Believe

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up:

A misfit. A rebel. A troublemaker. A round peg in a square hole. Someone who sees things differently.  Not fond of rules. No respect for the status quo.

 

Not really….or at least I don’t quite want to be quite most of those things…  I already am seen as many of them, but it’s because I think differently than most people.  And, most of you probably recognize that from the “Think Different” Apple ads of the 90’s. I have some of those posters, given to me by a dear friend, Marianne Jolley, who used to be our sales rep. I’m in the process of hanging them in our school, and wanted to send a link out to the staff, so I googled them and found the wikipedia article on them. What I found surprised me.

Not only did the wikipedia article describe the ads, pictures and share the text of the message (which I have always loved!), but it also shared part of an interview with Steve Jobs from 1994.

 

Steve Jobs in interview for PBS‘ ‘One Last Thing’ documentary, 1994
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

 

I’ve written sometimes here and on the Cooperative Catalyst blog about how my thinking, my ideas, my sharing, my work has gotten me  in hot waters….but I persevere to do what’s right for kids and I continue to strive to interest and engage them each and every day in meaningful, real ways. Some folks can’t handle that constant thinking and are threatened by it….those are narrow minded folks I try to avoid.  Because I want to, as the text says, “push the human race forward.”

 

I am so lucky that I grew up in a household where it was verbalized that I could do or be anything I wanted to do or be. I heard that all my life growing up and it has always impacted me–so I ask why when I am told no.  I ask why not when someone says something can’t be done. I keep my eyes out for opportunities and don’t hesitate to ask when I see one of those…and more often than not I am told yes.

I grow from those yesses more than I grow from the nos.  I learn from the yesses more than I learn when told no.  I learn from the responses when I ask why and why not, and  get a thoughtful, thought-provoking reason.

Steve’s response really spoke to me when I found it yesterday–we need to instill this belief in every kid we teach. We need to honor and celebrate their strengths and not beat them up with their weaknesses. When we have kids doubting themselves because of grades on a report card, or believing they are incompetent because we only harp on what they cannot do, we do them a tremendous dis-service. It’s only when they have confidence, when they believe in themselves, when they feel comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses that they will begin to be one of these who will

“change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.”

I see my goal as one which will support my students to  do as Steve says, “shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”

I have made a mark upon this world, however small.  I want my kids to make bigger ones. So I’ll continue to show them I believe in them with all of my heart and soul.

Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance

“Planting Brilliance” is a phrase I first heard in a post by Ben Grey. After thinking about some conversations with some of the teachers in my school, I’m thinking it’s more about uncovering brilliance. Or maybe it’s about building faith in one’s own brilliance.

I grew up in a household where I was told (in an era of stay-at-home Moms) that I could do or be anything I wanted to, if I just put my mind to it. That was from my Mom.  My Dad always said he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did my best and did something I loved. There was never a question as to whether I was going to college, although Dad hadn’t graduated—he met my mother in college, they fell in love, eloped, and he went to work and just never finished—but we kids always knew he was smart, just as we knew our mother was, too. I grew up in a home where parents believed in the power of an education, and were supportive of schooling—and also learning. My mother and I spent many Sunday afternoons (after church and cleaning up from Sunday dinner) playing Scrabble with a dictionary between us. We paid no attention to the time rules—the goal was to find new words, interesting words, and to make the most points we possibly could. I don’t remember a winner or loser—or caring about that—it was the pursuit of words that was the goal.

When I became a teacher, I was much like Ben describes in his post—“We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds.” but then reality set in and I found out not all kids had been taught to believe in themselves. It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that many kids just needed someone to believe in them for them to believe in themselves. I also had been punished enough as a kid for being a rule-bender, a limits-pusher and a question-asker that I wasn’t interested in being a yeller or a punisher, so kids quickly figured that out about me. I ignored a lot and didn’t give them the attention they were seeking—yet I did give them good kinds of attention. I think my joy of learning, my love of books and my generally happy attitude was somewhat contagious to kids and caused most to want to try in my classes.

However, I also realized a long time ago that I would have kids in my class that I didn’t immediately connect with—or worse yet, that immediately made me bristle for some reason. The fact is that if I catch myself feeling like that with a kid, I consciously make an effort to be one on one with that child as much as I can. I invite them to have lunch with me.  I ask them to run errands to the office. I ask them to hand out or collect papers, or be line leader.  What I discovered (again, long ago) is that when I am with a kid one to one, I find ways to connect with them. I discover their interests or humor, or sadness, or something that builds a connection between us. . . so that we are no longer at odds or strangers to one another.

As an adult, I’m realizing now that that was kind of what happened with my 6th grade teacher—I just didn’t connect—ever—and I don’t think she ever tried to connect with me. What a shame—I’ve never forgotten her—first name of Pocahontas, and the Indian native, Pocahontas is one of my distant relatives. Could have been quite an opportunity to connect, but instead I remember her because we didn’t. I only remember one other first name of a teacher and that’s because he connected with me academically and as a human being…he used to pass the bus stop each day and on rainy/cold/snowy days he’d give my brother and me a ride to school.

John Dewey says we are there to help find “out the conditions of the environment and the kinds of activities in which the positive capabilities of each young person could operate most effectually.” (John Dewey.p 139) Pocahontas didn’t do that.  Mr. Arrington did. I am trying to, and I look every day to try to uncover brilliance or build a child’s faith in his or her own smarts. Challenge them, give them success and then raise the expectation… and then challenge them again. Teaching is not just about sharing knowledge, it’s about being human and helping kids feel smart and finding their own strengths. The more they know about themselves–about how they learn, how they think, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, the more prepared they’ll be to learn throughout life and find their niche–or niches. So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.. .so the next time you feel your hackles rising at something a child did, stop yourself from responding immediately  and then ask him or her to have lunch with you today. Watch the situation deflate and enjoy the company at lunch! See if you can help uncover some brilliance!

Solid on the How, Struggling with the What

Yesterday I participated in the Reform Symposium as a keynote speaker. I’m not quite sure what distinguished keynoters from presenters, but it was pretty cool presenting virtually and having an audience of over 100 people that participated with questions and comments. Their intereaction in the chat made my ability to share much more powerful and I appreciate every one of you who were there. You have certainly made me think more deeply as I read your comments and questions. Not only did I reflect with you then, but I am continuing to reflect on  the what and why of my work with students’ wikiwork.

I shared the work my kids have done on wikis and blogs and talked about the reflecting I was doing on that, the questions that guide me into a new school year, and the concerns I carry as well. I celebrated what my kids have done, as they far surpassed anything I could have imagined as we began. Some of their wikis are creative, some are creative acts of curation and all model communication in some way. All of them are connected.  All of them are personal. All of them contain passion and work worth doing.

Yet I’m NOT satisfied with what we’ve done and I am struggling with how to set it up this year to help students rigorously pursue inquiry. I am constantly thinking about how to help them work and worry and struggle with complex content that stretches them and causes more questions and more inquiry.

Having worked with wikis for three years now, in both structured and unstructured ways, I have seen students show passion around the projects they design.  I have seen intricate projects and ones with little depth. I have seen collections of pictures, or videos, or games, or game codes, but little curation going into those collections.  I have seen some collaboration, but much more parallel play online–the collaboration often happens in my classroom as they collect and post. I have certainly worked with them on the technology and understand the pedagogy of using technology, but something, in my opinion, is still missing in how they work with their wikis. It’s NOT just the issue of parallel play versus collaboration as I spoke to over a year ago.

I know they haven’t collaborated outside of our school much with other kids. When I have set them up to participate in online projects, though, it has only been parallel play, and not true collaboration. I decided to back up– back into my school to work on collaboration there first. I was thinking of Ryan Bretag’s comment in the parallel play post about pedagogy, about kids needing to be taught collaboration skills. So, I watched, prodded and led this year to help kids learn a TON about online courtesy and communication. They learned how to allow others to work in their space and be diligent about the need to monitor it. They learned to ask questions others would be interested in answering on their polls as they became more aware of their audience. There was a tremendous sense of serious play, feelings of power over their content, and a sincere belief that people would read what they wrote as they found their voice and developed niches for themselves–or struggled to do so. I aiding in building their readership by tweeting out links to their wikis, by inviting my colleagues into their conversations, and by blogging about their insights and incredible creativity and commitment to the work.

Are these pre-collaboration skills? Because I work with elementary students, is part of my quandary because my kids need experiences with collaborative activities and they need ways of understanding global connections and audiences??

As I begin to plan for this next school year, I am struggling with my learning objectives for getting kids to work with wikis.  Our county has a goal that we will “prepare all students to succeed as members of a global community and in a global economy.” I am attempting to do that by enlarging their view of the world. I am attempting to do that by helping them learn about publishing in a global community.  I am attempting to do that by helping them become aware of digital citizenship and their digital footprint. So, is letting them have pretty free rein over the content on their wikis okay, or enough, or should I be tying it more to the designated content for their grade level?  Your thoughts?


Teaching in a Silo 2

I just got this on email:

After I read your post on teaching in a silo I got {this poem} out and thought I’d share it with you.

“Oh, the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words
but pouring them all right out,
just as the are, chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping
and then with the breath of kindness throw the rest away.”

I am so very blessed.  Thank you, friend.

Standards Matter, But Kids Matter More–And Passionate Educators Make a Difference!

It’s that time of year. We’re entering the last quarter in US schools and that means standardized testing is taking over the classrooms and dreams–or nightmares–of many teachers and students. So many times, we go about that test prep all the wrong way. Sometimes, though, drastic measures are needed. I’d love to hear your comments on the drastic measures noted below.

I’ll never forget being in an at-risk school and the fifth grade teacher leaving mid-year–(his wife got a job elsewhere, so he had to follow. I love that story!) The principal asked if I would leave my “gifted technology teacher” job to go into fifth grade and teach the rest of the year.  I agreed, and we decided to departmentalize so I taught math and social studies and my partner teacher taught science and reading.

When the kids came back  from winter break in January, we assessed the heck out of them with practice tests to see where we were.  It was dismal. As I remember, the results showed that we could expect fewer than than 50% potential passing students in all areas. SO, we went to work.  The other teacher, Jennifer Morgan, and I knew we had to get the kids to believe in themselves–so our first job was to show them the data and convince them they COULD do it. These kids had had repeated years of failure and felt school was a place to survive–not enjoy or learn from.

We met with them and explained how the SOL tests worked, what a distractor was, and told them we would not only be working on test-taking skills with them, but also that we would make sure they learned the content. We wanted them to be confident going into the tests, and  we told them that we were sure they would blow the top off the tests.  (This was in a school where not one class before had ever met the standard score needed for AYP.) In fact, I was blown away when we (the principal, and both of us teachers) first met with the whole group and explained our plan and  Bobby asked, “Why do you think we can do it? My brother says any kids who have been here are stupid.”

Our response was to talk about the difference between effort and luck and help them understand that it was effort that would get us over the hump of not reaching our goals.  We spoke to the importance of believing in yourself and trying your hardest.  We told them we would NOT wish them good luck the day of the test, because it is not an issue of luck, but hard work and determination. AND, we told them we would be with them each and every step of the way helping them and supporting them.

We began by showing them their math test data and have THEM analyze it for the standards they didn’t know. Each child had a folder with the SOL standards in the front with the standards they needed to work on highlighted.  Bobby had skipped items on the test–the principal sat down with him and showed that if he had answered them, PURELY GUESSING, his score rose 4 points–so he clearly got that he needed to answer each and every question–and he became our evangelist for that test-taking skill.

Jennifer and I made up a system we called “SOL Points” where kids got points for participating in extra work on content, emphasizing  to the kids it was the effort that counted. (Extra work counted things like making posters to put in the hallways so others kids saw them and that reinforced content, attending extra work sessions, reading books at home, being on time with homework and correctly doing the daily “do nows”, etc.) Each child had a folder where we DAILY reported to parents the behavior in class-and the students self-rated their effort. The goal was 100 points in a short amount of time to earn a special field trip to be determined by the students.  (In the end they chose a walking tour of our downtown mall–as many of these kids had little experience with traveling outside of their rural area.)

We offered OPEN after-school tutoring twice a week, and almost EVERY student chose to come, so we had groups of 20 kids for tutoring. We scaffolded the kids every way we could to help them understand they WERE learning and they WERE going to succeed–that their hard work was paying off.  We–all of the teachers–SPED, Guidance, Title 1 teachers, gym teachers, librarian, everyone in the building–worked to help this group of kids understand they were smart, they could do it and they just needed to work hard and believe in themselves. We integrated skills whenever we could, teaching stem and leaf plots through looking at test scores of the class- so the group could see them rising.

Jennifer had the kids practice reading skills with science texts.  We used Virginia Pathways to teach the history standards, having them do history like historians do. We used hands on materials to teach measurement–we compared bags of candy weighed in ounces and grams, and used students from the University of Virginia to help with the groups so they had more individual support and attention.

Our Central Office Science facilitator, Chuck Pace, and our County tech support person, Becky Fisher, came out to do “gym science” once a week during their gym time.  Our gym teacher did brain gym exercises with them during this time to help them attend to the hands on stuff Chuck and Becky led them through. Our county math people came out and targeted specific skills with individual kids as the test came near that still hadn’t gotten the skill–they literally pulled kids throughout the day and worked one on one or in small groups on the patterns, functions and algebra strand.

During lunch, I offered read aloud time–to share one of MY passions, so over half the fifth grade came to my room each day to eat their lunch as they listened to me read picture books and share great literature on my document camera–they loved hearing stories they hadn’t heard before, especially as I shared stories of my love for these books. We read Ghost Cadet during our study of the Civil War and took them to the New Market Battlefield–and an anonymous donor bought each child their own “Cadet Kit.” An observer would have thought they were given gold–but that kit was simply part of the power of the community we were building.

It was an amazing 5 months–and then May came with all the glory of the tests. Our kids WERE  confident.  They DID know it–and they did pass the test well enough so that our school earned AYP for the first time.

More importantly though, the passion we had–all of the adults involved–showed these students that we thought it was important for them to learn.  It was crucial for them to believe in themselves as we believed in them.

The scores were amazing–in the high eighties and even one in the low nineties as I recall.   Even more incredible, though, were some anomalies we found.

I had a Hispanic kid who was identified for Title 1 services–after working with her a short time, I pulled her OUT of title 1 and two months later she was identified gifted.  I did a spot check through our student information system on some of these kids and she is in 11th grade now, in Adv. German, AP Language and Composition, Honors Calculus, Honors Physics, and taking History at our local community college.

Our resident jokester–whose sense of humor often got in the way of learning–is now in Adv. History, Adv Chemistry, adv. College Algebra and Trig, Adv. German and Honors English.

A quiet girl who just KNEW she would never succeed at this is currently in Adv. History, Adv. Chemistry, Adv. German and Honors English.

Another girl is in Adv History, taking nursing at CATEC, and is also studying digital imaging. (These kids also got to take home digital cameras in fifth grade.)

And, is there a connection between our “doing history as historians do” and the fact most kids I checked are in advanced history classes OR taking history at the local community college?

MANY of these kids are extremely successful at school.  I wish I could say all of them are, but that’s simply not true.  However, I KNOW we made a difference in the lives of many–and it was because of the passion we educators had–and the belief that ALL children can learn.
Check out our gap data on history and science for that year–the first picture is black/white and the second is free and reduced lunch kids.

black white data 2004

SES data 2004

These were children who, as a group,  had experienced very little success in school.  They had very little belief in themselves as successful learners.  Yet, they learned that passionate educators exist–a whole lot of them who helped them AND that their effort paid off in standardized testing AND learning.

For about a week now, @PamMoran has been tweeting about joy of learning, and how the culture of schools and sometimes teachers either nurture or kill student passion for learning. The blogging members of the Cooperative Catalyst Blog agreed several weeks ago to all read the book, Wounded by School and write about it.  I think this is the week we’ll be doing that, so be sure to check it out tomorrow. (We post on Monday.)