How about a Round of Empathy: In 2 Parts

Part 2: Empathy for Seniors

Background: My husband is a high school Social Studies teacher. I am a Curriculum Coordinator at the same school. We have 2 high school children (a sophomore and a senior), who attend this school. 

I’m thinking that this post is for teachers and parents of the Senior Class of 2020. I can only give the view of my senior and what I am noticing but I am sure that others can relate and surely have more to add. 

Tradition… Interrupted

There is a tradition at this school. Seniors write long letters, by hand, on their graduation cards to their friends, parents of their friends, and most loved teachers. They start writing these letters as soon as the grad cards arrive. Some write as many as 40 or more. Except for this year. The cards are sequestered in the high school office. The campus is closed to families for the remainder of the year. The school is figuring out how to get everything to the seniors.

This is one of many traditions at our school, but this is the one most affecting our senior. It is getting in the way of everything else. It is consuming his days and nights. Who can think about AP Environment Science or Calculus or English at a time like this? These letters must be written, revised, and written again on these special cards in the neatest smallest handwriting ever! Except for this year. Our senior is making his own cards out of cardstock he borrowed from my office. He is putting a lot of consideration into the design of the front AND back of the cards as well as what is going to be personally written in each one. 

This is one reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to let it go and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.

A Case of the What-Ifs

Our senior has known since November where he was going for university. It was his only choice. We visited last summer on a college tour and he knew immediately that Western Colorado University was the school for him. The campus is lovely. The people we met were his kind of people. It felt like a community and reminded him of everything he loved about his high school community.

Western

Last month, he chose a roommate and they speak most days. They are getting to know each other, their histories, and their hopes as college students. 

As the days have passed, though, the What-Ifs have started creeping into our senior’s daily thoughts.

what if

What if we can’t move into our dorm in August? Where will I live? What will I do?

What if I have to live at home by myself? I’ll need a license. I’ll need a car. I’ll need a job. I’ll need to learn how to care for a house and myself. Should I get a roommate?

What if my family can’t travel home for Christmas because COVID is still around? I won’t see them for almost a year. I don’t have any other family nearby. I might not be able to travel east to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I might be alone for a long time.

What if I can’t do it? I can’t be that kid who still lives with Mom and Dad. You know, the one who graduated but still hangs out with the high school kids. 

What if? What if? What if? What if? What if? What if?

This is another reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to support him, his worries, his reality, and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.

There’s No Cap on Empathy, Right?

Are his classes important? Yes. Is this experience showing us whether or not he can be a successful independent learner or a responsible adult? At first, I would have said yes. I no longer believe that this experience is actually telling us anything about who our kids are as independent learners or responsible humans any more than it’s telling us where we fall on the continuum of perfect parents or amazing teachers. We are all just trying to survive.

What IS important right now?

Loving our children. Loving our students. Showing grace. 

I have received a few emails from teachers over the last few weeks about our senior’s missing assignments or projects. I am so impressed with the care they have shown; the patience they have. I have so much empathy for all of these teachers- they did not sign up for this. I also have so much empathy for our seniors- they did not sign up for this, either. I just hope that there isn’t a cap on empathy.

Analyzing Authentic Assessments

As we continue to practice aligning assessments to standards, it’s important to not only reflect on student data but to plan for improving results for all learners. Framing our conversation (aka using a protocol) about student data will help us focus on the learning targets and how the assessment actually provided evidence of mastery of the targeted standards.

Steps for Framing a Team Conversation

Within one week of giving a common assessment, set aside 30 minutes of your team’s common planning time (teachers will need to mark their class’s assessments before the team meeting). If you are a one-person team, then ask a critical friend, an administrator, or an instructional coach to join you for some analysis fun!

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I hope that my colleagues know that I am always eager to join a conversation about learning!

As a team, consider the following questions, from In Praise of American Educators, to determine the validity of the assessment, its alignment to the standards, and how the data will be used to improve results for all students. Your team may decide that other questions should be added to frame the conversation. Add those, too.

 

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The reproducible below is found in the book above.

 

Possible questions to consider, from DuFour’s book:

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Once the team feels that they have a better understanding of the students’ current learning of the targeted standards, then consider what these results mean to the next unit of study as well as how this unit will be revised for next year. Those reflective notes should be added to the unit documentation as well as the assessment. The ATLAS UbD template is a perfect spot to add strategies for differentiation and notes about the unit.

 

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This is our template for Stage 3 in ATLAS. Some teams also use Google Docs for Stage 3.

 

Finally, check out Solution Tree’s free resources for tools to help your team work collaboratively and with purpose, information about upcoming webinars, and a video library from the experts in learning.

Have a great week!

Ginny

Happy New School Year!

Students and teachers across the world are beginning a new year. How do I know? My Facebook feed is inundated with Back-to-School pics- and I love it! Here are a few from my feed over the years. Don’t tell my kids!

When our kids would tell us about their first few days of school, it was clear how the year was going to go. The teachers who spent time getting to know their students by building relationships and building routines were more likely to be the teachers that helped our kids feel cared for and feel confident.

It doesn’t need to take a lot of time to begin on the right foot. It can be as simple as standing at the classroom door, shaking each student’s hand, looking them in the eyes, making a quick introduction, and welcoming them to class. The old don’t-smile-until-Christmas advice has never been good for anyone.

Who are your students?

Over the first few weeks of school, the connection you make with students will impact the rest of the year. First impressions work both ways. Tell them about yourself as a student and a learner when you were their age. Better yet, show them a picture of YOU at their age. Here I am at different stages of awkwardness.

Let them know what your dreams were for your future. Where you thought you’d be. How you got where you are now.

Have a laugh, reminisce, then focus on them.

As much as it is a great ice-breaker for them to get to know each other, I recommend that you also get their info on paper (or digitally). Maybe through a discussion post or journal entry on your LMS, or a Google Form, or even a shared Google Doc. This may be the most important data you collect all year.

Focus your questions on these 3 topics (including a few examples):

Your students as people…

  • What is their background?
  • Where is home (especially important to those who are international)?
  • How would their family and friends describe them?
  • What do they need you to know about them?

Your students as learners…

  • What type of teacher do they respect?
  • How do they learn best?
  • How do they ask for help when they need it?

Your students as the future…

  • What are they passionate about?
  • What is happening now in their world that excites them?
  • What is happening now in their world that worries them?

Finally, let’s get back to you.

How are You Modeling Lifelong Learning?

As we get to know our students and they get to know us, we need to think about how we are modeling learning as learners ourselves. We need to build our own learning networks and share, with students, what we are learning as well as how we are using that learning. If we expect students to be learners, we must be learners.

Facebook and Twitter have made this easy. If you teach science and use the NGSS, then there’s a Facebook page for you. If you teach PE, then there are pages for you. If you use Seesaw, then there are pages for you. Honestly, if you teach it, someone is posting about it!

Here is a Google Site that I made last year with links to pages that are worth adding to your learning network. Leave me a comment if you have others that I should add.

My thoughts and energy are with you all this year. It’s going to be GREAT!

Teams with Poor Coaching Don’t Win the Big Game- in learning, every day is the Big Game

Some people work better on their own; I am not one of those people. I like being part of a team. I like everything that being on a team means… building a plan together, stretching together, practicing together, playing together, succeeding together, failing together, reflecting together, and improving together.

As a teacher, I was so blessed to work on some amazing teams of teachers and students. A few that come to mind are the grade 6 team at ACS Beirut (2001-2003)- we were energetic, passionate about learning, and made learning fun! The Dream Team of Seven Springs Middle School (2003-2005)- we took interdisciplinary learning to a whole new level, looping allowed us to really bond, and I worked with master teachers. DEMS (2007-2011)- I found my philosophical twin, and we team taught the heck out of grade 8- always keeping the students’ emotional well-being ahead of everything else!

Sometimes I was being mentored; other times I was the mentor. That’s what teams do- everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and everyone helps their team improve. No one is better than anyone else. PS- I am including students in my definition of team, so should you.

Being part of a team was what made teaching and learning so meaningful, but here I was, an administrator- with no team. I was lonely.

Then something happened… Something significant… Something that gave me goose bumps. I realized that being an administrator meant taking on the role as the coach of a team. A coach’s job is to inspire as a team, set goals as a team, learn as a team, communicate and model effectively as a team, play-succeed-fail as a team, reflect and improve as a team. Every team needs good coaching or the players are just playing for themselves.

This realization came last week during a professional development day. Grades K-5 team leaders assembled with their principal and me to develop division-wide Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions for the writing units of study. Here is how we worked as an effective (and totally awesome) team:

  • We built a plan together- What are the lifelong learning goals of writing?
  • We stretched our thinking together- What do we already know, and what do we need to know, about the significance of being lifelong writers?
  • We practiced and played together- What work have we done that is meaningful and should be honored?
  • We succeeded together- What are we doing well and is worth continuing?
  • We failed together- What should we stop doing, and why?
  • We reflected together- What did we used to think and what do we now know?
  • We improved together- When can we do this with other subjects? This was powerful!
K-5 Teamwork! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork- Succeeding Together! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork- Succeeding Together! Photo credit: Krista Roll

Think about the inspiring coaches and teammates that you’ve had over the years. If you don’t have that same inspiration and passion to win the Big Game, then make some changes. Your team, whether they are colleagues or students, need a quality coach. Don’t let them down!

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!