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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Are we doing enough in education?

How much is enough

What does it mean to be doing enough?  Let’s pretend that a teacher is well-connected on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites learning with/from other educators.  She reflects on her instruction regularly and shares those thoughts on her blog.  She is in her third year of 1:1 implementation in her classroom, but makes sure that the learning is still the focus, and the technology is a resource.  She differentiates based on student interest, learning mode, and ability.  She has a student-centered classroom where students are assessed based on mastery, not on the practice leading up to mastery.  She gets to know all of her students, treats them with respect, expects them to learn, and pushes them to exceed their own expectations.  Just to add more to our hypothetical educator, she makes regular communication with parents a priority, participates in faculty meetings, and serves on several school improvement teams.  Is she doing enough?

My answer would be no.  Is this the description of a phenomenal teacher?  Absolutely.  Are there many who fit this bill.  Probably not.  But the answer to, “Are we doing enough in education?” is always going to be a no, in my mind.  I think when we reach a place of “good enough” we reach a place of complacency.  Ideas evolve, new resources are developed, students change…there is always something to learn.  Just like it’s the better parents who always wonder if they are actually being good parents, the best teachers are those who never think they are doing the best they can.  They search out ways to grow (building a PLN, reading professional literature, reflecting on their own practice, etc.).  We can never be too good at our jobs, we can never care too much for the students, and we can never know too much about education and teaching.  Fight the temptation of “enough” and strive for more.

strive for more

The Home Stretch

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The school year is drawing to a close.  This time of year is always a bit hectic for educators.  In my role as an ELL teacher right now, that involves finishing up the state’s standardized tests, completing ILPs for each of my EL students, and, oh yeah, teaching in the days I have in between all of that (throw in job searching and parenting on the side, and you get the full picture of my days).  How can teachers make this time of year manageable while maintaining good teaching practices?

  1. Stay Focused – It is easy to focus more on the organizational management of this time of year (testing schedules, field trip chaperones, entering grades for report cards, etc.).  We need to keep the students and their learning as the focal points of each day.  We expect the children to work their hardest up to the end, so we need to give them the same effort.  We need to plan and execute engaging, meaningful lessons till the last day of the school year.
  2. Take a deep breath and SMILE – By this, I mean take time for yourself.  It’s easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed by all that needs to happen before the last day of school, but here is a secret…it will all get done.  Take time each day (maybe several times a day) to step back from it all.  Listen to some great music, read a good book, check out a new blog, eat some amazing chocolate (the Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate is my fave), take a walk, or enjoy a glass of wine (save this one for home).  Whatever it is that helps you breathe and recenter to power through the next minute, hour, or day with a smile on your face.  Don’t just count the days till summer.  That does nothing for you or your students.  Live in the moment and enjoy it.
  3. Reflect and prepare – Use this time at the end of one school year to reflect on what worked well, what needs tweaked, and what needs completely thrown out.  This is a great time to prepare for the following year, while these thoughts and experiences are fresh in your mind.  By doing this now, the summer can be used for professional development and personal renewal.

So relish in the growth you have seen in yourself and in your students, and enjoy the run along the home stretch.

The Have-To’s and the Want-To’s of Education

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Life is full of things we have to do that we don’t necessarily want to do (the endless pile of laundry to wash is one example).  Here is a brief list of things that as an educator I have to do, and those I want to do.

Have To:

  • Assign letter grades
  • Give standardized assessments
  • Wake up early to be at work early
  • Go to meetings
  • Teach children at their level
  • Engage students in their own learning
  • Build relationships

Want To:

  • Have fun with my students
  • Put a smile on each child’s face
  • Teach children at their level
  • Engage students in their own learning
  • Build relationships
  • Watch the confidence on a child’s face when she discovers something new she has learned
  • Collaborate with other educators who care about kids and good teaching
  • Grow professionally every day

So I liked this topic, but as I started thinking about it, there are very few things that I “have” to do as an educator that I don’t also “want” to do.  I actually don’t mind meetings when they are focused and worthwhile.  I’m not a fan of traditional letter grades and grading systems, but am in favor of showing student growth through performance-based measures (and standards-based mastery).  Standardized tests are not fun for anyone.  Period.  And there are many, many better ways to show what students have learned and mastered.  But, even with a couple of things I have to do, I hold a lot of power in making the “wants” happen each day in my career.  For that, I’m very thankful.

 

Image from http://blogs.uab.cat/meriter/teaching-activities/

4 ways Education is Like Baseball

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It’s the end of the school day and I’m getting ready to head to my son’s baseball game. And it got me thinking (in a sarcastic voice – not surprising for those who know me well), “Who doesn’t love a good sports analogy?”  And, just like a great sermon idea, there was the topic for today’s post.

  1. The Coaches/Managers: There are leaders in both baseball and education.  The best leaders are those who encourage their players to continuously work to improve their game.  They get to know their players’ strengths and weaknesses, and help them hone their skills while eliminating the weaknesses.  Good leaders establish trusting relationships with each team member.
  2. Different players for different positions: I was talking with a friend who teaches college who said he’d be terrified in an elementary classroom.  I, on the other hand, don’t know how to relate to college students.  And then, there are the “special” teachers who actually enjoy teaching middle schoolers (glad there are some!).  I love working in administration, when there are teachers who can’t imagine ever leaving the classroom.  The front-desk receptionist at our school is phenomenal at her job being a welcoming smile, a firm hand, or an organizational whiz.  Just like there are players who excel in center field, while others are best playing short, we all have a role to play that matches our passions and skills.
  3. The fans: One of the reasons I love teaching elementary students is because they love me.  Who doesn’t love to see faces light up when you walk into the classroom?  I understand that this fandom takes on a different look as kids get older and it’s no longer “cool” to love their teachers, but we should teach/lead/coach/manage all students in a way that makes them our fans (whether they admit it, or not).  Most baseball fans like the players who are charismatic, take time to talk to “the little people”, give back to their communities, and who make the game fun to watch.  Likewise, students are going to like teachers who are enthusiastic, who get to know them as people, give them their time and attention, and who make learning fun.
  4. Off-season, or lack thereof: My nephew is twenty-one and is a college pitcher.  He has played baseball since he could walk.  The kid loves it.  Still.  He was so excited to play college ball at a Division 1 school because he thought he’d finally be surrounded with other players who took the game as seriously as he did.  He was disappointed to learn that wasn’t the case.  He transferred to a smaller school that had a better baseball program.  What makes him fun to watch is that you can tell that he loves the game.  He spends his “off-season” preparing for the next season.  Coaches and managers spend their off-season recruiting and planning.  This is what good educators do, too.  Teachers attend workshops, take classes, read professional literature, work on instructional units, all to be better in the classroom when school starts back up in the fall.  Administrators are busy screening, interviewing, and hiring new teachers and staff to create a stronger team.  There isn’t much down time.  Yes, there is more time in the summer for educators to relax, enjoy their family and the weather, but that personal renewal is just as important to their game as the professional development is.

There are actually more correlations I could make between education and America’s favorite past time, but I wanted to stick with 4, the number of bases (or as my daughter called them tonight, “mats” – yeah, I know we have some educating to do about the game).  This summer, I will be watching some baseball.  But I will also be attending conferences, reading professional literature, connecting with my PLN, and spending some time at the lake.

 possible

Questions Make the World Go Round

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“The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others.” — Tyron Edwards

 

Why do teachers need to ask better questions?  There are many responses to this question, but a short, one-word answer would be Google.  If I can Google the answer, then I don’t need to ask the question.  Gone are the days when teachers need to simply impart their knowledge on a class full of students.  We need to create engaging environments where our students learn to ask questions and find solutions.  They need to discover how to find reliable resources. They need to work with teams to brainstorm, research, create, and innovate.  All of these skills stem from higher order questions.  The inquiry doesn’t even have to come from the teacher.  In a community of respected/respectful learners, questions will be raised by both students and educators.  More learning will occur and be sustained by students searching out answers and solutions rather than passively taking notes while the teacher delivers information.  I liken this a bit to faculty meetings.  If something can be emailed out to staff members, then it shouldn’t take up time during a meeting.  If students can locate the information accurately and efficiently, than the teacher shouldn’t take up time during class lecturing on it.

More great writing on the importance of inquiry-based learning:

“When you ask questions in the classroom, you are modeling a process that students can and should use themselves…”

“Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions.”

The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning

 

Motherhood

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I come from a long line of amazing women.   I still have the baby quilt handmade by my great grandmother.  In fact, it hung in my own children’s rooms when they were babies.  She was amazing.  I never knew my great grandfather, but I love hearing my mom’s stories about them.  They lived through the depression, and my mom was around ten years old when they first got electricity and indoor plumbing.  They were frugal, hard-working, and good-hearted people.  My great grandma could make a game out of nothing, and you would leave feeling so special.  She taught me to play Hide-the-Thimble, Chinese Checkers, and Dominoes.  I inherited her fondness for pickled beets, and her long legs and dimples.  I took piano lessons, and looked forward to playing for her when we would go visit.  She was amazing.  She died when I was twelve and I still miss that lady.

Her middle child, my grandma, was equally wonderful.  I was so blessed to grow up within walking distance to my grandparents.  We would run down to see them, pick wild strawberries behind their house, or play in the treehouse next to their driveway.  My grandma would greet us with a smile and hug every single time.  She would act like we were the highlight of her day each time we saw her.  She raised four daughters, survived the loss of an infant son, and worked full-time most of her adult life, all with the same kind-heart that she showed anyone around her.  She was the valedictorian of her class (of 7).  I am also a middle child with an older sister and younger brother…something we shared.   I also inherited her love for angel food cake, her long legs and dimples.  She passed away when I was 22, and I still wish she was here so my children would have the blessing of knowing her.

Her oldest daughter is my incredible mother.  Being the oldest of four girls, she helped raise her younger sisters.  She also had to do farm chores from a young age – even leading a bull by the nose ring from a burning barn when she was twelve-years-old.  She started waitressing at a local diner when she was fourteen.  She got straight As, and was homecoming queen.  She married her high school sweetheart (my incredible father, but that’s another story) when she was nineteen and he was home on leave from serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  She put herself through college – the first in her family to attend – and graduated in three years with an education degree.  She moved to San Diego, where my dad was stationed, after college graduation to take her first teaching job.  They moved all of their belongings from Indiana to California in a ’67 Camaro (the first car they owned together).  They moved back home after my dad’s Navy time was up.  (For any car lovers reading this, they moved home in a ’70 Dodge Challenger.  They have had some pretty awesome cars through the years.)  My mom worked full time, raised three children, took care of her mother and father at different times, and did it all with the goodness she inherited from the women before her.   I inherited so much from her…delight in children, teaching, gardening, cooking, and work ethic.  I also inherited her favor towards chocolate, her long legs and dimples.

I now have a twelve-year-old daughter who is so much like me.  Like the rest of us, she has long legs and dimples.  Apparently these are dominant traits in the women of our family.  🙂   She has a kind heart, big smile, and amazing personality.  My prayer is that I am the kind of mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and beyond that I have been blessed with.  Motherhood changes a person.  It’s not something you understand or appreciate until it happens.  And I couldn’t imagine anything better than being a mom.

Why celebrate teachers?

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This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in the U.S. (in case you didn’t get that memo).  Why should teachers be celebrated?  They get a lot of paid holidays.  They get their summers off.  A computer could do their jobs.

Shockingly, these are real statements, that real people have said…people who were taught, by teachers, at some points in their lives.  But, these are not people who have been educated about education.  They are ignorant to the fact that most teachers:

  • Get to school early, stay late, and come in on weekends to make sure their lessons are engaging, developmentally appropriate, and standards-based.
  • Often spend their paid “holidays” grading papers, completing report cards, reading professional literature, and/or writing lesson plans.
  • Spend their own money (sometimes in the thousands of dollars) on classroom supplies, books, gifts and incentives for the students.
  • Write emails and letters, make phone calls, or hold meetings with parents after school hours.
  • Think, worry, and pray about the students in their classes because they care more about them than just as a number on their class roster.
  • Attend conferences, workshops, and take college classes in the summer to further their own professional development.
  • Push their personal lives to the back so that they can greet their students with smiles and kind words each day, because school is about the student and not the teacher.
  • Get paid way below other professions with comparable professional degrees and college experience.

I could go on.  I could sing personal accolades of teachers who have impacted my life through the years, both as a student and a colleague. I’m sure most readers have their own stories.  And, I’m also sure that most of us have some “bad teacher” stories, as well.  That is unfortunate, but I would definitely wager that the positives outweigh the negatives.  Teachers do these things because they believe in the power of education.  They believe in the potential that lives inside each child who crosses their paths.  They want to make school a safe and enjoyable place to be.  A teacher’s work doesn’t fit nicely within a 9am-5pm day.  They can’t clock in and clock out.  They can’t “leave it at the office.”  Educators don’t see teaching as a job.  It’s a calling.  One they embrace each day.  That is why teachers should be celebrated. Not just this week, but every day.