Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wondering?

   I recently read two pieces concerning educators, parents, and school systems.  Both pieces disturbed me for a variety of reasons.  Both, Ron Clark's piece "What teacher really want to tell parents" and a guest post on The Innovative Educator blog "What Parent Really Want to Tell Teachers:  What You Do Hurts Our Children", deliver harsh, stinging words that contain moderates amount of reflection and a great deal of attacking sentiment.  While I agree with a minority of the sentiments in both pieces, I am disturbed that these posts represent what many people dislike, even hate, about the Internet:  attack bombs thrown at a group of people.  The best that the offended party can do is to comment on the article or blog in response.  I plan to blog.
     Ron Clark highlights the often frequent tension between parents and teachers.  At times, this may be inevitable when two people have different points of view, but I believe that it is necessary that teachers and parents make an effort to know each other and their viewpoints.  Not only is this in the best interest of the child and student, but hopefully this behavior would be considered vital in any relationship in a civil society.  I realize listening and responding without rancor seems to be in short supply currently in our society, but that's a topic for a different post.
    Laurie Couture's guest post on the Innovative Educator blog directly responds to Ron Clark's piece.  While there are details that I agree with, concerning lack of recess and rigid classrooms, this post comes off, to me, as a frustrated rant.  I have many of the same concerns about this post as I have for Ron Clark's piece.  In a time when educators and teachers need to work together more than ever for each child's betterment, attack messages such as these do little to advance much needed reform of the United States educational system. 
     Josh Stumpenhorst has an excellent post on these two articles as well.  I can only hope that educators and parents can work together, not attack each other, for their students' and children's best interests.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stop Talking

     The first day of the next chapter in my journey to becoming a changed teacher was a definite revelation for me.  My learning can be stated in two words: STOP TALKING.  I'm referring to my own internal monologue during our first half-day of school together.
     Instead of me droning on and laying out all the rules, I asked my students a series of questions.  What I noticed even in this process is that I can't seem to shut up.  I always felt the need to comment or parrot back what the student had already stated as another student recorded the answer.  I knew that this change process would be difficult, but I am quickly realizing that I have challenged myself in a significant way.
     As I listened to the students respond with possibilities about how our class could be organized, I hoped that they would give me some honest responses.  I believe that the students were honest, though most certainly they are used to the "teacher-in-control" that is so common and that I had previously practiced for the past dozen year. Today's interaction was a tiny, but small step in creating an "nontraditional" classroom. 
      I'll return eagerly tomorrow for another day.  I'm definitely aware that this year will be a challenge for me and the habits that I want to change.  This should be an interesting year in our classroom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 28 - Creating a Classroom that Values Each Individual

Q:  How do I create a classroom that values and includes each and every individual student?
A:  This area has been one of my greatest weaknesses over the years of my teaching career.  I often made an effort to not single out any students for negative attention.  But with my previous efforts in the classroom being focused on me doing the vast majority of guiding, planning, and "controlling" all the learning, instruction, and interaction that happened in my classroom, I struggled to truly value each individual student like they should be.  I'm looking forward with anticipation and some fright to this upcoming year.  While I am leaving behind many of my previous methods of "running" my classroom, I am looking forward to working WITH my students, not DOING things to them. (I'm borrowing an Alfie Kohn phrase there.)  My anticipation for this year focuses on my desire to discover each student's strengths, areas for growth, and ways that we can together learn from each other and improve together throughout this year.  Will everything flow smoothly with no problems?  Highly unlikely...  But I'm sure that giving each student a voice in how they learn and how they treat each other will be more productive than my previously controlling efforts.  So stay tuned to updates on how this new school year proceeds.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 27 - Accomplish Before I'm Done Teaching

Q:  What is one thing I would like to accomplish before I'm done teaching?
A:  I don't think that I can narrow my thoughts done to one particular thing, so I'll go with a mindset change.  If I can change my formerly teacher-centric style to one in which I consider the students and their viewpoint in each decision that I make, I would consider that my greatest accomplishment.  This drastic personal change will not be a single accomplishment, but much more of a process type of change.  Considering a change like this might be out of the ordinary but I have been doing a great deal of reflection throughout this summer.  I have thought about how I have typically taught my students and whether I would want to be a student in my classroom.  I have also been reflecting on whether I would want my principal to regard me in the same fashion that I have often regarded my students.  The answer to both questions has been a resounding NO.  So, due to these considerations, I have embarked and will be continuing on a long journey to alter how I go about guiding my students' learning.  From an increase in my use of technology to offering students the option to direct our learning, I am trying to rewire my thinking of how I go about each aspect of my teaching.

Day 26 - Most Important Professional Development Tools

Q:  What do I think are my most important professional development tools?
A:  This question is probably the easiest for me in this whole challenge.  The answer: Twitter.  This probably won't seem like a strange answer to anyone who uses Twitter a regular basis.  The change in my thinking and the books that I read this earlier this summer can all be attributed to the connections that I made on Twitter.  In connecting with numerous educators from around the world, I have learned and will be applying several concepts in my classroom that I had no previous contact with before this March when I joined Twitter.  I have made contact with many educators willing to help and encourage me.  I have to give special thanks to one in particular.  Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) has exhibited a tremendous willingness to communicate and share not only her experiences, but informational letters that I will be using to communicate with my students' families this year.  She is just one example of how Twitter can benefit an educator.  Due to my Twitter connections, I will be attending my first TeachMeet, an informal day-long professional development experience, in a nearby city in October.  I used to ignore Twitter, mostly because I didn't understand its usefulness.  So, if anyone reading this doesn't take part in Twitter at all or only rarely, I would encourage you to consider taking part in this social media environment. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 25 - Taught in School?

Q:  How was I taught in school?
A:  I was taught in the traditional, teacher-centric model.  Teacher imparts knowledge, students practice, and then students demonstrate "learning".  This was pretty much how I was taught throughout the 80's and early 90's.  I can't remember a single instructor who departed from this form of education.  With this description I don't mean to imply that my teachers didn't care about me or my learning.  On the contrary, I remember several with affection and true joy for their desire to help me and others become the best students and individuals possible.  Each of these instructors may have had no knowledge of different approaches to encourage student learning, just as I hadn't during my first 12 years of teaching.  My lack of knowledge regarding different methods of instructing has been wiped away through my interactions with other educators on Twitter.  So as I began my thirteenth year as an educator next week, I will encouraging my students to learn in vastly different ways than I was ever guided.  I believe this is an excellent situation.  For the past several years, I have felt a vague unease with how I have been teaching, but couldn't ever find a personally workable solution.  The new direction our classroom will be taking is the beginning of  a journey that will hopefully lead to greater student learning and satisfaction with their school experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Faculty Retreat

I'm off this morning to an overnight retreat with my teaching colleagues.  These yearly retreats have huge amounts of pros and only one or two cons.  First of all, as a staff, we are rarely altogether in one space at the same point in time.  Due to varying schedules and family demands, there are some colleagues that I rarely get the chance to talk with.  Another positive is that all the beginning of the year plans and preparations are dealt with in a concentrated amount of time.  The biggest personal advantage for me is that I get to spend time with my fellow educators just to have fun.  In the one evening we are away from home, we have the opportunity to talk, laugh, play games, in short, just relax with each other.  A rare chance indeed.  Sure, there is the downside of my wife and I having to find someone (usually her parents) to come and stay with our sons while I am away and my wife is working.  I don't like being gone overnight from my family.  I personally wouldn't do well in a job that required me to travel a lot.  But the overall benefit to me, especially as an educator and member of our teaching staff, is tremendously positive.