classroom expectations, future, hopes

Will School Rob My Daughter of Her Voice?

There she is, my daughter, not caring one bit who hears her or whether they approve of her actions.  She saw a piano, saw an opportunity and knew she had to sing.  I sit there, slightly mortified at first and then slowly relishing this moment.  She doesn’t care, she is performing, doing what she loves, making up songs that take their truth from the pictures.  She is just being her…

I worry what will happen to this part of her personality as she grows up.  will she continue to do what feels right at that very moment?  Will she have opportunities to create when she has that urge?  To sing and play and do what makes her her?

Will school allow her to stay herself or will the rules of the classroom tell her to be quiet, to sit down, to do what is prescribed and follow the program.  Will her only chance of individuality be choosing what color pen to write in or the picture on her binder?  Will she be lucky enough to have teachers that will continue to offer her opportunities to explore herself, to continue to build her confidence while teaching her the rules of society?

I do not expect for her to be given a free pass to perform like the kids in Fame, but I hope someone recognizes that this little girl is not afraid to share.  Not afraid to express herself.  Not afraid to raise her voice, and that they will celebrate it rather than roll their eyes and tell her to sit down and listen.  I hope school doesn’t take my little girl out of her.  I hope school becomes a place for growth and not for reigning in and quieting down.  I hope she gets an opportunity to create and express herself in some way.

challenge, hopes, Innovation Day, Student-centered

What Is Innovation Day and Why Should You Care?

On May 7th, I was lucky enough to witness almost seventy 5th grade students take full control of their learning, their time, their outcomes, and their work ethic.  How you may ask?  By having them all partake in Innovation Day, my second annual one.  For those who do not know Innovation Day is the school version of FedEx Day (although they want to rename it); a day where students get to choose what they want to learn about as long as they create something to deliver.  These creations are varied as can be seen by the different pictures in our video, but the one thing they all have in common is passion.

You see Innovation Day is all about passionate self-directed learning.  I do not dictate what the students have to do or what topic they study.  I do not give them output restrictions.  I do not grade it.  I do not guide them.  What I do though is help them find a way to create, I guide them through discussion and preparation before the day and then on the day I step aside, fully confident that they can indeed achieve without me.  And that is truly what is hardest about Innovation day; getting out of the way.  not offering your help, not showing students how to do something or research something, but trusting their abilities and talents to navigate through every obstacle.  Of course, I am there in the room with them, but I mainly film their progress and then stay in my own corner.  In fact, most students are so focused on what they are trying to create that they have little time or desire to speak to me.

So why should you take the Innovation day challenge, because it is a challenge indeed!  You should take it because the trust you hand over to your students is palpable.  Because students realize that they can direct their own learning.  Because students get excited about learning and see that many things can be accomplished at school.  Because students get to show off their interests and their skills in new ways.  Because this may just inspire you to do this more often, perhaps as a genius hour?  Because this allows students to prove to you that they can manage their own time, that they can get things done within a deadline, that they do have a great work ethic; all things we tend to use homework for.  Because my students voted Innovation Day their second most favorite thing of the whol e year and that says a lot.

So how do you get started?  Well, here is my planning sheet  I have students fill out a couple weeks prior.  Here is the first post I ever wrote about it.  Here is the post I wrote after my first one where I was totally blown away.  Here are Josh Stumpenhorsts’ resources that I have used.  And finally here are two videos to show you the results.  One is of the day, the other is created on Innovation Day by Jacob who decided to do stop motion and by golly figured it out on his own.  And that truly is what it is all about.  So this year or next take the Innovation day challenge; give your students a whole day to direct their own learning and let them astound you.  You will not be disappointed.

being a teacher, hopes

Please Don’t Become A Teacher…

If you believe that those who can’t; teach.

Please don’t become a teacher if you think you just get to play with kids all day, leave when they leave, and just have them work from a textbook.

Don’t become a teacher because you think it will shelter you from the demands of a high paying job, or give you those summers off to pursue your real interests.

Please don’t become a teacher if it seems like an easy job where all you have to do is fill students’ minds and then test them on it afterwards.

But do become a teacher if you believe in all children, not just those with fortunate lives.

Become a teacher if you want to be part of someone’s life, good or bad.  If you see the world through challenges and things to explore.

Please do become a teacher if you have unwavering faith, love, and patience.   If you are not afraid of change, have convictions, and honestly believe that ALL children can succeed.

Then become a teacher; if your heart is in it, because it must be in it to endure all of the outside demands that we face.  Please do become a teacher if you want to grow and have a job that changes you as a person while you help change others.  Become a teacher if you have much to give, much to love, and much to believe.  But if you don’t, please don’t become a teacher.

Inspired by this sad secret on postsecret

hopes, New Adventure, principal

Dear New Principal

There you are with all of your hopes and dreams, your expectations, your trepidation, and a staff waiting eagerly to see how you are going to run things.  Will you be someone who comes in like a mouse or will you slug us all with your hammer of power?  What the future holds we can only guess but I know there are some  things we would love to say.

First, be kind.  We are new to you and we may need an adjustment period.  We know you have many changes and visions for our school but take some time to get to know us first.  Figure out the dynamics of our school and see what really works before you start to change and dismantle.  There are many powerful things happening that would be sad to see destroyed.

Second, know your way.  We want to be led by someone with a vision, someone who has convictions.  And yet, make sure your vision doesn’t cloud your judgment.  Does it fit with our culture?  Does it fit with the community we get to call home?  Does it fit with us and you and all of the kids?  If yes, then go ahead, if not, then perhaps discuss, reflect and reevaluate.  For whom are these changes being made?

Third, make it about the children.  We have always been focused on the students and want to stay that way.  So get to know them as you get to know us, make yourself visible and always keep their interest in mind.  Trust me, the children would rather not be tested more or discussed as mere numbers on the wall.  They do not care what standard they are being taught right now but instead whether the curriculum is engaging, relevant and allows them a choice and voice.  They are complicated, delicate, curious beings that we are privileged to work with.  Relationship first, then we can get to the academics.

Don’t exclude us but think of us as your team.  We want you to be successful as much as you want us to stay that way.  Believe in us and our crazy ideas.  Push us to do new things but know when to hold back and perhaps even hold our hand a little.  Trust us as professionals who do really want what is best for the kids but sometimes need some guidance.  Bring in new ideas but one at a time, let us figure out one before we rush into something new.  Don’t micromanage but believe in our judgment and also in our dreams.  Make friends but don’t create cliques, we are a family here and yes we may disagree but we take pride in who we are and what we create.  Trust us as professionals and defend our decisions if you agree with them.  Don’t lose yourself in trying to please everyone.  Be fair but listen to all the sides, don’t take sides whenever you can.

Don’t punish when it doesn’t fit the crime, whether student or staff.  Push us to excel and give us someone to look up to.  There are many leaders in this school but look for new ones as well, there are people here who who have such incredible ideas but never can find the words to share them.  Tell us when we do well, tell us when you notice something and do the same for the kids.

Welcome, new principal, I don’t envy your position but we are excited to have you.  We hope you are everything we have hoped for.

being a teacher, hopes

Have Hope Photo Credit

Some people say that they are tired of fighting.  That this is the end of education.  That the reform has gotten so far out of hand that there is no more room for common sense, for creative thinkers, for partnership.  Some people say that our students will suffer, and yes I agree, but some see no end to it all.  No winning, no change, just more tests, more papers, more, more, more – with less.

I say there is hope.  That amongst all of this fear, all of this uncertainty, we can still look at our students and see that spark.  That they know we suffer through testing with them and we teach them to be resilient.  We teach them that sometimes life asks you to do things that  make no sense, and we must get through it with grace, valor, and creativity.

So when it all seems to be too much, too crazy, too little, too late, think of the students.  Think of what we do for them every day when they enter their rooms at school, when we tell them good morning, when we end the day by saying thank you.  Thank you for being part of this, thank you for being part of something that is bigger than us, for placing your faith in me as your teacher.  For placing your faith in this school and this wonderful learning journey.  Have hope; our students do every day.

education reform, hopes, testing

Bring Back the Thinking

One of the biggest struggles in my classroom and teaching is how to infer.  This vast concept of being able to process information and knowledge to produce an answer is a lifeskill, one of those daunting tasks as a teacher that we must accomplish making sense of for our students.  I don’t think the students are the problem, in fact, they are quite creative in their thinking; it is the educational system as a whole that is to blame for this.

With an emphasis on tests we teach students there is only one packaged answer, at least at the elementary level.  We do not teach them that the answer can be deeper than just one sentence or that their answer may differ from ours.  Why?  Because you cannot measure that on a test.  A test requires one bubble filled in or writing that fits into someones rubric.  A test requires conformity in our thinking and particularly in our creative problem-solving skills.  Tests do not like when we debate or argue various points.  Tests urge simplicity in our instruction.

That is not to say that all tests are bad.  We often discuss how it is what you do with the information that measures the worth of a test, and yet, tests hinder us from doing exceptional things in the classroom on a daily basis.  That urgent need to constantly check for progress through a test experience, stiffles students in their quest to become bigger and better thinkers, and to help create inferences.  SO most of our instruction is teaching to the test, math has one answer, when we ask questions they almost always have one answer as well.  Teacher bias means a need for student thinking to line up with their own interpretation, so it becomes right versus wrong.   After all, how many of us after the correct answer has been given, stop to ask whether there are other correct answers?

So why am I so hung up on inferences?  Well, they require that one gathers a lot of information, mixes it up with background knowledge, and then draws a new conclusion.  Inference requires confidence in ones own qualities as a thinker, as an independent creator.  Tests do not teach confidence.  My instruction attempts to, yet I am constantly battling students who think that there is just ONE answer.  After all, that is what they have been taught.  So if they miss that one true answer, then they must be stupid.  It appears that we, by pushing tests on our students, become the creators of our own demise; students who have no confidence in their abilities to learn.  And by “We” I mean the system as a whole.  In our incessant quest to measure, we are dumbing down our student population, urging them not to think creatively but rather stick to the known, the facts, the things that can be measured.  We are making them believe that the world has a right and wrong answer in every scenario, but it doesn’t.  No wonder some of our most successful thinkers did not feel the urge to complete college.  We have to get past the one answer tests to help our students.  We have to get past the constant need for progress measurement.  Get back to teaching.  Get back to discussion.  Get back to creative solutions.  It is time to bring the thinking back in education.