Once again I have been given the opportunity to be part of something that is much greater than myself. I am at the annual meeting for the National Writing Projoct (NWP) and as always, I am filling my brain to the brim with new ideas to take back to my students, colleagues, and school. My brain will overflowith.
Every year there is a plenary where members of NWP get to listen about the state of the writing project and where we have been and where we are going in the future. This year our director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl discussed where we should “double down” as teachers in certain areas and the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in. After all, it is through the narratives we write that gives us power and makes our story known.
As I thought about the gambling term “double down”, I began to think that most educators do double down, don’t we? We do it because we care about our students and want them to succeed. Yes, there are educators who don’t go “all in” when it comes to their job or doing what is best for student. Let’s face it, we know at least one. Needless to say though, most of our hearts and minds have a passion for our career and our students.
This year has been odd for me, other than the new teaching assignment. I have struggled at times this year to the point where the environment that I was working in was having such a negative impact on me that I just wanted to stay home. Other days were fine, but for almost three weeks, I rode the struggle bus. As I began to reflect on my 1/2 hour drive home one afternoon, I knew I couldn’t give up on my students. My relationship with them was becoming very positive from where I was at with them last year as 7th graders. They drove me nuts. I knew that I had to be there for them and continue to walk with them in their journey through school and life.
I had a hard time leaving my students to come to this conference. We laugh, we learn, we get frustrated with each other. We are a family. As one of my writing project colleagues has said, ” The learning is in the struggle”. A statement that couldn’t be more true for me right now, but I am starting to better understand what I need to do and it became more clear today while attending the conference.
So, being “all in” and thinking about the power of narrative reminds me our writing is what gives us a voice. On the other hand, I know I have to keep fighting for my students and not let a negative school culture give way for them having a negative teacher where they don’t want to go to class or have hope.
I will continue to use my voice in writing to help me be more positive for my students so they too can see there is hope with the right attitude and the right tools. I want to model for them that they too have a voice and can make a difference. Even when it is with their pen.
It’s time to stay positive!
It’s time to go to work!
It’s time to write!
Second blog in a week! I almost forgot the power behind blogging. Trying to rock it out again this week.
Communication has been vital for hundreds of years. The way people communicate has changed drastically. From sending notes through the Pony Express to a note on a pigeon’s leg. Now, we have email, text messaging, and other forms of online communication that can essentially let us hide from having more intimate conversations with individuals.
Even though we have easier ways to communicate, face-to-face conversation seems to be quickly losing popularity or perhaps it already has been cast aside. Just recently I was astonished at my 8th grader’s reaction when I told them they couldn’t have cell phones on their upcoming bus trip to the fish hatchery for our Salmon in the Classroom project. It was as if I just told them I was going to cut off their arm or leg.
As I have pondered their reaction, I began to think about the communication that takes place in education and more specifically among teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.
I am all for the use of technology in responsible ways and it has made our world easier to access the individuals that we need to get in touch with. In fact, we can’t blame technology for how our students learn today. The downfall to all the ways we can access people has caused a serious decline in building effective relationships with others. This just doesn’t fall on the teachers or the students either, it falls on everyone’s shoulder to get better.
When it comes to building positive relationships between administrators and teachers, it is easier for principals and superintendents to put out emails and videos. Videos can be created for staff meetings instead of trying to work around everyone’s schedule when it comes to coaching and other after school activities. However, unless there are face-to-face conversations taking place, those positive relationships are not being built. I am thankful that my principal not only has an open door policy but has the leadership to engage in conversations with the teachers in the hall and in their classrooms. He doesn’t just send emails to the teachers hoping they will read it and claim he is communicating with us.
In addition to administrators reaching out and building relationships with staff members, I feel we are at a critical time in education where school board members need to be having face-to-face conversations with not only teachers but with the community as well. Currently, what I am seeing, is little interaction between board members and community members. It seems to me that there is not a working relationship to make schools better between these entities. I know that this isn’t the case for all school districts and I don’t mean to offend those that have solid relationships. However, I am currently seeing it with my own eyes and not only has it had a negative impact on relationship building, there is a lack of respect among board members, teachers, and community members. So much, that people are starting not to care which has negative consequences on the students in the end.
It is true that communication has changed drastically over the past 100 years. I feel it is more important than ever to talk with people and build relationships with them through everyday conversation, not useless emails, newsletters, or text messages. If we can do this as adults, we can definitely help our kids understand the importance of effective communication not only make them better citizens but help our schools become better places to learn.
What does communication mean to you?
(Photo compliments of Mistie Bibee from freeimages.com)
I am beginning my quest to reflect back on my teaching practice each day and week for the rest of the semester/year. During this reflective period, I am throwing out or reworking what isn’t getting my students engaged. Though I am posting for my own professional use, I invite anyone to offer suggestions and critiques into what I am doing or what I could be doing in the future.
There were two specific areas I wanted to highlight with 8th grade. First, I recapped parenthetical documentation. We went over this prior to Christmas break and it needed to be reviewed for a paper they are doing in Social Studies. The lesson in December went well, however, the review was just mehh! One class asked questions and were engaged. My first class, however, was unresponsive and I think if I used jumper cables they wouldn’t have budged. So, the initial lesson was good. On the other hand, the review needs some spice.
Next, the 8th graders finished their semester writing reflections. I asked them to look at their first piece of writing from the beginning of the year and it was awesome to just watch their facial reactions. I then had them follow-up with some basic reflections questions. They all did really well for the most part. I will definitely keep doing reflections.
As a side note, although 8th graders did well, I have some work to do with the 7th graders. Last week we started to look at Civil Right issues prior to us starting to Role of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I showed a short video to the classes, but I feel that I need to do more here. Some how I need to incorporate informational text reading at the beginning of this unit.
I also need to continue to work on grammar and doing more of it in my classes.
Monday I had a meeting with my principal and I told him I have had thoughts about taking everything I do in my classroom and throwing it out the window and starting from scratch. This is where I envision books, student assignments, computers, tablets, pens, pencils, etc being on my desk and clearing it all off in a raging fit with one swing of my monstrous long arms.
Anyways, I want to reinvent, reimagine my classroom and what I am doing. It is not to say that everything I do does not have an impact on students, but I feel like I need to change some things. There are days I feel, I am not reaching my students.
My principal suggested that I start reflecting on each day and writing down what works and what doesn’t work. I thought that would be a great idea and I am definitely going to start doing that next week. It is time to reflect on what it is I am doing in my classroom and changing what is isn’t working anymore.
Has anyone else ever had these thoughts or something similar?
As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
(Picture compliments of Chris Potter on Flckr.)
This past school year presented its challenges, which is not unlike most years in the teaching profession. Every teacher struggles with lessons that don’t work out, an unruly class or student, and the every day ins and outs of teaching. When we do have the time to catch our breath, we have our own personal lives to manage. Bottom line it isn’t easy, but for the most part we manage.
For the 2014-2015 school year I was presented with the biggest challenge in my life, not just my career. October not only brought about the leaves changing color and Halloween, but a separation from my wife and eventually divorce. Needless to say I was devastated and my personal world came crashing down.
Quite often, I am not one to share too much of my personal life with my students. Don’t get me wrong, my students know a lot about me, but there are numerous things I keep secure in the ole’ brain. My divorce was no different. I didn’t share any details with my students about how my marriage failed. My principal and colleagues knew, but that was as far as my comfort zone was going. It was already stretched.
I wasn’t willing to share with my students because I was afraid to share my failure. I was a wreck and I am confident my students saw it on my face every day. As the school year progressed and my divorced was finalized, I started to realize that I may have failed at my marriage, but I didn’t fail at teaching or life. Even if I did, I needed to pick myself up and move on. After all, my ex-wife and I got along just fine and we had our own children to take care of and think about. So, instead of feeling defeated, I started to pick up the pieces. In all honesty, it was my principal who provided the spark that made me see that I am a better person and professional than what I was displaying. I needed to get my spark back!
Besides accepting the challenges that my principal set before me, I also recalled there are many students who come from split families in my district and I started to understand that I now could relate to those students a bit more and perhaps sympathize more with their situation. Furthermore, I think my students need to have more insight into my own personal life so they might have a better understanding of where I am coming from and what I am all about. They need to see that I am human, a change that I am ready to make for the 2015-2016 school year.
Failure does not mean we are less of a person. Out of failure comes success as mentioned in a video highlighting Michael Jordan and many other great individuals. I have picked up the pieces this Summer because despite my failures, I have had many successful things happen in my life. Besides, my own kids need their dad to be the best that he can be every single day and my students need me to show them that, despite the failure in their own lives, they too can succeed.