Tag Archives: Passion

Thinking Possibilities.

CUE18

Thinking Possibilities.

I have to think possibilities. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done.

This past October, at our regional CUE Techtober ’17, I won the raffle for free registration to the CUE conference in Palm Springs. Needless to say, I jumped up and down and shared my blessing with everyone on all of my social media sites. I was thinking possibilities.

Thursday, 4:30 a.m., I was already awake; I wanted to be on the road by 5 a.m. for the 3 hour drive to the Palm Springs Convention Center. I love driving, so I didn’t find the distance daunting; as long as the French Roast in my tumbler stays hot and my little Kia Soul keeps moving and the iPod is charged, I’m good. As I drove through the darkness, I wondered if I’d find anyone I know, wondered which sessions I should attend, and wondered if I’d make any new connections — thinking possibilities. The rain pounded as I entered San Bernardino, and as the sun rose directly in front of me, I glimpsed an incredibly vivid rainbow in my side mirror — couldn’t help but think possibilities.

I arrived by 8 a.m., just as I’d hoped, picked up my badge, grabbed a venue map, and headed toward the first session (yes, I did miss the keynote, regrettably, but hey, I did well to get up at 4:30 — to make the keynote, well, I couldn’t commit to getting up that early). Thursday’s sessions began with “Project-Based-Learning” and ended with “Future Ready Research.” Full day. Exhausted … but thinking possibilities.

Each session I attended throughout the conference turned out to be energizing. Honestly, I didn’t hit a “bad one” in the bunch. I consume conference offerings like I’m at an all-you-can-eat buffet; I took no breaks! And I checked out all of the resources that presenters so willingly shared on the CUE site! Today, I used Actively Learn and Formative as I planned the week’s 7th and 8th grade English classes, respectively. I’m eager to try out Flipgrid as I look for ways to increase the “volume” of my students’ voices. I hope to integrate some new research ideas and design thinking tools, as I collaborate with my friend and 7th grade English teacher, Janelle (I couldn’t help but text her a couple of discoveries from my sessions as I sat in my hotel room, Thursday night). I’m thinking possibilities.

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Highlights also included checking out the exhibitors and meeting one of the hip-hop artists from Flocabulary. Yes, I love hip-hop — I probably enjoy Flocabulary videos as much as or even more than my middles. I sing and dance as the class watches, so when I met Chris Payne (he’s the driver in the animated car in the video on text structures, by the way), I had to get a photo with him to show my students on Monday! Maybe if the teaching-thing doesn’t work out, my husband will agree to move to New York so that I can hip-hop with Flocabulary’s team.

Which leads to why I’m thinking possibilities.

I’m moving out of my current teaching position at the end of this year for a variety of reasons. I do so with much gratefulness for my colleagues, the administrators who hired me, and the kids with whom I shared my days.

It may seem strange, then, that without a teaching position for the next year yet, I spent 3 days at the CUE Conference. When a month ago, I realized that I would not have a teaching position lined up, I wondered if I should still attend the conference. I’m so glad that I didn’t let my unknown future deter me from participating in this energizing gathering of innovators, collaborators, and genuine lovers of all things kids.

I must say thank you to my Twitter PLN, CUE, and to CUE Director, Jon Corippo, for their personal encouragement this past summer when I dove into Twitter and wanted to try everything I heard about, right away. They think possibilities, and because of them, I’m still

Thinking Possibilities!

 

 

 

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Style or Skill?

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We’ve all seen this saying and know it’s true. I’ve been wondering today how it might be adapted to teachers:

Teachers teach, just not on the same day, or in the same way. 

Teaching is part technique, part artistry, and part personality. Just as students bring their various selves into the classroom and learn differently, so do teachers bring their various selves into a school and teach differently. And that’s okay. 

The problem is how do administrators assess “good teaching” when styles and skills can look so different depending on the individual teacher’s technique, artistry, and personality? 

If, for example, student engagement is measured by raised hands, that’s fine in the classroom full of compliant students taught by a teacher who likes a quiet, controlled environment. What if, however, the class is taught by a teacher who loves the spontaneous responses of kids eager to share? As the kids raise their hands, they also call out their responses, and the teacher caught up in their enthusiasm quips “You all are talking while raising your hands — I love it!” And she truly does love it because even though they’re raising their hands, their eager responses evidence engagement. 

Or what if in that same class, a number of kids don’t raise their hands, nor do they speak. Is this to be considered a lack of engagement? Possibly. Possibly not. What about Ethan who just doesn’t talk in class? He’s an introvert. He’s engaged and his writing will later demonstrate his thoughtful attention during the class. But his hand isn’t raised. 

How can administrators fairly evaluate “good teaching” based on student engagement and teacher response, given the number of variables involved in a dynamic classroom environment? I don’t have an answer.

I do know that I realized today that I love what I do because of my style, because of my artistry when creating learning experiences, and especially because of my unique and personal interaction with these kids I love.

And so I teach, just not in the same way every day.

 

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Relationships First…or “I Still Want to Be Miss Findlater!”

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“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” (Hale, 1870) That is the heart of a teacher! That was the heart of Carol Findlater, my fourth grade teacher and inspiration. Miss Findlater loved and lived passionately and instilled in each student confidence of success. I write about Miss Findlater here, because she connected students to herself in a way that transcended the sharing of content knowledge and physical space for nine months, and she instilled a passion for life, not just learning, that continues to inspire my own learning and teaching years later.

Miss Findlater shared her life with her students; I will never forget the day she burst into the room (she typically burst) and cried out to her beloved 8 year-olds, “You have to hear this!” She proceeded to share Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” and to this day, I love and quote the words: 

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (Lazarus, 1883). 

I believe that Miss Findlater saw her students as “yearning to breathe free” and she committed herself to breathe life into each of us. In fact, I do not recall wanting to become a teacher because I loved children or even had a desire to help students. As I reflected on Miss Findlater’s influence recently, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to be fully alive just as Miss Findlater was passionately alive. She presented “an authentic self to students” (Phelps, 2006). In 1966, most of the adult women I knew were homemakers. Miss Findlater was an adult woman who read and wrote poetry, and sang songs to us like “MacArthurPark” even though we could not comprehend the meanings, and roared with laughter when we played, and cried true tears when we hurt.

Thinking about Miss Findlater, I decided to visit the alumni page of my old neighborhood school, and yes, many students had written of their memories of Miss Findlater. For instance, a boy from my same fourth grade class recalled:

A quickie about Miss Findlater. She was my 4th grade teacher at Peter Burnett. She was one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. She was so nice. When I was the window monitor and put my hand through the window and cut four of my fingers nearly completely off she was so concerned she came to the hospital with me. I remember her very fondly (Jones, 1998).

Another former student wrote:

I was an adult the last time I saw Miss Findlater (can’t remember the year, late 70s maybe).  I visited her at Peter Burnett School. Hadn’t seen her in years. She came out from the teacher’s lounge and recognized me immediately (Wright, 1998).

Those students who were fortunate enough to have Miss Findlater never had to worry that they would “go through school and have no one know what you looked like” (Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, 2005). When Miss Findlater passed away, I attended her funeral, along with the entire neighborhood. Many of us who had traveled a fair distance and arrived only a half hour before the service, had to stand outside as the church was full. We stood, with dignity, and we knew that Miss Findlater had touched each of us with respect, and love, and life.

As I think about Carol Findlater, I admit that I am closely looking at where and whom I teach. I long to be and continue to admire those teachers who are the Carol Findlaters of their schools. All schools, regardless of location, public or private, have students who need life breathed into them – who feel like “huddled masses” in the midst of an environment where everyone else seems to be in control. Those are the students I want to teach. I want to teach those “huddled masses” – those who feel disenfranchised, not quite fitting; instilling a passion for learning because all students deserve the tools to succeed. Of course, desire is the first step.

The next step is taking the risks involved to be that type of teacher. Phelps (2006) notes that Barth wrote “one thought-provoking question for teachers to consider regularly is: “How much are you prepared to risk of what is familiar, comfortable, safe, and perhaps working well…in the name of better education for others?” (Phelps, 2006) That question hits like a slap in the face! Do I risk anything for my students? Do I truly advocate for students? (Phelps, 2006). More recently, Aaron Hogan encourages teachers to risk vulnerability (Hogan, 2017). Vulnerability means I share myself even if I fear “it’s not cool” enough for my kids because when I share myself, they feel safe to share themselves. I open up and say, “Hey, you know, I like this. What do you like?” And then I listen, with vulnerability, knowing that what they share with me might be awkward or disagreeable or actually fun — it’s taking the risk to know each one as he or she is, without expectation of what each one should be.

I have an interesting, evolving role; I hope as I continue in whatever capacity I am in and wherever I am, to strive to breathe life-giving respect and passion into my students daily. “I am only one, but I am someone; I cannot do everything, but I can do something” and I will (Hale, 1994).

References

Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B. (2005). No choice but successEducational Leadership, 62 (6), 8–12.

Hogan, A. (2017).  Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42 (2), 69–71. Used by permission of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education.

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Hidden Hurts

I typically use this place to write about pedagogy and how kids learn. Today, it’s about how kids hurt. A mom just dropped in to “say hi.” I invited her to sit and chat — five minutes later, her eyes filled with tears, she’s sharing about her son’s hurts. I haven’t seen her son in a while — he worked with me during his freshman year, developed his independent learning skills, and moved out of my program. He’s a senior now. And he hurts. And she hurts. And no one here knows. She wanted advice — who to tell, how to move forward, how to believe that he’ll be okay. There’s a past. There’s that genetic history. There’s that shadow of what if he also…. How does a mom’s heart hold all of that hurt? How has his heart held all of that hurt…and for how long? … And of course, it all reminds me that he’s not alone. Others like him walk through the halls, past our room doors, into our classrooms, sitting beside us or across from us…with hidden hurts. And if we’re astute, or if they’re reaching out for help, we notice the red cries when the sleeve gets pushed up or we hear the pleas in the leave-me-alone silence. I am once again reminded, also, that I am not a savior. But I believe in hope and in prayer. I am thankful that this mom sought me out today…not because I have answers but because I care and can offer to help carry the hurts as she seeks out the professional support for her son — and there is healing for hidden hurts over time.

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Steps…

Today I see the small steps — the step to meet with a teacher rather than pretending help is not needed, the step to list three main points from the history reading rather than skipping the reading altogether, the step to read a chapter in the assigned novel rather than trusting Sparknotes. These small steps, so few, may lead to the next step and the next, and I recognize and value them. Each struggling student who takes a step is to be encouraged — and I cannot let any of us get mired in the journey by entrapping our feet in the mud of “but why don’t you…” or “still you need to…”

Today I see the small steps — the step to speak with gentleness, the step to affirm first, the step to value all steps.

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