aha moment, answers, assumptions, balance, being a teacher, believe, change, education, education reform, educators, elementary, hopes, inspiration, invest, school staff, talented, teachers, teaching

Bring Out the Experts

The education community loves experts. Experts are flown in, bussed in, and wined and dined. If you are an expert on something chances are there is a school that wants to pay you for sharing your thoughts. In fact, you don’t even have to claim to be an expert, others will often bestow that title upon you as a favor. After all, how else will your expense be excused? So I wonder, how does one become an expert, after all, aren’t we all just humble learners?

The word expert is tinged with weight. To be an expert you must be not just knowledgable, but also an authority. Yet who decides when one is an authority? Does it need a book deal? A huge following? Or someone else who is an expert to look at you kindly? Who decides who the experts are?

We are quick to bring in outside experts whenever there is a need but often I wonder who could we have turned to on-site? Who at this school could already have shared that same information at a fraction of the price? Who at this school could have had the opportunity to teach others, much as we teach our students every day. I consider myself lucky being surrounded by experts every day. I find myself among some incredible educators that work hard to bring their expertise into the classrooms to benefit the students. Isn’t it time for all of us to recognize the experts among us?

I dare to propose that we are all experts. Although not world known, or even known outside of our small circles, yet we are knowledgable of something particular, something that we can claim authority on. And so consider this; at school you are indeed surrounded by experts. Whether they are experts at teaching the civil war, grammar, haikus or how to dribble, they have deep intimate knowledge that they can pass on to others. So share your expertise with others, go ahead open up and discuss what you know you are good at. We have to get better at celebrating each others knowledge, each others succeses, simply each other. We are all experts, how will you foster expertise?

being a teacher, elementary, kidblog, Student-centered, writing

If You Give a Classroom Videos

If you give a classroom videos to watch, they may just ask for more.  And then when you play another one, they may start to discuss if it is true what the video purports.

As they discuss the message they ask to write that day’s Op.Ed. on the topic and groan when you only give them 15 minutes to write.

When they start to write, you will notice there is furious scribbling and lots of staring.  Then you ask why they are staring and they tell you that they are thinking.  As they think, they come up with even better reasons for why there should be fun in education.

When the time is up, the most reluctant of writers eagerly raise their hand.  As they share, you notice, that other students are nodding in approval.  As they nod in approval, you see the speakers smile.

As the speakers smile, you notice the mood getting lifted and more students raise their hand to share.  As they continue to share, you realize just how much thought went into their writing and you get very, very proud.

When you realize how proud you are, you know this has to be shared with others, so you ask the students to please publish it in their kidblog.

The students cheer as they love to blog and as the cheers settle, one student raises their hand eager to ask a question.

If you let that student ask their question, they will ask if they may watch another video.  And if you let them watch another video, chances are they will want to watch another one after that.

advice, alfie kohn, assumptions, being a teacher, classroom setup, community, educators, elementary, new teacher, new year

Declutter I say! Or Why Motivational Posters Demotivate

Life is full of choices, so choose carefully! How can anyone love you if you do not love yourself? And my favorite: failure is never an option! All sayings found on various motivational posters sold to teachers that mean well and boy, do they sell. Anyone who has ever been in a teacher store those last couple of weeks before school start will see the poster wheels spinning frantically as the just right poster is sought. Ok, I admit I, I was one of those teachers, however, I thought I was clever and that I had it all figured out. You see, I had edited my pre-packaged collection and therefore only had select few displayed. Thus, my students knew that these were the sayings they had to focus on. I remember one was a cute little frog hanging on to a tree branch and something about sticking with it. Oh, day in and day out that little frog inspired my students to never give up! Right? Well, not exactly. My students didn’t care. I am sure they thought they were cute and one or two of them used them for inspiration for their own doodles in their journals but did it ignite their passion for learning? Hardly, in fact, I would like to argue quite the opposite. You see, my students were overloaded with messages. Walk into almost any elementary classroom and you will be bombarded with motivational posters, hand-made posters, student work, rules, classroom jobs and anything else that deserves a special place on the wall. And we don’t just tack it to the all, we put up back posters and fancy boarders o that it gets really colorful and pops! In fact, bare walls are taunted and laughed at, seen as someone being unprepared or dare I say dispassionate about their room, their job, their kids!

And so the pressure on new teachers in particular is immense. You may be new but your room should still look inviting, educationally functional and also be a representation of you as a teacher. That last week before my first week of school ever, I was waking up in cold sweat wondering whether the kids would get “me” in the room? And then school happened and I realized little by little that even though I had labored intensely over my handmade sign with the great Shakespeare quote “Do Not be Afraid of Greatness” my students had never read it or noticed it really. How do I know? My principal asked them about it when I was observed the first time. But surely they had noticed all of the signs? Not so much, even if I had pored over each placement of every poster so much that my walls had holes in them from my tearing off the gorilla tape (note to self: don’t ever use gorilla tape again.) I had created rules – keep them simple but firm, and a little flexible. Classroom jobs – instill responsibility but make the chart so fun that the kids cannot wait to see what job they will do. And maps – I had maps all over my room. Why maps? Well, I really like maps and they filled all that dreaded empty wall space. I would have continued to cover and decorate had it not been for a pesky thing called the firecode. It stopped me at 20%.

So what changed? One day I realized that it wasn’t my room that represented me, but myself that represented me. In fact, I got sick of re-taping posters that kept falling down, or moving them when I actually needed the space for learning and so little by little down they came. The ultimate clean up came when I had to move rooms this year. I sorted, evaluated and donated. Now I chuckle when I see my “old” posters hanging somewhere else. Don’t they realize why I got rid of them? I also thought about my students more and how they reacted to the environment I created. Too much of it was about me, and how I wanted the room to be. They didn’t feel welcome or that the space was theirs, but merely as guests passing through borrowing the space. Another consideration was that I have students that get over-stimulated quite easily. Being a clutter freak myself I start to get clammy when I stay in these rooms too long so imagine if you are a student trying to focus on whatever is going on on the whiteboard. Where do you look? To the poster telling you to keep focusing or on to the actual board? So is my room bare walls? Nah, but what is up there is important. In fact, the kids have noticed what is posted. Quotes form the Little Prince, from the “I Have a Dream” Speech, and student introductions in Wordles. We have some literary elements as reminders and even a couple of pictures. The students know how obsessed I am with zombies so they draw me pictures of flesh eaters. No rules, no motivational posters, just us. Our space, our room. And most importantly, room to grow into a community. Into making the space our own. They own the room as much as I do and that is more important that sticking to it or never giving up!

acheivement, alfie kohn, assumptions, being a teacher, believe, change, choices, communication, difference, elementary, get out of the way, grades, homework, learning, parents, promise, trust

How Homework Destroys

It finally happened; a parent decided to disagree with my new take on homework. They do not feel that I am providing enough and thus am doing a disservice to the students by lulling them into a fake sense of security in their skills. My response at first was indignation; how dare so and so question my fantastic educational shift in philosophy. Why are they not enlightened or believers as well? And then it dawned on me; I have not shown them the way.

I spend a lot of time speaking to students about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what the goal is for their learning but not enough explaining that to the parents. And while I hope that parents have faith in me, I cannot take it for granted. I am, after all, messing with a system that has been set in place for many years and that these same parents are products of. So, of course, my system may come as a shock at first, and without the proper explanation it will continue to be so. After all, parents have been trained to think that for every grade level you figure out homework load by multiplying the grade level with 10 minutes. So by 4th grade, students should at the very least be doing 40 minutes of homework a night. And yet, my students don’t. They do most of their work in class, even staying in for recess so that I may help them, and I never willingly send home a piece of homework that I know they will struggle for hours with.

Homework should be practice, a showing of skills. It should not be a two hour time consumer where both mom, dad and the encyclopedia gets involved. I explain this to my students and the sense of relief is visible in them. They know that I will challenge them in class but at home they may pursue life instead. So if you work hard at school then the reward is rest, family time, and a pursuit of happiness. And it works. My students are still learning everything they should for the year, albeit in a more hands-on manner. I am shying away from worksheets and instead having conversations about learning. Our favorite tool is our dry-eraseboards that allows me a quick check in for understanding. And the students are noticing the difference. No longer dreading the afternoon because I will continue to haunt their day. No longer dreading school because it means so many extra hours of works. No longer dreading learning because they are realizing that learning is something you do at school and that it doesn’t come form worksheets.

When I recently welcomed 9 new students into my room, one “old” student told me that she was looking forward to seeing how the newbies would react since I “teach a little crazy.” And perhaps that is true. I am loud, obnoxiously so at times, and I have high standards. I push kids to learn, I push kids to understand, and then I back off. I let them think about it, let the learning resonate within them, and then I challenge them to dredge it out again the following day.

By no means, am I the perfect teacher. I have many years of learning to come, but I do know that I am on to something here and I stand at a fork in the road signaling a massive shift in my whole educational philosophy. I believe these students are learning, I believe I am preparing them as well as any other teacher, and most importantly I believe I am letting them be kids at the same time. My students know that if something is homework it is for the benefit of their learning and is important to do, not just another piece of paper that their teacher didn’t get to in class. They know that I only assign it if it is truly valuable, and not just something for me to use for grades. They know that we will meet and discuss their learning, always knowing what is missing, what is accomplished, what the direction should be. They know that if I assign something to them it is because they have the skills needed to do it. Do yours?