I like to do yoga. I started it before the internet, learning poses from a book and trying to do things as I read and as technology progressed, so did I. I know a pretty good amount about how to do things so going to a beginner's class with a friend felt like a step down to me. I would do this for a few weeks until she felt comfortable, I thought, then go to a different class - a better one.
I keep my eyes closed during yoga so I can focus on what I'm doing and, during this class, to avoid looking at myself in the mirror! When the teacher named a pose we were going to do, I didn't look or really listen because I knew what I was doing. Easy peasy!
Then I heard her say something that threw me off. I looked up to see what she meant and noticed that everyone else was doing something different from me. Hm. Who knew there could be another way?
I had assumed I was an expert. I had had nothing to learn. And therein lies the lesson.
"There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach." This idea from Zen Buddhism is called shoshin and it contributes to our tendency of getting stuck in a rut. We seek information to validate rather than challenge us and shy away from (maybe even roll our eyes at!) things that are different from what we know to be true. We are experts!
What's the connection to education? Well, we learned from the way our teachers or mentors presented, right? So, now we teach the way we were taught. It worked for us, right? We know it all now.
Until we find out there may be another way. Maybe even a better way.
Many of us are expert teachers - or at least veterans. We've seen the cycles come and go. We've weathered many storms. We know how this goes and what works. But do we? What would happen if once in a while, I assume I am an idiot? (Stifle your comments people!) Maybe I will see 95% of the same stuff and shake my head, or maybe...I will pick up on the 5% that is new and different and grow a little bit. In the article below, the author advises four steps to get ourselves out of the expert prison:
1. Stop talking and listen more often
2. See comments you disagree with as worthy of study, not combat
3. Ask more questions
4. Assume you are an idiot
Today as I'm researching for a few professional developments that are coming up, I'm going in assuming I'm an idiot and hope to come out with some new views. I wish you happy idiocy as well!
6:00 a.m. and the phone starts ringing. The variety of dings and tones and whistles lets us know that the work day is starting. Auto-responses of "out of the office" help a tiny bit but the only real relief is a vacation locale with no service.
Enter Bull Shoals Lake, Missouri.
My husband is not in education so his work never stops, even when he takes a vacation. Time off often means more to do upon return so I am thankful for the horrible cell towers of the Ozarks. :)
As teachers, we are blessed with days off where everything stops: The buses don't run; the kids don't show up; there are no lesson plans to execute. We get a real break from it all. A chance to reboot. A bad cell service-type of vacation. Thank the Lord, the Universe and an agricultural history!
I know that this last week has everyone counting the days and there is no doubt that these last four will feel far longer than any so far this year. The kids are a mix of emotions: sad to leave their friends, eager to have no homework, bummed about lack of family at home, thrilled about lack of family at home, tired from all that is happening, and fired up from warmer weather and sunshine.
Breathe through it all. We got this.
We have a demanding job emotionally, but we are so, so lucky to have a break for resetting ourselves. We can reconnect with who we are and what we love. We can do things for those we love that we normally can't. (Yes, Chet, I will try to cook for you!) We are so close to having that respite from it all. We just need to hang in there a few more days.
I hope you have an uneventful end-of-the-year!
I completely hate wind.
I mean, I despise it.
It ticks me off unreasonably.
Like true anger.
I have been known to literally curse it aloud.
I find it to be God's practical joke: You cannot see it coming and it smacks you in the face. I picture Him around a corner, covering his mouth, shoulders shaking as he laughs and points at me with a grin.
But I cannot control it.
There is not a darn thing I can do about this frustration and so I have to accept it and laugh along with God and Mother Earth at their little prank.
I mention this because, well, it's horribly windy today of course, but also because I connect this with a life lesson. There are so many things that are really annoyances but can cause unreasonable anger in me. (Testing, eye rolling, lying, political debates, looking for lost items, etc, etc) You too? I'm guessing so. Sometimes I lose my patience and curse (figuratively or literally) about them too.
But guess what?
You guessed it! It is still there.
And there is nothing I can do about it so I have to accept it and move on. Of course this does not mean I need to LIKE it, nor do I have to succumb to the suffering it causes but I am surely not doing myself any good to keep getting angry about it.
I'm not sure if this will resonate with any of you, but if you are interested, there is an app called CALM you can download on your phone or desktop that has 10 minute meditations to help you find - well - CALM in your life. It is free for educators and schools and even has an On-Boarding package to possibly share with your students. Go here or write me if you want any more information on it.
Meanwhile, enjoy a good chuckle when you see me walking in the parking lot today. I will be angry but I won't be offended: The Universe is getting a good laugh too!
I used to hate sports analogies but there is one stuck in my head that just plain makes sense.
On an athletic team, we may do a better job of teaching than we do in the classroom. In practices, we do not keep score. We use what we witness as a way to drive what to instruct next. We give feedback, ("Great job!" or "Talk to your teammates!") but we don't get a score board going to see who wins. Isn't this what we should do in the classroom? See how kids are performing so we know what to push them toward next?
I know, I know. Kids are not as motivated at school as they may be in extra-currriculars, but coaching is teaching and teaching is coaching. Some times it requires inspiring motivation. What is the incentive to show up for practice and do your best?
More importantly, how do we get some similar incentive in the classroom?
For most of us, good grades were incentive enough. We liked school or we likely wouldn't have asked to stay in it for the next 20+ years! But what about those who don't really like it? How do you get them to practice? How do you even relate to them? As a total non-athlete, I did not participate in PE because I wanted an A. I did it because I liked to be with my friends and I liked to be told that I had done well. I did it because I wanted to become less ignorant about the sports I would never play but would attend. There was something else. We just need to find that "something else" for our students in the classroom.
"Easy for you to say, Susie!" Yeah, I know. You're right. It's not that simple.
I don't have the answers, but I know that a good dose of success can get many people motivated. Think about it; you diet for a week and if you see zero progress, you quit, right? You have a bad day and think, Screw it, I'm eating that whole cake. But if you lose a bit - even if you KNOW it's water weight! - you hang in there one more day.
So in this great game that we call school, what can we do to be better coaches? How can we use our activities and our assignments like practice? Can we use them to drive the next day's lesson? Can we talk about yesterday's work before we start today's?
Maybe letting go of what was done to us in the classroom, frees us to be better teachers. Because Lord knows I wouldn't have gotten any better in basketball if Mr. Eason screamed at me or told me I was awful. Instead, he worked with me where I was and now I can at least watch a game without yelling, "Go for the touchdown!" :)
What does this image make you feel?
It makes me anxious.
I take it to be sarcastic in the thickest way: a stereotypical woman from the 50's whose wide eyes and open mouth imply that she has not much in the way of intelligence but plenty of attention to her style. The dots insinuate innocence and naivete and the "WOW!" she utters derives from someone easily impressed. (In fact, this came from an article entitled "How to Impress a Woman with your Watch" and all women know that is the best way to win us over!)
This is my impression of the image.
I got an email recently that had this tone. It was smarmy and mocking and made my emotions light up. I was ticked off and actually had tears forming I was so upset.
Lucky for me, I was able to calm that rush of emotions and drop the guard that flew up as soon as I felt it. I have been reading this book (you are here by Thich Nhat Hanh) that encourages you to seek understanding and question whether your impressions are correct. So, I let my guard down and asked about the email in a way that was genuine. I wanted to know why this person would be so nasty to me. I did my best not to be defensive. Come to find out, I was way off. They were not being nasty to me, but rather trying to make a joke. I was not in a place to receive it that way, so my reaction was a far cry from the expected.
Why does this matter on this blog? Well, first of all, writing helps me sort my thoughts so you all are stuck hearing it! Also, though, I have used this strategy several times only to discover that my perception was not as accurate as I had assumed. I've been thinking about how if this applies to me, maybe it would also work for someone else. Maybe that person who has been such a crab lately really has some internal struggles. Perhaps that kid who keeps distracting the whole class has some more to his story. Maybe that look someone gave the other day was not about me after all. Difficult as it is to imagine, maybe everyone else's actions are NOT about ME! Once you become aware that your impressions (first or 500th) are not always reality, you start to see this everywhere.
When I think about impressions, I realize there are so many meanings to the word: We can make a figurative or literal impression; We can get an impression; We can try to impress something upon someone; We can try to impress someone. All different things. (Not to mention torment for an English Language Learner!) Sometimes, the impression we get from someone stems from the goal of us trying to impress them!
As for me, letting go of my first impression helped me try to set things straight and end my day with positive vibes. I hope this might work for you too!
“If I don’t grade it, students won’t do it.”
"If I don't get these grades in, I'll be even further behind."
"I don't understand how they get A's on their homework and STILL don't understand!"
If you have thought or said these things, you are certainly not alone. Many teachers have fallen into the homework trap... and some are never seen or heard from ... again. Dundundun DUUUN. Seriously though, if this has happened to you, maybe the chart over here can help bring relief.--->
Maybe it's because I am an English teacher, but I learned early in my career that it was impossible for me to grade all the writing that kids needed to do. If I limited their work to only what I was able to grade, there was no way they would ever write enough to see improvement. Lord knows I tried though! And in my first year teaching I fell into a cycle of assigning silly work just so I would have time to grade things...only to discover that I now had MORE work to grade. ARGH! So the cycle began and I watched my weekends and free time disintegrated to nothing.
My trials and errors taught me the amazing fact the students would, in fact, do homework I didn't grade, as long as I presented it the right way and it served a valid purpose. If you are feeling trapped, I challenge you to try it! If you want to know what sort of presentation worked for me or might work for you, send me a message, stop by my room or give me a call. What's the worst that happens? Really.
Those of you who know me at all know how I feel about data tracking, B U T, here is another amazing thing I'm learning - data helps you SEE your success! I have met with a few of you about goals that we both thought may be unattainable - get 90% of my kids to do their work? Forget it! - but it is happening. Maybe things are not as you see them. (Note to self to write about perceptions vs. reality!) Let me help you see what is really going on in your room, the good and the fixable. I can track data; I can visit; I can help you record yourself so no one else has to see it; I can track behavior on a student who's giving you trouble. Let's figure it out! (After all, the more I do that, the less I will have to give ISTEP...Oops, did I say that out loud?)
Before this year, I had only my own experiences to judge from, but now I get to see all of you at work too and learn from your strategies. I am learning wonderful things and want to spread the word!
Below is a link to the source of this chart and a short article by the author. Check it out if you get time.
One thing most people can agree on is that we want kids to be life long learners. We are not really teaching them content, right? We are teaching them HOW TO LEARN content. Gone are the days of teachers being the keepers of knowledge, the school teachers who know more than the kids and the community at large, the life where our job is simply to disperse knowledge.
Everyone has the ability to find out anything they want to know in a matter of seconds now, of course. We have successfully mastered the realm of information as human beings! Anyone, anywhere, at any time, can find out a fact that we used to commit to memory. (Bonus points if you know your best friend's phone number by heart right now!) We have reached the pinnacle! Nothing left to do here, right?
Of course not. Now the problem is that we are losing the abilities to THINK, to consider, to speculate, to analyze, to imagine, to create.
So if we want our students to keep learning (and by learning, I don't mean asking Siri or Google to look up a random fact), we have to not only model this but also be facilitators of it. What have WE learned about what we do in schools, specifically about teaching from a distance? Elearning is not new to KV but it is certainly not old hat just yet. For many of us, it isn't even comfortable. What have we seen that works for kids? More importantly, what do we KNOW does not work? Are we learning from our mistakes?
With a planned ELearning day coming up, we have a perfect opportunity to self assess and make some adjustments. Did your kids skip a lot of the work from your last ELearning lesson? Why did that happen? Is there something more than just laziness at play here? Is there some way we could find out what went wrong - or at least guess - and fix this next time? Is there anything we can do Thursday to make it more likely that learning will take place Friday?
I ask you as I have asked before, to think about what you can actually control. There are so many factors we have only limited control over: parents' involvement, students' attitudes, motivation levels to name just a few. But what are you personally able to do that might change this ELearning day from the last one? Can you say or do something differently that didn't work before? What have you learned from ELearning?
As Bob Dylan said, "the times they are a-changin'." How can we change with them?
Life has taught me a lesson many times this year but I only learned it yesterday. I have been in charge of more things on a school-wide level this year than ever and I panic a bit before each one and assess myself a lot afterward. Yesterday I learned that trying to do everything myself is not only bad for me but also bad for others! There are a few people I could have worked with (prior to having everyone sign up for Khan Academy) that would have made things go more smoothly. Coordinating with others would have saved ME a lot of prep work and all of YOU some confusion. Looking back on the year thus far, I see many instances in which LIFE was trying to teach me this lesson.
But I'm stubborn. And can be slow to catch on.
Thank you LIFE for the lesson that finally sunk in. I will do better next time for certain.
This is HUGE realization for me personally, but also as an educational observation. I cannot begin to list the number of times that my experiences have offered me the chance to learn this lesson. I have been taught it over and over! Why didn't I learn it? I was not in a place where I was ready I suppose.
It's sort of like reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I did it in probably 9th grade and did the work associated with it. I got the A's. I answered the questions, blah, blah, blah. But not until I re-read it as an adult did it click! This story was incredible!
I had not been ready to learn.
Makes me wonder how many lessons I have taught kids that they maybe learned later, after they left my room. It's a good reflection for teaching: How can we get as many students as possible ready to learn what we are about to teach them. I am in no way saying this is an EASY thing to do, but I better understand today than I did yesterday, how important that is!
Hope you all have a good weekend!
When I was a new teacher, a very wise coworker heard me screaming at a child in the hallway. Her name was Jeanette (the child, not the coworker) and she was a mean girl: she picked on other kids; she rolled her eyes all the time; she sighed incessantly; she complained about everything. So I pulled her into the hallway to put her back in her place.
I was 23. Jeanette was 15.
I'm sure that she had sassed me and turned my face red in anger. She was a fan of mocking my clothing choices regularly so that probably played a role as well. In any case, I was letting Jeanette have it --the meanest things I could get away with saying to a kid most likely. Man, was I gonna teach HER! I felt powerful. Vindicated. In charge.
Then my coworker asked me about it. I bragged about what I had said and how I had laid into her. I felt certain I was the on the road to becoming a strong teacher.
I was 23. Michelle was 45. And she knew better.
Michelle told me that once I raised my voice, the student had won. Jeanette was trying to get me fired up; she wanted to see me lose it; she found it entertaining. Most importantly, I had not really "taught her" anything other than that her plan had worked. Michelle showed me that in my job and in my life, I needed to teach people, not control them. Demanding submission was not going to get me anywhere except in a power struggle that none of us would ever win.
I can't tell you what happened after that. But I DO know I sure didn't light the world on fire that year! I was struggling with finding my power, believing in myself as a teacher and as a human being, and I was confusing kindness with weakness. I was asserting myself through the control I thought I should have. I was learning to be in charge of students without losing who I was. I learned from Michelle though.
Kind people are not weak, at least not any more than mean people are strong.
Think about that for a minute. Who are the mean people who come to mind? Students? Parents? Coworkers? Public leaders? They are harsh and intimidating, trying to bend others' minds and actions to their will.
But do they have real power?
Kind people are not weak, at least not any more than mean people are strong.
I think we forget that sometimes. We get down on ourselves for being "too nice" and feel the power and vindication of putting someone "in their place." We seek revenge and punishment. We wonder why we have to have the same battles over and over and over again. We question why things never change and our solutions don't work.
Kind people can be very strong. In fact, I'm sure we can think of many times when it takes much more strength to be nice! Kind people don't have to be weenies who let others walk on them. They just need to not allow the Jeanettes of the world to steal their power by making them lose control.
Patience is powerful. Self control is powerful. Kindness is powerful.
I hope this will help carry us all through to a long, peaceful winter break!
I am a high school teacher in Wheatfield, Indiana, trying to reach out to my kids in a way that works for them.