’s your acceptance and love for your students, meeting them where they are. It’s overcoming the challenges that present themselves and embracing each student and opportunity. This is what makes a great class and year.

Failure is An Option

“That’s not how Mrs. Sanchez did it in class! I’m going to get all confused if you help me! That’s not the right way!”

My daughter Sophia struggles in math. She will be entering 6th grade and every year she becomes frustrated while completing math homework. She often wants to solve problems the way her teacher has modeled it in class. Her notes are meticulous, and well organized. She tries over and over again to solve the problems. She is convinced that only one true method exists and her notes are a pathway to that successful solution. Although I was a Math major (undergrad) and have a Masters of Ed degree in both Reading and in Curriculum & Instruction, my assistance is unwanted. She sits annoyed, biting her pencil.

Fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles my own children and students in my G&T cyber classroom face. Year after year, I see the hesitation to take risks, try something new and share their ideas. They are intently focused on being “right”, finding the “right”answers, and doing it the “right way”. Failure is such an important part of life and of learning. I can’t help but wonder, have we conditioned our learners to fear failure?

Are we grooming learners to only focus on correct answers?

Our current educational system is essentially a series of questions and responses. The all knowing teacher asks a question and our learners sift through information to find the “right” answer. From a learner’s first year of school we focus on that right answer. We give praise, shout outs, stickers, and high fives for a correct response.  Instead of focusing on the process of learning, we place emphasis on the product; that end-all-be-all “right” answer.

Often when a learner responds with a wrong answer, we pour on some shame of being incorrect by giving additional work. We ask our learners to review, reread, rewrite, or memorize some more. We say “You were close, but need to study more”.  With this method, we not only crush their self esteem, but we diminish their thirst for innovation. We flat line risk taking and we rob them of the opportunity to whole heartedly embrace their attempts at being vulnerable.  We’re telling our learners that making mistakes and taking risks (which might lead to failure) is shameful. This can restrict our learners creativity and imagination, leading to a fixation of always being “right”.

By focusing on correct answers, are we assisting our learners to reach their full potential?

Failure is such an important part of life. When I was a kid and tried out for sports, you either made the team or didn’t. If you were cut, you tried harder the following year. You practiced and honed those skills every chance you got. There is a sense of vulnerability when trying out for a team position. You put yourself out there. The risk of trying out, was real. It’s quite different now. In some districts, children automatically get a spot on the team; tryouts consist of just showing up. This “we all win”, “we all get a trophy” mentality is puzzling to me and I have questioned it a lot with my own children. Where is the challenge, the determination and the perseverance? Where is the practicing and learning of skills? Where is the resiliency and grit that attempting and failing provides?

 “Your biggest risk isn’t failing; it’s getting too comfortable.”

~ Drew Houston

As teachers, we constantly reinforce and correct learner behaviors.  We try and mold students into something we feel is academically sound, socially acceptable and age appropriate. This constant guiding, shaping and grooming is evident in our lessons and in our assessments. When we set up our learners to “play it safe” and answer correctly,  we short change them. We make it too comfortable for them. We are teaching them to fly under the radar, and to settle for the status quo. Where’s the learning and growth in that? Our learners need to think big, and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Great learning depends on great risk taking. Success is a part of a character building process, and learning from failure is a piece of the puzzle.

Failure-Quotes-3

Many educators say, vulnerability leads to great innovation. As we begin developing this generation, we need to ask our learners to question, to be curious, and be risk takers. We need to tell them it’s OK to fail, and not to solely focus on their achievement. Our learners must have a no fear attitude. Experimentation will lead to empowerment and an accepting attitude towards vulnerability in and out of our classrooms. This will promote  confidence and courage in our learners, and enable innovative and creative thinking. When teachers allow experimentation, what they are saying is “we trust in you, we believe in your thinking and want you to feel confident with taking chances. Challenge the status quo and learn from the mistakes you make” This is a critical step in the learning process. As the great one, Wayne Gretzky, so eloquently put it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.

“Its not the mistake that matters. It’s how you deal with it, what you learn from it, and how you apply that lesson to your life.”

Don’t Miss The Boat

Online education is like a rising tide,it's going to lift all boats.

 

“Are you crazy?! Have you really thought about this?! People would KILL for your position!”

These are the things my siblings said to me when I told them I was leaving my 3rd grade position at a public school in NJ. I worked there for 16 years. It was a great place to start, I met some awesome lead learners (Hi Brad!), it was fine. As the years progressed, I felt I needed something more. I needed something challenging, something different, something more than fine. I applied and was offered a teaching opportunity at a public cyber charter school in PA. And then things became very interesting.

Most people aren’t familiar with public cyber schools.  I often find myself telling them about our cyber school and all the wonderful learning that happens online and at our family learning center. Then, almost instantaneously the questions begin…

“Do you even teach?” (Yes)

“Do you have a class?” (Yes)

“Do you see them, can they see you?” (Yes, we use webcams)

“Are you giving them links to click on and learn?” (Yes, sometimes)

“Do your learners spend the entire day in front of a computer?” (No)

“How can they learn from the internet?” (Oh, boy…)

A question that a fellow educator and Twitter friend recently asked me has been lingering on my mind. He asked,

“Can you build strong relationships with your students online?” ~ Oskar Cymerman

This stopped me in my tracks. Why would he question this? Don’t we build relationships with individuals online, like I had formed with him and so many others, on Twitter? Can learning relationships only be formed face to face? I continue to learn a tremendous amount from my fabulous #PLN and the numerous chats, blog posts, edu articles, and blabs. Yet, I have only met a few Twitter friends in person. Why was he asking this?

When I began my cyber teacher experience, one of my fears (I had many) was if I would be able to connect with my learners. How would I do that? I have always been an animated teacher. I’m able to capture their attention and incorporate playfulness visually, kinesthetically and vocally into my lessons. I know how to simplify ideas and concepts to reach all learners. Would I be able to do all these things as a cyber, online teacher?  Can I build relationships with my cyber students as I had done with my traditional “brick and mortar” students?

Yes, I can and I have. Yes, we can build strong relationships online. Yes, I am still animated, playful, and fun. Yes, students can connect and learn from a cyber teacher. How can I tell? At our school we receive feedback from parents, students, colleagues and administrators.  My learners and I interact online, and in person. We email, FaceTime, call, we attend various meet and greets, and field trips. I speak not only with my learners on a regular basis but also with their parents who attend lessons with them. YES! Parents sit in on every cyber lesson I have! The trifecta (Student, Parent, Teacher) relationship is so powerful. I am most proud of the relationships I have with my parents and learners. Parents learn together with our class. They support the work we do, add to our discussions, reinforce concepts and ensure deeper learning at home.

I often ask my son Gabe to read my blog, and let me know his viewpoint. This is how he responded…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source.  A lot of the time, well recently, its not from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers don’t understand that.”

~Gabe Howard, 15

Whoa.

Today, learners are not waiting for a relationship with their teacher to form, to learn something new. They don’t have to wait to learn. They build relationships and learn concepts online daily. To disregard this fact, is to disregard our times, what is relevant to our learners now. Our generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away.

We as tenured teachers form and maintain relationships by meeting face to face, talking on the phone, and writing notes and letters.  Today’s learners build relationships by texting, Facetiming, emailing and social media. They have access to so much and often times contact the source directly. We need to bridge the gap of old and new. There are more ways to form a learning relationship than face to face. We need to accept and adapt to this modern way. We can’t afford to miss the boat any longer.

 

 

Creativation

Creativity is thinking up new things.

I read an article recently which identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Innovation was also in the top five. It went on to discuss the lack of creativity and innovation in US schools. As I read, I couldn’t help but think about what creativity and innovation would look like in my classroom next year.

To me, creativity and innovation go hand in hand. I perceive creativity as the prime source for innovation. I see it as a process, a way of generating ideas and expressions, which can amplify knowledge and lead to new ways of thinking and problem solving. Bringing those ideas to fruition is innovation. It can be an original production, something altered, something better and more useful. There is no one right way or answer. How can I incorporate creativity and innovation into my classroom? What would this look like?

When I think of creativity and innovation as a session in my classroom, I think of it as something similar to my Genius Hour. It’s a time devoted to student curiosity and interest; a time for research, collaboration and exploration. Where every student can feel empowered to explore their passions. Creativation (yes, this is what I will call it) is the adjunction of creativity and innovation. Creativation is a time for divergent and convergent thinking; a time to generate many unique ideas, and to combining those ideas into the best result.

All around us are national and international problems, real world problems of importance %22Creativity and Innovation are about finding unexpected solutions to obvious problems%22-2that desperately need creative solutions. Our world is running out of natural resources each day, many still do not have safe drinking water, and our oceans are heavily polluted. Creativation will give students an opportunity to generate solutions to such issues.  Students will be able to understand the importance of contributing original ideas and being receptive to the ideas of others. They will see creativity and innovation as a necessity. These two necessities of human ingenuity should be unchallenged.

The more I think about creativation, the more I wonder; is it learnable?  Can anyone really learn how to be creative and innovative? I believe so. When I think about it, a vertically challenged basketball player comes to mind. Being tall assists a pro basketball player immensely, but even short players (Spud Webb and Nate Robinson…I know…I’m dating myself) have achieved success through hard work and practice. In the same way, there are certain individuals naturally prone to being creative and innovative thinkers. Creativity and innovation requires a constant shifting of ideas. It requires a blending of new information with old, new ideas with forgotten ideas; a constant back and forth, pendulum swing, the blending divergent and convergent thinking. I feel those who practice creative activities learn to prime their brains’ to think in this way.

So what does this mean for America’s standards-obsessed schools? Creativity and innovation are very much sought after in American schools, but its clearly been misunderstood and certainly not supported. Some argue that creativity and innovation should only happen in an art room, shop class or a kindergarten wing. Others believe we can’t teach creativity and innovation because learners already have too much to learn. Most school curricula does not, as of yet, encourage creativity and innovation, mainly because they are not clear how creativity should be defined and how it should be treated in learning and assessment. A school district’s curricula is often overloaded with content and this content reduces the possibility of creative and innovative learning approaches in practice.

Schools play a key role in fostering and developing students’ creative and innovative capacities for further learning. Creativity needs to be viewed as a cross-curricular skill, a  skill which students should be encouraged to develop. Creativity and innovation isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, it’s fact-finding, it’s rooted in deep thoughtful research.  These are vital stages in the creative, innovative and learning processes. Creativity and innovation have strong links with knowledge and learning. Creative learning requires innovative teaching. This type of teaching calls for educators to become reflective practitioners. Teachers need to be able to distinguish how a teaching method or activity can stifle or trigger creativity and innovation in their students.

One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development is

So, how do we do this? Currently, teachers lack support in bringing forth creativity and innovation into their classrooms. Many focus on convergence and discipline instead of divergence because it’s easier to handle. Teachers play a major role in constructing creative environments. Our teachers need training, support, and encouragement from administration, colleagues, parents, students, and the community. Many educators agree that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way. The time has come to change our educational culture to one that values creativity and innovation and sees it as an asset in the classroom. What will you do differently to promote creativation in your classroom?