But Not For the Kid

We say we believe in choice for all but it appears that all doesn’t really mean all.  That our stipulations get in the way.  That we fill our choice with “but’s…” and then wonder why kids tune out, disengage, and cannot wait for school to be over.

So we say we believe in choice for all

…but not for the kid who didn’t read last night.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t understand what they are reading.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t know how to select the right book.

…but not for the kid who keeps abandoning the books they choose, clearly they are not ready.

We say we believe in choice for all

….but not for the kid who needs intervention.

…but not for the kid whose words cannot be trusted.

…but not for the kid who hasn’t earned it.

…but not for the kid who keeps reading the same thing.

…but not for the kid that won’t read unless we sit right next to them, reminding them to keep their eyes on the page.

We say we believe in choice for all, but do we really?  Or do our “but’s” get in the way?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Essentialism for the Overworked Teacher

I have been sick for the past two months.  Not just cold sick, but several attempts with antibiotics, various diagnoses, including pneumonia, and an ever persistent exhaustion no matter the sleep I got, kind of sick.  What started as a virus has become something I can’t fight.  And I am well aware I have done this to myself.  Between teaching full-time, speaking, writing, being a mother and a wife, and selling our house, I have forgotten what it means to do nothing.  Forgotten what it means to relax and not feel so guilty about it.  Even reading has become a chore and so I realized last Thursday, that in my attempt to make the world better I have forgotten about myself.

Why share this?  It is not for sympathy, but instead to highlight something so common in education; the overworked teacher.  We have all been there, in fact, many of us exist constantly at this stage it seems, where we get so absorbed into our classrooms that we forget about our own mental health and then wonder why we feel burnt out.   We know we should do less but worry about the consequences and so we push on and dream of vacation and doing little, yet never make the time for it.  I have been reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown in an effort to make sense of my own decisions, of this exhaustion I am working through, and as I read I cannot help but transfer this knowledge into the classroom.  How much of the discipline of Essentialism can help us, as overworked teachers, and steer us away from burn out before it even begins?

One of the central tenets of the book is the idea of doing less better.  We seem to forget that in education as we constantly pursue new ideas to add into our classroom in order to create more authentic experiences for our students.  We plan, we teach, we juggle one hundred things and add in extra whenever we see a need, and then come back and do the same the next day.  Yet, we know this is not sustainable, so what can we do?

Discover your essentials.

What do you hold most sacred within your teaching?  You can decide either in your subject area or in your whole educational philosophy.  List the three most essential goals for your year and then plan lessons according to these, eliminating things that do not tie in with your goals.

So for example, one of my essential goals for the year is to help my 7th graders become better human beings.  While a lofty goal, it steers me when I plan lessons as I ask; is there a bigger purpose to this learning or is it just a small assignment to “get through?”  If I want my students to become better human beings we must work within learning that matters and that gives them a chance to interact with others.

Say no more.

We tend to volunteer ourselves whenever an opportunity arises.  But as Greg McKeown discusses, saying “Yes” is the easy way out, we don’t have to deal with the guilt that comes with saying no or not volunteering.  However, when we live in a cycle of yes, we take on more than we can truly handle.  Therefore, evaluate what is most essential to you and to your classroom.  If something is not in line with your goals, and you are not excited at the prospect of doing the work, then politely decline. Others will almost certainly take the spot meant for you or the work will be approached in a different way.

Eliminate the clutter.

Just like we need to say no, we also need to stop creating extra work for ourselves.  I find myself distracted when my classroom or especially my workspace is cluttered and using the extra time to find something or put something away becomes one more thing to do in our busy teaching days.  While I don’t mean, “Get rid of everything,” look at the piles that you constantly move.  Why do they not have a home?  Do they need a home?  If everything has a specific place in your classroom, then you know where to return something to once you have used it.  That method will help you eliminate all of the extra time spent simply shuffling things around.

Plan for no plans.

We tend to plan every minute of our day so that we can get the most use out of our precious time, yet we know that throughout the day, extra items will get added and all of a sudden we did not get to the things we meant to get to.  So leave gaps in your prep time or in your before or after school routine for the extra things that have popped up or the major item that still needs to get done.  That way you are not trying to squeeze extra things in when you really have accounted for how every minute will be spent already.

 

Slow down your decisions

So often, in order to be efficient, we make a snap decision without really thinking the decision through.  This can lead to more stress, more thing to get done, and also less happiness.  In the past year, I have learned to hit pause before I reply to that request and really consider whether this is something I want to dedicate myself to and whether I will enjoy it.  If I cannot answer emphatically yes to those two things then I politely decline, however, I cannot answer those two questions if I do not take the time to think about it first.  If a request comes up in conversation, it is okay to tell someone that you will get back to them with an answer as soon as you can.

Choose your yes’

My 2017 word of the year has been “Enjoy.”  I chose this word as a reminder to myself that when I do say yes to something, I need to enjoy what I am doing.  That doesn’t mean that my life is filled with fun and exciting things at all times, but it does mean that when I choose to do something I try to be mindful of the fact that I chose to do it.  This has been a great reminder of why choosing my yes’ with care is so important.  If I am in, then I want to be all in.

Remember you have a choice.

Greg McKeown wrote, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.” How often is this the case not just for our students when they come to us believing school is just something to get through, but also when we forget about our own power of choice?  While being educators means that there are many things we do not have power over, there are many things we do, and so remembering that we do have a choice is important for us all.

 

Create your own priority.

I was really struck by the discussion of how the plural version of the word “Priority” was not invented until the 1900’s when mass production and multitasking became the thing to strive for.  How many priorities do we juggle in a day as educators?  Look no further than the vision statements of our schools; I have yet to find one that lists one single thing, rather than many.  Yet, when we have multiple priorities we are, in essence, not working on any of them by spreading ourselves too thin.  So much like you should discover your essentials, discover your one priority.  What is the one thing that you want to focus on?  It can be a larger goal that encompasses many small things, however, limit yourself to one and then dedicate yourself to it.  This goes for the work our students do as well.

Plan for play.

Much like I have embraced doing nothing the last few days, I have also tried to join in the play with my children.  I have been more at peace, had more fun, and also had an incredible surge in brainpower while pretending to be a stealthy ninja or trying to beat them all at Sorry.  Play often feels like an indulgence and something that we, as adults, should grow out of, yet reintroducing the concept of play, and also of boredom, has been incredibly revitalizing.  So plan for play next year, whether by creating challenges for your students, taking the time to draw, playing jokes on colleagues, or doing something else that seems off topic and even frivolous.  Plan for play before strenuous tasks or when stress levels seem high.  I cannot wait to see what our brains will do after.

Stop the guilt.

We are awfully good at feeling guilty as educators.  Whether it is guilt from feeling like we didn’t do enough, like we didn’t teach well, or because we didn’t volunteer, didn’t go the extra mile, didn’t write enough feedback, or insert whatever teacher related item here; guilt seems to be our constant companion.  But think of the weight of guilt and how it consumes our subconscious.  Why do we let it?  In the past six months, I have started saying no more and I can tell you, I feel guilty every time, but as it has become more of a habit, the guilt has lessened and the weight I feel lifted is palpable.  So turn the guilt around; rather than feel guilty for saying no, congratulate yourself.  Celebrate the fact that you know when to protect yourself and your energy.  Celebrate the extra time you just gave yourself and then don’t plan extra work for that time.

Dedicate yourself to yourself.

We spend so much time thinking of our students, their needs, and their goals, that we forget about ourselves.  So as you plan lessons for your students, plan lessons for yourself as well.  How will you grow as a human being or as a practitioner today?  How do you want to feel at the end of the day?  There is nothing selfish about focusing some of our energy on ourselves as we go through the day trying to create great learning experiences for our students.

As I slowly gain my health back, as I slowly feel less exhausted, as I slowly start to clear my mind, I start to remember what it feels like to not work all of the time.  To have vacation.  To take the time to step away so that when we come back, we feel so excited.  The truth is; work is not the only thing I want to consume me.  I want my family to consume me.  My love for my husband.  I want to find joy in reading books with a cup of tea next to me.  To play stupid computer games.  In baking.  In laughing with my kids rather than telling them to hurry up.  I want my legacy to be more than being a good teacher.  And I cannot do that if I don’t change my life a bit.  The first step was to realize that things had to change, that came courtesy of my exhausted body, now it is up to me to continue on this journey.   Reading Essentialism has provided me with a path.

6 Simple Things We Can Do to Make This A Better Year

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8 days.  8 days and I get to do what I love the most outside of being with my own kids.  8 days and I get to finally meet those kids that will become “my” kids as the year progresses.  8 days and school starts again, and yes summer has been incredible, but the school year beckons and I cannot wait.

We get to teach the future of the world.

We get to protect the dreams of our students.

We are awash in positive thought as we start and there are a few things we can do stay that way.

Choose positive.  I start every morning by plastering the biggest smile on my face.  Every child (or adult) that I see deserves a smile and a greeting.  Yes, it is exhausting at times, and yes, sometimes it is a fake smile, but you know what?  Fake smiles still  spread, and they are free, so if you want to be surrounded by positivity; smile.

Seek out new people.  This is my second year in my building so I know a few people, but I also know there are new people joining us, so why not seek them out?  We have all been the newbie wondering where we fit in and who we would get to know.  Rather than wait for them to come to you, go to them and invite them to sit with you at lunch or meetings.  Trust me, it makes a huge difference.

Try one new thing.  Notice I didn’t say every day.  Try one new thing, perhaps for a day, perhaps for a week, perhaps for a month, but push yourself intentionally.  Find something new to try that makes you ever so slightly uncomfortable so that you do not become stagnant in your own professional development.  Do something that makes you a little bit nervous so you can remember how it felt when you first started and everything felt like a risk.

Plan for fun. Plan for movement.  Plan for speaking.  Plan for listening.  Plan for writing.  All classes should have all of these every day, well almost all classes anyway.  We cannot expect students to be enthusiastic about what we teach if we do not offer them chances to move, to speak, to listen, to write, and to have fun.  And yes, having fun in school is not just something reserved for special days.

Stay realistic, not pessimistic.  Yes, there will be days where everything goes wrong.  There will be days where new ideas are introduced that seem to make no sense.  There will be days where it feels as if the whole world is against you, we all have those days.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and focus on what went well.  Allow yourself to dissect a situation and then move on.  We are so quick to let outside factors determine how we feel, why give something like that any power.  If you can’t control it, then focus on the things you can.

Do small acts of kindness.  There are so many small things we can do that makes someone else’s lives easier and happier.  I start the year by buying flowers for our secretaries and bringing donuts to our custodian.  Thea’s teacher and busdriver get a small gift.  I fill the copy paper (and clear the paper jams), hold doors, bring up mail to my teammates, and anything else that seems like it is no big deal to me, but it may be to others.  I offer to cover classes when I can and I support when I have something valuable to give.  That doesn’t mean I have less time to do my own things, it simply means that I care about other people.  It is not hard to do either, but the payoff is amazing.

These ideas may not seem like much, but the intentionality with which we can go through our day is what makes a difference.  Every day we make a choice of whether we want to make others have a great day or not.  I know what I choose every single day, what do you choose?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

We May Not Be Perfect

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For years it seems the headlines have been yelling at us in education.  The videos have been posted telling us that school is broken, that we have lost creativity, that students hate school and we, the educators, are to blame.  For years, we have heard the rallying cry to save education and we have tried.   We have pushed ourselves, we have dreamed, we have created, we have failed, and we have gotten back up.  Every day we are trying to change education.

So although we may not be perfect.  Although we may not be there yet; we are changing the narrative of education that  surrounds us.  We are changing the way students feel about school.  We are changing the way education is viewed.  We may not be perfect, but we are trying.

So before we focus on all of the negative, because we are all good at that, focus on all of the positive things that surround us.  Focus on the people that come to work every single day and give it their best.  Focus on the students who tell you their truth so we can make a change.  Focus on all of the people who are making a difference.  Scream those stories from the rooftops.  Share those stories on Facebook.  When people tell you that school is broken, speak up!  Because we are not all broken.  Not all students hate school.  Not all schools kill creativity  Some do, we are not perfect, but at least most of are trying to make a change.  So celebrate that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

You Have Two Choices

This morning my car died.  Right in the middle of traffic.  On a highway exit.  In rush hour.  Yup.  While my first instinct was to cry because how could this happen, my rational brain luckily took over and I called the police.  When your car is blocking a lane of traffic, you don’t have that many options.  So as I stood by the side of the road waiting for the sheriff, a lady stopped in front of me.  She rolled her window and proceeded to scream: “Get back in your car!  How dare you do this!  Your hazards aren’t working and you are breaking protocol!”  I was shocked, momentarily, then apologized to her, told her that the police had told me to exit the vehicle and that my hazards were indeed on.  She didn’t care, she was clearly frustrated and drove away as the light turned from red to green.

Shaken, I glanced up as a semi-truck driver rolled down his window.  “Great,” I thought.  Instead he asked if I was ok.  If I needed help and what had happened.  I told him of the sudden death of the car, and he proceeded to stop his semi behind the little car, get out and check the car for me.  He then asked me to get in so he could push it out of harm’s way.  He didn’t know me,  nobody told him he had to do that.  He could have gone around, I am sure he was busy, but instead because he took the time, traffic could flow again and the car wasn’t stuck in the middle.

It took two hours but the car got to the shop thanks to a helpful sheriff and an even more helpful tow truck driver, and this experience left an impression on me.

When we are faced with obstacles in our way; which person do we become?  Who do we choose to be?  Because it is a choice.  The woman who screamed at me had to make many choices; stop, roll down her window, formulate the words, and shake her head.  The man who stopped to help had to make equally as many decisions.  Had to spend a little more time, but because he saw a way to help the problem rather than complain, it was better for everyone involved.  That’s a choice they made.  That’s a choice we make every single day.

When we are faced with hurdles in our day, what do we do?  Do we get angry, lose control, blame the problem?  Or do we stop, reflect, and try to come up with a solution? I think it is easy to choose the first, but the second one is the way we actually solve the problems we face.

This afternoon, I emailed the company of the semi truck driver to let them know how he had helped a stranger.  I told him thanks but I didn’t get his name.  When our path gets hard, we always have a choice of how to react.  Make sure to make a good one.

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.