When Was the Last Time You Stopped Talking?

image from icanread

I didn’t know how much expertise I needed to stop talking until I switched districts.  Having to start over again, being brand new and friendless, I started listening better, quieting myself, and tuning in.  I started asking for help, recognizing that not only was I in a new district, but also in a new school, in a new grade level, on a new team.  Amazing what changes does to your listening skills.

What I heard was astounding; it is quite remarkable when you stop talking about your own ideas and listening to those of others, what you learn.  I couldn’t believe the varied experience of people, the things they knew, the ideas they had.   Sure, I knew I had been surrounded by greatness before but I hadn’t paid much attention to it, I was usually too busy forging my own path, sharing my own thoughts, touting my own expertise, when I should have been listening.

In fact, now that I think about it, I wonder when I stopped listening to others as much.  When did I become the supposed veteran or expert in the room?  When did I start to feel that I had more to teach than to learn?   I feel like all of those labels that people so graciously bestow upon me due to this blog has sometimes plugged my ears.  But not anymore.  Thank you 7th grade!

So my challenge this year is to stop talking so much.  To start listening more.  To actively learn from others.  Not just those that I adore online, but those I get to call colleagues every day.  Teaching shouldn’t just be about teaching others, it should be about our own learning journeys.  hOw we are listening to the genius that surrounds us.  I know we all have amazing things to share, but for a moment, allow others in so they can share.  So ask yourself; who are you learning from tomorrow?  Who are you listening to?  If it is yourself, then you’re probably doing it wrong, just like I was.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

5 Rules We Impose on Students that Would Make Adults Revolt

Before-you-ask-students

I remember the first time I walked through a silent school, the quiet hallways, the shut doors.  You would think it was testing season, but no, simply a school going about its day. At first I felt in awe; what order, what control, what focus!  Yet that night, as I shared my story with my husband, I realized something; schools aren’t mean to be silent.  They are filled with kids after all.  Quiet sure, but silent, no.  Yet here this school was; silent, and all I could think about was; why?  So what things are we expecting students to do that we would probably not submit to as adults?

Expect them to work hard all day with few breaks.  I could not do the schedule of my 7th graders; five 45 minute classes, then 30 minute lunch, then 3 more classes.  In between those classes?  3 minutes to get from one place to the next.  And high expectations everywhere they go.  We assume that they can just do it because we were subjected to the same, because the classes are all different, because this is not that bad, but as adults we would never be asked to sit focused, giving our best, and problem-solving for such long periods without taking small brain breaks, stretches, or in some other way reigniting our focus.  I know we do it so that we can fit everything in, but it still amazes me that we think it is is a good system.

Silent hallways.  Or most of the times we force silence when it is not for studying.  Of course, there needs to be quiet in the hallways while learning happens, but silent hallways – not needed.  Neither are silent lines, silent lockers, or silent lunch rooms.  Quiet and respectful can include talking.  Once, when I asked why my 5th graders had to be silent while they got ready for lunch, I was told it was in order to speed them up, apparently talking slows them down.  On the surface that may be a great reason, we want them to get to lunch sooner.  BUT.  These kids have just spent how many hours being told when to speak, not being allowed to speak to their friends, and now we tell them they have to be silent for longer?  As adults, we speak to our colleagues as we walk down the hallway, in fact, sometimes more loudly than the students.  We get to where we need to go just fine, often with a better focus because we got to relax for a minute.

Only go to the bathroom during breaks.  I remember telling my students that they had better use their lunch breaks to go to the bathroom because we didn’t have time the rest of the day.  Then I got pregnant and the whole idea of planned bathroom breaks imploded.  Yes, there are good times to leave the classroom and bad times, and yes, some kids will use the bathroom to get out of class because they are bored, tired, or want to simply get out.  So what?  To ask students to only go certain times, serves little purpose other than to establish teacher control.  Going to the bathroom can be just  the brain break a child needs to come back awake.  We use it all of the time as adults, why need trust students to do the same?

Do hours of homework.  I have long been an opponent of meaningless homework.  My severe distaste is based on many things, but one of them is that we have just asked students to put in a full day of hard work with us in the classroom.  Now, we are asking them to work even more outside of school.  Yes, some jobs require work outside of work hours, hello teaching, but not all, and often those jobs are by choice.  However, when we ask students for several hours more of their time, no matter our intentions, after they have gives us their best in class, we are treading on dangerous territory.  Why would students want to give us their best in school if we simply ask them to do more after?  I expect my students to work hard, use their time well, and get work done with me.  Yes, there is sometimes homework, no I am not perfect either, but I do think long and hard before I assign anything.

Be ready to show mastery on the same day.  This one took a while for me to realize.  You see, it doesn’t matter that you taught the concept at the same time; kids learn at different rates.  We know this intimately as adults; what may take our friend a day to understand, may take us a week or more.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in college where some students seem to study for weeks, while others breeze through the same material, ready for the test.  So why we expect our students to show mastery on the same day I will never understand.  Obviously it makes sense from a management perspective; it is hard to manage 113 students on different learning journeys.  It is also coming from a completion standpoint; the end of the quarter is the end of the quarter.  Yet research upon research shows us just how crazy this notion is, so why do we keep pushing it for it?  We need fluid mastery to serve our students best.

What other rules have you encountered?  Why do we do this to kids?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

10 Favorite Books from 7th Grade So Far

The books have been flying off the shelves in our classroom library, sometimes to be read and other times to be forgotten at the back of lockers.  But one thing is for sure, I have a lot of readers in my life.  I was worried about not having the right books for my 7th graders, however, I should have known; many of my favorites are also the favorites of the students.  So what have the 7th graders been reading and passing on?  Note the varying levels of maturity!

I Was Ready With THE Speech

image from icanread

I was ready with THE speech.  Had been since about 5 AM when I woke up and knew exactly what I needed to do.  All day I was waiting for that class to come in, to tell them that there was a new sheriff in town, and yes, we have been having fun, but we are wasting too much time and it is time to get serious.  Ugh, sometimes I hate serious but my meager 45 minutes doesn’t allow me much breathing room.

There they came, eager as always, happy to be in our room, not so much because of me but because of all their friends and the discussions we might have.  I was ready.  Counting down the seconds until their usual raucous nature would erupt.  Almost holding my breath, running the words I had rehearsed through my head.  “…there will be no more of this….the time is being wasted….serious….pay attention….things to learn….” I was ready.

Except, they didn’t start.  I started teaching and showed them our deadline.  I showed them how big of a time crunch we were in.  I told them I was serious, that I meant it, and that the world would practically fall on our heads if we didn’t make this timeline.  Ok…So they got to work, they started speaking to each other a little, so I figured now was the time.  I started my speech, ready to be asked hard questions, ready to be challenged, or even interrupted.  Instead they just looked at me…and then kept working.

It wasn’t perfect today.  It never is.  But for a moment I had forgotten that we have bad days and good days.  That sometimes our bad days seem to last much longer than they really do.  And sometimes our good days don’t even count because they must have been a fluke, right?  And sure, there was talking, and sure there are consequences, but they were not the ones from my head.  They were not the ones I was ready to dole out.  Kids change.  Sometimes from day to day.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I am hoping for a good day.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How Dare You Tell Me You’re Bored?

image from icanread

I remember the first time a student told me that they were bored.  Not with school. Not with life. But with me.  I remember the anger.  I remember the disbelief.  “How dare they tell me I’m boring?  How dare they be bored?  Don’t they know how important this is?  Don’t they know that I am the teacher?  Don’t they know that it is not my job to entertain, but to teach?”

There was no moment of clarity.  There was no moment of thankfulness.  Instead I got upset at the child.  I carried my resentment with me, and it tainted our relationship.  I didn’t grow, I didn’t reflect, I didn’t push my teaching to realize what a gift that was.  Those moments would come much later, two years to be exact when enough students had told me they were bored that I realized that something had to change.  And it wasn’t them, they kept changing, it was me, and I needed to grow some thicker skin.

We tell our students that we want to help them become lifelong learners.  That they should learn how to advocate for themselves.  That they should try to change the world by adding their voice.  And yet, we get angry, defensive, upset when students tell us that the way we are teaching does not work for them.  We don’t want to hear their opinion often.  We don’t want to hear their thought about us.  Sure, they may not always phrase it well.  Sure, they may tell us at a really bad time.  Still, when they tell us, we should listen.  Even if we can’t change at that very moment, we should listen.  Even if we are not sure how to even change, we should listen.

If we truly want empowered students who take control of their own learning journey then we have to grow thicker skin.  Then we have to grow.  Period.  We have to be able tot take the criticism we so effectively dole out.  We have to learn our own lessons of seeing every moment as a chance for growth, as taking every chance we have to be better.

So the next time a student tells you that there has to be a better way.  The next time a student asks you to change.  The next time a students asks why they have to learn this, don’t get mad like I did.  Don’t waste those learning moments.  Reflect instead.  Ask questions,  search for change.  Yes, being told you are boring hurts, take it from someone who was, but I wouldn’t change the past.  I would rather have students who speak their mind in a thoughtful way, than students who are afraid to speak.  Wouldn’t you?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

3 Ideas For More Meaningful 5 Minute Parent/Teacher Conferences

image from icanread

This week I had my first experience with the 5 minute drive-by conference.  You know the one; all the teachers in the lunchroom at their own table, parents waiting in line, and once the timer starts, off we go for non-stop talking, the only caveat being you only get 5 minutes.  Not exactly my cozy student-led conferences that I love so much.  Why the change?  Besides that this is how we do it at my new school, I also have 113 students.  I don’t even know how I could possibly give them a longer student-led conference at the moment without spending weeks on it.  And still, I wanted my students to be a part of it. I still wanted it to be worth the time for the parents, I wanted it to be meaningful.  I therefore did this:

The students reflected beforehand.  As always I had my students reflect on what their grades should be, what they were proud of and what they accomplished.  I invited all of my students to come to their conference but knew that few of them would, but their voice needs to be present.  This sheet allowed me to have the conference focus on their learning journey, not just what my thoughts were.

I reflected and wrote down beforehand.  I knew it would take a long time for me to write strengths and goals for all of my students, but I knew it was worth it.  In the week preceding conferences I spent every evening thinking about each child, writing down what I knew I wanted to share (beside their grades).  I didn’t want the conference to be focused on the grades, I wanted it to be focused on the child.  I was then able to share what my thoughts were after we looked at the student’s reflection.

I asked the parents how they felt and what they thought.  My gut reaction was to not ask any questions and just run it as a fast monologue.  After all, with only 5 minutes I have a lot to cover, but that is not the point of these conferences.  No matter the time limit, parents/guardians/students should always have the time to speak, even if you feel like it may eat up too much valuable time.

Always find something good and end with that.  Ok, so this is the fourth idea which I wrote about yesterday.  In every conference I made sure to end with something good.  I remember how it was as a kid to have your parents go to conferences without you; that nervous feeling, that growing sense of dread.  As a teacher I want to make sure my students know that I am in their corner, even if there are things to work on.  Often the last thing we say is the one that leaves the freshest impression, so make it something good.

Other small ideas include:

Be wiling to set up separate conferences.  I knew that some of my students needed more time for discussion so rater than wait for parents to contact me, I sent out a blanket email offering every child a longer conference at a different time in our classroom.  A few responded and there were even a few surprises of who wanted a longer one.  You never know until you ask.

Bring out the picture books. I send all student work home so instead of having their to display, I will have some awesome picture books out.  That way, parents can at least read some awesome stories while they wait.

Just listening.  Often parents know exactly what their child needs to work on or they have simply heard it before, so stop talking and listen.  Ask them questions and see how much they cover that you would have covered as well.  Parents know their kids, sometimes we seem to forget that (myself included).

Treat ever conference as if it is your first of the day.  Every parent deserves the best of you, so keep smiling, keep the energy up.  Yes, I know it is like running a marathon to be your very best self for 4 or more hours, but that is what you should be.  I had water and peppermints to help me keep up the spirit.  We owe it those waiting to meet with us.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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