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!

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!!

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!

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/09/18/04kohn.h33.html

Not Your Grandma’s Day at School

It is fascinating to think of where education, or schooling, will go next. We certainly can’t keep doing what we’re doing now- that would be a disservice to the children and the world. Our focus must be on learning for the future, instead of teaching for today.

Our Senior Administrators watched this video last week and I have gone back to it almost daily since then.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk60sYrU2RU

Here are a few of my questions:

1. How can a village of non-English speaking children learn higher level science written in English from one computer in 3 months, but my children are still struggling with those darn times tables?

2. If we could make some big changes, to help our students become better learners for the future, what would they be?

3. Or, better yet, are there any small changes that teachers can make tomorrow to help students be better learners?

Watch the video- it’s definitely worth the 20 minutes.

Please comment, I’m getting lonely talking to myself 🙂