Saturday, November 30, 2013

"If You Give a Teacher a Free Day...!".: Allowing Professionals to Develop Independently!


 This year, Monday and Tuesday were designated as Parent-Teacher Conference Days. If you didn't get a large turnout, you had some down time. What's a teacher to do?

If you look at PD days that are scheduled throughout the school year, you would be under the impression that teachers did not have a clue with what to do with "free" time. We are treated like children, and every single second of the day is booked. There is no "free" time given to the teacher, as if without the PD Agenda, our day would be a complete waste of time.Which is funny, because I feel like that at times, even with an agenda.

Well, we proved them wrong. We are professionals. We can manage our time. Teachers used their "free" time to do more than go to lunch together, hang out in the teacher's lounge, or gossip at their classroom doors.

As I walked through the hallways, teachers who were not holding conferences were planning as a team, or on their own. Teachers were in the copy room, running off work. Learning Maps were being hung in the classroom, and student work outside. Papers were being graded. Many teachers breathed a sigh of relief that they finally had some time within the school day to get work done. Yes, get work done!

So you see, we can do this. We can handle teacher-guided professional development days. Do we have to get rid of all workshops and/or agendas?  Of course not. Once in a while I have attended a workshop that was productive. But, if you give a teacher a "free" day... she or he will work!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Write 50 Times:"I Will Turn in My Progress Report":Why is This Still Happening?

I was talking to my lil sis the other night, and she told me about an incident she had with my nephew's teacher. Keep in mind two things. One, my nephew is a senior in high school. Two, he is a teacher's dream.:)

It all started when my nephew did not turn in his progress report. When it happens in my classroom I have different ways I handle it. I give the student another day, write a note in their agenda book, email or call the parent, or more than likely, have the student call the parent.

The option chosen by my nephew's teacher,  the high school senior AND a teacher's dream, was to write 50 times, "I will bring in my progress report." He refused.

When he told my sister what happened, she backed his decision. I would have done the same thing. She emailed the teacher. She was polite and respectful,  trying to find out what had happened, and why she thought this was an inappropriate way to handle this situation.

This is part of my sister's email:
     "These students are on their way to college and will have to learn how
     to be responsible on their own. High school usually provides a
     gateway to that growth not a hindrance.

     I appreciate what you do and am in no way challenging your ability to
     teach your classroom, as I said before I like how you take an
     interest in the students. This is specifically in regard to writing
     "I will not..." 50x."

My sister waited a week, no response. Not one to let things go, no "que sera sera" attitude with my sis when it comes to her kids, my sis emailed her again.

This is the teacher's response after the second email:

"Hi Ms._________________,

Yes, what N told you was true.  The progress reports were distributed to
all the students on Thursday of that week.  I asked them to get it signed
and returned the next day.  I gave them until Monday to return it without
penalty and for each day that is was not returned after Monday, students
were expected to write sentences for me during guided study.  This is my
policy and I understand if you do not agree with it.
Yes, he should have turned in his progress report. I also see nothing wrong with having a policy in place when these events occur. But, I have to ask.  Why would a high school teacher use this as a method to develop responsibility? Why would any teacher? It was inane back in whatever time someone thought this up, and it seems even more ridiculous now. What does it accomplish? (And I'm not even going to touch on the fact that during "guided study", a student is writing 50X, "I will bring in my progress report").

All you get out of it is a student with cramped fingers, resentment of the teacher, and possibly sucking the joy out of writing for a lifetime. It sends the message that writing is a mindless act that is not to be enjoyed. Why send that message to your students? And if I'm not mistaken, isn't it seen as a form of corporal punishment?

Watch the opening credits at the beginning of  The Simpsons? Has Bart ever changed? I do realize he is a cartoon character. :)

I have had students write, but not as a punishment. They may have to write down what happened in a situation. Or maybe write what they can do to change a situation. But write 100X, " I will not....." Never!

I am going to write this sentence one time: "I will not make students write the same sentence 100 times because it is not productive!" And I hope you don't either.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Creating a Caring Community in the Classroom: Morning Meeting!

If I could only use one aspect from Responsive Classroom, I would choose Morning Meeting. Morning Meeting has created an environment in my classroom that I love not only witnessing, but being a part of. We use responsive Classroom in our district, however, this is not an infomercial for Responsive Classroom. :) I just love what it has done for my classroom community.

There are four components to Responsive Classroom's Morning Meeting. The greeting, sharing, activity, and the message. With the time constraints placed on us, it is difficult to get to all sections every day. The sections I make sure I get to are the greeting and sharing.

Most days my students treat their peers with respect and kindness. The majority of them are very mindful of the way they treat each other. I believe a lot of that comes from the way we start our day. Every morning the students greet each other in a variety of ways and share something from their lives. Morning Meeting helps us start each day on a positive note.

The other day I decided to try the "Compliment" greeting. Students greeted each other, and offered a compliment. I told my students I didn't want them to use bland terms such as, "I like your dress", but to really think about something they liked about the person they were complimenting. I was blown away by the sincerity in their statements. It allowed me to see that Morning Meeting wasn't just something to get through, that it actually affected the way my students interacted with each other.

Sharing is another favorite. Some days only 3 kids share, some days, they are allowed to pass or share. No pressure.:) The other day, a student shared how she was trying to get into a specialized school. She stated that the previous night she practiced her monologue diligently. Immediately, the other kids encouraged her to share the monologue. We all listened intently as she performed, and when she finished, there was thunderous applause.

One of my students, whom had clashed with this young lady a number of times throughout the school year, raised his hand. He said, "I just want you to know, I can tell by your monologue that you are going to be a great actor." Surprised, her eyes widened, a grin spread across her face. She was surprised at this statement from her "nemesis", and she said, "Why thank you." You could tell how moved she was by his statement.

I was moved. This is what I am  trying  to build in my classroom. I strongly believe that teaching them to be caring, respectful, human beings is just as important as the rest of the curriculum. Teaching them to get along, and care for, and about, someone besides themselves. It is so much easier to teach, and learn, in a classroom where students believe they are part of a family, and not just bodies in the room. When there is a sense of community it leads to caring!

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Skype in the Classroom" Presentation (Updated)

For those of you who didn't know; "SlideRocket is hard at work integrating key features into the ClearSlide platform, and due to both technical and practical reasons, we will no longer be integrating with Google Apps or offering Lite accounts of any type beyond the end of the year." Therefore, if you have any of your presentations on Sliderocket, you better download it before December 31st or all is lost!

Seeing as how SlideRocket is closing down, and I was presenting Skype in the Classroom at a tech conference, I decided to update my little presentation. Words of wisdom, take advantage of the Skype in the classroom site, it offers amazing opportunities for your students to engage in some "real world" learning!!


Our Students and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy: Avoiding Gloom and Doom!

I remember when I was in college a LONG time ago, we learned about the self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't recall the professor who taught it, but somehow it has managed to stay in my head after all these years.  If you believe it, it could happen, good or bad, positive or negative, our expectations influence those around us. When the professor introduced this concept, he wanted to emphasize the damage we could do to our students if we had preconceived notions about them and what they were capable of.
In the education field this is particularly true.  We have a huge impact on what happens to the hundreds of lives who sit in our classrooms, year after year.  How many times have we heard successful people credit a teacher who believed in them? Teachers who refused to believe that  a particular student would amount to nothing?
Too many times I have heard comments about what "the population" of a school is,or is not, capable of.  I have witnessed students who were judged by the behavior that they exhibited in prior years. Trying to get teachers to incorporate technology in their classrooms, and  being told that the students "can't" do it. Determining the intelligence of  a child based on the behavior of a parent or sibling.
I have always had high expectations for my students, I refuse to lower my standards to fit a mold others think they fit in.  I hold them responsible for their education and believe that they are capable of so much. And I have found, repeatedly, that most of my students rise to my expectations. 
  If we continue to teach students according to our expectations of them, and our expectations are low, what will the results be? If the Robins are challenged every day, and the Sparrows aren't, when do the Sparrows get a chance to spread their wings, to fly beyond our enforced limits?
I had a student who was truant the previous school year.  When he arrived in my class, the pattern began again.   He would show up for school twice a week, if that.  According to statistics, the general consensus wass that he would eventually drop out of school, and his life would be pretty bleak. It might be, particularly because he was 13 in the 5th grade, but, I was not deterred by that "prophecy." I chose to believe that he would succeed.   
He missed one day in the weeks that followed. His grades improved, and he was willing to share his thoughts and work. He participated in discussions. He High-fived me every morning and afternoon. (The afternoon High 5 was always accompanied by the word, "tomorrow.") He was so much more than a statistic to me.
I know, it's pretty idealistic. "I believe, and if I believe , it can happen." I realize that this is not always the case. But wouldn't it be great if our prophecies were positive, and most of them were fulfilled?
Originally posted on "Diary of a Public School Teacher"(Wordpress)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Help!: I Cannot Do This "Education Thing" By Myself!

Usually, I take this "education thing" in stride. I deal with the every day ins and outs, trying to avoid as much stress as possible. But the other day, grrrrrrrr....I was so frustrated! I can not do this education thing by myself! I need this to be understood.

As much as the buck seems to stop with me, I can't do it by myself. As often as it seems that I am doing it by myself, because others can't, or won't, it shouldn't work that way.Other people have to step in to make it a success.

I know it happens. A child is sent to school and the only learning that takes place is in the classroom. There is no conversation at home. No one picks up a book. No one makes sure that homework is done. The responsibility of the adult that gave birth to this wonderful human being is next to none. And that child is successful, nevertheless. But that does not happen often enough.

We need our babies, no matter how old they are, to go home and have a conversation. Need them to eat dinner at a table and talk about their day. Someone to read a bedtime story. Someone to make sure homework is done, or that they watched the video that will help where they are having trouble. Someone to smile at something they have written. Someone to look at photos of amazing things being done in the classroom. Someone to respond to an email, a letter, a phone call.

I am doing my part. And no, I don't want to hear how I need to step up because others won't. I am tired of hearing that! I always step up, and over, and beyond. Maybe that's how we got in this mess in the first place. If someone else is always willing to go that extra mile, the other person can always take a few steps back.

I told my kids the other day, "If someone is struggling, and they do nothing at all to change their circumstances, they will continue to struggle." If someone does not take advantage of all that is put forth to help them, they will continue to struggle." "It's okay to try, and still struggle, but to do nothing..."

A ray of light shone on me that gave me hope. Maybe someone heard my little speech. A student who had been struggling with math concepts came in and was knocking it out of the ballpark! I laughed and said, "Girl, you are on the ball today! What did you do?" She beamed, "Mrs.M, I studied!" Snaps and a high five! That's all I ask. Meet me part of the way, and let's make this "education thing" happen!