Be the change, being me, choices

We May Not Be Perfect

recite-17vbkyd

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.  

being me, choices

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.

Be the change, being a teacher, believe, choices, MIEExpert15, teachers

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.

being me, choices, Literacy, MIEExpert15, Reading

My Child Is Not A Struggling Reader

She snuggles in next to me, holds up the book really high and looks at me expectantly, “Ready, mom?”  I nod and off we go, Thea trying to figure out what happened to Daniel Tiger and why he got so upset with his friends.  Every word is a thought. Every word is work.   She uses expression yet chops her way through.  Some words she completely misses, her legs moving, her body wiggling, and guesses fly out of her mouth because her eyes are not looking at the words but instead at the pictures.

Thea could be given a lot of labels.  The teacher voice in my head has a running monologue as she reads checking off the skills she still needs to conquer.  She is a reader that is behind where she should be after her first year in school according to the charts.  She is a kid that fights for every step forward she makes.  And yet, to me she is so much more.  She is a kid who doesn’t give up even when she gets frustrated. She is a kid that knows that she needs body breaks when her brain is processing words.  She is a kid that thrives on the routine of reading every night, not because I told her so, but because she wants to show me she can.  And she loves to read.

She is not a struggling reader.

She is not a failing reader.

She is a reader.  Period.  A kid that is developing their skills at her pace in the way her body and her brain needs.  She is a kid that loves to read even though it can be a struggle.  Yet that very struggle cannot define her.  That label cannot possibly sum up everything she is when it comes to reading.  So why do we continue to call our students struggling readers whenever they are working hard?  Is that really the message we want to send?  That reading is a struggle to them?  Or should we re-frame our conversation and instead empower them with their titles?  How about calling them developing readers?  Growing readers?  How about just readers?

Our students do not come to school identifying themselves as struggling in anything but they leave thinking it.  We give them the language that they use to identify themselves, so how will your students be identified?  You decide…

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.

Be the change, being me, choices, student voice, testing

On Parenting and Standardized Tests

Much like the rest of North America, my students have been doing the BIG test these last few weeks.  Much like so many teachers, I have sat silently and hoped that I have been enough, that what we have done has adequately prepared them, that they do well.  And yet…

I have also refused to worry more about it.  I have refused to get further upset.  I have shaken my head, I have made my comments, but I have refused to take it home with me.  This test is so far out of my hands that me worrying more about it, losing sleep over it, getting my blood pressure up, is not going to do anything good.  I cannot change what I have taught.  I cannot help my students more than I have.  So by now as a teacher, I can only do my best and hope for the best.  I can raise my voice whenever I get a chance, and I can hope for change.  Because as teachers, our voices are being drowned.  Our voices are not being heard.  Proponents of the testing say teachers are too invested, too close to the situation to have an unbiased opinion.  We are afraid of what the tests may say about our teaching.  We do not want accountability.  And no matter how many times I argue about the fallacy of these statements, I am still lumped into a group that few want to listen to.  So as a teacher, I have had to find my peace within this testing obsessed nation, protect my students as best as I can and save my energy for the fight I will put up for my own children.

Because as a parent, I worry.  I worry about the massive amount of time these test are taking.  I worry about the developmentally appropriateness of questions.  I worry about how they don’t actually mimic the skills that we help our students develop such as arguing one’s opinion or noticing the different facets of an answers.   I worry about how these tests will be used to further rank our children as we rank their teachers, as we rank their schools, as we rank their districts.  I worry how these test will continue to perpetuate the myth that the American public education system is a broken one and it therefore needs to be all about choice and privatization.

So I already know all of my own children will be opted out when they get to that age.  I already know that my children will not be asked to sit through hours of testing to prove something that doesn’t benefit them or change their direct instruction.  They will not be asked to help rank their school through a computerized test.   As a parent, right now, I have a larger voice than I do as a teacher.   And I will keep using that voice whenever I can, even if it only means helping the four kids that I get to call my own.  The fight has to start somewhere.

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” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.

aha moment, choices, inspiration, lessons learned, student voice

Teaching Students How to Speak Well – A Unit to Explore

It had never occurred to me that I haven’t taught my students how to speak well.  After all, for the past 7+ years my students have spoken in front of their peers.  I have told them to stand up straight, to speak clear and loud and to establish eye contact.  That should be enough, right?  Except for the last 7+ years I have also sat through one terrible presentation after another.  Yes, most have spoken loudly, yes, most have had some stilted eye contact, and yes, most have stood up fairly straight.  Yet, most have also been terrible presenters.  No passion, no enthusiasm, no special something that have made them enjoyable to listen to. I figured it was because I taught elementary school and perhaps better speaking skills would develop naturally.

As a 7th grade teacher, now I can see that they don’t.  My 7th graders still present fairly poorly and I realized, with the help of Erik Palmer, that we need to teach how to speak well.  Not just assume that students will figure it out over the years.  We need to teach it early, we need to teach it often, and we need to teach it every year.  So I have snagged ideas from Erik’s article and adapted them to fit our purpose.  Feel free to use and make your own and check out his other resources as well, it has been easy and fun to use.

The main idea I have borrowed from Erik is his 6 points of what a great speaker does.  These have been the framework for this week and as we go forward.  It has been essential for my students to have common language and a framework to develop them as speakers and this is what Erik discusses quite well.

These have been the guiding points for our lessons and have also been the base points of our rubric.

While we will be doing speeches all quarter, our first assignment was given on the very first day of the quarter to give the students a goal to work toward.  Assignment:  Create a one minute speech answering “How do you want to be remembered at the end of 7th grade?” (Thank you Josh Stumpenhorst for the inspiration).  To see the entire assignment, see here.

I have tweaked their first speak to be given in a circle format.  Our school uses counseling circles/restorative justice circles throughout the year and every Tuesday all of our students do circles with their homeroom teacher.  This format for delivering a speech means that my students are automatically more comfortable, which is a huge barrier in 7th grade.  They are so worried about what their peers are thinking about them.  And that is something I have faced head on when I have been teaching them how to speak.  My biggest tool has been my own enthusiasm and tendency to screw up and laugh about it.  I have no problem making mistakes in front of them to take the pressure off of them.

So what have we been doing?  Note: these lessons are about 10 minutes long, maybe 15 depending on the discussions.

Big talking points every single day:

  • What have they been taught in the past and why they need to learn better skills.
  • The need to trust others when we speak or at the very least assume that others mean us well when they watch.
  • The need to step a little out of their comfort zone.
  • That speaking well is a life skill, something that will help them be more successful in life.

Poise

Student definition:  Your swag, or how you use your body to match your message.

  • Discuss what is poise, have the students get up and move showing you poise.  They started off very hesitantly, which is ok, I have been taking baby steps.
  • Every student gets a Shell Silverstein poem and are told to practice speaking it aloud.  I then fishbowl the next activity – perform the poem just worrying about poise, none of the other things, and have their mirror (partner) critique them kindly.
  • I then partnered them up randomly and had them perform the poems in front of just their partner.  I helped them coach each other and we talked about how to give kind criticism that allows others to grow.

Voice

Student definition:  Controlling how you speak to match the message.

  • Discuss what is voice, why it is important to take control of your voice and how it is not just all about being loud and clear at all times.
  • Video clips of powerful speakers.  After giving them background knowledge about Hitler and his powers of persuasion, I showed them a one minute clip with no subtitles just so they could see how he used his speaking skills to incite people.  This really caused a reaction in my students because they saw how powerful being a great speaker can be and how that power can be used for good or evil.
  • I then juxtaposed that with clips of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who used their voices in much different manners and yet still had people follow them.
  • The students then worked on what type of voice would be needed for their speech assignment.

Life

Student definition:  The passion you bring to your speech has to match your message.

  • We faced our demons head on this day as we discussed why most 7th graders have a hard time speaking in front of people.  This was excellent because the kids offered very honest answers about their fear of being judged by others or screwing up.
  • I then told them about major screw ups I have had as a teacher such as substituting words in read alouds for the wrong very bad words, clean underwear falling out of my pant leg while teaching thanks to static, and other fun things that happen when you are a teacher.
  • I read aloud Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems and did the emotions and voices.  I actually made them laugh out loud because I went there, something that is hard to get 7th graders to do.  This was important because they needed to see me let down my barriers.  Then we talked about allowing us to be silly when we need to be such as when we read picture books aloud and I promised them that I would be the craziest person that day.
  • We discussed why it can be extra hard to read aloud in front of others because we worry about screwing up the words.
  • They then each got one line or two from Jabberwocky, a phenomenal nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll.  Why this poem?  Because students can’t mess up the pronunciation of the words, who knows how they are supposed to be pronounced?  They got one minute to practice how they were going to perform their line with as much life in their voice as they could.
  • I lined them up in order and each student performed their line.  Some classes we did it twice to allow the kids to build up their courage.
  • This was awesome, the kids laughed – laughed!  And not at each other but with each other.  This was a huge break through for my kids.

Eye Contact

Student definition:  How we look at our audience and how they look at us

  • We did different things in different classes based on their unique mix of personalities:
    • Most classes I did an eye contact experiment: Two students sat in front of the class while two other students came up.  The two seated students shut their eyes and then had to report whether the other two students were looking at them or not.  Most of the time they were wrong.  We did it a few times.  Mission: To prove that not everyone is looking when we think they are.
    • I had note-cards with different emotions on and we used them in different ways.  Some classes stood in a circle and acted out the emotions.  Others found a partner to do it.
    • Some classes I did an emotion charade scavenger hunt competition.  All students got an emotion but was not allowed to say it or tell others about it.  Four kids each got the same emotion (anger, sadness, excitement etc) and when I said go the students had to try to find their group partners without talking and gesturing, they could only use their emotion charades.  First team to correctly assemble got a prize.
    • All of these things may not seem like they have a lot to do with eye contact but they do; students had to pay attention and use their facial expressions to express their feelings.  This is all part of doing eye contact well and definitely helped students push themselves out of their comfort zone a little.

Gestures

Student definition:  How our hand/body movements tell our message.

  • I have note-cards with different statements on them (“Yes, we won!, No….., What happened?” and such) and students will be acting them out using gestures, with no voice.
  • We also acted out different versions of the same words, such as “no, ok, and I’m sorry…”
  • Students will have to give directions of how to do something to their partner using only gestures, such as how to tie a shoe, how to mail a letter, how to make spaghetti.  Their partner will have to try to guess what they are doing.
  • We will also try to make emotions with our hands, so what do our hands do if we are sad, if we are confused, if we are happy and such.  The key is building awareness of our own bodies so we can control them when we speak.

Speed

Student definition:  How fast or slow we speak.

  • We will watch clips of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Speech paying attention to the way Martin Luther King Jr. changes his pacing to emphasize his message.   I also have various other clips of speakers to show up, just snippets so they can see speakers speak well.  It is important that students get a sense of many types of speakers; male and female, present and past.
  • Each student will decide which picture book to act out by themselves or with a partner, I have grabbed a stack of Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss for them to work on all of the elements.  They will work on all elements that we have been working on.
  • They will not perform in front of the class but instead in small groups and then kindly critique each other.

And that’s how we are starting.

As we move forward this quarter, I am excited to give them continued opportunities to speak and speak well.  Next year, this will be starting off the year.  Not only are we becoming better communicators, we are also building community.  The students are slightly kinder, slightly more relaxed, and having a bit more fun in English because they are all acting a little bit silly, getting into something a little bit more, and yet developing essential skills at the same time.  I am sad that I hadn’t taught this before but at least I can correct my ways starting now.  All students deserve to have the opportunity to become great speakers and their practice starts with us.

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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   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.