Day 23: Trying to Make the Walls Transparent

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Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I think the community is really important in the classroom, and it bothers me every day that “learning” is supposed to take place devoid of the rich context of the local environment. It makes sense if you are trying to bus entire populations of 5-18 year olds, but it doesn’t make sense for learning. Context can be everything to meaningful engagement and deep learning.

Having stated that, I feel like this is an area where I am still floundering to discover the “solution” for my classroom.

Last year we brought in a marketing team from Hershey Entertainment and Resorts (the MAIN industry in our small town). They shared with our media studies students about their strategies for marketing Hershey Park and how they made creative and strategic decisions. That was a very cool, local connection for our advertising unit, and I could tell the majority of students appreciated it…even though it meant sitting in just a larger room with a larger screen and slightly more adults talking to them.

Results from the student feedback form we gave after the Marketing presentation

Results from the student feedback form we gave after the Marketing presentation

Last year a colleague of mine was generous enough to let my students attend two more guest speakers–alumni who had gone on to publish a novel and work in the entertainment industry in New York. (Mark Malkoff anyone?) Again, this was such a cool experience to “bring the world in” to our classrooms. The students were able to drive the conversation through questions they wanted to know. It was lovely to have the outside perspectives.

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But I still feel like these experiences are one-off, “special” events. I haven’t quite figured out how to bring the outside in and take the inside out…make the classroom walls transparent… connect the learning to the context that makes it authentic.

One thing I’m trying this year is social media. We have an Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to try to connect and learn outside our walls. My hope was to engage former students of my classroom and parents of my current students to interact with our discussions, questions, and experiences. So far we’ve mostly shared out what we’ve done, but I’ll keep looking for those opportunities for dialogue and connection. I’m confident they will come!

Mr. Crowley's class posted a video of their own, and we all provided feedback.

Mr. Crowley’s class posted a video of their own, and we all provided feedback.

Last year my husband and I used Edmodo to connect our classrooms. He teaches 4th grade students at the private school while I teach high school at the public school. We decided to do a poetry unit in the spring; my 11th grade students created videos teaching his 4th grade students about different forms of poetry. That was a pretty cool learning experience for all involved! Even though it was classroom-to-classroom, we were in different school communities, and in some way different worlds because of the age difference and backgrounds of the students.

Here's how our conversations looked on the Edmodo wall.

Here’s how our conversations looked on the Edmodo wall.

Take away?

I’m working on it. I hope I find a way to connect more authentically with the community this year. If I do, I’ll report back here with that victory.

What about you? What has worked in connecting your classrooms to the community outside of them?

 

Day 22: The Conversation You Didn’t Know Changed Me

What does your PLN look like and what does that do for your teaching?

My PLN looks like this

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Two amazing teachers (both in different time zones from each other and from me) posing a question on twitter about the importance of decorating (or not) the classroom. I jump in with my sincere question about why, and the resulting conversation had me thinking for weeks.

What I realized from all that mulling was that my room was actually an outward expression of control. My control. Teacher control. Huh.

Although each year I try to find more and more ways to turn my classroom over to my students and be the “meddler in the middle” or the “guide on the side” or just a learner in the back of the room, I hadn’t really let my students do much to contribute to the physical space. Instead, I plastered myself, my teaching philosophies, my quotes, my books, my “dead words” and my “power words,” my organizational strategies, my plants, my pictures, and my preferred colors all over the room. I did this because it made me feel just a little less nervous on that first day of school. A little more “in control” of what was going to happen…even though my years of teaching told me that “control” really isn’t the end goal here. Learning is. And as I mentioned in this previous post learning is “an iteration of trying and failing, reflecting and risking, working, observing, and persevering.”

My classroom was supposed to be a shared space. Our space. And my PLN helped me realized that.

This year, I literally had to share my space with another teacher, so I cleared everything down to half of what it was so she could move in as much as she wanted to. I increasingly use more and more of those wondrous wall-sized post-it notes, and now I leave them up for weeks with my students’ ideas plastered all over them.

I want to have my students do a creative project with the books that we read and I want to print out their works for my reading corner. I started a classroom Instagram account, and I want to surprise them at Christmas by printing out pictures from our year and posting them around the room.

And if my classroom is ever wholly “mine” again, I will leave the spaces blank for us to fill. Because my students should see themselves reflected around this room. They should be able to recognize this room as their own and feel pride for their role in how it evolves and changes throughout the year.

What does my PLN look like?

It looks like caring and learning together despite distance, time zone, and content specialty. It looks like that iterative, messy, process that I mentioned earlier. You know, true learning.

I have a million more ways to define and share about my PLN, but I may wait to elaborate on those during the upcoming Connected Educator month. I hope you’ll join me then!

Please share how YOUR PLN has made an impact on your teaching. Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Day 18: Teaching is Love.

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Today’s Teach Thought blogging challenge prompt:

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy.

And after the word-heavy posts from Day 17 and Day 16, I decided a change was in order. This is what teaching is to me.

TEACHING IS plate-spinning. Your full concentration and all five senses are necessary at all times. An immense amount of energy, focus, and practice are required just to keep everything from crashing down around you. This can also feel invigorating when you master it…for those brief moments before adding another plate.

CC license Wikimedia Commons, author: Antony Stanley

CC license Wikimedia Commons, author: Antony Stanley

TEACHING IS a mother bird who pushes students out of the nest, knowing they were born to reach their potential, and knowing you have prepared them well for the world.

Found through Patheos.com in a post by Elizabeth Scalia

Found through Patheos.com in a post by Elizabeth Scalia

TEACHING IS the wardrobe from Narnia. A portal to new lands, new identities, new experiences.

Sometimes TEACHING IS being a shadow that’s only purpose is to call attention to the real show: the students and their voice. Teaching is celebrating together in the light of that “Ah ha” moment!

Taken by me. Confession: I've been waiting to use this in a blog post this whole month! I just like it. :)

TEACHING IS reverence for your students’ stories–the ones they hide and the ones they tell. It’s assuring them that you are ready to listen. It’s empowering them to find their voice by finding their words.

Taken in Jerusalem, Wailing Wall, 2012

Jerusalem, Wailing Wall, 2012

TEACHING IS a lens that invites students to see the world in new ways. To zoom in and out until they have a new perspective and a deeper understanding.

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TEACHING IS being a philosophy major, lawyer, author and artist…or at least imitating all of those at least once.

Dresen, Germany, 2012

Dresden,Germany, 2012

TEACHING IS love. It covers and conquers hate, ignorance, oppression, and the walls that are built to keep you out. It is lasting, bold, and unwilling to be ignored.

Bethlehem, Israel 2012

Bethlehem, Israel 2012

Day 17: The Most Challenging Issue in Education Today

I’m convinced this blog challenge was invented by a horde of devious teachers sitting around with their high-end gel pens and assorted post-its. How do I know? Because their questions are just that damn good. They push me to think deeper, and never let me off the hook with an easy retort. Teachers know how to write great questions.

Today’s prompt: What do you think is the MOST challenging issue in education today?

The devious part of this prompt is that absolute modifier–“most.” It demands reflection and a sifting, reevaluation and debate. I’ve been debating with myself for nearly 10 minutes now trying to answer it…now 15.

And here we go. I think the term “education” has somehow become divorced from the the real action of “learning.” Many in our society value “getting an education” without recognizing the inherent messy, and deeply personalized process of learning. We value the paper without the process, and want our education system to operate like Walmart: minimal effort in, big return out, try not to feel guilty about who might be bearing the burden for it.

Many parents do not understand the process of deep learning, and instead focus on pushing their children to churn out As and Bs without truly understanding what those grades represent about an actual learning process. They don’t want to see their kids struggle because somewhere we forgot that learning IS a struggle.

Learning is an iteration of trying and failing, reflecting and risking, working, observing, and persevering.

Most of the people in power want to reduce learning to a multiple choice test and its resulting number. They want to stamp teachers and students with this number, and develop algorithms for their effectiveness and efficiency. A, C, F, 1, 2, 3…and education has become a bunch of numbers. Numbers are rarely the full picture.

Education is a system fraught with problems, burdened by bureaucracy, and beholden to tradition. And learning should never be confused with this. Our society seems to have lost sight of, or perhaps never fully understood, the process of learning. In place of it, we often get the convenience of an education.

There are people who understand that true learning is dynamic, interdisciplinary, and completely engaged with our innate human curiosity. These people are often teachers. Many of them are librarians and scientists. Some of them are video game creators, musicians, artists, and social workers. Some of them are principals.

To solve our most challenging issue in education, I propose we start listening a bit more to those in our society who are experts in learning, and bit less to those who consider themselves experts in education.

I propose we start listening to the teachers and researchers who know what motivates humans to learn and what ideal learning environments look like.

I propose people stop thinking they know all about education simply because they have one.

One final idea. What if we asked the students? We ask them what they are curious about and how they explore that curiosity. We ask them what causes them to feel proud of themselves and what helps them persevere through a struggle. We ask them who has made the biggest impact on their learning and why. We ask them if they think a rank or grade defines them.

TheLearningProcess

 

And then we listen. We listen, and we learn. Even though that process will take perseverance, and even though it will look different for each student, and even though it will sometimes feel like failure. If we listen to those who know learning best, we might rediscover the true definition of learning and figure out how to reconnect it with this monolithic thing we call education.

Day 16: What’s My Chosen Superpower?

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PerfectGood

I woke up this morning and wanted a Mulligan. A retake on this week that had just begun.

How can it be Tuesday and my to-do list is already making me want to close my eyes and forget it altogether? Landry is overflowing; dishes are in the sink; I’m 4 days behind on the blogging challenge; My lesson plans are secure in my head, but not down on paper for my co-teacher; Both my manicure and pedicure have a nail that is completely ruined; and I have an email that needs a reply haunting me for the 5th day.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

This quote pops into my head–likely because of my nearly comatose browsing of Pinterest before sleeping last night. And I make it my mantra. Dishes will wait, shoes will not be open-toed, I will write those lesson plans (right after this post), and I WILL write for today’s prompt. And my “perfect” plan for Day 13’s prompt will wait.

And she looked around at saw that it was good.

So often those who work in education don’t have enough time to accomplish all of the good things they can see in front of them. Almost nearly as often, educators strive to be better than good, to be perfect or nearly so. I struggle with this on a nearly hourly basis. Ideas fly through my head and I think That would be cool…Ooo, that too!…I wonder when I could create that?

Today’s prompt: If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

My superpower would be to clone myself for the day. That way I could get just a bit closer to that “perfect” and settle a little less for the “good.” I could have one of me working with my hard-working Nepalese student who barely speaks English, but desperately wants to get an American education so that she can be successful in this new land.

Simultaneously, I could have one of me sitting at my desk doing the tedious administrative tasks that seem to take hours: sending printing jobs to the district office for return in 3 days, replying to emails, ordering supplies for the classroom, organizing recently delivered materials to a spot where I can find them later.

Another one of me could be conducting writing conferences where I help each student dig deeply into understanding her voice in writing. I could help him understand a difficult grammar concept that just didn’t stick when I taught it in class. I could pay attention to the one student who always tries to shrink into the back corner–draw him out, help him understand what a valuable gift he has to offer our class discussion.

While all of these clones are working, I could be preparing for the next class by reflecting on what worked and didn’t last time I taught this concept. Reminding myself of the unique students who will be in front of me, and carefully crafting a plan that challenges them without confusing them. Engages them without pandering. Creates a genuine curiosity rather than a general compliance. This lesson would rock.

Daydreaming about cloning and superpowers reminds me of a post written recently about the myth of the lone, superhero teacher. In this post (a highly recommended read!) Justin Minkel points out that Hollywood would have us believe that the only way to reach students with inspirational teaching is to be the lone wolf in the pack. To isolate, reject, and rise above. To have a secret superpower and refuse to share it.

But aside from a quick daydream, wishing for a superpower only keeps me from accomplishing the good that I could be doing. Complaining about my lack of time to do everything perfectly only wastes the gratitude I have for what’s working.

So without further ado, I will let this day-dream exist, but turn from it to embrace the rest of the tasks on my to-do list today. Because dreaming about perfect will rob me of the time to accomplish good, and that may prevent me from finding my true superpower.

Blogging Challenge Pause!

In my Friday night vblog, I mentioned that I had company this weekend. Despite the best of intentions, I just couldn’t prioritize this writing challenge over spending time with my nearest and dearest!

BUT I will say that I’m super stoked for day 13’s prompt about technology tools. Think I might try another experiment with that post–look for it!

Until then, here are some highlights from my weekend. And don’t worry, I’m still excited about this challenge. Thanks for coming with me on this journey!

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Day 10: What’s the one thing I wish people knew about me?

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Today’s prompt in the Teach Thought blogging challenge has multiple parts. I decided to blog more visually today. Enjoy!

Prompt: What are three things you hope for as a person and/or an educator?

People don't always remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. “People will forget what you said, will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)

Thing 1: I hope that my students feel joy, pride, confidence, and an increased empathy for those around them in my class this year. 

ActivistGraffiti_BerlinWallCreativity is intelligence having fun (Albert Einstein)

Thing 2: I hope to access and develop my creativity more this year. I hope in doing that I will see even more opportunities to allow my students’ creativity to flourish.

SONY DSCAnd the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.(Anais Nin)

Thing 3: I want to take some risks, push myself beyond the comfort zone, and embrace the lessons and opportunities that result

Prompt: What two things have made you laugh as an educator?

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 11.00.45 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 11.06.48 PM

Prompt: What are five random facts about yourself?

One.

I wish I could make coffee art like this.

I wish I could make coffee art like this.

Two.

I have a card shelf that rotates with the seasons of celebration. I LOVE cards!

I have a card shelf that rotates with the seasons of celebration. I LOVE cards!

Three.

This poem is my current obsession. I might craft my first tattoo from it. (author Christin O'Keefe Aptowicz)

This poem is my current obsession. I might craft my first tattoo from it. (author Christin O’Keefe Aptowicz)

Four.

I love almost anything with a beautiful garnish. *SWOON*

I love almost anything with a beautiful garnish. *SWOON*

Five.

I have ridden a camel. It had long eyelashes and tried to kill me. I still loved it.

I rode a camel. It had long eyelashes and tried to kill me. I still loved it.

Prompt: What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about you?

I have a silly side...you just have to get VERY close to see it ;) Challenge accepted?

I have a silly side…you just have to get VERY close to see it ;) Challenge accepted?

Note: All images (except for the coffee art) are mine; hence, the lack of citation. 

Day 9: My biggest accomplishment in teaching…that no one knows about

Today’s blog challenge prompt:

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

Now, I’m a pretty self-promoting individual. If I think that something I did was great or something my friend, my husband, or my students did was great, I’m going to be posting about it somewhere. I’m a sharer.

This is a difficult prompt.

Perhaps to write about my biggest accomplishment in teaching, I need to recognize it first.

When I first read this prompt, I defaulted to thinking about the projects that kept me up late at night planning. I thought about the field trips that students wrote made such a difference in their view of the world. I thought about my leadership work with students and teachers that has won me awards or pats on the back. But no…the prompt says that no one knows about. Darn it.

Part of this reflecting teaching process is digging deeper…and that’s what I need to do. I need to realize that my biggest accomplishment could actually be something that I rarely discuss. It could be something I don’t pay attention to or devote enough time to…

What if it’s the beautiful relationships that I’ve been honored to have with students…almost despite myself?

I remember my first year of teaching, and the freshman student who turned an upside-down, empty, margarine container and masking tape into the perfect carrier for the singular cupcake she delivered to me at school. Even when she was no longer in my class reading A Tale of Two Cities and taking grammar quizzes, we had Friday morning coffee dates for years after that. She’s a college senior, but her mom still stops by my room on parent night to give a quick hug and ask: “No baby yet?”

I’m thinking of the student who called me “Lady Crowley” from freshman year on, who tried to teach me to juggle, and who still gives me a hard time because I haven’t yet made it to a showing of his yearly summer play. He’s a senior this year and has taught me as much as I have taught him. We are nerds together after school talking about current events or his most recent poem.

I’m remembering my fourth year of teaching. I reached out to a student by taking her to a local amusement park for an evening date because I sensed she really needed another adult to care about her that year. She was anxious, shy, and would cry frequently in my room over lunch. I worried about her home situation and her split parents. I wanted so desperately for her to know how beautiful she was and how confident she should be in her talents and abilities. In her junior year she wanted me to sign a petition for her beloved art school to be recognized as a charter. In her senior year, she would stop by my room to update me on her college prospects. I loved watching her blossom with confidence and grasp the opportunities that came her way.

I’m the type of teacher that tends to focus on CURRICULUM, and TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION, and THE BEST LESSON EVER! These things truly do excite me about the learning process. But I know it wasn’t any of those things that made a lasting impression on these handful of students who came back after the final exam. They came back because I saw them, appreciated them, was amused by them, and opened myself up to them. For whatever reason, they saw me, appreciated me, was amused by me, and then opened themselves up to me.

And because it’s so rare, and because it’s so beautiful, and because it’s so important, these relationships are my most important accomplishment of teaching…and it’s one I don’t often talk about. But I should. And I’m glad that I did.

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