Dear Administrators, Yes, Please, Let’s Talk About Evaluations…

This post is part of a series that the amazing John Bernia and I started last week  in order to try to bridge the seemingly great divide there can be between teachers and administration.  Please head over to John’s blog to see his counter post.  

Dear Mr. Bernia,

So you want to talk about evaluations?  Don’t you know that this happens to be one of my most favorite things to discuss?  No seriously.  It didn’t used to be that way, not at all in fact, but since switching jobs, I happen to love being evaluated.  There is one big reason for that love; I trust my principal inherently.  I also admire her a great deal.  She is knowledgable, she is honest, and most importantly, she is human.  When she is in my room, I don’t feel judged, I feel supported.  When she meets with me, I feel like she shares the same purpose I do; doing what is best for kids, and so everything she says I reflect on and try to work through to become better.  I wish every teacher had a principal like Shannon Anderson.

But the truth is, some don’t.  In fact, I had never had a principal actually give me several things  to work on before I met Mrs. Anderson.  And not because I was a perfect teacher by any means but because in previous evaluations they always caught my class and me on a great day; the show day, where the kids were prepped, I had planned for hours, and everything just worked.   One of those days where everything was so smooth it felt like it was rehearsed, and it almost was.  That’s what tends to happen when observations are scheduled and never a random visit.   When principals are too busy with administrative things to just come by your room.  But with new educator effectiveness, the increase in needed observations (which I do genuinely feel bad about for all administrators), we are no longer just being observed on those special days.  Evaluations and observations happen all of the time, and I love it.

So to answer your question; no, evaluations are not just another thing.  They shouldn’t be at least.  They should be a chance for you to grow, to reflect, and to question why you are doing what you are doing.  Evaluations should be formal and informal and happen as often as possible.  I always have an open door policy to our classroom; I am not afraid of what people will see even if it is not a perfect lesson.  And that’s it, isn’t it?  When we trust our administrators.  When we believe that they genuinely care for us, the kids, and the art of teaching, then we lose our fear of the evaluation.  When I believe that you, the administrator, has something valuable to add that will help me grow, then I welcome you in.   When I believe that you are knowledgable, connected to others, and also a constant learner, then I am ready to listen.

So please come by any time.  See the amazing things the students are doing and tell me how to become better.  I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, so I need help growing.  I need questions to reflect on so I can continue to push myself.  I need someone who is invested in the art of teaching that may not have the answer to every question but can point me in the right direction.  I know it is a lot to ask, but you are right; together we are better if both of us are willing to grow.

Best,

Pernille

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

You Are Not “Just” A Teacher

“I am just a teacher.”  How many times have we said it without even realizing it?  Without realizing how much we are cutting ourselves down?  How many times have we started our retort, offered an idea, or even pushed back with these words?  I am just a teacher so no one has to listen to me.  I am just a teacher so my ideas don’t have value.  I am just a teacher so what do I know…

But here’s the thing, you are not just a teacher.  You are so much more.

You are the first line of defense for a child’s love of learning.  The original believer in all children.  The person who every day gets up and thinks that they can truly make a difference.

You are a dream-builder.  A planner. A wonder-er.

You are a compass for those who may be lost.  A map for those who need to find a way.  And a flashlight for those who have lost their vision.

You are not just a teacher, you are a pair of arms for those who feel the world is against them.  A shoulder for those who need to cry.   Ears that will listen to whose who feel no one hears their voice anymore.

You are someone who believes even when others don’t.  You are someone who fights even after all seems lost.  You are someone who never, ever gives up even when a child has given up on themselves.

You are not “just” a teacher, but instead a warrior whose urgency only grows with every child we meet.  A campaigner for others to believe in the good that you see in a child.  A window opener when all the doors have been closed.

You are the family that some children don’t get to have.  You are someone who cares with everything you do.  You are the voice of reason when others speak nonsense.

You are the last line of defense when others say no more, nothing else, we are done.

So yes, you may just be a teacher but think of what you are to all of those kids that you teach.  Think of what you can be.  And then think of what they will do knowing you were their teacher.  So the next time you find yourself saying you are just a teacher, wear that title with pride.  You are just a teacher, but teachers change the world.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

We Are the Experts on Our Students

I don’t remember when I started speaking up as a teacher.  When my words no longer burned in my skull, my mouth tightly closed.  When I finally had the courage to raise my hand and give my opinion and then wait and see what would happen.  But I do remember how it felt; terrifying.  My cheeks flamed red, all eyes on me.  In my mind you could have heard a pin drop.  Time slowed until someone else jumped in.  Yet, in reality, it was probably not a big moment.  Not something etched into history, nor remembered by the masses.  So why is it we are so afraid to claim our expertise as teachers, ask questions, and speak up for the students we teach?

We seem to have no problem being told what to do as teachers.  Whether we are a product of the teaching conditions we endure, or we simply don’t think our opinions have value, we mostly keep silent when it comes to new programs, new initiatives, and new decisions.  We assume that everyone understands our students and thus the decisions being made will always benefit them.  But we all know that that is not always true.  And yet we wait for others to tell us what to do, so that we can follow their path.  Instead of carving out our own, instead of adding our voice.

The thing is, we are the experts on the kids we teach.  Not the amazing administrators we may work with.   Not the consultant brought in or the outside expert.  We are.  And we need to speak up when things are not going to be in the best interest of those children.  We need to at least offer our opinion, our advice, and then be allowed to adapt for the very students we teach.

If we know our facts.  If we know our craft.  If we know our research then we too are experts.  Then our voices matter as well.  But you have to allow yourself to have your voice heard.  You have to trust yourself in adapting programs to make them work for the kids you teach.  You have to allow yourself to ask questions, suggest modifications, create change so that the very students we are entrusted to teach will get the best learning experience.

Don’t wait for others to claim you are an expert, claim it yourself.  Give yourself the same value that you place on your students.  You know what is best for kids, so trust that. Stop creating more barriers than there needs to be because their future depends on you.

H/T to Jess Lifshitz and her early morning talks.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

What I Have Learned Being a Middle School Teacher

image from icanread

I thought I would be a great 7th grade teacher until I became one.  Smothered in my own nervousness and excitement about so much change, I never quite fully realized what I was getting into.  Luckily so because I am not sure, I would have said yes, if I had known just what this would hold.  Yet through all of the ups and downs, the moments of sadness, the moments of frustration, the moments where I felt sure that I must be insane for going to school that day, there they were.  Those crazy 7th graders with all of their emotions, all of their thoughts, all of their stuff that seemed to shroud them in mystery.  Always there, always watching.  Always poking away at the sense of security I had felt in my teaching skills.  And I am so grateful that they did.

This year, and its not over yet, has taught me so much.  When I tell people that 7th grade has been my biggest challenge yet, I am not joking, nor exaggerating.  With their moods, and their doubt, and their sense of fairness, they have held my feet to the fire every single day, exhausting every teaching cell in my body.  Yet, along with that exhaustion comes a few hard-earned lessons, for which I am forever grateful.

I have learned that when they say they don’t care is actually when they care the most.  They wait for your reaction to see how to categorize you.  They wait to see how their lackadaisical attitude will sit with you; will you be rattled or can you handle it?

I have learned that on the toughest days they will put on the bravest face, and only people who pay really close attention will be able to notice the subtlest of differences in their demeanor.

I have learned that when you think they are not paying attention, they actually are.  That when you think they don’t care that you are there, they do.  That when you think you have hit your lowest point as a teacher there is always a better moment coming your way, usually courtesy of something they just said or did.

I have learned that when I thought there was no way I would ever make a difference in their lives, they surprise me with their knowledge, with their passion, and with what they remember.

I have learned that relationships are above anything else, that it does not matter how engaging a lesson is, how fun a project may be, how much time you spent making sure everything was to their liking; if you don’t care about them, they do not care about you, or your lesson, or your project.

I have learned that it is ok to not be sure of yourself, to still put yourself out there, to get excited over picture books, to dance to ABBA in the middle of class, and to always, always, always have a smile on your face no matter how much you don’t want to.  That’s what my incredible 7th graders have taught me; that I was not a good teacher until I taught them, and I still have a long way to go, but they believe in me, so it is time I start believing in myself.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

What Happened to Our Dreams and Expectations?

Image from here

I am reading the local paper about the growing achievement gap between minorities and as my heart grows heavy, my mind starts to spin.  What happened to our expectations for all of our students?  What happened to having the same dream that ALL students can achieve, even those that face special disabilities, crippling poverty or lack of parental support?  We, as teachers, are supposed to be the last bastion, those that choose to believe in all of our students, no matter their race, their background, their belief in themselves.

I look inward and wonder when was the last time I asked for a file for a non-minority student that transferred in?  When did my own assumptions cloud my belief that all students can achieve and that I just have to set the bar high enough and then support, encourage and challenge?  That every year the slate should be wiped clean when they enter into my room, and yes, I may stare at those pages of past behaviors and troubles but that they should not be come my roadmap for the future?

I pledge again to believe in all of them.  To set the expectations high and to support them where they need it.  To look past color but not become colorblind.  To see the whole child and not the papers that follow them or the path they chose before.  To defend my students from academic prejudice and grow along with them.  One young man in the paper said that if perhaps he had just had someone believe in him, told him he could have done it, his path wouldn’t have lead to jail.  Perhaps he is right, the path cannot be changed, but at least I am willing to do just that; believe in all those children.  Will you believe with me?

Please Don’t Mark It Wrong – How Our Society Raise Children Afraid to Fail

Another child stands by me asking for my help, 5 seconds after the assignment has been given, “But I just don’t get it, Mrs. Ripp…”  And I ask, because this is the 3rd time today that this child has come up to me immediately into work time, “Well, did you try?”  She hasn’t, she is scared, and she admits it readily;  “Please don’t circle it.  Please don’t mark it wrong.”  So upset, she raises her voice, pleads with me as if my circle matters.  As if my marker holds the power.  And I am stumped because how does a 5th grader get that scared of failing?

The truth is we are doing this to kids, we, this society in pursuit of perfection is doing it to our kids, because it was done to us as well.  My daughter, who granted is only a wise two and a half year old is not afraid to fail.  She gets frustrated sure, but she tries and tries and then sometimes tries again.  We encourage this at home, urging her on, urging her to explore, to pick herself up.  Again, again, again.  Will she be the child in 8 years that stands petrified in front of me, asking for help because trying seems too daunting?

No teacher or parent tries to make their child afraid of failure.  Yet our practices in schools support this notion that failure is the worst thing that can happen.  An incorrect answer on a test pulls down your grade, you get enough, and you get an F for failure stamped across it for the world to see.  That F means nothing valid, nothing worth reading here, nothing worth.  Homework that is meant to be practice is tabulated, calculated, and spit out on our report cards.  The child who gets the answer right is heralded as smart, the child who gets it wrong is told to keep trying and maybe they will get it someday.

How we run our classrooms directly affect how students feel about themselves.  About how they feel about their own capabilities and their own intelligence.  I fail all the time in front my kids, not on purpose, I try stuff and it doesn’t work and we talk about it.  And yet,  I am not perfect either.  I catch myself in using practice problems as assessment, where really they should be viewed just as practice.  I praise the kids that get it right and sometimes don’t praise the ones that kept persisting but never reach a correct answer.  I don’t alway have enough time to explore all of the options so I guide the kids toward success knowing that some venues will lead them to failure.  I shield them from it sometimes because I don’t want to crush their spirits.

We have to stand up for our children and we have to turn this notion around that failure is the worst thing that can happen.  Failure is not the worst; not trying is.  We have to keep our kids believing in themselves and having enough confidence to try something.  If we don’t we are raising kids that follow all of the rules, that never take risks, that never discover something new.   And that failure is too big to remedy.