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.

Has Tech Replaced Play As We Knew It?

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Christmas break is a time for my family to reconnect. We like to do this by choosing a series to watch. This year we chose The Goldbergs. This sitcom focuses on the Goldberg family and their life in 1980s. My children have a fascination with the 80s. They ask about historical moments, 80s pop culture (you danced on cardboard?), fashion (why would you wear parachute pants?) and often will ask to listen to music by Michael Jackson, Journey and Def Leppard. But nothing surprised and shocked them more than a Goldberg episode on how we played in the 80s.

In the episode, the middle child Barry and his younger brother Adam, made up a game called “Ball Ball”. The object of the game is to block your opponents score using every body part imaginable. However if your opponent does score, the game is over and they receive the “Ball Ball” trophy cup with their name and date written on it. My children were flabbergasted.

“Why are they playing this?”

“They look like barbarians!”

“Don’t they have games to play? I know they have Nintendo. Why would they make up such a dumb game? What’s the point?”

Their criticism led me to think about today’s child, their toys and their playtime. As toys change, has play itself fundamentally changed? For that matter, does the early attachment to grown-up toys… iPhones, iPads, laptops… in some way shorten the imaginative world of childhood?

Play during my childhood was filled with imagination, outdoor adventure and creativity. I remember building my own Barbie dream house out of shoe boxes and transforming spools of thread into chairs, and using peanut butter lids and thimbles as coffee tables. I remember our neighborhood roller skating shows. We would create simple costumes, bring out our boom boxes and put on a roller skating dance show that was judged by the neighborhood kids. The “winner” was the next judge. Simple wholesome fun. Children of the 80’s were their own source of entertainment. Even now, I can create a fun game out of just about anything! But, can my kids?

My children rely on their tech toys and devices for entertainment; TV,  iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, desktops, and the X-Box One. As I observed them over holiday break, they would go from one device to the other, to a tech toy, and back to a device. This upset me greatly, so…I created a new game. I proposed the Device Free Challenge (a DFC day). One day, no devices of any sort, and find something to entertain yourself. A day of creation, imagination and reconnecting with each other.

The resistance came early.

“Can we talk about this?” Gabriel, our oldest child pleaded.

“No”, I replied.

It was 8:30am. We were at the breakfast table and had just told the children that we were not allowing any tech devices for the day. Nothing. They needed to hand over their iPods, iPads, iPhones by 9am. There was to be no TV, no computers, and no video games. Sarah, our youngest, began to cry. Sophia, our middle child, sat there stunned.

“May I please say my peace?” Gabe shot back.

“Sure”, I said.

Gabe began explaining to me how his generation was practically born with a device in their hands. He went on to say how he remembered being 6 and playing with his dad’s iPhone and how even little Sarah was younger and played with the iPad. How these devices assist in problem solving, reading, writing, (“yes, texting is writing mom”) and math exploration. On his iPhone he can blog, any time he is inspired. On Sophie’s iPod she can design music videos on musical.ly and even Sarah can create her own worlds on Roblox.

“These devices are a part of our lives and have sparked our imagination and creativity in a non-traditional way. Why cant you see that?” he pleaded.

Gabe continued to discus how a device free day is unconstitutional, un-American and will result in serious side effects for them all.

“Nice try, my friend”, I said with a smile.

thisMy kids began their day reading. Each had new books from our local B&N for the holidays. A few hours later, they played card games. They started playing bullshit (a favorite), then moved onto war, then onto rummy. I announced that I was making cookies in the kitchen, they each came in looking to help. They sat at the island, handed each other the ingredients, stirred,  poured, measured, laughed, and joked the whole time. After some cookies they moved on to wrestling, tag, hide and seek and poke your sibling until they scream.

While folding laundry, their creativity and imagination kicked in. A game of sock-o-dunk was born. The object of the game…simple; try and shoot a pair of socks into the laundry basket while your opponent moves the basket and fakes you out. As Sophie, our resident athlete said,

“It’s all about predicting where your opponent will move that laundry basket next, you gotta plan ahead.”

They played “sock-o-dunk” for quite some time. I was happy to see them enjoying a simple game of fake out. It may not have been the best day. There were some “I’m bored moments”, but it was a really good day. A day without checking a screen and hearing a buzzing alert. It was a day to reconnect, talk, laugh, joke and make memories. And it proved to me and to my kids that old-fashioned play…without tech…will not result in any side affects.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Everyday Moments

 

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As I prepare for our New Years Eve festivities, I cant help but reflect on 2016.  My “one word” last year was …more. I was hoping for “more” in different aspects of my life; more travels, more learning,  more advancement, more family time. This year, once again, I am reading my PLN’s fabulous blog posts about their one word. I’m hoping for a word that I can blog about and embrace throughout the year. I don’t want a “one and done” type of post. I want something that I can write about and revisit time and time again. I want to live it, breathe it, be inspired….every day.

This holiday break, I find myself thinking about my learners a lot. I miss them tremendously. I miss hearing Maia’s stories, Aidyn’s silly jokes, Sarah’s thorough explanation of concepts and I miss talking Eagles football with Nye.  I think about the learning that happens in our live lesson room. Everyday my learners bring it. Some learners come to me excited, happy to absorb new discoveries. Some learners come to me in the most extreme circumstances. They may be homeless, hungry,and in troubled times. And yet, these learners come, try and give it their all. I like to think of learning as a wonderful celebration. My learners and I celebrate our writing and blog posts each month by dancing to Celebrate by Kool and the Gang.  Shout outs are given for their math fact accomplishments on Reflex math, we give props and kudos for their JGB projects, and I send them reading certificates for their achievements. But, as I write, I realize that we’re only celebrating their successes.  Would my learners accept their failures better if we acknowledge and, in a way, celebrate them too?

I also miss the team of teachers and colleagues I work with. There are many wonderful and talented professionals I come in contact with everyday. They push and challenge me to do and be my best. I often think about the challenges they work through and the risks they are hesitant to take, but do. When I close my laptop for the day, I still see them…logged on and working into the night. I’m sad to say, I’ve missed opportunities to celebrate them and their hard work. Often times we acknowledge their work and success after the fact. Why don’t we celebrate our colleagues and acknowledge their work more often?

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

Our lives are filled with millions of simple moments, everyday occurrences that we won’t remember tomorrow. We get through each day while looking forward to and focusing on the big moments: family vacations, friends’ weddings, the arrival of children and promotions. These milestone celebrations are indeed fabulous, but then we turn back to our normal, everyday lives.We all have celebrated moments that are unforgettable.  We freeze special times and make sure we will never forget a treasured experience.

Administrators may hold off until the end of the year to praise teachers on a job well done. Most teachers will celebrate big moments in their classroom from time to time.  Who says that celebrations should only be limited to one day? Who says celebrations should be limited to certain milestones or successes? What if we celebrated a small speck of magic in those everyday moments?

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There are opportunities to celebrate the wonderful little things in our life and in our classrooms, all the time. Sometimes the big things wouldn’t have happened without the accumulation of smaller events along the way. Taking time to celebrate the little things is an opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships; not to mention lasting memories. Acknowledging and celebrating the good, the bad and even the ugly (yes, celebrate the ugly!) helps to make others feel valued, accepted and loved. It may also provide a great model for turning a negative event, an error or mistake, into a positive learning experience. Years into the future, you may not remember the exact reasons for all your small celebrations, but others will remember the joy and ease of being a member of your class or learning network.

 

Don’t wait for a special moment or milestone; celebrate the magic you see in everyday moments. My one word for 2017 is Celebrate.

How will you celebrate everyday moments with your learners and colleagues?

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?

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?