Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's Get It Started!


Wow! What an amazing first session! Many, many thanks to Jean Kilpatrick-Ruebner and Jenny Bredemeier for all their help, planning, and leadership!

Our very large group started out with introductions and a brief description of what we wanted to gain from these meetings:

Our Take-Aways (in no particular order - sorry if I missed yours!)
  • New ideas, 
  • Invigoration, 
  • Relax, 
  • Have fun, 
  • Recharge, 
  • Collegiality, 
  • Learn about the Ron Clark Academy, 
  • Warm fuzzies, 
  • Positivity (Is that a word? Well, it is now!) , 
  • Absorb ideas to become more effective, 
  • Inspiration, 
  • Personal growth, 
  • Reflection, 
  • Reignite passion for teaching, 
  • Gather energy

We went through the basic "administrivia" paperwork that is required for such activities. Next we developed a sign-up for group facilitation & treats. I was VERY IMPRESSED with how quickly the "Facilitators" columns filled up! We'll work out treats and what-not later. THANK YOU ALL for getting in there and helping out! 

Our focus this evening was on the first 2 chapters of Crash Course: Chemistry and Magic. Some of the important lessons we learned from these 2 chapters included:
  • Relationship-building is essential - With both students AND with teachers. 
  • Look for ways to inject your personality into classroom activities, AND look for ways to encourage kids to express their personalities (appropriately) into their work & activities, too!
  • NO FEAR! Try new things, ask questions, explore... 
  • Teach respect for both school and others through daily activities.
  • Teach the expectations, reinforce and reteach. Soon these will become second nature, both for kids and for teachers. 
  • Home visits are a great way to establish a foundation for a positive relationship. 
  • It is harder to build relationships as students get older. Shorter-term classes are also a challenge. For middle school kids, know your sports - it helps.
  • Consistency works! Focus on the positives!
  • Every child wants to be seen. Make sure every child in your classroom is seen and recognized as a person as some point. 
  • Some kids respond to hugs. Some respond to a positive message via Chromebook. Find what kids respond to by trying! NO FEAR!
Our next meeting is Wednesday, February 4, 2015. Molly Kleine, Jenny Bredemeier, and Orinda Benbow will lead our session. Orinda and Christinel Cain will provide snacks. As always, we'll meet in the Board Room at Lincoln Education Center from 4-5PM. Committee Pay and Professional Development Hours are available, and all are welcome!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Welcome to the Dream Big Book Club!

The Dream Big Book Club is beginning Wednesday, January 21 from 4-5:00 at the Board Office.  We will be discussing Kim Bearden's book, Crash Course - The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me.


A schedule of meetings is found at right. For the first session, we'd like you to have read the preface, the introduction, and chapters 1 & 2, Chemistry and Magic.  If you'd like to do the "homework" at the end of each chapter, feel free, but it will NOT be a requirement for the book club members. We want this to be fun and stress free for all of us!

BIG NEWS! Thanks in part to a NEA Learning and Leadership grant, attendance at these hour-long meetings will be paid at committee stipend rate!

Contact Jean Kilpatrick-Ruebner or Matt Jacobson if you'd like to attend! All are welcome - at least until we run out of chairs - but we'd like to know how many to plan for so we bring enough snacks!

We hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Part 4: Reaching Out Beyond the Classroom

79. Teach parents the correct way to tutor their children. 

Clark holds parent-tutoring meetings to help parents understand the assignments that students will be bringing home during the upcoming week/chapter/unit, etc. Is there something similar happening at your school? Would this work for you & the parents you serve? Why or why not? How might you modify this idea to make it work for you and your school?

80. Build strong bonds with parents. 

Clark invites parents to Field Days and asks them to participate in some interesting ways. Could this work in your school? In what other ways might you engage parents to build strong bonds with staff?

81. Ask the hard questions - "What do you want this school to be?" 

What would your "dream school" be like, in terms of culture, community, policies, and performance? What do you think your parents want your school to be? Do these ideas mesh? How could you find out?

82. Join parents, teachers and community members together to create "theme days" for the school. 

How does your school bring parents in as helpers in the classroom or in the school in general? Do you find the presence of parents helpful and supportive, or does it feel like "something else"? How might you use Clark's ideas in your classroom to engage parents more deeply into their children's education?

83. Accept the fact that if kids like you all the time, then you're doing something wrong. 

"Set your expectations high, hold kids accountable, and show them that you won't take less than their best." (p. 268)
How do you feel about this quote? Are you loved by your students? Are you also respected by your students? How do you know this?

84. Recognize that the heart of the school is the teacher. Hire the best and never settle.

 "...the best indication of the success of a teacher's lesson is the students' body language and attentiveness." (p. 270)
I think this is good advice. How about you?

85. Always observe a teacher applicant teaching a lesson before offering him or her a job. 

Do you have a lesson you wish you could have videotapes to show to your administrator or a potential employer? Just one, or are there more? So, why haven't you already recorded it? Could you prepare every day's lesson as though you were going to be videotaped? Why, or more importantly, Why not?

86. Teach children the history and symbolism of their home and school.

The research project suggestion on page 277 is a wonderful idea. Talk this over with others at your school, including your building administrator. I'll bet you'll be surprised by what kids find - even if it's an annual project.

87. Remember that children are literal thinkers and, as adults, we really have to spell out what we mean.

Have you ever had that moment when you thought you explained things clearly but found that your message to students was not as clear as you had intended? Tell us about it.

88. Remember that the little things can make all the difference. 

Self-explanatory, isn't it?

89. Provide lessons in life that will become lessons for life.

Kids really are the same everywhere, but something happens that helps some set themselves apart from others. How do you teach life-lessons - ones that may or may not be directly associated with your curriculum - to help your ordinary kids become extraordinary? What could you do differently next year?

90. Uplift the students who have the furthest to go. 

It's fun to work with the kids who "get it." It's fun to find them and help them go even farther. Working with the struggling learner is hard. Often we move beyond the role of content-learning-specialist and into the realm of Mentor and Advocate. How have you seen teachers in your school give that extra effort to help make sure kids felt like they belong, made sure kids' basic needs are met, and built kids up so they could succeed?

91. Allow teachers the freedom to make their rooms reflect their personalities - allow them to use color! 

How does your room reflect "you"? What sort of creative things would you like to try to help students understand "who you are"?

92. Let the students shine. 

How do students display pride and ownership in your classroom community? In your school?

93. Leave the jealousy at the door.

Can you identify the nay-sayers in your building? (Not out loud, of course) How do you handle your interactions with them?

94. Realize that you never truly know all that is going on in the life of a child. 

'Nuff said.

95. Raise our children to be global citizens.

How do you help children understand and connect with the global community?

96. Recognize the big cost of the big dreams.   

Have you found any success in getting donations of time, resources, or money to your classroom? How did you do it? Do you work with anyone who has?

97. Reach out to the community to build a powerful network. 

How do you engage the larger community - beyond just the parents of your students - into your activities & classroom? What could you do to get started? 

98. Once you have donors, work hard to keep them!

See above. How do you show your appreciation for the time and resources donated to your classroom? 

99. Send thank-you letters that are hand-drawn, colorful, and grammatically correct. 

Misspellings may be cute, but do they send the message you want others to receive? Besides Clark's ideas, how else might you show your students' appreciation and creativity?

100. If you need advice, ask for money. If you need money, ask for advice. 

Is asking for help is always better than telling people exactly what you need?

101. Make your goodbyes mean something. 

When students leave your classroom in a few weeks, what will you want them to say about their experiences with you? Have you been able to live up to that every day, all year long? 

Here's a challenge: Start the year off by imagining what students will say in May about their time with you. Write it down. Revisit it often. Plan every day according to what those things say about how you run your classroom. It's hard work, but it will be worth it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Creating the Right Climate and Culture (Part 2)

58. Resolve to find your own Red Button


  • How do you celebrate individual students' achievements?
  • How do you teach the "pull-back" skill to refocus students' attention?

59. Celebrate the beauty of their ancestries.


  • How do kids express their heritage - or more recent cultural identities - in your learning activities?

60. Show them examples of excellence.


  • In what ways do you demonstrate what kids might someday become?
  • How do you connect academic activities to real-world career skills?

61. Set the bar high for parents, too.


  • What expectations can/do you set for parents at the classroom level? At the school level?

62. Use an Amazing Race to bring learning to  life.


  • Could this work in Galesburg? 
  • Could it work in your school/throughout your school grounds? 
  • How? Where?

63. Love your eighth graders.


  • What do you do to reach out to those who are often the most difficult to reach?

64. Don't give children second chances on tests or projects.

Ouch. This one might be hard for some of us. Kids deserve second-chances, don't they? It's in their nature to screw up from time to time, and we have to let them know that's okay, right?

  • So, where and how do you draw the line between "it's okay," and "you know the rule"? When are second chances okay, and when do you hold your ground?

65. Encourage children to cheer for one another.

"Negativity breeds negativity." (p. 227)

  • How do you teach kids to stay positive and genuinely encourage others?

66. Paint the walls with positive memories...


  • How do you encourage student voice and owndership in your classroom? In your school?

67. Never read a speech.


  • Is this a skill your students could master? Why or why not?

68. Make eye contact with your classroom or audience.
69. Move around the room throughout the lesson...
70. Teach the students, not the board
71. Exhibit the same energy you expect from your audience.

72. Smile

Items 68-72 are all things that I might lump into the category, "Walk the Talk." As educators, we must BE the student we want to have in our own classrooms. Don't worry - it does get easier!

  • Which of these is the hardest to pull off, at least during your first years of teaching? Why?

73. Never allow students to begin a statement with "Umm," "Well," or "Me and...".

WHIP AROUND! What's your biggest pet-peeve about student behavior?

  • Why? Is it connected to a college and/or career behavioral expectation or does it just bug you?

74. Fake it to make it.

I think I have a new favorite analogy:
"...trying to handle all of the issues with running a school <or insert your job description> can be like playing Whack-A-Mole - as soon as you hit one issue, another arises." (p. 243)
Once again, this is a skill that gets easier with experience.

75. Use a djembe drum...

Great idea for encouraging both attention and the appropriate expression of pent-up energies. The quote on page 246 is the story of my career:
"Some people will make every excuse in the world to avoid trying something new, even if it could bring them success and happiness." 

  • So if a drum isn't your thing, what might work in your classroom? 

76. Don't put the blame on students unfairly.

"If you let them know your expectations and hold them to it, your life will be much easier and the entire class will learn more." (p. 247) 
The hard part here is holding kids accountable to those expectations with consistency. (See #64) It can be harder than it sounds. Try to remember:
"If you set no boundaries for students, then you'll always be disappointed with the results." (p. 247)

77. Lift up your teachers. No, really, lift them up.


  • Does this sound a little like creating the mythical "Sage on the Stage"? 
  • How do you reconcile this with #69 above? You decide... 

78. Have fun.


  • Aside from things like a Field Day, Carnival, classroom or building-wide behavior incentives, etc., how do you make learning fun? 
  • How do you make lemonade out of that unit on lemons that you dislike so much?  

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?