being a teacher, collaboration, control, trust

Don’t You Mentor Me! Will Teachers Ever Embrace the Role of a Coach?

This year I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building and although I willingly accepted part of me trembled just a little bit with fear.  See being a mentor implies that you know what you are doing and since I keep changing what it is I am doing, I don’t know if I fall into that category.  However, I also knew that I wouldn’t be a mentor to a brand new impressionable teacher but rather to someone who actually has a year more teaching experience than I do.  So it wasn’t a case of me spilling my infinite wisdom of how to thrive in your first year of teaching, but rather to communicate ideas and offer discussion opportunities to help us both.  So being a mentor has been a reflective practice, mostly because Mark has given me as much food for thought as I hope I have him.  At the same time though I know that I have not fully acted as a mentor because I am afraid to step on toes, not that he would mind, but I just don’t feel right.  And I don’t think I am alone.

So what is our problem with mentors or coaches in education?  Why do we like the idea of them as long as we are not the ones being mentored?  We tell our students to work together, to learn from others, and yet our defensive hairs stand up on our necks the minute someone mentions a coaching or mentoring opportunity involving us.  I happen to know that I have a lot to learn and yet the reaction even comes from me; what do you mean you are going to teach me something?  I am doing just fine on my own, thank you, take your concern to someone who really needs it.

Perhaps this is our achilles heel as a community; the inability to take advice or have a discussion on how to improve ourselves.  Sure we say we want to get better as teachers, but often that means on our own, not with someone coaching us.  We, of all professions, should be embracing the very nature of the coach or mentor, or whatever you want to call it.  We should celebrate when we actually have the opportunity to learn from others, with others, and yet most of us get defensive instead.  Are we just too competitive to take advice?  Or have we lost our sense of trust when it comes to others wanting to help us?  Do we really think that we are doing our very best teaching every day?  I, for one, do not, just look at yesterday’s post, but still why I am not asking people to come in and discuss my teaching?  Why am I not the one out soliciting feedback from my local colleagues?  Why do I hide behind my classroom walls as much as anyone?

So how do we build the trust?  Where do we start as a mentor or as a coach or whatever other title may be bestowed upon us?  Can teachers ever learn to trust each other enough to know that we are are here to be be the best teachers we possibly can be?  I just don’t know but I hope someone else does.

For a wonderful perspective on lessons learned from being a coach, please read John T. Spencer’s post “10 Things I Learned From Coaching.”

Be the change, being a teacher, control, difference, mistakes

Oh No, Not Another Change – Why Stay Skeptical When Curiosity is More Fun?

Image from icanread

A new curriculum is announced for next school year… again.  Every year since I have started something new has been introduced and so I find myself in the back of the group, murmuring about how once again something new is coming, more money being spent, more time needed to learn, to understand, to adapt.  Once again I have to rewrite everything.  Once again; change.  I go home and discuss it with Brandon who stops me in my tracks with a simple question; why not get excited about it?  And I think, yes, why not, indeed?

Why not replace my skepticism with curiosity?  Why not embrace the new like I do within my own classroom; try it out and then judge it.  Why am I, already, after only 4 years of changing turning into that teacher, you know, the one that is quick to judge.  The one that jumps to conclusions, the one that wants things to stay the same because they are not broken and do not need to be fixed, thank you very much.  I change things every year, I hardly ever use the same lessons, I change so it fits my kids, my mood and my goals.  I change because if I became static I would be bored out of my mind and few things are worse than a bored teacher  So why am I already so stuck in my teaching ways that I have to be the one adding negative thoughts to a new initiative?  I don’t know how that happened so soon.

So I renew my vow of positivity.  I want to embrace the new, which does not mean going into it blind, but rather than I will stay open to it.  I will explore it, adapt it and make it work for me.  I will give things a change, suspend my judge.  Stay curious and not assume it will be awful.  I am much too young to be so stuck in my ways and that is a healthy lesson for me to learn.  Let’s hope I don’t forget it.

being a teacher, control, projects, Student-centered

Hello Innovation Day!

When I first started teaching 4th grade, I must admit, I underestimated my students.  I knew that they were capable, but did not realize just how creative, innovative, and eager for a challenge this age of students can be.  (In fact, I would argue that any student really fits that description if we provide them with the opportunity, but that’s another post).  So this year as I re-honed my philosophy and knew that I wanted to create more hands-on, student-led explorations throughout the year, I knew we had to end the year with something magical.  Some sort of project that would show me and my students just how far we have traveled in our road to become independent, creative, problem solvers and thinkers.  Hello Innovation Day!

Innovation Day is one of those projects I wish I had imagined, but instead that honor goes to many corporations before me (Google FedEx Day), in fact, I cannot even take credit for bringing it to a school setting, other teachers I follow on Twitter have already done it.  And yet this will be the first one for me, for my students, and I am more than thrilled.  The idea is simple and can be adapted to any setting.

On May 9th, my students get to work on whatever they choose.  The requirements are simple; they must learn something, they must produce something, and it has to be done in one day.  All year, I ask my students what they would like to learn about and although I have been able to incorporate many of those items into my teaching, there are some I have not gotten to – Irish Castles, Big Ben, and more about animals are some examples.    Here is their chance.  The preparation has been minimal, students had to fill out this sheet (which is created by Josh Stumpenhorst and minimally adapted by me) and they need to think about their product.  In class we have been discussing various ideas and students have sought me out to discuss process.  That’s it.

My job this day will be to document the learning through video and pictures, and also to be of assistance if needed.  The students are supplying most of the materials, and are doing all of the work.  Ideas being floated around are varied such as researching snowflake patters, building a t-rex model, or creating a paper zoo – whatever they can imagine and build.  And me?  Well as my students reminded me on Friday; we don’t really need you Mrs. Ripp.  Ad what a glorious thing that is to hear.

attention, being me, control, education, power

May I Have Your Attention

Attention; one of the most powerful gifts you can offer someone. When we care about a person, we give them our attention as the main way of showing it. Attention when doled out can make someone experience deep emotions whether in a great way or not. Attention when handled carelessly can inspire someone to believe misplaced intentions or that we care less than we do. Paying attention is a way of transferring power to the person we are paying attention to, and that power is, well, more powerful than we can even fathom.

As a society we strive to categorize and be categorized. Through our labels we determine our social circles, our place in the community, and certainly our own self-worth. Every label we either bestow upon ourselves or are given comes with a set amount of societal power. Through our profesion we receive a certain amount of power societally predetermined, as a woman I may receive less power than if I were male, and don’t even get my started on the power determined by our skin color. In a perfect world we wouldn’t be prejudged, or categorized, before someone knows us well but it appears we are all either too busy or wired in such a way that it happens despite our best intentions. So every day we choose to give power to other people through our attention to them and that power shift can either benefit us or harm us. How much time have I spent worrying about someone’s impression of me; more power to them. How much time have I spent about how people will view me; more power relinquished. How much time have I spent paying attention to empty celebrities, politicians, or people I will never ever interact with in any positive manner? Way too much.

So how do we change the way we offer up power to people who do not matter? How can we stop being sucked in by those that mostly do harm? In this politically charged America, it seems we need to dust off the civility but where? So from now on, I want to be sparser with my attention. I want to give it fully every day to those that mean the most; family, friends, my school community. I will strive to remove my share of given power to people who spew negativity, to people who only thrive when there is misery to be discussed, to those who do not mean well. We may not be able to change society and the uneven power held by people, but we can change the share we control. Attention is an incredible gift; give it to those that matter.

being a teacher, change, communication, control, students

What Do you Mean I am Not the Center of Attention?

This year I stepped out of the limelight.  Hard, cruel, and totally uncomfortable but I am learning to just be quiet.  And not so that I freak my students out with long stern stares or raised eyebrows, although that does happen on occasion.  But so that students can talk, learn, and explore.

You see when a teacher talks a lot, and teachers usually love to talk, students turn into drones.  We know all of the material already so we are so eager to tell the kids all about it.  Some call it excitement over curriculum, I just call it teacher mouth.  We talk to get them ready to them learn, we talk about the learning they are doing, and then we talk about what they have just learned.  Have we ever thought that maybe us being quiet would let them learn better, more, faster?

So I decided that this year would be it.  After reading brain research that shows that students pay proper attention to the same amounts of minutes as their age; oh yes, I have 9 minutes of attention time, I knew I had to stop talking.  Immediately, me ego tried to stop me; how will they ever learn anything if I don’t tell them all about it?  Well, that has been the great part.  Students seem to be actually learning more this way.  They are talking to their classmates about concepts, they are figuring things out on their own and most importantly; they are eager to get to work and learn something.

As the proud parent that lets go of the bicycle so junior can peddle on their own, I am learning to let go of my own ego.  We are so highly educated that we think the only way the students learn best is if we teach them.  Wrong, the best way for student to learn is to explore, and fail, and then explore some more.

So while my classroom may be a little more noisy, ok, a lot more noisy, this year, and lessons may be taking a bit longer because the students have to discover the answer rather than me pointing it out to them, there is also more excitement, more come on and do it and more get-to-it-ness then there has ever been before.  So even though I catch myself sometimes talking too long, I am also getting better at letting go.  After all, I know this stuff already which is why I  am the teacher, now let them have their turn in the spotlight.