Summer Reading

The Prompt: What have you learned, or participated in, this summer that has made you a better educator and that you may (or will) apply this coming school year as you work with students and staff?

As a constant reader, this summer, as usual, I stepped away from the normal educational books. Unfortunately, I read everything like it is related to school. So Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are was no exception. I could rave on and on about the book and how we are on the verge of a social science breakthrough because of big data. Instead, I will want to point out a couple of things that will affect at our schools.

  1. Surveys are completely fallible. So many times we ask teachers, students, and parents to take surveys and treat the results as gospel truth. The best results are anonymous surveys taken in a room alone with conditions to encourage honesty. He also points out that very often teens like to mess with surveys citing an adoption study with inaccurate reporting of adoption. He suggests that we are truthful in our Google searches, but elsewhere we may not be. The big takeaway is to think about how and who you are giving surveys to.
  2.  Social Media and other companies are doing massive studies to make their product even more addictive. It fascinated me that we are constantly being tested to see which change encourages us to click, play long or stay on the app. With this in mind, we need to be cognizant of how we spend our time. We also need to make our student aware the companies doing.
  3. Do not compare our insides (Google Searches) with others outsides (social media presence).  He laid out a clear case how we are honest when we are searching, but we are framing and creating a reality on social media. This is one to that we need to discuss openly and honestly with our students. I’ve become a pro at framing pictures so you don’t see the chaos behind my children smiling faces. Teachers are not necessarily tweeting about the mundane parts of the job instead we hear about amazing successes.  

So dear readers, do not panic if you did not follow the typical summer learning plan. Learning can come from anywhere.

 

 

 

The Problem with TV High School

I really am not much of TV watcher, but I do love Gilmore Girls. I own them all and tend to rewatch them often. I was recently watching season three, and a particular series of scenes really agitated me. During the second half of the season, Jess starts skipping school and working instead. When he finally went to buy his prom tickets, he was sent to principal’s office. There he found out that he was not graduating and had to repeat the year again. The principal in a disdainful tone said, “You mean the nine warning slips we gave you weren’t enough? All the meetings that I tried to set up between you and your guidance counselor, between you and me that you blew off, that wasn’t warning enough?”

Obviously, this is TV, and the Jess needed to leave, but I am bugged how the school was portrayed. This is how a school should work then or now.  So below is how I view how the school would function as a Professional Learning Community.

Stars Hollow High

  • Jess’s teachers use the PLC process and notice through formative assessments that he has mastered the standards quickly. As teachers plan their lessons, they start to discuss how to extend the lesson to challenge Jess and other students.
  • During the intervention period, Jess has a wide variety of extension opportunities as well as time to read his current book.
  • The counselor knows that he was in three different schools last year and informs his teachers about the impact on academics this could cause.
  • Jess is flagged by the data system to be discussed at the next Student Intervention Team meeting because he has missed five days unexcused. The team puts in place an intervention and monitors it. He will continue to be on the agenda if the intervention is not enough.
  • The school does not allow Jess to make decisions like skipping meeting that would impact his adulthood. They stop at nothing to make sure that Jess succeeds.
  • If Jess decides to leave town to chase down his father, the school makes sure that there is a plan for credit recovery.

As I lay out how a school would function, I wonder how many Jess’s are in our schools now. Does their school believe that ALL kids can learn and their actions prove it or does their school function like the TV show?  Every student deserves the later because the consequences are dire for the student otherwise.

 

Fear

My daughter over a year ago developed a fear of all slides and playground equipment. It was overnight when she went from climbing and doing feats of daring to having nothing to do with the playgrounds. I am sure that this was a logical developmental milestone, but it through me for a loop because she was daring and seemed not to be afraid of anything.

I know both fear and fearlessness is what has allowed us as a species to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, fear has been the driving theme lately in our lives. I could discuss the whole politics of fear, but I am going to avoid that topic. Fear is what paralyzes us from making a change that our students so desperately need. Fear is what allows us to argue for the status quo.

I’ve come to a conclusion how to combat fear. It is knowledge, skills, and sense of competency. I saw this transformation right before my eyes. My daughter over time came to realize that had the skills and ability to climb the rock wall and slide down the biggest slide. She realized that taking the risk of getting hurt was minor compared to the fun of slide and monkey bars.

So, my dear readers, I challenge you to take that risk. Get the knowledge and skills. I promise you that it is worth it.

Fear is what paralyzes us from making a change that our students so desperately need.

It’s All About the Soil

Dear Readers, I don’t think have shared that I am an avid gardener. My skills came from years of trial and error. I have come to the conclusion it is not about the plants that determine if I am successful, but where I plant them.

Living in Houston right behind a bayou, I had a horrible mix of clay and sand in most of my back yard. The first year, I just planted the plants in the ground and expected the raspberries to thrive. Of course, they did not. The following year, I got out the compost and some good soil from the local Big Box. The raspberries that I planted grew and survived the year. Over the course the few years, I continued to add organic material to the bed, and the raspberries produced a decent amount. By the time, I moved that area of soil looked so completely different that the soil around it. It was a beautiful black and had a sweet smell as opposed to the dirt around was pale, clumpy and stinky.

I tell you this because how often do we look around and put a great initiative into a school, and it fails. It probably happens more than we want to admit. This quote often appears in the Twitterverse, “Culture eats initiatives for lunch.”

In Rick Dufour’s  In Praise of  American Educators,  he discusses how the first real step of creating a Professional Learning Community is not the technical setup but instead creating the mission, vision, values, and goals. He also discusses that when these drive how decisions, policies, and procedures are made, it will fundamentally change how the school works. If we only focus on the technical aspects, we will fail because we are not changing our thinking.

So my Dear Readers, please check the soil around your plant before you plant. Really, it is all about the soil that determines success.

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Take the long view

At the end of work today, I headed to the gym (my now happy place). As I was walking in, I caught a glance of my legs, and I was amazed. I will tell that so often I don’t notice the results of the time at the gym. Honestly, if you ask me, I would talk about the strength and endurance I gained over the past year and a half when I left my couch potato ways. I am too close to the action and wouldn’t even think to talk how my body has changed. Amazingly, it has changed little by little on this fitness journey.

I bring this up not to brag, instead, I want to apply this idea to the classroom. As we are wrapping up the year. It is time to take a hard look at where our students are and where they were at the beginning of the year. So often we look at the small progress students make day to day that we fail to see it all adding up to a bigger change. Our students are profoundly changed because of us. Hopefully, we helped the student take the small steps to growing up to be an amazing adult.

So as you wrap up this year, take a moment to notice the incredible growth that occurred in your classroom. Don’t forget to share this view with your students. They may not even realize what they accomplished this year. We all need to take the long view.

Stop what you're doing and head on out! Enjoy your extra time!

My Front Yard

I need to come clean about my front yard. You would not want to be its neighbor. There are huge patches of bare mud. Mud even covers sections of the sidewalk.The lawn that is left needs to be mowed, and it’s really not grass more like a collection of weeds. I’ve got an excuse.   I only look at briefly when I get the mail. I haven’t invested in the yard because I have plans for how I want it to look.  Now, these plans are few years in the future. There are retaining walls to be built and beds to be made. Why should I throw down seed when I am just going to have to tear it up when I put in the retaining wall? Why should I keep up with it?

My yard is an analogy to many of the lessons we tend to dismiss. We don’t take action on the lawn because it is just going to change anyway.  How often do we reject a small tweak in our lesson because next year I redoing this whole unit anyway? Sometimes (often in my life) perfection gets in the way of improvement. Why try to get better because it won’t be as good what I plan to do later?

I challenge you to go ahead and get out your lawn mower and clean up that lesson or project. Get out the seed and create some growth in the yard you have.

In real life, I did get out and mowed the lawn and removed mud from the sidewalk. Now it looks passable, and I haven’t heard my neighbors complain. In work life, I am not going to let the grandiose ideas of improvement stop me from small effective change.

I am not going to let the grandiose ideas of improvement stop me from small effective change. (1)

 

The Real Power

On this Mother’s Day, I could have written a post about a fantastic post about my own mother is or another topic. Instead, I remember a day a few weeks ago and the real power of motherhood.

The night before as I was driving to pick up my daughter, I heard an interview with Sheryl Sandberg about just showing up and her new book Option B. The next day, I reached out to my friend who had recently lost her dad, and we grabbed lunch together. The conversation was great and lively. It was what I needed.

As we were finishing our cookies, I noticed this mom and her two small kids. She was visibly upset and both her children had no shoes or coats (It was a cold spring day). The older boy was crying. I said to my friend, let’s buy the kids some cookies. My wise friend said we need to do more and talk to her. We went out and gave her the cookies and asked what she needed. She stated that she had to get out of where she was living; her dad was on the phone and heading to get her. My friend offered her children blankets to keep warm.

When we walked back in, the owner of the restaurant came out and invited the family in and sent a waitress over to take their order. Another customer came over and gave her some money and her card to help her figure things out. This crying woman felt so safe that she hung up the phone with her dad and began to relax and interact with her children.

I share this story with you dear reader to remind you:

  • Motherhood is hard when you have a loving, caring partner. This mom represents many mothers in the US. We need to show up support single mothers. I could not get all that I do with my husband in the picture. Sheryl Sandberg wrote it about last Mother’s Day.
  • Be the first person to reach out. Others are watching and looking for others to make the first move. It is time for a mob of kindness.
  • The world can be scary, but it is really filled with kind, wonderful people. 
  • Just show up.

Pick one of my messages above or feel free to share below what you think I am reminding you about with this story.

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