40. Unemployed. Bruised Ego. Never Been Happier.

40- Yes, it’s happening. I am turning 40. I remember my dad turning forty; we had a big party. I recall lots of black balloons and over-the-hills. I don’t remember my mom turning forty- it was probably a quiet occasion.

Unemployed- Yes, I said it. I don’t have a job for next year. Am I surprised? Yes. Am I worried? Completely. Have I lost faith? No.

Bruised Ego- In the past 2 months, I have been long-listed, short-listed, a finalist, and even runner-up for several new jobs… great opportunities for our family, in many fantastic places. Then again, I have also applied for positions where I didn’t even get a response, period. I am a pretty humble person. I never claim to know everything or be better than others. I own my mistakes and my faults. However, don’t let my smile fool you; I feel I’ve been punched in the gut when someone doesn’t see my value, my hard work, my overall wonderfulness (she says with humility).

Never Been Happier- So, how can that be? I am turning the dreaded 40, I don’t know where we will be living or working next year, nobody wants me!! Well, I am finally happy being me. Life is pretty good- I have a great husband and awesome kids. I believe in what I can bring to a school- as a leader and a learner. A new adventure awaits!

Why am I writing this on my learning blog? We are all on a roller coaster ride. Colleagues, as well as students in our classes, are going through highs and lows in their life. As much as we’d like to leave our worries at home, it’s almost impossible. All we can do is offer to listen, give a friendly hug, and offer chocolate.

On the other hand, I have also been told to “Suck it up, children in Africa are starving!” So, whatever works- know your audience. ☺

No Recess For YOU!

It’s true, there are teachers who punish kids by taking away their recess time. These are probably the teachers who also require students to sit in the same hard seat, for over an hour at a time, without being allowed to stand up, wriggle, or stretch. Don’t even think about going to the bathroom (I already let you out once this week to do that. If you choose to go, write your name on the board), these teachers must have super bladders.

These are some of the reasons I’ve heard from teachers (and students) for losing recess privileges:
1. You did not finish your homework last night
2. You did not get your homework journal signed last night
3. You did not do well on your assessment, you need to stay in and do extra problems
4. You were talking to your neighbor, disrupting class, misbehaving – so you owe me fifteen minutes

For every reason I have heard, I have a response: Let’s look at the WHY:
1. Why weren’t you able to finish your homework last night?
o I already spent most of the evening doing homework, and I just got too tired;
o We had unexpected guests for dinner last night;
o I had a baseball game.

RESPONSE: I totally understand. Just let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll be glad to help you.

2. Why didn’t you get your homework journal signed last night?
o I forgot;
o My parents forgot.

RESPONSE: I totally understand. Just let me know if you have any questions or concerns, and I’ll be glad to help you.

3. Why did you struggle with this assessment?
o I didn’t study as much as I should have;
o I thought I knew it all;
o I was having a bad day.

RESPONSE: I totally understand. Just let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll be glad to help you.

4. Why were you being disruptive today?
o I didn’t get enough sleep;
o I already know how to do this and I’m bored;
o My friend had a question and I was helping them;
o I’m having troubles at home;
o You lost me at the beginning of the lesson.

RESPONSE: I totally understand. Just let me know how I can help.

Students are human. They forget, they struggle in school and at home, they talk out of turn – just like the rest of us. If teachers build personal relationships with each student, then trust follows and quality habits form.

Recess is so important. This is time for students to be active, work on their social skills, and relieve daily stress. Don’t take it away!

Listen to Your Mother…I know I Did

My kids no longer want me to help them with homework. They think I help too much (their teachers might think that, too). I don’t feel that way, though. Most of our family’s homework time is spent relearning, discussing, and sometimes fixing homework. I want them to learn and to want to learn for themselves – isn’t that a skill I can help them with? I wonder about kids who don’t have teachers for parents – are they getting the most out of their home learning?

As frustrated as my kids get (with homework), I am reminded of my own days in middle school. I was lucky to have a great teacher as my mom. Although, at the time, I hated when she forced me to relearn, discuss, and fix my homework – the nerve of her! Here I am, becoming my mom – and I couldn’t be happier. She was doing the right thing – she was my real teacher, my best teacher.

There are many stories I can share about how I learned more from her than my actual teachers, but I will start with this one – I used it every year of my own teaching, because I treated my students as I would my own children – they deserved that.

 How to summarize without plagiarizing – Nancy Lange style

 Step 1- Read the text from which you’re getting your information.

Step 2- Read it again.

Step 3- Close the book (or exit out of and step away from device) and have a snack, get some exercise.

Step 4- From memory, write what you remember from your reading (dates don’t matter, only main idea, cause and effect, stuff worth knowing).

Step 5- Review, reflect, and revise your notes – partners are helpful.

Step 6- Throw it away! In class, we would have a paper shooting contest, or a paper airplane contest.

Step 7- The next day… rewrite your summary, revise, and feel confident that your words are yours (don’t forget to cite- seriously).

That’s it, it’s that easy- however, “how not to plagiarize” must be taught in school, by teachers, every year (probably every time they are summarizing others’ work). Pretend that the students did not learn that skill last year, last semester, last unit. Summarizing is a skill that needs practice and encouragement since there is so much informational text available at our fingertips.

Let’s help students learn this important skill- instead of trying to catch them plagiarizing. The ones you caught are the ones who weren’t taught – whose responsibility is that?

Here’s to you, Mom!!

Let Them Be Kids, For Goodness’ Sake!

I know I wasn’t the greatest classroom teacher, but I think I was pretty good, and I always strived to be better than the day before.  Students enjoyed my class; we laughed a lot and talked about issues (world, community, family) that were close to their hearts and mine.  They learned the importance of working with a team and being kind.  We cried through The Outsiders and Bridge to Terabithia.  We wrote every day.  Our classroom was a safe place to admit struggles, frustrations, or failure.

I don’t remember homework being a big issue (I was not a high school teacher).  I was always of the belief that if it can’t get done in the time we are together, then there’s always tomorrow.  I wanted to direct their learning.  If they were doing it all at home, how can I be there next to them, to guide them?  I didn’t want their tutor, parents, or nobody, to teach them- that was my job!  Right?

Let’s look at vocabulary, for instance.  If a teacher gives a list at the beginning of the week and expects students to learn the words and meanings by the end of the week, with no real direction throughout the week, then shame on that teacher.  Way to teach students how to cram for a test, regurgitate meaningless knowledge, and then quickly forget it- only to follow the same exact process the next week.  Hmmm, this also sounds much like the dreaded weekly spelling lists.

How can we stop this madness?  It’s actually really easy… Here is a breakdown of what it could look like:

  • Day 1- Introduce words – no more than 12, share ideas of meaning (through prior knowledge), decide on a few simple synonyms for each word.  Have students color-code the words by highlighting known words in green, familiar words in blue, and new words in orange.  Allow each student to choose 5-8 total words of varying colors that will serve as their personal words of the week (WOW).
  • Day 2- During journal time (or independent writing), ask students to use their WOWs in their writing.  Share with a partner.  Check for understanding.
  • Day 3- Find a partner or 2 and have a conversation, using the WOWs, of course.  Review and revise yesterday’s writing.
  • Day 4- Play Caught-Ya with the vocabulary words.  Shout out “caught ya” when a WOW is used by the teacher, students, others in school, in the readings, etc.  Better yet, get other teachers and administrators to visit the class and sneak in a word.
  • Day 5- Assess students only on their WOW words, but include all of the words.  You will be amazed at how many they will recollect.  By the way, assess them in a meaningful way; use the words in a story, fill in the correct word using context clues, illustrate their meaning, etc.  Please don’t make them match the word to the definition – we are better than that.
  • Finally, at the end of a whole unit or novel study, have the students look back at their blue and orange words and create their own WOWs for that culminating week.

If you are worried about time- there’s never enough, I know- well… STOP!  One year, my last with 8th graders, after learning a year of vocabulary very similar to the steps above, I made a list with every word we studied throughout the year.  I challenged the students to see how many definitions (synonyms) they remembered.  It was just for fun (grades had already been turned in), and there was no pressure.  I think the kids were more impressed with themselves that day than when they graduated from middle school the very next morning.  Did we complete every aspect of every curriculum guide?  No. Did we read every chapter of the textbooks?  No.  Did we spend our free time completing meaningless homework?  Nope.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.

What is “meaningless homework?”    In my opinion, it can be one of two things:

  1. A teacher gives a homework assignment.  The next day, in class, either the assignment is checked for completion (not for understanding) or it’s not checked at all.  Both of these scenarios are shameful.  If time at home is spent completing an assignment, time in class should be spent going over the assignment.  Homework should provide feedback to teachers about understanding, so that they can adjust their teaching.  Why is this so difficult?!
  2. A teacher gives a homework assignment.  It can be easily completed while watching TV, surfing YouTube, or on the way to school in the morning.  Not much thought, critical thinking, or understanding necessary.  Where is the purpose in that?  Is it practice?   Because, it seems very inefficient, boring, and a poor use of time.

So, let’s change it up and offer students meaningful home-learning when needed… like, doing research on a subject that interests them, asking their family questions about their ancestors, creating videos on how they are contributing to their community, writing blogs about home science experiments, collecting data on a personal goal they hope to attain… the list is endless.

Better yet, let them play, help make dinner, read a book of their choosing, relax.

They’ve been at work for 8 hours.  Let them be kids!


My Plus 1…

When I visit teachers, talk to kids (even my own), and reflect on my own life as a teacher, I often think about the philosophy behind great teaching and learning.  Sometimes I wonder whether all teachers learned the same concepts I learned when going through teacher training – or was I just really lucky.

It all comes down to human growth and development.  When I was in university, I had a class that focused on the minds and bodies of 10-14 year-olds.  I remember my professor making us repeat- “The attention span of a child is their age plus 1.” So, my ten year-old can focus for 11 minutes before getting bored, spacing out, fidgeting, or melting down… that sounds about right.  This is why I’m a firm believer in any type of workshop model: 10-15 minute mini-lesson, 30 minutes of independent work, 10 minutes of group sharing.  This model can work in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, languages, and art.  It can also be done at most grade levels.  Oh, and kids LOVE it!

Social characteristics in tweens are also worth noting.  As much as they seem completely focused on themselves, they are actually very sensitive to the mistreatment of others.  This is a quality that teachers and parents need to nourish- for all too soon, they will become full-fledged teenagers and their mindset can, and will, change.  Adolescents also want independence… treat me like an adult!, but also direction and reinforcement… I’m just a kid!  It can be very confusing, I know, but we have to help them become the best person possible.

Then we move on to their bodies.  They are growing more in these middle years than in any other time other life (well, except for those first few, right?!).  Did you know that the cartilage in their tailbone is beginning to harden, which makes it very uncomfortable to sit on a hard chair or surface for an extended length of time (that’s why they’re so wiggly and won’t sit still)?  Yet, I am forever hearing teachers say sit down, be still, stop fidgeting.  Sitting in a plastic chair all day long would be torture for me- and I’m fully-grown, with feet that completely touch the floor.

In my perfect classroom, there would be standing tables, pillows for chairs and the floor, desks, and whiteboard space on any non-living parts (walls, tables, floor, door).  Learning would be student-centered, fun, and tied to local/global issues.  Students would have a voice in their learning, and I would support their needs, wants, and dreams.

What would your perfect classroom look like?

My Digital Footprint Stinks!

I was lucky enough to be in Mumbai a few weeks ago for ASB Unplugged, which is a conference held at the American School of Bombay.  It was truly eye-opening.  I had to keep reminding myself that this isn’t everyday school life; it’s a showcase of the many really cool things that happen at this school.

Anyway, my point is not going to be about what their teachers are doing or what their kids are learning, I’ll save that for another time- this is going to be all about me!

What have I been doing the last 13 years?  Clearly I have not been thinking of my digital contribution to the world.  Considering I have practically mastered a Samsung S-III, an iPhone 5, and my shiny new Mac Air- all in the last year, I thought I was pretty tech-savvy.  Oh, and let me brag even more about my 500+ Facebook friends.  They “like” me, “share” with me, and comment on my family photos.  Then there’s Pinterest.  It took me some time before I drank that Kool-Aid, but now I have “boards” that will one day help me cook better, lose weight, and inspire me.

Although all of this sounds pretty amazing, let me be the first to say, my digital footprint is broken.  It needs work.  Who knows what could be next for my family?  When my name is “googled,” there should be tweets, websites, blogs, articles, and images of this girl!

Starting now, let’s see how I can improve my digital footprint.  I am already @ginnyinsaudi and now I’m LinkedIn.  I’ve also started a family website: http://prairieworld.wordpress.com – be kind, it’s a work in progress.

All of these are still pretty new to me.  I will accept any advice on how to use them more effectively.

If you have any other suggestions, bring them on.

Ok, that’s enough about me… for now.

Courageous or Troublemaker?

It takes courage to stand up to absurdity when all around you people remain comfortably seated. But if we need one more reason to do the right thing, consider this: The kids are watching us, deciding how to live their lives in part by how we’ve chosen to live ours. – Alfie Kohn

One of the best parts of my job is talking with teachers.  I am a sucker for professional conversation- especially when it includes discussion of big, bold ideas.

However, I sometimes have teachers come to me feeling defeated.  They have lost their spark, their passion.  On occasion they tell me that it’s not worth the fight.  They’re just going to do what they were hired for… not go out of their way to try to make a difference or be heard… it just gets them in trouble.  They see other teachers who show up, teach kids, and go home.  They aren’t interested in equity or impacting change.  They just do their job and don’t complain.  – Of course I’m summarizing their words with as little exaggeration as possible, I hope.

In Alfie Kohn’s commentary from Education Week, Encouraging Educator Courage, he concludes with the previous introductory quote.  Within the article, he applauds the teachers who bucked the system- not because they were trying to cause problems, but because they were standing up for what they believed in.  He also tells of the courage of a teacher who insisted that her students “think for themselves, the teacher may be wrong.”

When I think back over my years, I can remember instances of courage and capitulation.  I hope that my students remember me as a person who stood up for them, stood up for myself, and owned the many mistakes I made.

The article is worth your time and thoughts.

Be Courageous!