Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jumping Forward in Time

It's August for me. Yes, I said it. The A word. Words that a teacher does not like to hear...emitting sights and sounds of books, desks, computers, students, bells, conversations and yes...a busy school day. Well, the calendar may not say it, but it is August over here with the collaborative gang as we gear up for the Raves at #reflectiveteacher Blogging Event. I hope that you can join me and the other wonderful teachers that will be participating, reflecting and sharing our favorites from this past year of teaching. 

How does this work, you say? During the month of May, visit the Smore here, and blog about your Raves using the prompts of the week and the #reflectiveteacher hash tag for everyone to see the goodness. Sharing your favorites from the school year is what we all need to do NOW instead of in August.

Why is thinking about next year's students always in style? 
C'mon being a great #reflectiveteacher you know that...  

1. Collaborating with your PLN is neverending. As the end of the school year is approaching for many of us around the world, we should be networking more than ever to hear what worked and what did not work this year for teachers and their students. Take the summer to mull them over, give them a test run and be ready in August for a super-charged classroom!

2. It's important to go into August being different from last year! Take the time to think deeply about how to incorporate that new approach or to ponder how you can make better cross-curricular connections you made over the year. Please throw away that lesson plan book or use it sparingly at it as you plan for a new year. Kids change from year to year and so should our teaching! 

3. Get new Ideas now, practice when no one is looking! You know that cool new tech tool you were wowed with at the last conference? Now is the time to learn it, practice with it and commit errors with it before you roll it out to your students. Learn the tool so that they can learn the tool. This summer is looks like

Making your connections and sharing your ideas now is a great way to keep the learning, connecting and growing continuing even after the doors close to the building! Find your August today! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mind the Gap, Please.

If you travel to England, then you must have heard the expression "Mind The Gap".
It is an audible or visual warning phrase issued to rail passengers in the UK (and elsewhere) to take caution while crossing the spatial gap between the train door and the station platform. Passengers are alerted to become more aware of their surroundings to avoid accidents.

Do you "mind the gap" ?
As #reflectiveteachers, we should be careful in our teaching to "mind the gap", to see the spaces and breaks in the curriculum and our students' overall experience in the classroom. Identifying these "gaps" helps avoid mishaps and possible accidents in teaching and learning as well!  Nothing good about a derailed course curriculum! Or how about students who are "off-track" in their studies or relationships with other members of the class? Sounds like a train wreck to me!  To close that gap, we need to work quickly and effective to carefully design curriculum studies, lessons or team-building activities with our colleagues to close those spaces as quickly as possible to maximize students' learning experience within our schools. 

I recently had my "a-ha" moment as AP Spanish were talking about the theme of Identity and Assimilation. How does one assimilate into a new culture? What do they experience? Do they maintain their original culture, embrace the new culture or find a healthy balance between the two? And then the perfect cross curricular lesson revealed itself- Who better to talk about assimilation than our new ELL students?! I knew it would be a big win all around: AP students hear authentic language being spoken and real stories centered on the theme, and ELL students would be sharing their personal experiences to very interested students and making connections to some really great kids in the school. I set my students on their way to create their own questions for the students while I set up the meeting times. Another win: students creating and leading the learning! I need to get out of way more.

The days were very successful as you can see! Smiles, conversation in Spanish, students connecting and sharing stories, questions and perspectives on assimilating into cultures! They are looking for more opportunities to connect so I will put on my thinking cap!

So here's to "minding the gap", to being aware of spaces in our curriculum and to being able to find ways to fill all students' needs throughout the year! Here's to helping students find ways to connect and fill that gap among themselves! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Failure is Only Delay

This month at #reflectiveteacher at +TeachThought we are reflecting and sharing our thoughts on Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire! This book is giving me lots to think about as I finish out this school year!

This week we have a really great blogging prompt. Should I allow my students to fail? As an educator, do I work to keep my students from experiencing failure or do I step aside and allow them to make mistakes along the way and experience that feeling? 

First, let me address failure. Yes, I absolutely believe students should experience a small amount of failure as they move through school. I do admit that "failure" is a strong negative word, but in my experience I see many students do minimal work but still want a maximum grade (Could this be the 9-12 teacher in me blogging?). I do like that many teachers are moving to showing students they are "not yet proficient" and are using other more positive terms and rubrics from the idea of standards-based grading. This is an effective way of helping students to see where need to grow more or further develop those skills. I like this quote here:

I believe that growth comes from the reaching and the stretching of oneself, and we can help our students move towards proficiency and higher skills through measurement, feedback and reflection of their work and effort in a standards based grading system.  

Second, how can we help students move forward from failure?

1. Help students learn from the experience.- Mistakes happen, and these can be turned into teachable moments with students. Regular feedback, follow up conversations and goal planning meetings help students to see where they are at in their learning, how far they have come and think about new directions for their learning. An informal chat or scheduled meeting can really help students bounce back from the mistakes and encourage positive relationship building between you and your students.

Regular reflection also helps students reflect on their progress. Implementing blogging or journaling into your curriculum really encourages students to think about why they are doing the things they do and gives them a personal space to celebrate success, vent frustration and move forward.

2. Tap into the positive experiences and success of others.- Showcase other students' work to help your students grow from mistakes and move towards higher levels of proficiency. Nothing motivates students like other students, so after getting some permission from students and whiting out names, highlight outstanding or level-appropriate proficient work to your students. If appropriate in your teaching level find a way to have students dialogue with one another about the Why?s and How?s of the assignment. This creates a "Students Helping Students" moment and is another good way to build community in your classroom.

There are lessons to be learned both in successes and failures. Failure is only delay along the road towards success. How do you use both of these moments to encourage growth and learning in your students?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Creating A Safe Haven For Children

This month at #reflectiveteacher at +TeachThought we are reflecting and sharing our thoughts on Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire! This book is giving me lots to think about as I finish out this school year!

Rafe reminds us all of the importance of creating a safe haven for students. To create a space where students feel welcome and valued as individuals, where they have the freedom to express their opinion without fear of laughter, judgement, and finally where they are respected by instructor and classmates for the talents, thoughts and individual backgrounds and experiences.

As a teacher, this is a constant goal for me. And it can be especially challenging in the high school level with 14-18 year olds for whom school is not as exciting as it once used to be. How do I create a warm, fuzzy space for my students that they enjoy coming to every day?

1. Celebrate Birthdays- Each month I write down the names of all of the students that are celebrating birthdays on a big whiteboard that I prop up in the corner of the room. I mentally refer to each each day, remembering to recognize that student at the beginning of class time. Some of my classes like to sing, others not so much, so I go with the vibes of the particular class when wishing a student their Happy Birthday. I sometimes wonder if I am the only teacher that is wishing that student a happy day, and sometimes I think I am. For me, I don't think anyone should spend their birthday at work or at school without getting a caring "Happy Birthday" from someone.

2. Be a Dependable Teacher- For some of my students, I may be the only constant in their lives and the only person that they can or will reach out to. If my students can count on me to be there for them, to listen to them and to follow through on things, then I continue to build that level of trust and my relationship with them grows. All good things that lead to great classroom experiences and lots of smiles, laughter and learning! Technology has really allowed me to keep the conversations going with my students and provide them with a HELP! button to push at any hour of the day. Yes, I know that at times I need to detach from school life and take care of my personal life. BUT, we tell students that learning should not stop at the bell, so why should my support for my students stop at the bell as well?! I hope that the level of support that I give to my students helps to create that warm, fuzzy place for my students.

3. Practice Small Acts of Kindness- I know that I have said it 
before in previous posts here
It takes just a second! 
at #reflectiveteacher, but I keep coming back to it. Find some time in your day to tell one student 1 kind comment, 1 thing that you think will interest them, 1 thing you like about they did in class, or 1 question about something they are doing in another class. This is a quick and easy one in our very busy day! That is why I like it so much. Small thing to do, big reward
4. Believe in the "Mulligan"- In golf, a mulligan is a second chance to perform an action,
Everyone deserves a "mulligan"! 
usually after the first change went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. We all screw up, we all make mistakes. Some are small, some are very big. Our students are no different. They make mistakes. Some are small, some are very big. I have learned through the years that it is okay to give students a second chance at something. This is the human part of teaching- be kind and realize that students can and will screw up. Give them a second chance to right the wrong.
Many years ago, someone gave me a "mulligan" for a mistake that I made in my life and I am grateful for it every day. I believe in the power of paying it forward.

How do you create a warm, safe environment for students in your classroom? What are some goals you have to create a welcoming and productive environment for students?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Every Book Has a Voice...

I love books. From as early as I can remember they have been part of my life and they continue to shape who I am. They continue to inspire me, guide me, enthrall me and involve me in so many ways both personally and professionally.

For me, every book has a voice that talks to you the moment you open the pages. (This might be the reason that I still prefer an actual book. I envision the act of cracking it open as allowing a story or conversation to escape and burst forth after being closed up and confined! I don't feel that I am setting anything free with my laptop or tablet.) Sometimes the voice that leaps from the book is cheerful, or entertaining or even mysterious to me. This voice takes me along on a ride to another place, another time. These voices let me experience more of the world and expand outward from my home here, be they past, present or magical! Other times the voice is caring, guiding and full of life lessons and experiences that it just wants to share and help me grow from. These voices teach me something and help me be more than I am today. 

Each book allows me to have a conversation with the author or the characters. Not one out loud (I can only imagine what people would say!), but one that happens inside my head. Don't we all do that? In my reading, I have asked Harry while reading " Does Hogwarts have a Visitor's Day?" and I have commented to both Atticus "You know, you are a great man. There are some people I need you to talk to." and to Sheryl "You are right. How can I Lean In more?"

Starting today, I will open another book and have a conversation with someone new. I plan on letting Rafe Esquith's voice burst forth from "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire" that we are reading at the #reflectiveteacher at +TeachThought Community. 

I am once again that child sitting on the rug of the public library at story time. This time I am eager to hear what Rafe has to say about teaching and the wonder of learning!

Won't you come join us? Click here for more information!