aha moment, Be the change, being me, learning, lessons learned, teachers

Try To Be You

youaregoodenough

I have been surrounded by greatness for a while now it seems.  It has been awe-inspiring to hear the stories of what amazing educators are doing in their schools as I go to conferences.  It has been profound to see the supposed ease with which some of my colleagues at Oregon Middle School navigate their days.  I am not there yet, I don’t know if I will ever be.

So this past year has been one of inspiration, but it has also been one of frustration.  I have left many conversations wondering why I am not doing that, why I didn’t think of that.  Read a book and wondered how I can become that teacher.  Heard a speaker and wondered what I need to change to be them.   And yet, tonight I realized that I will never be someone else.  That when I try to be someone else that I lose the very essence that makes me me.  That when we try to imitate, even the best ideas, they will never fully be what we hope for them to be but only shadows of the original.

So do be inspired this summer.  Read a book, start a conversation, go to a conference and meet amazing people.  Learn from them.  Create with them.  But don’t try to be them.  You never will be. I never will be.  We can only be ourselves so change accordingly.  Find ideas that will inspire you to be a better teacher but don’t try to be someone else.  It will never work, our students will see right through it.  Instead make a vow to better yourself, trust your own ideas, and know that you, you are amazing too.  You may just not have discovered it yet.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, being me, lessons learned, MIEExpert15, Passion

To the One Teacher Who Shaped Me the Most

It is national teacher appreciation week here in the United States. and all through the blog world I have seen the incredible letters of appreciation being shared.  I have seen the words that praise, the words that show once again just how much of an influence a great teacher can have.  And I am grateful because I too have had amazing teachers in my life, who believed that I had worth and who believed that I could make the world a better place.  Great teachers are not in short supply, how grateful am I of that as my own children go to school.

Yet, when I think of the most influential teacher in my life, I don’t think of warmth, nor do I think back with kindness.  The one teacher that shaped me the most was a terrible one.  For five years, because in Denmark you are assigned a classroom teacher that follows you throughout the years, she made my school day awful.  She went out of her way to make me feel different for all of the wrong reasons.  One that I would not wish upon any other child.  And yet, for her I am grateful because she taught me so many things that shape me today.

The worst teacher I ever had taught me that no teacher should ever be allowed to make a child feel bad.  That no teacher should ever be allowed to teach if they don’t really like all children.

The worst teacher I ever had taught me that sometimes emotions can cloud our judgments and we no longer see a child in front of us but only see a problem.  And it is up to us to change that not let it rule our actions.

She taught me that principals do not always know what happens behind closed doors, nor do they always believe parents.  She taught me the importance of a principal who pays attention and a principal who asks questions, even the hard ones.

The worst teacher I ever had showed me what power we have over the acceptance of children in our classrooms and how we must always be a force of good, not a force of pain.

She taught me that sometimes friendships cannot be broken even under the influence of a powerful adult.  She taught me that we as teachers have the power to plant ideas in the heads of students, and we choose whether those ideas are empowering or damaging.

The worst teacher I ever had taught me how we can build community or we can break it.  We can protect the students in our classrooms or we can give bullies more reasons to pounce.  We can single out, we can alienate, we can do everything in our power to make a child feel hopeless, or we can do everything in our power to make a child feel like they matter.

So while I have had many great teachers, it is to her, that I dedicate this post.  To the woman who 20 years after I left her classroom still wondered why anyone could love me; thank you.  You taught me exactly what kind of teacher I would never be.  You taught me what real teachers do; they love every kid, no matter what.  They protect the very children they teach.  They embrace the differences, not make them weapons of destruction.  So to the worst teacher I ever had, you were right; I was different and it is because of those differences I now get to change the world, one kid at a time.  Bet you would have never seen that coming.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

aha moment, choices, inspiration, lessons learned, student voice

Teaching Students How to Speak Well – A Unit to Explore

It had never occurred to me that I haven’t taught my students how to speak well.  After all, for the past 7+ years my students have spoken in front of their peers.  I have told them to stand up straight, to speak clear and loud and to establish eye contact.  That should be enough, right?  Except for the last 7+ years I have also sat through one terrible presentation after another.  Yes, most have spoken loudly, yes, most have had some stilted eye contact, and yes, most have stood up fairly straight.  Yet, most have also been terrible presenters.  No passion, no enthusiasm, no special something that have made them enjoyable to listen to. I figured it was because I taught elementary school and perhaps better speaking skills would develop naturally.

As a 7th grade teacher, now I can see that they don’t.  My 7th graders still present fairly poorly and I realized, with the help of Erik Palmer, that we need to teach how to speak well.  Not just assume that students will figure it out over the years.  We need to teach it early, we need to teach it often, and we need to teach it every year.  So I have snagged ideas from Erik’s article and adapted them to fit our purpose.  Feel free to use and make your own and check out his other resources as well, it has been easy and fun to use.

The main idea I have borrowed from Erik is his 6 points of what a great speaker does.  These have been the framework for this week and as we go forward.  It has been essential for my students to have common language and a framework to develop them as speakers and this is what Erik discusses quite well.

These have been the guiding points for our lessons and have also been the base points of our rubric.

While we will be doing speeches all quarter, our first assignment was given on the very first day of the quarter to give the students a goal to work toward.  Assignment:  Create a one minute speech answering “How do you want to be remembered at the end of 7th grade?” (Thank you Josh Stumpenhorst for the inspiration).  To see the entire assignment, see here.

I have tweaked their first speak to be given in a circle format.  Our school uses counseling circles/restorative justice circles throughout the year and every Tuesday all of our students do circles with their homeroom teacher.  This format for delivering a speech means that my students are automatically more comfortable, which is a huge barrier in 7th grade.  They are so worried about what their peers are thinking about them.  And that is something I have faced head on when I have been teaching them how to speak.  My biggest tool has been my own enthusiasm and tendency to screw up and laugh about it.  I have no problem making mistakes in front of them to take the pressure off of them.

So what have we been doing?  Note: these lessons are about 10 minutes long, maybe 15 depending on the discussions.

Big talking points every single day:

  • What have they been taught in the past and why they need to learn better skills.
  • The need to trust others when we speak or at the very least assume that others mean us well when they watch.
  • The need to step a little out of their comfort zone.
  • That speaking well is a life skill, something that will help them be more successful in life.

Poise

Student definition:  Your swag, or how you use your body to match your message.

  • Discuss what is poise, have the students get up and move showing you poise.  They started off very hesitantly, which is ok, I have been taking baby steps.
  • Every student gets a Shell Silverstein poem and are told to practice speaking it aloud.  I then fishbowl the next activity – perform the poem just worrying about poise, none of the other things, and have their mirror (partner) critique them kindly.
  • I then partnered them up randomly and had them perform the poems in front of just their partner.  I helped them coach each other and we talked about how to give kind criticism that allows others to grow.

Voice

Student definition:  Controlling how you speak to match the message.

  • Discuss what is voice, why it is important to take control of your voice and how it is not just all about being loud and clear at all times.
  • Video clips of powerful speakers.  After giving them background knowledge about Hitler and his powers of persuasion, I showed them a one minute clip with no subtitles just so they could see how he used his speaking skills to incite people.  This really caused a reaction in my students because they saw how powerful being a great speaker can be and how that power can be used for good or evil.
  • I then juxtaposed that with clips of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who used their voices in much different manners and yet still had people follow them.
  • The students then worked on what type of voice would be needed for their speech assignment.

Life

Student definition:  The passion you bring to your speech has to match your message.

  • We faced our demons head on this day as we discussed why most 7th graders have a hard time speaking in front of people.  This was excellent because the kids offered very honest answers about their fear of being judged by others or screwing up.
  • I then told them about major screw ups I have had as a teacher such as substituting words in read alouds for the wrong very bad words, clean underwear falling out of my pant leg while teaching thanks to static, and other fun things that happen when you are a teacher.
  • I read aloud Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems and did the emotions and voices.  I actually made them laugh out loud because I went there, something that is hard to get 7th graders to do.  This was important because they needed to see me let down my barriers.  Then we talked about allowing us to be silly when we need to be such as when we read picture books aloud and I promised them that I would be the craziest person that day.
  • We discussed why it can be extra hard to read aloud in front of others because we worry about screwing up the words.
  • They then each got one line or two from Jabberwocky, a phenomenal nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll.  Why this poem?  Because students can’t mess up the pronunciation of the words, who knows how they are supposed to be pronounced?  They got one minute to practice how they were going to perform their line with as much life in their voice as they could.
  • I lined them up in order and each student performed their line.  Some classes we did it twice to allow the kids to build up their courage.
  • This was awesome, the kids laughed – laughed!  And not at each other but with each other.  This was a huge break through for my kids.

Eye Contact

Student definition:  How we look at our audience and how they look at us

  • We did different things in different classes based on their unique mix of personalities:
    • Most classes I did an eye contact experiment: Two students sat in front of the class while two other students came up.  The two seated students shut their eyes and then had to report whether the other two students were looking at them or not.  Most of the time they were wrong.  We did it a few times.  Mission: To prove that not everyone is looking when we think they are.
    • I had note-cards with different emotions on and we used them in different ways.  Some classes stood in a circle and acted out the emotions.  Others found a partner to do it.
    • Some classes I did an emotion charade scavenger hunt competition.  All students got an emotion but was not allowed to say it or tell others about it.  Four kids each got the same emotion (anger, sadness, excitement etc) and when I said go the students had to try to find their group partners without talking and gesturing, they could only use their emotion charades.  First team to correctly assemble got a prize.
    • All of these things may not seem like they have a lot to do with eye contact but they do; students had to pay attention and use their facial expressions to express their feelings.  This is all part of doing eye contact well and definitely helped students push themselves out of their comfort zone a little.

Gestures

Student definition:  How our hand/body movements tell our message.

  • I have note-cards with different statements on them (“Yes, we won!, No….., What happened?” and such) and students will be acting them out using gestures, with no voice.
  • We also acted out different versions of the same words, such as “no, ok, and I’m sorry…”
  • Students will have to give directions of how to do something to their partner using only gestures, such as how to tie a shoe, how to mail a letter, how to make spaghetti.  Their partner will have to try to guess what they are doing.
  • We will also try to make emotions with our hands, so what do our hands do if we are sad, if we are confused, if we are happy and such.  The key is building awareness of our own bodies so we can control them when we speak.

Speed

Student definition:  How fast or slow we speak.

  • We will watch clips of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Speech paying attention to the way Martin Luther King Jr. changes his pacing to emphasize his message.   I also have various other clips of speakers to show up, just snippets so they can see speakers speak well.  It is important that students get a sense of many types of speakers; male and female, present and past.
  • Each student will decide which picture book to act out by themselves or with a partner, I have grabbed a stack of Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss for them to work on all of the elements.  They will work on all elements that we have been working on.
  • They will not perform in front of the class but instead in small groups and then kindly critique each other.

And that’s how we are starting.

As we move forward this quarter, I am excited to give them continued opportunities to speak and speak well.  Next year, this will be starting off the year.  Not only are we becoming better communicators, we are also building community.  The students are slightly kinder, slightly more relaxed, and having a bit more fun in English because they are all acting a little bit silly, getting into something a little bit more, and yet developing essential skills at the same time.  I am sad that I hadn’t taught this before but at least I can correct my ways starting now.  All students deserve to have the opportunity to become great speakers and their practice starts with us.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being me, education, lessons learned, Personalized Learning, students

I Want to Be the Kind of Teacher

I have failed as a teacher many times, mostly in small ways, but there have been epic ones as well.  I think so many of us have had them.  Yet, what we do with our failures is also what defines us and today, after two weeks of rotations that simply were not working, I was reminded again of what kind of teacher I want to be.

I want to be the kind of teacher that doesn’t give up.  The kind that finds a new solution even when it seems like I could just stay on a path because it would be so much easier.  That knows when to hold them, when to fold them, and yes, even when to walk away.

I want to be the kind of teacher that keeps the students in mind at every moment and with every decision I make, even the ones where my own pride may suffer.  The one that problem-solves rather than rants.  The one that fixes rather than breaks.

I want to be the kind of teacher that realizes when something is not working and has the common sense to stop it.  That tries an idea with all of their heart and then makes it better when it doesn’t quite work.

The kind of teacher that dreams.  The kind of teacher that listens.  The kind of teacher that has students who are willing to speak up even if they know the message may cause temporary hurt, but in the long run will create a path toward a solution.

I want to be the kind of teacher that sees the learning in every problem.  That sees what can be salvaged rather than throws everything out.  The kind that can see the good in something or someone even in the bleakest of moments.

Today, when I realized that my dream for epic discussions had failed, I wanted to throw it all out, but my students once again reminded me that there were good moments too, things that worked that deserved protection and resurrection in a new format.  So instead of ranting.  Instead of raving about all of the hard work lost, how I now had to start over, I reflected, re-imagined and am ready to go for tomorrow.

I want to be the kind of teacher that never forgets their own vulnerability but sees it as a strength rather than a weakness.  That isn’t afraid to show the world failure to inspire others to grow.  That remembers that not everything is bad, not everything is broken even if it seems so at the moment.  That’s the kind of teacher I want to be.  One day I’ll get there.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

assumptions, being a teacher, lessons learned, Student-centered

Even With Our Changed Classrooms, Have We Changed Anything At All?

Image from icanread

It relates to school because there are calculators…

It relates to school because he uses math in counting out the tickets …

It has to do with math and that is why it has to do with school…

My students are journaling about the movie “Caine’s Arcade” and how it relates to school.  These wonderfully creative, powerfully imaginative students don’t see the deep connections between the environment that I try to create and that of Caine.  They don’t see how I try to challenge them to problemsolve, to create, to use materials in different ways.  to try, to fail and to have hope and perseverance.

Instead they see a 9-year-old boy who realized life was more than calculators and math.  That you could build something with what you have and have a little bit of hope.  They see that boy as an inspiration, his arcade as incredible, but not those things in the environment we create here, at school. 

What a lesson for me to be taught; school is still seen as its own world with set rules.  Segmented and regimented.  As something departmentalized from creativity, or at least where creativity is built into the day, scripted and called for.  School is viewed as something to be lived through so the real experimenting can happen afterwards.  I may think I do things differently, but I may be the only one.

authentic learning, being a teacher, lessons learned, PD

Thoughts on Professional Development

  1. Why do we even call it professional development? Being in education is so much more than just being a professional and development happens continually around us. Perhaps we should call it something different like expanding as an educator or how about just growth? Either professional development smacks of something that can only happent at a set time and is just not true, which leads me to my next point.
  2. Why the limitations on what counts as pd? I often learn more spending an hour with my reader or even engaging in a twitter chat. Depending on who you immerse yourself with provocating thoughts abound, as does reflection.  Go into a teacher’s lounge and engage in a conversation, I think they have gotten a bad rep unnecessarily.
  3. Who says you have to be an expert to conduct pd? I think there are many people in educations that are experts at something, oftentimes, they just do not know it because nobody gave them the title. Go to an edcamp and see how many experts are there, heck, go to a school and be amazed at all the knowledge. We don’t need a fancy title to have something valuable to share.
  4. Get rid of the limiting agendas. There seems to be a perpetual fear that if administration or whomever is putting on this pd doesn’t set an hour-by-hour or question-by-question agenda that all of the time will be worthless. That the conversation happening will only be moaning and procrastination. Maybe sometimes but not all the time, let those involved set the agenda and then trust them; there is far too little trust in education overall.
  5. Enough with the crazy buzzwords!  I don’t feel like listening to someone discuss what a 21st century learner looks like…hmm 5 foot 2, brown hair with a smile?  Or even how the flipped classroom is going to save education.  Common core standards, differentiation, value-added learning, PBIS and any of the other billions of acronyms hunting us all.  Just give me titles I can understand and a discussion worth participating in.
  6. Give me a chance to participate.  Much like our students crave the recognition that their voices matter, so do PD participants.  How else explain the back channels happening at even the tiniest of conferences?  I have been tempted to pass notes even, anything really, to ask  my questions, get some feedback and get the discussion started.
  7. Enough with the stories.  Educators love great stories and we all have them.  Our aha moments, that kid that we stayed teaching for, those parents that challenged out assumptions, yep we all have them so let’s acknowledge that and move on.  I love a great story over dinner but not the ones without a point and sometimes at PD sessions they just drain time.  
  8. Fair enough if you have something to sell but perhaps keep it to the end.  I had the chance to sit through an inspirational speech where the much paid presenter kept starting stories only to never finish them because we could read how it turned out in his book.  Seriously.  If you are sharing a story make it relevant and tell the whole thing.  
  9. Do you really need a Powerpoint?  I know it is so cool to bash Powerpoints but I think there is a huge reason for that.  If your message is short, sweet and to the point give me some pictures to go with it, have dancers perform it behind you, or skip it altogether.  Images behind you are a direct competition to your words so pick wisely.
  10. Keep it short.  And not just for my attention span, but also because even the most incredible learning opportunities will lose their luster after the message is repeated over 40 minutes.  Shorten your message and open up for conversations, participation or even brainstorming.