aha moment, being a teacher, believe, classroom expectations, communication, get out of the way, honesty, hopes, inhibitions, inspiration, kids, learning

When Learning Fails – We Blame the Students

Being a 3rd year teacher in my district means writing a PDP or Professional Development Plan, in which we are to continually reflect upon our learning and our focus for our professional development.  I am therefore constantly reflecting with other students both face to face and through the internet on that most important question of all; why did I become a teacher? Well, I became a teacher because I believe in children and in their potential.

 Over the summer, I went through one of the most transformative periods of my life, developing a PLN and going through my chosen curriculum asking myself, “Why, why, why?” Why do I choose to teach the things I teach, besides the obvious state and district standards? Why is it that I force students to do book reports when I find them boring and unproductive? Why do I do packet work when it does not ensure learning? Why do I talk all the time, is it for control, for learning or because I am that in love with myself? Why do I fail 4th grade students? Why do I assign at least 40 minutes a homework a night? All of these were massive questions that were daunting and breathtakingly hard to be honest about, but I did it, I survived and for that I am a better teacher.

I realized over the summer that when teachers stop to question themselves is when the curriculum becomes stagnant. I know that we all get in our comfort zones and we feel that something works, so it becomes hard to give it up. But how many times have we stood in a situation where a particular cherished lesson or approach did not work and we end up blaming the students, rather than the teaching method? I had to realize that if something was not a success than I was to blame, not the make up of the students, or the particular day of the week, just me and my delivery. I therefore also knew that if I was going to rethink my teaching process than I had to fully believe and be passionate about what I teach. So this year my classroom is all about the students, or as I like to call it; it is the student-centered room. You will still find me teaching the students some of the time, but you are also more than likely going to find me walking around or sitting down and discussing curriculum. The students are learning to take control of the classroom, however, they are frightened at times, not quite sure what they are doing and yet I urge them to speak, to think, and to listen to one another. This system is not perfect, it is work in progress, but as my students grow, so do I.

So as I continue my conversations with fellow teachers, and we constantly re-evaluate ourselves, often being our own harshest critics, I am honored when others feel secure enough to tell me of the overwhelmedness or exhaustion.  I know that I have been in that same place but that this year I won’t be. Sure there may be things that do not work out, and learning that does not quite happen as well as I would like it. However, when I glance around my room and see the confidence level of my students and also the excitement that is building in regard to our learning, I know that I am to something. I am back and I am staying.

being a teacher, conferences, learning, new teacher, parents, students

Let Them Speak – Why Student Led Conferences are the Right Choice

I admit it; yesterday morning even I thought I was crazy.  I was getting ready to unleash my students in their first student led conferences and with no experience to fall back upon, those 24 super nervous students were freaking me out.  And then something magical happened; it worked!  The students took their parents through an eloquent journey of their learning, and more importantly, flaunted their knowledge while setting new goals for themselves.  I am sold.This beauty of the student-led conference was not something invented by me; in fact, many people have blazed the trail on this and I have even heard of kids as young as 1st grade leading their own conference.  Therefore when I decided this year that the classroom was no longer all about me, I was intrigued by the idea of also “allowing” students to run their own conferences.  Every year, I am exhausted and exhilarated after these.  Exhilarated, because it is a thing of beauty to discuss success, progress and goals with parents – exhausted because I talked and talked for 20 minutes a kid two or three nights in a row. Although students have always been required to be at their conference with me (why discuss them if they are not there to hear it) they were never really engaged.  Conferences for them were a way for me to tell their parents how they were doing, and as such, a passive act for them, something they were required to listen to but not be full participants in.  This year,  I knew it had to be different.Always a believer in preparation, I decided that much as I prepare for conferences so must my students.  We therefore discussed the purpose of them until everyone understood that conferences were there to show off their learning, not as a form of punishment or “telling” on them to their parents.  Then came the real work; what would they discuss?  I knew that these kids had never led a conference before and so they needed an agenda.   Students therefore received a 2-sided agenda from me with what I expected them to discuss. (Another valuable life skills happens to be how to lead a successful meeting so this proved practice in that as well).  They were given time in class to take notes for their conference if they felt they needed that to guide them; some did but not all, and they were able to ask any clarifying questions of the agenda and curriculum we had covered.  Students were also asked to self-assess both their writing and grade themselves.  I have to give them letter grades on their report card, even if I would prefer not to, and so they were asked to translate their performances and knowledge into grades.  It was eye-opening to see how harsh they could be when judging themselves.  Once students felt that they had everything prepared, we met to go over their papers.  They were given a folder in which they could place anything they wanted to show at the conference, including their notes.  And then we waited…

Our final question session was yesterday right before the first conference was to be held.  Students all placed their conference folders in a safe spot and took a deep breath.  I showed no nerves, even though inside I was second-guessing this decision with every teacher-bone in my body.  It wasn’t that I thought students couldn’t do it, but more that I wondered whether parents would get it.  Would they see that this wasn’t just a way for me to “get out of” conferences, but rather a much better way for the same information to be delivered?  I am glad I was proven so wrong.

While some students did better than others, 1 never showed up, and 3 parents forgot to bring their kids, it was still incredible to hear and see the kids share their learning.  Parents were given a recommended question sheet but most did not need it.  They knew which questions to ask their children and I became what I should be; an accessory to the conversation.  I jumped in when clarification was needed or if a child judged themselves too harshly.  Otherwise I helped guide a little and then just listened and what I learned was so valuable.  I got a better grip on how secure some of my students were than I could have ever gotten from just observing them in the classroom or let alone given them a worksheet.  I also got to see another side of my students as they spoke to their parents, in essence representing themselves as members of my class to the outside world.  I know what I have to repeat in class and what students get.  I know what has made an impression on them and what I should skip next year.  But the best part of all of this was the pride these kids took.  And not just in their work, or their grades, but in doing the conference themselves.  The parents noticed too and I therefore must declare these my most successful conferences to date. I am thankful for the advice given to me regarding student-led conferences and I hope this will inspire others to try it as well.  If you let your students lead; you will be amazed.  I know I was, and for that I am thankful (and proud!).

I have all of the forms I use available here

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?

believe, choices, community, connect, education, educators, honesty, hopes, inspiration, invest, leader, learning, life choices, Mentor, promise, reform, Superman, teaching, trust

I am the Reform

I am the reform when I trust other teachers.

I am the reform when I stand united, and not divided.

I am the reform when I discuss, assess, and learn with my students.

I am the reform when I trust in others.

I am the reform when I ask for observation, feedback, and growth opportunities.

I am the reform when I discuss, even with people with whom I disagree.

I am the reform when I reflect, reject and reinvent.

I am the reform when I ask for help.

I am the reform when I learn more.

I am the reform when I am not afraid.

I am the reform when I listen and I speak.

I am the reform when I believe.

Are you the reform?