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“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

by Dr. Haim Ginott

Reflect on your classroom rules and the punishments outlined for breaking them. Sometimes their behavior is not about them being disruptive or disrespectful, but are a reaction to whatever stresses they are facing. Students, classroom behavior, and their consequences are the topic of this post’s 30 Goals Challenge.

It is true. I am a decisive element in our classroom community.  Whatever condition the student walks into the classroom in, I have an effect on that. I can provide the opportunity for a person ready to be in our community to shine and succeed. I can also take that same person and shut them down. It’s a lot of pressure sometimes.

Perhaps I’m sick, perhaps I just received word of a family emergency, perhaps something personal has just gone wrong.  If I take that into the classroom community, it effects what does or does not happen there. On the contrary, despite my best efforts, I might not be able to bring a student having a challenging moment into the community for the day.  They may be the element darkening what happens in the classroom. It’s my obligation to try and bring some light to the situation. Again, there’s a lot of pressure outside the content area itself.

Stress. We are human. We have stress. Teenagers are stressed from their obligations, family, friends and biology. Adults are stressed from their jobs, families, and responsibilities.  Personally, I believe that if our schools employeed personal masseuses, some of this might be alleviated, but that’s a different matter. It’s important that we all have ways to deal with the stress, and that includes within the classroom community.

Plan. Have your lessons planned; don’t wing it. Included the opportunity to “moments.” Whether these be teachable moments, or moments to just vent. Make allowances for that. Know your students. Your first period students are going to have different needs than those at the end of the day.  Know that there are differences between boys and girls and their needs within the classroom community. Breathe. You need to breathe. You need to allow your students to do so as well, whether that be literally or figuratively.  Allow for movement: 90 minutes with bottoms planted in an uncomfortable seat doesn’t allow for oxygen to get to the brain and for the best learning to occur.  These are just starting points, and only a few at that.  Keep them in mind and add your own.

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“We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.”

by Phyllis Diller

 

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato

 

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

Leo F. Buscaglia

Play.  When young children play, they run without aim. They dig in and get dirty. They aren’t afraid. They laugh at their mistakes and scream with delight at their successes. They sometimes cry, but that can be easily turned around with some reassurance. There aren’t boundaries. It’s all about discovery and adventure. It’s delightful to watch.

Not everyone gets to work with young children and see this.  Children, however, are still children – at any age.  My high schoolers love it when they get to follow commands posted around the school to find the prize at the end of the trail.  They love it when we get to read outside. They love it when we turn the tables into a fort/castle to have fairy tale story time. They love it when they get to read outside. They love it when we have verb conjugation races. They love Pictionary with new vocabulary. They love stickers, stamps, reward pencils and so much more. They look forward to class because it is not 90 minutes of sit-in-your-seat and take notes on a lecture time.  They are still children – some of them may be bigger than I am, but they are still children.

Play in our classroom community.  It’s one of my favorite things to do with these students. They can’t help but interact with the material if they are playing with it. It gets their blood flowing, oxygenates their brains, and keeps them really involved. There is play to just play – but there really is playing to learn.  Problem/project-based learning is a wonderful outlet for this.

I have the wonderful opportunity to work with a content area that lends itself well to these types of activities. While I will praise the idea of play in the classroom, I think it’s also important to share that there will be those who doubt or criticize the action.  I have heard a number of times from colleagues: “I wish I could teach a language, all you have to do is sing and play games.”  If you read my previous post, it is the reason both that I have feared inviting others in and the reason that I should.

 

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“There is no persuasiveness more effectual than the transparency of a single heart, of a sincere life.”

by Joseph Barber Lightfoot

Let them in.  Let other teachers, parents, and administrators in to see the learning that takes place in your classroom.  This is the next goal that I am addressing in the 30 Goals Challenge.  When I was a department chair, I would have encouraged my department to do that. As I have presented at various conferences, I know those words have come out of my mouth. If I am to be honest, however, that is a fear of mine.

It’s a personal, not professional fear, but nonetheless a fear.  What will they think? Will I be good enough? Will they be disappointed? What will they say behind my back?  Will I become the brunt of other’s jokes because they don’t “get” what I’m doing? I’ve heard the answers to these questions about other teachers and don’t myself want to be that teacher.

Did you notice anything in particular in what I just wrote? It was all about me.  Is that what my classroom is about? There are so many other things that go on in my little community of learners. Why should I fear sharing that?

I have the unique privilege as a high school teacher to have students from their freshman year until their senior years. Not everyone at the high school level experiences that. We, my students and I, have developed quite the community together. Our experiences are far from traditional, but there is some wonderful learning going on in our community.  Why wouldn’t I want to share that? The answer? Because it’s different and people fear and judge things that are different. No one wants to be judged, and that includes me. Back to me again.

I have made conscious efforts this year to get my students collaborating, sharing and reflecting together. I haven’t, though, moved those experiences beyond the classes themselves. I’ve shared what I am doing with my department, but no one has visited or asked to visit. While not having discouraged observations, I haven’t encouraged them either.

I could take the easy way out and say that in a way I have invited people in: I regularly invite my “pod” of teachers to our annual Oktoberfest celebration and share food with our administration; I encourage the kids to invite other teachers, administrators, and even the superintendent in for our Valentine’s Day activity (they have to teach someone else how to say “Kiss me, I speak German” in German and then that person receives a Hershey’s Kiss). Those are fun activities, but there are so many other things that go on in our community.

I have classroom blogs, wikis, web pages, and a program twitter account. I do post our unit essential questions online and am available via email. My students are sharing and collaborating using web 2.o tools. I think these are steps, but I know it’s not actually “inviting them in.”

This is a long-term goal for me, but one that I would really like to make (despite my fears). I’m hoping for better parent relationships and peer relationships. We’ll see how it goes.

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“The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. ”

by John Lubbock

Some quick thoughts about learning and online professional development:

  • Everyone can learn
  • Not everyone learns in the same way
  • Learning is a life-long process
  • I hope to inspire my students to want to learn
  • As a teacher, I should help my students learn how to learn
  • I need to model learning for my students
  • I need to show my students purpose
  • I can learn from my students, too
  • I hope to establish an environment of trust and safety in our classroom
  • Learning has changed with innovation. As educators we need to not only acknowledge this, but embrace it. Our students have!
  • Professional Development has also changed with innovation
  • Online professional development has allowed me to stretch beyond my own community and learn from so many other around the world
  • Online PD allows me to see many more perspectives than just those I see around me
  • Online PD has motivated me so much more than I thought possible!

The long-term challenge: In what ways will I ensure that my beliefs about how students learn are reflected in the classroom?

One step towards this goal is reflecting in my blog and another is participating in the online community for this challenge. The blog provides a place for me to reflect on my goals and review them as necessary. The online community provides a place for me to collaborate, share and reflect with others on the same journey.  While the connection to the classroom may not be blatant, it is still there. The connection is me.  The classroom, the blog, the community – I am a part of all of these things and all of these things are tools to be used to keep the focus when the educational demands become overwhelming.

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“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

by Albert Einstein

I think I could end my blog post there.  Einstein says a great deal about grading without ever knowing it would be taken as a discussion point for us.  Our challenge today in  30 Goals 2011 is “to assess one assignment or project … in a way that doesn’t add a numerical value but has the student seek value in the progress made, the learning achieved, or the work put into it.”  I watched the video (click on the link), read the challenge, and walked away from the computer for most of the rest of the day.

My thoughts and emotions are mixed regarding this challenge.  One side of me laughs at the challenge: how am I going to get my students to even try something if there is no grade to put in the grade book.  Therein lies the problem. Our society has placed such a high value on “the grade,”  the GPA, and the class rank, State testing, ACT, SAT, AP and so much more that learning for the sake of learning and the pride that comes from within is lost. The real loser is the student.

Back to my initial moment of laughter: how am I going to get my students to try something that doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it?  First, I’d like to train them in appreciating “the process” of learning. I want them to see that there is learning in each step of what we do.  My first step began today.  One group of students are finishing a project this week.  I’ve spent time with them setting up their foundational skills, presenting examples, modeling the information, making the theme authentic (in theme and product), presenting the project, and giving the project purpose. Their final leg of the assignment has 2 steps: they are to post their Glogs on edmodo with a comment/abstract plus respond to other posts (with guidelines provided), and complete a google docs evaluation.  The edmodo post allows them to boast about their product and provide positive feedback to others.  It’s an affirming experience.  The google docs evaluation is designed to illicit information about their experience all the way through.  It’s a self-evaluation about their successes, failures, needs, and wants from this project and for future ones.  In the end, my goal is to provide the students opportunities to show value in themselves and others; and, to be able to talk about their experience as something that is valued as much as the end product.

I tried to apply the challenge to something immediately, so it wouldn’t be just a topic to blog about, but one to put into action immediately. I want to find the value in the process just as much as I want my students to do.  I may not fully accomplish this goal for some time, but I’ll be working on it as the challenge continues.  The numbers aren’t going to go away for some time, but there’s still room for value in the process of learning.


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It’s taken me some time to process this. Perhaps I just thought too much of my teaching prowess, my ability to connect with my students, my ability to get even the most problematic of students to engage at least somewhat with the material.  Perhaps I spent too much time in the affective mode rather than the content itself. Perhaps…  “Perhaps” leaves big gaps without providing concrete answers.  The end result was a disastrous classroom moment which included an impromptu visit from an administrator. Disastrous.

As an experienced educator I find it hard to reconcile, rationalize, or justify that period of time. On the other hand, after surviving the next class period unscathed, I doubt the students have thought again about it. Perspective.

“Things” happened in class that day: nothing illegal, no real violence, no one was physically hurt.  Detentions could have been written. I could easily have pushed for even more than that with a couple of students. This hasn’t been done. I’d like to say that this hasn’t been done “yet,” but discipline should be immediate. Should.

The actual events or actions don’t seem to matter.  What matters are two things; 1, the professionalism on my end and 2, the student reaction.  Personally, I never yelled. I did question their motivation and thoughts, but never yelled or cursed.  My ability to manage a classroom comes into question, especially if this is the only view this particular administrator will ever have in that classroom (if it is, then that is an entirely separate discussion to have). The student reaction, however, is certainly notable as well.  Before the end of the week, I had numerous, unsolicited letter and Facebook posts of apology. A star football player personally apologized with tears in the corners of his eyes. The one “Problematic” student that most teachers have already given up on said that not only did I not deserve what went on, but more so because I give him chances that no one else does. Reaction.

There are still issues to address on my end: the catalyst to the classroom disaster, my future preparations and plans, my response to the administrator.

What I want to remember most, however, is ‘how’ the students apologized.  Perspective.

“we are selfish, ignorant, don’t realize the power of our actions, feel a need to stand out, don’t understand most things that happen, get frustrated easily and take it out on others, often forget that teachers have feelings, and we take a lot that we are given/have for granted.
And yet you still put up with us which I find amazing and I think that you are a gift from God and that putting up with us makes you a better person than most. Thank you for being an awesome, kick-butt teacher”

 

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