Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

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I have been thinking a lot about failure. About this whole notion of growth mindset and having kids take risks. About how often we ask kids to just keep trying even when it is hard yet seem to fail to do so ourselves. About how often we expect kids to give us their all, their best, their utmost, and then for them to navigate the pieces when it all falls apart, after all isn’t that what having grit teaches you to do?

About the supposed safety nets we have in place for students to fail safely.

About how we tell them that experimentation is great, that trying something new is the way to learn, about stretching themselves into unknown territory so they can discover who they truly are.

About how it doesn’t all add up.

Because the thing is, and I know I have said this before, we say a lot of things as educators without really thinking about what we are asking all kids to do. We say a lot of things without looking at the systems we already have in place, the routines and procedures that wield so much power in our schools that actively fight against this whole notion of embracing failure as another way to learn.

Take grades for example. We tell kids to take risks but then expect them to all succeed even if on shaky ground. If they don’t, then their scores or assessments reflect that. How often do we fail to recognize that it is because we attach subjective scores to something that we boil learning and curiosity into something we never intended. It becomes nothing more than an experiment in playing the grade game rather than the true learning experience it should be.

Take control and compliance. How often do our beginning of the year routines surround getting kids to be quiet, to sit still, to only ask questions when we designate the time for it. To make only the smallest of spaces for themselves in order for all of us to function because you can’t have a functioning classroom if kids are too loud, too energetic, or take up too much space.

Take how we handle behaviors. How often the preferred method is social isolation playing itself out in some form of removal from the classroom. How often we ask kids to leave in order for us to keep teaching and yet we see the behaviors continue as they rejoin us because nothing has changed in the experience, only paused.

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

How often we tell our dreamer kids to come back to Earth.

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

How often we somehow tell kids that to be a successful student all you have to do is play by the rules but then we never hand them a rule book or we change the rules altogether.

And then we wonder why kids say they don’t think school is for them.

So as we race toward the end of the year, or perhaps only the middle depending on your hemisphere, I want to take a moment to think about what my students are telling me they need. About what I am telling them not just with my words, but in my actions, my routines, and my expectations.

About how I need to continue to ask whether I not only would want to be a student in my own classroom, but also could be a successful one. About how we need to not give students a voice because they already have one, but instead need to carve out an authentic space for the things they have to say.

How it starts with asking questions – do you feel respected, does this learning matter, how can we create engaging learning opportunities together? How it continues with reflection – how is my voice and my power being used as a potential tool for inequity, does every child feel safe with me, does every child have a chance of truly belonging? How it rests with us as we realize that there is still so much to be done, and yet so that can be done if we start within the small decisions we make every day. If we take apart the small routines and structures that we put in place to make it work for everyone and ask whether it truly works for everyone, because almost everyone is not close enough. How along with our thoughts surrounding how we want to have better curriculum, we also need to think of how we want students to feel with us and then how we are going to accomplish that.

How when they tell us that they want to change the world, we start with the one they live in every day; our classrooms, our schools, our attitudes.

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

Because much like our students, we all have so much to learn. I have so much to learn. I have so much more failing to do, only so I can keep growing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.

being a teacher, failure, mistakes, students

When We Admit Our Faults Or When Math Blows Up in Your Face

I admit it; math today was a mess.  I had done my preparation, I had created my lesson, I had everything ready and then in the middle of it; breakdown.  The kids were getting antsy, my explanation didn’t work, and finally it dawned on me ; I was not making sense.  Mortification, terror, and just a little bit of embarresement.  You see, I hadn’t taken the time to fully understand the concept being taught.  I had prepared, sure, but I hadn’t figured it out on my own.  I had just follwoed the prompts of the books and copied the words thinking that I understood when in reality I didn’t.  In fact, I wasn’t even close.

So when students started asking questions, there I stood with a choice to make; do I admit my faults or do I pretend that I know what i am talking about.  I swallowed my pride and admitted it,”Sorry, but I have to figure this out first before I teach it to you.”  The kids went quiet.  “I don’t want to teach it to you because I will teach it wrong, so let’s get back to it tomorrow when I have had some time.”  Then the kids sighed in relief.  “Good Mrs. Ripp, because I was really confused…” and the energy immediately returned to the room.

After school today, I sought out a colleague and I asked them to walk me through it and explain it like they did to the students since the book just wasn’t clicking for me.  And as he patiently explained it, I realized once again how our students must feel when something doesn’t make sense.  I realized how important it is for us to figure our curriculum out before we teach it to students.  I realized how crucial it is for us to admit when we simply don’t know. 

Sure my lesson tomorrow just a got a little more crowded, but in the end, it is worth it.  I didn’t wing it, I didn’t fake it, I presented it as a true learning moment in which the teacher didn’t know, and then I figured out how I would learn it myself.  In the end, when I admitted my fault, I learned more, and that lesson is something worth passing on.

achievement, being me, failure, rewards

No, You Didn’t Make It, Such Is Life – Should We Shield Students from Disappointment?

I still remember my reaction after I hung up the phone.  Shock, disbelief, and then uncontrollable tears and anger.  How dare he tell me I didn’t get the job?  How dare he tell me that I interviewed really well but someone else just beat me by a little bit? How dare he not give me what I deserved?  And then rational Pernille took over, I took a deep breath, and realized once again; such is life.  Disappointment, no matter how much we would rather live with it, is a constant in life.  We don’t always get what we want even though we worked so hard for it.  We don’t always get the job, the guy, the prize, whatever our heart and dedication has been set on.  We just don’t always win and that realization is part of being an adult.

This past week I had to deal with being the cause of disappointment at my school.  I, along with a fellow teacher, run the annual talent show where students audition to hopefully make it into the show.  Not all students make it because of time constraints and we are faced with tough decisions of who gets to be in the show.  This may seem a surprise for those who read this blog; that I would have anything to do with sorting children, and yet, here is my exception.  This show is not mandatory.  Students choose to audition well knowing that they may not make it.  They rehearse, they create and then they give it their best shot, and just like in adult life, sometimes that shot just isn’t good enough.  Sometimes the audition just goes poorly, sometimes they need more rehearsal, sometimes it comes down to logistics.  Whatever the cause for the cut, it is never easy to tell a child that they didn’t make it.  And yet, such is life.

So how do we deal with disappointment in our children and our students?  As a parent, I know how much I want Thea to succeed in whatever she puts her mind too but at the same time I know there will be disappointment.  I know there will be times when I cannot understand why she didn’t make it, why she didn’t get it, why she didn’t win, but at the same time I don’t want her to feel she always should.  I want her to realize that it doesn’t come down to life being unfair, but rather that we cannot get everything we put our minds and hearts to.  That it is okay to get upset but then you need to move on and do something constructive with your emotions.  That disappointment is inevitable and it is what we do afterwards and how we react to it that matters.

Some parents think the talent show should be stopped.  That it is not healthy for us to “do” this to children and I would agree with them if the students were forced to audition, but they are not.  In elementary school there is such a fear of disappointment and having our students fail.  We shield them from sadness and anything where they might not succeed, but at what cost?  We cannot shield them forever, we cannot control life and other people.  So why not help them through disappointing situations instead?  Why not have mini situations, such as a talent show, where we can help them process their feelings and give them tools they can use later in life as well.  Why not be role models rather than bubble creators?  Why not let them fail and then learn from that?  I would love your thoughts.

Be the change, being a teacher, believe, failure, Student-centered

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.

being a teacher, failure, students

When Students Are Afraid to Try

Today it smacked me right in the face; what I am so disheartened over, what I am fighting to end, what I think is one of the downfalls of the way we educate.  It wasn’t something grand, nor something I had expected and yet there it was; taunting me to do something about it, making me feel oh so powerless.  What was this beast, you ask, fore it must have been epic?  Well, in my world it was because it was kids afraid to try…

My kids, those who I fail in front of all of the time.  Those kids who are not afraid to try something new, to create, to think of wacky ideas.  Those kids that try again and again and again every day, they just froze.  Came to me in droves, asking for help, giving up without even putting their pencil to the paper.  The culprit?  Having to create a data-set that fit the clues; one math problem.  Frustrated at first I told them to just try, mess around with some numbers, attack it whichever way they thought made sense.  Just do something.  And yet they didn’t.  They had given up, they had surrendered to this math problem, it simply made them feel stupid.

So this evening, sitting at the dinner table I shared my story with Brandon, who does more teacher reflection than the average teacher it seems.  I asked “Why?  Why were they so afraid to try?”  He stated, “Failure.”  And I think he is right.  My kids, my adventurous, smart 5th graders, were afraid to fail.  Were afraid to not get it right, so instead of trying it, they simply refused.  That way I would have to show them how, I would never know that they were not smart enough to do it, I would never know that this itty bitty problem had matched them, even if none of this was true.

So what do we do when the kids are afraid to even try?  What do we do when all of the times we have failed in front of them is forgotten?  When they have started to believe that if they cannot get it right, they should not even attempt it?  I have a classroom were we thrive on failed attempts, learn from our mistakes, and always pick ourselves up and yet today that all vanished.  Tomorrow it will be back, I am sure, those kids will be daring again, but today, they were simply scared and all I can think to myself is; what have we done to our kids?