Monday, January 6, 2020

Off to Kindergarten and Beyond...

Hazel's School Picture - Kindergarten
On Hazel's first day of kindergarten, she literally ran to the building. I had to call to her to wait for me because I wanted to be with her as she walked into the school and took that first step in her public school journey. She yelled back at me to hurry up and that we were going to be late. I assured her, as I jogged to catch up, that we had plenty of time, that we were early. I wanted to tell her to slow down, don't rush, time goes by fast enough without us trying to make it go faster. She was beaming. She was excited. She couldn't wait to get to school.  Wouldn't it be nice if kids continued to have that exact same level of enthusiasm and excitement as they made their way through their K12 experience? Hazel wasn't alone in her excitement. We saw many other kindergarten-aged kids running to the school, smiles spread wide across their faces, urging their parents to hurry up.  However, the 4th graders were not running. Head over to the middle school and you would not see students running to the building. You would not see high schoolers running to the building. Perhaps it is unfair to think middle school and high school-aged kids would actually run to the building - that that's the only way to show excitement. Perhaps being older makes it so running isn't an option, no matter how excited they are for school. But something happens to students along the K12 adventure - the older they get, the less excited for school they become. This is a very general statement as there are certainly students who are excited for school all the way through high school, but a truth, nonetheless. Why do students lose that excitement for school that compels them to "run" to the building? When does this happen? First grade? Fifth? Middle school? It undoubtedly happens at different times depending on the student, but in my experience, I have seen the gradual decline all too often.  So why? The answers vary - stress, drama, pressure, homework, worksheets, bullying, etc. - much we, as teachers, can not control. However, we can certainly control what happens to those students during our time with them each day - we can certainly do our part to keep that excitement for learning alive, to not let it die out shortly after kindergarten. So how is this done? How do we keep the excitement for school alive, even as the students get older? Good question with an easy answer - but an answer that is hard to execute because it takes tremendous effort, consistency and an unflinching commitment to the student.  Keep the excitement and love of learning alive in your students by engaging them with meaningful activities - simulations, hands-on, relevancy, thought-provoking, real-world, authentic. Keep the excitement and love of learning alive in your students by showing them that you care about them as a person, not just a statistic on the standardized test report - that you are there for them. Keep that excitement alive by showing kindness, building trust, reaching out to them. You don't need a fancy handshake or a nickname for each student - you just need to genuinely care for students and show kindness. Far too often, students hit a snag in their journey in which they cross paths with someone who is not willing to put in the work to get to know them and build a relationship with them. Don't be that teacher. Don't be the one teacher that causes the students to check out from the school experience. Don't be the reason why kids stop running to school.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Culture Building the Zappos Way

Zappos is a shoe company. It just happens to be the shoe company that I always use to get new all-black Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, the shoe I wear to school every day. Here is an interesting fact about Zappos: They pay their employees $5,000 if they leave the company. You might be thinking, “What?!?! That’s crazy!”  Well, it is certainly unique, but it is Zappos applying pressure on themselves to make the culture at their company so good that people would rather stay and work for them, rather than leave the company with $5,000 in their pocket. Zappos knows that it’s all about culture when it comes to job satisfaction and employee morale.  Let’s apply this to school - would you rather stay at your present school or take $5,000 and go to a different school? The answer will tell you how the culture building is going in the school in which you teach. Apply that same concept to your class - would students rather have you for a teacher or take $50 and go to a different teacher? Thinking about this through the Zappos frame is a helpful way to approach your efforts at building culture. It is such an important task - to create a culture in your school/classroom that would cause people/students to stay with you, rather than taking a bag of money and going elsewhere. I FOR SURE would have taken the money and took my chances with another teacher, rather than stay with who I currently had. However, there were other teachers/coaches along the way that I would have stayed with, no matter how much money was dangling in front of me. Why? Because it’s all about relationships. Those teachers/coaches were super nice and took a genuine interest in me. I knew they cared about me and had my best interests in mind. They talked to me and treated me like a person, not a subordinate student. So, examine your world. What would your students do if presented with the stay or leave option? If you area principal, what would your teachers do? Jump ship with the dough, or stay with you? 

Be the reason people want to stay.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Kindness Wins

One of my biggest pet peeves in education/school is when teachers are not kind to their students. It bothers me so much hearing stories from students about how certain teachers treat kids. Granted, there are always two sides of a story, but when the same name continues to be brought up, time and time again, there must be some smoke there. I don't get it! Don't you know?? Kindness wins. Teachers on a power trip - boo.  Teachers showing kindness - Yay!  Students can become incredibly anxious when the teacher acts all high and mighty - or in other words, is on a power trip. I get how this can happen - you do have a sense of power over your students because you are the teacher and they are the subordinate students. However, that is no way to lead! It just cracks me up when a teacher is going back to school to be an admin yet, they are mean, sarcastic, etc. to kids. Wow, well on your way to being a crappy principal!  Teachers flexing their power over students and making sure everyone knows who is in charge is such a bad approach. I don't care how well you know your content or how many teaching strategies you know or how many hours you put in grading. I, along with your students, care about how you treat students. Treat them with respect. Show empathy. Get off your pedestal. Interact with the students in a positive way. Don't think you are a celebrity or famous (you're not). Don't be sarcastic. Don't speak in an intimidating way. Listen to your students.
I'll prove it to you: Being in my present role in higher education, I want to try to stay connected as much as possible to the k12 world. So I thought I would substitute teach during my breaks to get back into the schools and try to stay connected to that world. I subbed at a middle school recently and it was extremely challenging. There were 31 students in the class and to them, I was a complete stranger. They did not care what I had to say or who I was. They didn't care that I taught at a university. One student and I got off on the wrong foot so he became very belligerent and insubordinate. He was being very disrespectful and would not listen. I was close to pulling the trigger on sending him to the office, but instead, I decided to try my go-to approach with student behavior/challenging students: kindness.  I chose to stay calm, not react and shower him with kindness. Over the course of the next 40 minutes, my kindness began to break down his barriers. I pointed out we were both wearing Chuck Taylor all-black converse. I smiled at him and asked him how it was going. I asked him about his favorite NFL player. I encouraged him in what he was working on. Time and time again, he got off task and was disrespectful. Time and time again, I responded with kindness. It was challenging to stay calm and continue to show kindness, but by the end of the period, we had moved an inch. It was only an inch, but progress nonetheless. I asked the regular classroom teacher about this student later that week and she told me his story. A terrible home life producing distrust of adults, so it was not hard to see why he didn't automatically trust me. I had to earn it. She also told me that he had really good things to say about me and that he wanted me to come back. I was surprised by this but at the same time, I wasn't. Why? Because Kindness wins. Always. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Discussion Strategy: Mock Trial

Recently, in my social studies methods course, we held two mock trials. Mock trial #1 put the Confederate statues on trial, to determine, through trial, if the confederate statues should remain or if they should be taken down. In the second mock trial, we put the border wall along the US-Mexico border on trial, to determine whether the wall should be built or not.
The process: Half the class participated in the border wall mock trial, while the other half of the class participated in the Confederate statues mock trial. Due to numbers, we needed two mock trials as there were too many people in the class for one mock trial. In the mock trial that the students were not part of, they served as the jury and fact checkers.
For each mock trial, the students were assigned to either the prosecution or the defense.  Students did not necessarily argue for what they personally believed should be done in regards to the issue. I believe this is important because it forces the students to think about and dive into both sides. Besides, if students were left to choose what side they wanted to argue for, we may not have equal sides and it could get too personal. In addition, some students do not want people to know what they believe in personally. Once assigned to a side, the group of students determined what role each would fulfill. There were two roles: attorney and witness. There were two attorneys and three witnesses per side. They were in charge of coming up with who their witnesses were. They submitted their 'witness list' to the court so the other side could see who would be called and prepare for cross-examination. Once the trial began, I acted as judge and facilitated the proceedings. Each side gave opening statements. Then, the prosecution called their three witnesses, with cross-examination each time. The defense then presented their case by calling their witness, with prosecution getting their chance at cross-examination. Finally, each side gave their closing remarks. The jury then deliberated until they had a verdict, consulting with the fact checkers on any errors that were presented in either side. The jury was supposed to make their decision NOT on what they personally believed, but who presented the best case for what they were arguing.
The mock trial is a very engaging way to generate discussion on a deeper level. It's a great way to discuss current events. It's a project so there will be a significant amount of time spent with allowing the sides to be prepared, in order to have a rich, deep discussion/view of the issue at hand. It's a discussion technique that can be used in many different content areas. It allows the students to think critically, listen, speak and prepare.
Perhaps there is a place for the mock trial in your classroom! 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Lakota Way: Thoughtfulness

The great thing about the United States, well, at least what I think is great about the United States, is that there are many, many cultures within its borders. We know it is horribly wrong to try to kill off a culture and get those people to assimilate into another culture. Instead, our cultural differences should be celebrated and shared! We should learn from other cultures, rather than shy away from them and treat them as inferior. Learning from other cultures can do nothing but help build empathy. Example:  We can learn from the Lakota culture that it is good to be thoughtful before responding. When a question is ask, or an issue arises, or there is some sort of problem, the Lakota way is to think about what has happened silently, reflect and process the situation before responding.  At times, in Euro-American culture (white America), we tend to respond instantly in a situation, without thinking it through. Something happens and we instantly fire back or respond or spout off, without care or concern for the other person's feelings. When there is a problem or disagreement, this can be especially harmful because when responding with emotion/anger, things can be said that are hurtful. The situation can become worse and feelings can be damaged.  I am as guilty as anyone, as just recently, there was a problem and I responded instantly in a very emotional way, which did nothing but make the situation worse and people feel bad.  I would encourage everyone to adopt the Lakota way. Before lashing out or ripping someone or immediately responding with emotion, think the situation/issue through. Process what is happening and look at the situation through their eyes, rather than just your own.

Adopt the Lakota way for handling problems. Be respectful and thoughtful. This, I challenge to you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

What I'm Thankful for

I know Thanksgiving has past and we are all back to school. I was thinking about what I am thankful for and it took me a while to process it all. So, here is what I am thankful for: 
I am thankful for many things. I am thankful for Sriracha mayo, Chewy Chips Ahoy, and Eggo waffles. I am thankful for books and learning. I am thankful for knowledge. I am thankful for movies and imagination. I am thankful for the first amendment. I am thankful for facts. I am thankful for Democracy and term limits (except in 2016).  I am thankful that the 2020 election is almost here. I am thankful for Iced Caramel Lattes. I am thankful for the fridge in my office. I am thankful for the days I have had and the days yet to come. I am thankful that Jon Snow and Daenerys finally met.  I am thankful for Amazon and my MacBook. I am thankful for Twitter. I am thankful my Dad didn't die in his motorcycle accident. I am thankful for those who are open-minded and empathetic. I am thankful for legos and lincoln logs. I am thankful for my JFK mug which makes hot chocolate taste especially delicious. I am thankful for culture. I am thankful for my garage door opener. I am especially thankful for the horse tranquilizers that I use to get Hazel to calm down at night. I am thankful for jokes. I am thankful for the sausage Breakfast Boy. I am thankful for my dragon goblet. I am thankful for all the articles people post on Facebook. I am thankful for sports and competition. I am thankful for people posting their workouts on Facebook. I am thankful for technology and iMovie.  I am thankful for the air in my lungs, the blood in my veins and the electricity in my brain. Mostly, I am thankful for people like Abby, Olivia, Isabel, and Hazel. People like my mom and dad (best ever). People like my siblings. People like my DSU co-workers. People like my students. People that uplift me and make me think. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The NEED for Social Studies

We need social studies. I'm not talking about an official study or formal research project. I'm just telling you what I think. I think we need social studies. We need to talk about and learn about other cultures, how else will kids develop into thoughtful, open-minded people? Ignorance is dangerous. People fear that which they do not know or understand. Through social studies, we can teach students to be empathetic. To accept differences in other people, but yet we are all human beings living in this world together. With social studies, we can teach students kindness, respect, and compassion. We can teach kids that it's bad to lie, no matter who you are or what position you hold.  We can teach kids that if something is untrue, it will remain untrue no matter how many times it keeps getting repeated. We need to make sure students understand that a lie is a lie, no matter how many times it is spoken. "Speaking things into existence" isn't a thing and should NOT work, but it will be if we don't teach our students to be critical thinkers! It's important that we have social studies in school because we need to make sure kids understand that you treat people with respect, unlike the horrible examples they often see on the news. Degrading people and hurling insults is NOT OKAY just because those people don't agree with you about something. We need social studies because then we can teach kids to listen, think, reflect and then respond with a thoughtful response. I believe that studying social studies is one of our main weapons to end racism.
A lot of people won't need to be able to solve elaborate math equations as an adult. Most won't need to conduct science experiments, or paint a picture, or write a poem. But ALL people, no matter what, should be empathetic, open-minded and respectful because we are all humans living in this world together. Imagine if that were true? Imagine what the world would be like, or just what this country would be like? This is what social studies brings to school. At least, it would if it wasn't constantly being eliminated and viewed as not as important as other subjects. It's as equally important as any other subject area.
Take a look at social media comments. People are so nasty to each other! They are setting such a terrible example for kids! We tell kids to be nice and respectful, yet then go off on someone on Facebook.  In today's world, with it being as divided as ever, I can see how it is difficult to bite your tongue and not respond. Trust me, I'm with you. But we must set a better example for our kids! Engage in dialogue respectfully.

Social studies every day. Physical Education every day. Read every day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Good enough" is not the goal

"Good enough" is not the bar we should be shooting for.
"How was the lesson?" - It was good enough. WRONG
"How was the lesson? - It could be better. I'm going to change this and this, etc." CORRECT!

The term "good enough" is fine for home DIY projects or things like that. But for education, teachers and learning, 'good enough' doesn't cut it. To be happy with good enough, don't settle for good enough. If something is 'good enough' then that means it could be better. So make it better! Sometimes we don't know how something is going to go until we try it. Which is totally okay! But after you try a lesson and it was simply 'good enough' reflect on why it was only 'good enough' and make a tweak for next time. 'Good enough'  lessons aren't disasters. They are not a total, epic failure, but they still fall short from making a real impact and difference in student learning.
Recently, I gave my students a task to explain something so a 5th grader could understand. The topic was to explain the three branches of government. They posted their video to Flipgrid. I gave them all 0/100. Sure, their videos explained the concept. They talked about the three branches, what they did, checks and balances, etc. The videos were, well....good enough. But that's not our goal! We don't want to settle for good enough so I made this point with something near and dear to their hearts: points and grades! Boy, once those 0/100 were posted, they were beating down my door, demanding an explanation. Which I provided: yes, you got a 0/100. It was good enough, but we are not striving for good enough. We are striving for greatness. You need to do better. More effort. More creativity. So, they were allowed to redo the videos and oh my! They were so much better. A clear difference between their first attempt and their second attempt. Way more creative, much more enthusiasm. They used props, music, actions. They were no longer good enough, they were great! That's what we are shooting for. Being great. Sometimes, it just takes a bit more effort.

Sit down and reflect on how you have been operating as a teacher lately. Have you settled for good enough? Change your mindset and perspective. Strive for greatness. Be willing to put in their effort needed to be great. It's in you. Just let it out!