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?

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?