Thursday, December 13, 2012

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes (If they have shoes)

I have always struggled with being a softy, especially early on in my teaching career. It wasn't a big issue when I taught 1st grade or 3rd grade, without digging deeply into underlying issues I could help students with those basic needs.

If a 6 year old is...
  • Hungry? feed him
  • Tired? Send him to the bean bag chair, give him a blanky & let him nap
  • Crying? Hug him
  • No supplies? Buy him crayons, paper, pencils etc..
  • No field trip money? Easy to cover that, I'll grab my purse.
My struggle with the balance between empathizing & enabling happened as I began to work with middle school & high school kids. These kids still come to school, hungry, tired, crying, no supplies & with no money but the solution is harder.

The first year I worked at the MS & HS level, I saw many of the students I had previously taught in 3rd grade. I knew their back story, was aware of  their poverty, I had made those home visits, turned  names in for gift baskets at holiday time & to the local churches for other kinds of assistance. Many times I thought the secondary teachers were too hard on these kiddos. Some actually were too hard, but I was too easy &  needed to learn the balance between too hard & too soft.

Ginny, a child I had in 3rd grade, was in the hall, up against the wall and a teacher was in her face. The teacher was frustrated, I don't remember why he was inches from her face, towering over her in a posture meant to intimidate,  but I do remember the detached, dejected look on her face.

Did he really think raising his voice and yelling at her would reach her? Help her? Change her? What in the world could he do to her that she hadn't already survived?

As infant she had been tossed down the stairs and had both legs broken, by the time I met her, she was 7 years old & her grandparents had been called to come get her & her sister from child protective services in another state. The girls had been found by a landlord, filthy, hungry curled up together on a urine-soaked mattress all alone.  Without going in to too much more detail,  life with her grandparents wasn't much better.

She couldn't care less if you are disappointed in her, or if you have "had it up to HERE" with her. She had already survived much more than your disapproval.

So how in the world, when you are a middle class person, raised in a middle class family in a small rural town by both parents, going to your grandparents every Sunday for dinner (after church and catechism) to play with all of your cousins, with support coming out of your ears, do you begin to know how to help the Ginny's of the world overcome all the fences & hurdles that come with poverty?

I do know one don't learn that in a 3 hour, 1 semester college course!

I went to speak with Deb Carter, our middle school principal at the time, I knew she had more experience than I did and told her the above story. She shared with me that she had seen this lack of understanding, this inherent frustration , this lack of experience to work with students/families in poverty over the short time she had been with our district and she  had been considering her next steps. (She came to us from a much bigger district who had already felt the consequences of the sinking economy)

She is a firm believer in "When you know better, you do better", so she set out to help us "know better".

In the 80's, when much of our staff first began teaching here, we had a free & reduced lunch rate of 5% and teachers were the middle class. Very few kiddos were truly poor, a stern look & a quick, "when I see your mom at the ball game this week and students quickly capitulated and fell in line.

Fast forward 20 years,  we now sit at over 60% free & reduced lunch and teachers are the wealthy folks in our town, the loss of manufacturing jobs hadn't hurt the teachers, but it sure had hurt everyone else.

In Deb's opinion, the staff just needed to open their eyes to what was happening to their city, leave their comfort short...when they know better, they will do better.

She was right!

We all began to open our eyes & truly acknowledge the epidemic of poverty hitting our little town.  This district is staffed with excellent teachers who truly want the best for their students (true everywhere, not just our little corner of the world) As soon as we all had our "Ah ha" moments, action was taken in greater force than ever before.

Teachers did book studies around breaking the cycle of poverty (reading Ruby Payne & more), they worked to empower students and families, brainstormed wrap around programs to support every single student, the capacity for learning & loving at our middle school was & is awe-inspiring!

Teachers & admins connected with our wonderful community members, who un-endingly (to this day) donate coats, shoes, clothes and school supplies. My neighbor heads up a program that gives hungry kids a backpack filled with food to get them through the weekend til they can have breakfast & lunch at school again. Even on the snowiest of days we don't cancel schools, too many kids will be cold & hungry if we do.

I am so blessed & grateful to live in a community that is generous. BUT...that is the sort of easy part. I'm good with giving food, clothes and money.

The hard part is saying...I know your life sucks right now, I now your mom/dad is drunk, or on meth or gone but YOU MUST PERSEVERE & I'm not going to be easier on you, excuse your sleeping in class, or let you get away with not doing the work needed to meet your life goals.

How do you empower, not enable?
How do you have empathy but not pity?
How do you support but not "do for"?

I'm still learning, I learn from my PLN, from my amazing New Tech Network colleagues & I learned so much from my friend & colleague, who first led me on this path of "tough love" emphasis on the love part!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

YIKES...Simply More of the Same? I Hope Not.

When I read this Huffington Post Headline this week...

I was reminded of a cheer we shouted during the ol' Frankfort Hotdog football games.

"Hit 'em again, harder, harder" 

or how when someone doesn't understand you so you...

say the same thing again only LOUDER!

or how when a student doesn't understand a concept and we

explain it exactly the same way only s l o w e r . 

or when I can't find my keys so I look in my purse...

right around 5,000 times even though they WERE NOT there the 1st 4, 999 times!

or when a young child is retained and is taught in the ...

EXACT same way with the SAME materials he was the previous year 

You get it right?

YIKES...simply more of the same? I hope not.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Old Doesn't Equal Bad or Irrelevant

The above tweet from @JohnTSpencer during #edchat got me thinking, how many times do we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, simply because it is old?

Maybe it is because I am now an age that I once thought was old (over was right, time DOES fly when you are having fun!) ! I'm even a Grammy (see below)! So that makes me REALLY old!

 On more than one occasion during study tours at Zebra New Tech, our local high school, visitors would ask the students something to the tune of

"What qualities do the BEST teachers have" 

Student answers were always something like...

Sense of Humor
Not Boring
Like kids (This one always got me...apparently they have had teachers that they think don't! UGH)
Tough-but still nice
and...wait for it.........

Hmmm....I'm now 45 aka pushing I .....young? old?

Almost every time the kids said this, in the room was someone I admire greatly, he taught our boys, coached my husband in middle school, and as a colleague, I learn something from Dan McCarthy every single time we talk.  But he is....GASP....even older that I am! (sorry, Dan, but are OLD)

He is an also the early adopter of every new piece of technology that comes out, quickly figuring out how it can facilitate student learning, he does about a million 1:1 sessions with his fellow teachers trouble shooting or introducing technology, and once read Twilight over Christmas break just to keep up with what his students were reading! 

I, for one, think age is irrelevant, I've worked with teachers with 25+ years experience in the classroom who are inspirational life-long learners.  Who are always searching, digging, mining for ways to reach, engage,  inspire and connect with their students. (even if it means reading vampire books)

The first Montessori school opened in 1907, I would happily send that adorable baby girl in the above photo to a Montessori school!

The Reggio Emilio Approach is a bit younger, not appearing until after WWII but, would I send that sweet baby girl  to a school embracing this? YES!

Project Based Learning has its roots in Aristotle, Confucius, Dewey, and Piaget all pretty old dudes!

 Legos, building blocks, tinker toys, story telling, dolls, trucks, bubbles, playdough, and books...all kinda "old" or are they... classic? vintage? time-honored?

Perhaps we could all critically think, analyze, synthesize, know do what we want our kids to do and stop equating new with good and old with bad!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Didn't Get Stars, Points, Pizzas or Parties for Reading!

I'm a reader.
I've always been a reader.
No one paid me to read.
No one bribed me to read.
I didn't get stars, points, pizzas or parties for reading.

How did I possibly learn to read ?
My dad read books. (But he didn't read directions, ever, for anything )
My dad also was a story teller,he told us made up stories, true stories, and was  a poetry reader, James Whitcomb Riley (poet laureate of Indiana ) was read often in our house... Little Orphant Annie, The Bear Story, Raggedy Man, I still recite these by heart.
My mom had us read recipes, write grocery lists, we always had pencils, crayons and paper.
I don't even remember not having a library card, perhaps it was issued with my birth certificate.
Words, spoken, written & read were important in our house.

My 1st grade teacher, (who was also my 2nd grade teacher...looping before looping was cool) read aloud to us everyday, more than once a day.

She didn't control what we checked out from the library,

Like cars? Get a car book.
Like biographies? Get one.
Heck get 7, get one of each.
Want to read the atlas? Do it.
How about a globe, can you read that? Yup!
Like the pictures in that book that is WAY too hard for a 1st grader?
So what, check it out and look at all of the pictures.

Ms. Hale taught me not to be a reading snob. Anything in print was ripe for the reading, chapter books, picture books, cereal boxes, directions, maps, comic books, joke books, fiction, non-fiction, road signs...whatever floats your boat.Love it or need it, there were reasons for reading.

I was only 6 years old and I've never forgotten it. It guided me as an elementary teacher.

Reading is personal.

Similar to  Joe Bower's recent blog posts about reading, Daddy I Want a Book Buck, is story from my sister.

Her daughter who is in middle school has a book club with some other girls that their moms started years ago.  The girls had chosen to read a trilogy by Deborah Ellis, beginning with The Breadwinner and moving on to Parvana's Journey. Sarah LOVED the books, devoured them and in fact shared her copy with my mom (her grandma) because she thought Gma would love it, too.

THEN, as she celebrated this wonderful book to her teacher, she was told it wouldn't count for her "points" that month. The lexile score was too low.

(neither mother nor daughter knew what a lexile score was, why would they?)

This knowledge of the low lexile score  made the girls question whether they should even bother to read the 3rd book since it didn't "count".

It has a happy ending...the girls (and their mom's) decided book club was for fun and to heck with the points.

What would I be like as  reader if I had been bribed to read?
What great books would I have missed out on because they were too easy or too hard as defined by an incentive program?
Would it have killed my love of reading?

Are you killing the love of reading?

Great book to help you ponder that: Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading & What You Can Do About It. by Kelly Gallagher

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Surprise Upset? Indiana Teachers Weren't Surprised

As Tom Petty says " She grew up in an Indiana town..."

It has been such an interesting week reading so much about Indiana and "big upset" of the winner of  Education Reform Idol, Dr. Tony Bennett,  to teacher Glenda Ritz.  

No one I know who teaches in Indiana considered this an upset. They have been living for the day when they could vote Dr. Bennett out of office. Not because they disagree with EVERYTHING he has done, but mostly because they disagree with HOW the changes were done and that they felt that teacher's voices not only went unheard but were dis-regarded as irrelevant.

It has been like living with a foot in two different worlds for me, I talk often to educators outside of Indiana, but I talk daily to teachers and parents inside of Indiana. Outside of Indiana many say Bennett is progressive, a leader, ,a fearless change agent. Inside of Indiana he is a bully, an ego maniac, an arrogant fame hungry man willing to sacrifice public education for the brand of Tony Bennett. Of course, none of those descriptors are completely true.

Certainly some good things have happened during Dr. Bennett's tenure . When I worked as a Technology Director, the environment in the state technology department became one where innovation was embraced & encouraged, technology integration was in the forefront. The office in downtown Indy became a place to go for grants, answers, inspiration and support instead of one of mandates, hoops to jump through and forms to fill out. (Thank you Dr. John Keller & Office of eLearning team!)

As we embarked on changing the face of education in our community, Dr. Bennett (and Governor Daniels) were more than supportive. We were able to get waivers necessary to move forward with innovative schedules, class offerings and hard to find teachers, we  had opportunities for grants and were publicly lauded for being in the forefront of re-imagining our public schools.

But, at some point, as the national conversation turned to vilify teachers (and their unions) as the scapegoat for the poor economy, Indiana teachers felt thrown under the bus by their Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction. The more they heard that for profit charter schools were the answer, the more de-valued they felt. The message heard wasn't one of support from their "leader" it was one of blame.
Still, it wasn't Bennett's embracing of charter schools, grading schools A-F, new teacher evaluations, or his for-profit, anti-union stance that I saw posted all over social media by the teachers who work every day in the classrooms of Indiana.

The messages I saw imploring friends and family to vote for Glenda Ritz were about standardized testing, specifically the all or nothing highstakes iRead test. In fact, it was this pass/fail testing of 3rd graders that spurred Ritz to throw her hat in the ring

Status posts like these were all over my FB news feed:

  • "Please support your teachers by voting for Glenda Ritz on Tuesday for State Superintendent of Schools. We need change. Tony Bennett has done nothing to benefit our kids' education. He has only made our jobs harder. I love love love my job and my students. I want each and everyone of my kids to succeed and Tony is just over testing them and making things harder for everyone."            
  • "... with the significant emphasis being placed on standardized testing he has assured the people of Indiana that their students will be prepared for exactly one thing. Those students will be able to take a test!"                                                                                                             
  • "If you believe children are more than their standardized test scores, please PLEASE vote Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Even if you usually vote a straight Republican ticket, please cross over for this race."

This post from @ScottElliott's column "Get on The Bus" in the Indianapolis Star explores many of the theories being floated for the upset, I agree with his conclusion that it really was a teacher-led movement. 

It will be interesting to see what happens going forward, Ritz, who garnered more votes than incoming Governor Mike Pence, is entering an environment that is already being portrayed in the media as hostile. We can only hope that what Pence says at the end of this article is true.

"We are going to focus on kids"

Monday, October 29, 2012

If YOU Were Designing a 4 yr Program for Teachers What Would it Look Like?

I graduated with my Elementary Ed degree in 1990 from Butler University. I LOVED going to Butler and felt well prepared for my first teaching job at Nora Elementary in Washington Township. I was exposed to Inquiry Based Learning, had  engaged professors and excellent, helpful feed back during my student teaching

Of course there are some silly things I had to do, learn to play song flute in "Music a Living Hell. Language...really? I remember learning how to give a spelling test. (Pre-test Mon. write words on Tues..blah blah blah)  But, I felt mostly prepared and I had excellent student teaching placements as well as support during student teaching from Dr. Ena Shelley. (Now Dean of the Butler CoE)

Mostly, I remember being encouraged to ask questions, Dr. Shelley was (and still is) a proponent of Reggio Emilia .  I am, too, a believer more than ever that children are not vessels to be filled but learners to be respected and cultivated. Looking back the path I started at Butler has definitely contributed to my working with New Tech Network, where school culture,student/teacher empowerment and engagement are at the forefront.
Back in college, I wish I had had more time in classrooms, more discussions/debates, more on ed policy, that being said, can you ever have enough time in the classroom? and maybe as an undergrad I wasn't as passionate then as I am now about policy.

So what I want to know is....what kind of teacher ed program would prepare you the most for what the classroom is like today?

If YOU were designing a 4 year program for teachers what would it look like? Please add your ideas in the comments!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Global Educator? I Don't Even Have a Passport!

In the words of John Mellencamp "I was born in a small town, and I live in a small town.."

I don't come from a family of world travelers, growing up  we spent weekends camping at practically every single state park in Indiana, and spent summers driving in the family station wagon eating warm bologna sandwiches driving to the far northwest corner of Iowa to Lake Okoboji to visit aunts, uncles & cousins in towns like Sibley, Sheldon and Spencer. 

My childhood was all during the 70's & 80's  The "USSR" was characterized by Rocky movies and Howard wanting to build a bomb shelter on Happy Days. I vaguely remember the Iran Hostage Crisis and a little more vividly the Chernobyl Disaster, but thinking globally just wasn't a part of my life. 

But for today's kids, the world is much smaller! Kids game with other people all over the world, we tweet, blog, skype and learn collectively. This week's #PBLChat was about connecting globally and was probably the most resource rich one we've ever had thanks to the amazing educators associated with @AsiaSociety

This tweet (along with many others) got me thinking...

  How can I be a global educator when I don't even have a passport?

Backpacking Europe? I was diaper-bagging across campus! Our middle son was born the day of my last final! So no travel as a child? No bilingual parents? No backpacking across Europe or student exchange programs on my resume....What's a girl to do?

Enter a million ways to connect without a backpack or a passport!

Check out these resources shared during the chat (archive is here)

Must follows:

There are TONS more people to follow & programs to check in the quest to expand your global education PLN in the archive and add your favorite resources/people in the comments, please!

A couple of hashtags:

Something shared by Brandon Wiley really hit home for me...

"Globally competent students don't always need to work with global peers, but focus on globally significant issues"

 This was an "a-ha" and a sigh of relief for me, you don't need to get overwhelmed by logistics, technology or bandwidth deficits, time or time-zones...this is infinitely doable!

In the meantime, those three little boys we spent time raising in college & in our 20's are  all out in the world, we are empty nesters.

Hmmm....I think it is time to get a passport! 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Happens When You Awaken a Sense of Civic Engagement in Students?

What happens when you awaken a sense of civic engagement in students? When a teacher gives a call to action across a network of empowered , empassioned and engaged colleagues? They have a party!
The Invitation

“2012 should be the year we leverage politics to teach media literacy & critical thinking in the classroom”

Students began diving deeply into learning about media bias, campaign techniques and thinking deeply about what they themselves believe.  Read Mike Kaechele, facilitator at Kent Innovation High's, blog post detailing "What My Student's Believe About Politics"

Students began to formulate their party platforms and even to discuss them at home.

Middle School students at APEX in Indiana  rocked the vote by registering high schools students and assisting with voter registration at a local community center.

Ypsilanti New Tech students got involved in an issue that deeply affects them, district consolidation, and presented their findings to the school board.

Students across the country have been tweeting together every debate, with several schools hosting debate parties. After learning all day at school, then going to various practices, rehearsals or work, students met back at the school to watch & tweet the debates with their classmates and teachers.

Warren New Tech High Students
Insights from the students debate watching
See complete 1st Debate archive here
See complete VP debate tweet archive here
See complete 2nd debate archive here

The students were APPALLED by the lack of civility in these debates, definitely a big take-away !

After much critical thinking surrounding the debates, students began to prepare their own stump speeches and got busy story boarding and filming their commercials. Read more about that process in this article from mLive

Each of the schools involved had students select the best campaign commercials and platforms and submit them to this playlist.

On October 29th from 10am to 11am EST students will be tweeting @BarackObama and @MittRomney with their concerns, issues and/or support.

On November 2nd at noon EST the top 5 student candidates will debate via a Google+ Hangout so that students everywhere can evaluate the debate along with the commercials & platforms of each of these groups before final voting across the network begins.

We will also be voting via a poll inside Echo on actual Election Day for President of the United States! It should be very exciting to watch those votes roll in live.

Three of the many great joys of this project have been watching teachers across the country collaborate via Echo,  Skype & Twitter, watching students investigating, evaluating and communicating on issues about which they are passionate and anticipating how these connections will continubeyond the scope of this project.

These stories are just a small part of the bridges being built by teachers & students during this project, I can't wait to see what these amazing, engaged, fearless educators and students do next! 

Photo from @jschackow


Friday, October 12, 2012

My Grandma Has Facebook

This past week I had the opportunity to spend the day at Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School in Gary, Indiana, talking with 6th through 8th grade students about their digital footprints. I have a million things I could write about from this visit but for now, just a really quick story & thought.

In the beginning of the workshop, I ask a few questions about Facebook & Twitter to see how much they are using either. This group of middle schoolers were heavy on the Facebook, light on Twitter, but this was the most interesting take away for me:
How many of you are on Facebook? Nearly 100% of the hands went up (keep in mind most of the 6th graders are only 12)

How many of your parents are on Facebook? Nearly 100% of the hands stayed up.

How many of your grandparents are on Facebook? Nearly 100% of the hands stayed up.

So, tell me again WHY you aren't communicating with your students, families & community members by having a Facebook Page?

Here are a few awesome examples from schools I know to get you thinking about it...

Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy 
Kent Innovation High
EVSC New Tech Institute
Nex+ Gen Academy
Anson New Tech High

Another great resource for getting started on how to use Facebook in the Elementary Classroom is this Prezi by @MissRalston .

Have an awesome school Facebook Page? I'd LOVE to check it out! Share the link in the comments!
Not on Facebook? Really? My Grandma is.