Monday, March 10, 2014

Creating the Right Climate and Culture (Part I)

37. Welcome students and families to your school in style...
The Ron Clark Academy uses Golden Tickets and Red Carpets to welcome students and families to their school. What happens in your school or classroom to make students, parents, and extended families welcome?

38. Believe that every child can learn, regardless...
I absolutely love this quote on page 168: "We have to look at our children and see what we want them to become." IMHO, it sums up everything that is right - and wrong - with education. Children of any age are capable of great things. Focusing on the things that are not so great, or things that are just plain bad, will often promote these very characteristics in our students. It is the classic self-fulfilling prophecy that we all learned about in our very first EdPsych class. The day we forget it is the day we no longer belong in front of a classroom.

39. Open Your Doors to Parents. See #37

40. Dress the Part; Attire Matters
Lots of research supports this, yet research also exists that says some students automatically get defensive when they see an adult in corporate dress. Seems they identify that person as "The Man" (or "Woman") and automatically distrust that person. How do you feel about this one? 

41. Make the most of every moment
Be honest. How much "down time" do you allow in your classroom? Is that appropriate in the era of ever-higher standards? What can you do to allow "brain breaks" while continuing to increase the amount of time-on-task in your classroom?

42. Can the intercom Testify!

43. Please don't interrupt a teacher's lesson to deliver a note, ask a question, or disturb the class
While not quite as annoying as #42, this can also be a problem. Any interruption can set a class off. How do you handle such interruptions?

44. Avoid sitting down while students are in the room Okay, I'm not the kind of amazing teacher that Mr. Clark expects, but I will say that this was one that practiced whenever I could. I did, however, buy a barstool to perch on during read-alouds and when students entered/exited the classroom, because I did need a break from time-to-time. (In my schools, we were always expected to stand in the hallways during passing times to help monitor the chaos - the barstool put my eyes just above the heads of most of the kids who were milling about.) Otherwise, I was always pacing the trenches, down on one knee next to a student's desk, or sitting on the floor with groups of kids working on a project. Thank goodness I never had a chair with wheels!

45. Do not use cell phones or computers while students are in the room, unless the device is part of the lesson being taught The cell phone rule in our schools is, generally, "Off and Away." Does that go for teachers as well? Even during passing times? What about "wearable devices," or the telltale rectangle in the pocket, etc.? Confession: Cell phones were just starting to show up in classrooms during my last years teaching. Often kids would forget to surn their phones off and eventually one would go off during class, usually with a ring tone of the student's favorite song, etc. Whenever that would happen, I would stop everything and dance VERY badly (not that I can dance well, mind you) in front of the class. Kids would BEG me to stop, because apparently my dancing was a painful and punishing sight! I told them I would stop dancing when phones stopped ringing in my classroom. Usually by the start of second quarter my dancing "skills" were no longer needed.

46. Make homework for home, not for school
While I agree with everything Mr. Clark says in this passage, I will admit that I struggled with this at times during my classroom years. I'm wondering how you check for understanding in your class? How do you know kids understand the concepts before sending them off to work independently on the assignment? In this age of "Flipped Classrooms," will this start turning around? If students gather knowledge at home from videos, websites, and actual READING, and we spend more class time pursuing answers to real-world problems, how will we check understanding then? By extension, how or will that affect how grades are assigned?

47. Make sure you do your homework, too!
I may not have the right to comment on this lately, but I can say that when I was in the classroom I would over-prepare and almost script out my lessons. How do you ensure that you are completely prepared for your daily lessons?

48. Begin each class on fire!
How do you get your classes started with energy and enthusiasm?

49. Increase teacher quality instead of reducing class size
What's the best thing you've learned from a mentor or colleague so far?

50. Set an electric tone on Day One
What do you do to get kids excited about school at the beginning of the year/semester/term?

51.Don't constantly stress about test scores...
Some may say this is easier said than done. In these days of new standards, new assessments, new evaluation procedures, etc., this is a tough one for many. How do you feel about approaching testing as an opportunity to show what a student has learned? How do you think your students would respond to this? (Careful - see #38 again...!) :)

52. Open up your home to your students
Curious about the group's response to this idea... hmm...

53. Stay connected; have parents on speed dial We need to talk about this one, folks...

54. Give children a chance to respond and don't give up so quickly
Wait-time... this is tough for many teachers to deal with early in their careers. How do you handle wait-time in your class? Also, how do you make sure you are giving each child the opportunity to participate?

55. Realize that kids need to move...
How do you get kids up and moving in your classroom?

56. Use chants to create a supportive, encouraging, exciting environment
How can you use these ideas in your classroom?

57. Get on the desk!
Okay, I'm not recommending this. Insurance companies and lawyers will see the nightmare in this idea. (See page 212) But perhaps a different way to lok at this is, how do you get your students' attention and convey your enthusiasm? How do you keep them from zoning out?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Role of the Parent in the Success of the Child

Opening Thoughts

Before reading this section, I was reminded of a mantra that, in my opinion, should guide all educators: " The only thing we can truly control is ourselves, the choices we make, and how we decide to react to events and circumstances in our lives and professions." We can't change the home environments in which our students live. We can't control completely the entering knowledge, skills, or experiences that kids bring with them to our classrooms. After kids leave our classrooms, we can't guarantee that every parent will offer an inviting, encouraging, and supportive environment in which parents will extend the learning experiences we've worked so hard to begin at school. So, when reading the title of this section, my knee-jerk reaction was, "How can we, as education professionals, influence and rally parents to join us in promoting Mr. Clark's ideas?"

25. Be prepared for the long haul if you want your child to succeed. (p. 117-121)

These are great ideas! I really like the list on page 119.

  • Would it be possible/appropriate to send a note like this home to parents at the beginning of a school year/semester, tailored specifically to the student's developmental level and/or subject matter? 
  • Could/Should reminders be communicated periodically?
  • What would be the most effective & practical method of communicating these ideas? Paper? Electronic? Face-to-face? Other ideas? 

26. Don't be a helicopter parent. You can't come to their rescue forever.

Holy Preaching-to-the-Choir, Batman... I'm sure we all have "war stories" about this topic. If you're still early in your career, perhaps you aren't familiar with this yet. You will be, young Jedi... you will be...
Parents need to learn that there is a difference between supporting and interfering. (p. 124) 
How can we teach this or share/promote this idea among parents?

27.  Realize the power of gratitude and appreciation 

You'll read a great story on page 128-129, and there are great tips for talking to parents about this on pages 130-131. As above, how might these ideas be shared and promoted among parents at your school?

28. Remind children of their blessings and stress the value of a strong work ethic

One of the things I despise about teaching is the inherent fact that educators must all-too-often focus on the negative aspects of our profession. We are required to rank students above and/or below one another. We must judge whether students are meeting or not meeting various standards. We must spend necessary time finding students' areas of weakness to correct or strengthen them.

How much time do you spend supporting and promoting the positive behaviors? What do you do to build a strong and positive work ethic among the students under your care?

29. Nip it in the bud; small issues can grow into big problems

How do you balance being firm and consistent with the understanding that kids come from homes that may allow free-reign? How can we help parents understand that schools may have different expectations for the behaviors in our learning environments, and that we need their support at home to help every student learn?

30. Don't get your kid a video game system unless you are ready to be a prison guard

Okay, expected to have a bit of an issue with this one at first glance, but when I really read it closely I feel I agree with many of the things Mr. Clark puts forward. However, I still have trouble with the "prison guard" analogy. For many of us, television was the demon that would turn our minds to mush. Before that, the telephone was the social outlet that would draw kids away from their studies. Clark's ideas are tried-and-true, yet parents still let kids spend countless hours playing games, often unsupervised.

Kids consume media and entertain themselves in vastly different ways than most of their teachers. Different isn't necessarily bad. It's simply different, and as professionals we need to be aware of these differences and adapt our instruction to them, at least to an appropriate degree.

The trick, some believe, may lie in the old adage, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." There's a whole movement toward the "gamification" of education. Please understand, this is not about turning your classroom into a video game. It's about adapting some of the motivational gimmicks used in video games, like levels and badges, etc., to help kids set short- and long-term learning goals.

What do you think of this idea? Could it work in your classroom? Do you think this could carry over to kids' home environments? 

31. Show them how to study; don't expect it to come naturally

Believe it or not, this really does seem like rocket-science to many teachers, especially as we advance higher through the grade levels and into higher-ed. Kids come to us from many different backgrounds, with many different experiences & expectations, and not all of them come to us prepared to be successful - at least not in the ways we expect.

How do you teach kids your expectations of how school is "done" in your classroom or school? How do you ask parents to support this at home?

32. Realize that even very good children will lie

Yup. I'm wondering: Could every parent everywhere please read this chapter? Please?

33. Be patient

How do you promote patience & positive work habits in your classroom? Is it your job to help students build character, too?  How can we get parents to support these ideas at home? 

34. See the potential in every child

Do student have a voice in your classroom? Can they explore areas of personal interest? Are your projects structured or open-ended? How do you differentiate to help students develop their own interests, and how do you communicate this to their parents/guardians?

35. Punctuate the power of words!

Almost every classroom and subject area uses some sore of vocabulary study. Do you expect students to use that vocabulary in everyday discussions in your class? Have you started to incorporate the vocabulary of the Common Core State Standards in your classroom?  Are parents aware of this?

36. Don't be a Penny Parent

Over the years I've lost count of the number of times I've heard parents in P/T conferences say, "I was never very good in <subject area> either." This gives the child permission to do poorly, too. What if that behavior extends to your decisions, those of your principal, etc.?

How do you handle it when parents enable students or belittle other teachers, the school or the district?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Part I

Welcome all! As we’re getting started, I’d like to let everyone know that I have invited the teachers who will be visiting The Ron Clark Academy in June to join us for this book study. I look forward to their input and wisdom as we discover new ideas to add to our classrooms and professional bags-of-tricks.

A little about how I blog…

Okay, so I’m a little OCD when it comes to reading. I read cover-to-cover. I read the Dedications and Forewords and Introductions. I read the Appendices and often look through the glossaries and citations and what-not at the end, too. I also read at the same speed at which I speak, which some folks say is kind of slow. While this has made “doing school” historically difficult for me, especially in Grad School, I think this makes me a better reader in the long run. I stop and re-read things. Sometimes I have “internal conversations” about what I’ve read at the end of a paragraph or chapter. Often I’ll type out these little conversations and process through them in the blog. I’ll use the blog to give voice to the questions that occur to me as I read, and I’ll try to let our group provide answers to those questions.

How YOU can participate

Please feel free to join us at our meetings. (See the schedule at right, please.) Don’t worry if you can’t come to every single meeting. Although, New Teachers, I’ll pay you if you do. It’s all part of my wicked plans: to help you realize your own individual style as a professional educator. Soon we’ll take over the world…!
So feel free to add your comments below, or bring your ideas to our meetings. If you don’t see a box for comments below, just click the “Comments” link at the bottom of any post and one should appear shortly. I look forward to reading the thoughts of my fellow “ramblers!”
Or, if you’d just like to follow along with the conversation (or if you don’t have time to read every page in the entire book) just follow along vicariously. Again, no big whoop.


page xviii: “The next day I walked into that class and instantly fell in love with teaching.”
Not every educator will have the opportunity to start their own school and appear on “Oprah” and so on. However, I think – no, I’m CONFIDENT – that each of us has a story to tell, and each has the potential to be just as amazing as Ron’s.
I would love to hear about the moment when you first realized that teaching was the right thing for you.  For some of us in early February of our first year in the classroom, perhaps you’re still waiting for this moment to occur – and that’s okay. In fact, it may be normal. (However, does anything in education really deserve the term, “normal”?) 

So finally, Part I:

  • Teach children to believe in themselves and don’t destroy the dream.
We’re all supposed to help boost a kid’s self-esteem. Heck, our mission statement is even, “Helping Students Achieve Their Dreams!” Have you ever stepped on a kid’s dream? Was it an accident or was it for their own good? If given the opportunity, would you handle the situation any differently today, or would you stand by your original actions? Why?
  • Not every child deserves a cookie.
This one’s tougher than it sounds, at least for me. I am drawn to the discussion on page 11 about teaching expectations: What is “good” work; What is “average” work; What is “failing” work. The difficulty inherent in this is helping kids think outside of those pre-defined boxes of what is and is not acceptable and encouraging them to be innovative and unique, while still making sure that they have shown their mastery of the skills you’re trying to assess. How do you straddle that fuzzy and constantly-moving line between defining expectations and encouraging individual creativity in your classroom? Following that, what are appropriate ways to reward that and encourage further innovation?
  • Define your expectations and then raise the bar; the more you expect, the better the results will be.
This is all about developmentally-appropriate rigor, defining it in kid-terms, and then challenging them to do that and a little bit more. How do you encourage your students to give 110%? How does that translate into student products? 
  • Uplift other adults who play a role in the lives of our children.
Schools often focus on engaging parents/guardians. That's vital. However, there are lots of other adults who influence the lives of our students on a daily basis. Do you have ideas to help engage these other adults in your classroom activities or school environment? 
  • Listen -  Kind of self-explanatory, don't you think? 
  • Give all that you have to your children even though you will often receive nothing in return.
To me this is harder than it sounds. When/Where do you draw the line? How can you give all and avoid burning out? Have you felt struggles with this one?
  • Get to know your students in nonacademic settings. Ideas?
  • Be selfless with your contributions to the team.
  • Make it happen, Don’t give excuses; find solutions!
It is really easy to get bogged down in the why-nots of life. Some may argue that venting and complaining is healthy and has a place in the normal process of dealing with adversity. What do you do to stay positive as you make good things happen for kids? 
  • Be excellent!
  • Create moments that will have a lasting impact on children’s lives.
  • Set the tone for a love of learning.
  • Treat every child as if he or she were your own.
  • Push yourself to be innovative beyond your imagination.
  • Know the name of every teacher, student, parent, administrator, and board member.
What activities have you enjoyed this year that have helped you feel like part of the team in your building? 
  • Use music to excite, motivate, and inspire.
  • Know your students.
Again, this is harder than it sounds. As a middle school teacher, I had 150 students that I saw for 40 minutes a day, and it took me until midterm first quarter before I even knew the kids' names. For the elementary teacher who has a single group of kids all day every day, is it that difficult? What do you do to get to know the kids in your class on a personal yet professional level? 
  • Don’t let opportunities pass you by, even if the time, funding, and circumstances aren’t completely right.
  • Make learning magical.
  • Teach children that the good you do in the world comes back to you.
  • Teach children to embrace their personalities and present themselves with confidence in all situations.
What do you do to celebrate the individual in your group of students? 
  • Live with no fear.
  • Love what your students love…
Have you ever sat down and watched the TV shows that your kids watch? Play games tat your kids play? What do you do to connects to "kid culture"? 
  • Create lasting traditions. 
What traditions do you have that help kids feel like they are a lasting part of your classroom?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ch. 11: At the Edges of a Dream

This chapter challenges the reader to look at the "racial microaggressions" - unconscious or unintended forms of bias - that may or may not exist within many of our classrooms, and potentially within ourselves.

As I read this chapter - especially pages 88-90 - several questions arise in my mind:
Have you ever challenged yourself to look around the physical environment from the point of view of various students - those with different racial and/or socioeconomic backgrounds from your own - and thought about how they might feel when they walk into your classroom?
Does the make up of your classroom or class roster adequately reflect the diversity within your school in general, or the District as a whole? 
How do you recognize and/or celebrate diversity within your classroom?  Are your students comfortable with that? How do you know?
What other questions occur to you as you read this chapter?

Ch. 10: A Real Alternative

This chapter speaks of the need for education to "look and feel" different from the traditional model for some kids.  As I read this chapter, a few quotes really stood out to me.
Most teenagers... want to feel connected to, and supported by, caring adults. (p. 81)
Lacking formal support, some teachers grow weary of battling school cultures characterized by anonymity. Others never take up the fight. (p. 81)
"Our success has been about relationships from the beginning, and it still is." (p. 81)

I'm looking forward to learning your thoughts on these or other quotes that stood out to you, too.

The discussion (p. 82-83) of the so-called stigma sometimes attached to alternative schools was interesting also. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this as well.