The Journey of a Student…

I was listening to the radio a few weeks ago and the DJ said something at the end of his segment that sat with me.  It was more thought provoking than inspirational, but it was really a lesson, something to ponder.  He suggested that, “the most important tire was the spare.”
I thought about the purpose of a spare and how instrumental it is to the overall security of my journey and then I thought about the students in my small groups and classes.  The students that I worked with on enrichment, or my high students, could very well be considered my spares. But, instead of considering them the most “important” as all of my students are important, I would remix the message a bit.  I would argue that, “the spare tire helps create a smoother journey.”
As a classroom teacher, the students that are on grade level or above grade level aren’t considered “high maintenance” they are the students that “just get it.”  However, in this climate, when test scores are returning and the indicators Beginning, Developing, Proficient and Distinguished learners are used to brand or describe students, it’s imperative that mindsets be revisited.
In a traditional classroom, your lowest learners receive a tremendous amount of attention and support, while you develop your learners that are proficient in hopes that that development and enrichment is enough to garner those learners the title of distinguished.  Growth and movement in students is always celebrated, but when our lowest learners show tremendous amounts of growth, that celebration is different.  It’s a celebration that embraces both the history and the struggle of the student.
In essence, our lowest performer’s growth is celebrated in a way that links teaching and learning.  I’m pondering if I see my highest performer’s growth in the same way?  My highest performing students just get it.  So, when I see their growth, do I take credit for this growth in the same way that I do those students that struggled?
Because I considered them my “spare” or the students that would smoothly take the journey, when they grow, it’s both expected and celebrated.  However, do I celebrate it as a win for both myself and the student?  I’m not sure that I have in the past because of the expectation of excellence from those students.
The quote was more than a message for me; it served as a reminder!

Growth Talk...

Dont Confuse Pace with Place”… Unknown

Summer is fast approaching for most school districts.  Many of the students are walking out of the building as stronger, more knowledgeable students.  As educators, our goal is to make sure that growth occurs, but how and when that growth happens is something that we have very little control over.  Throughout the course of the year, we confuse two words that are similar, but have very different meanings. 
It is tempting to confuse the pace of our teaching with the place where our students should end up.  Our pace is the rate at which we teach, but that measure is subjective at best.  We are presented pacing guides and expectations of mastery, but often times this gets in the way of the growth our students are actually experiencing. 
At this point, educators have to rest on the idea that pace and place are not one in the same.  Our students dont learn at the same pace, but we expect, that in the same time frame, they will ultimately complete their journey, arriving at the same place. 
This goal is an unrealistic one for so many reasons.  We are not building a culture of widgets or educating a generation of robots.  Students have different developmental levels and these must be addressed and understood.
The journey that our students take must be celebrated, based on growth and not the speed at which it happens.  Im not suggesting that we devoid ourselves of pacing guides and timelines, but I am encouraging the celebration of growth over the course of the year.  AS we receive the scores on the standardized tests, every student may not exceed the standard, but their journey of growth is certainly worth mentioning. 
As we reflect on each individual student, we must remember that a students pace may not be as swift.  We are in the business of celebrating growth and that is not determined by pace, but by the place each individual student ultimately ends up.   

Just Teach....?

Last week I had the opportunity to people watch while waiting for friends.  I overheard a conversation between two upcoming college graduates.  One asked the other what he was going to do when he graduated.  While this conversation doesn’t’ seem interesting to the average person, to me it was quite entertaining because he ran down all of his prospective opportunities first and then he said something that struck me as, well, odd.
He said, “If I’m not offered anything I like, I’ll just teach until I figure out what my next move will be.”
This was stunning to me as an educator because I was curious of what “just teaching” looked like.
I wanted to ask, but I thought that would be both odd and transparent at the same time.
One can’t just teach! Similar to other professions, there is a standard of excellence and that standard must be met in order to be considered a quality educator.
In essence, anyone can walk into a classroom and begin transferring information, but only a select few can command the attention of students, create connections, manage a classroom, engage parents, constantly interact with teammates, write lesson plans that hold students’ attention for more than five minutes, dry tears, encourage laughter, listen for meaningful conversations critical to learning, all while operating on a few hours of sleep and less than thirty minutes of lunch and down time.
In order to “just teach” you have to have the capacity to devoid yourself of concern for your students and empathy for your parents.
I wanted to jump in and suggest alternatives such as “try teaching” or “attempt to teach “instead of “just teach”.  However, no suggestion seemed quite right for this profession or his cavalier conversation.  Teaching is a calling, a profession that requires a bit more than want; it requires grit and staying power.  I’m sure he’ll learn that if he chooses teaching, but it’s my hope that he listens closely and if teaching doesn’t call, he shouldn’t answer.  You can   “just” when it comes to many things, but in my experience, you can’t “just teach”! 

The Sum Total of Our Experiences...

The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
~ African Proverb

The aforementioned quote speaks to a few of our more difficult students.  Many of the students that come to us during the year are the product of various teachers and even more teaching and learning styles.  These are the students that are apprehensive about learning and leading in the classroom environment. As an educator of over 14 years, I have seen this many times.  Students that don’t trust their teacher won’t trust the process.  If they don’t trust the process, then their ability to learn will be compromised.
Our village of educators must embrace these students in an effort to change the trajectory of their experiences.  As we learn our students, we grow to understand that their life experiences are the sum total of what they have encountered.  This statement simply means that as you learn your students and their stories, you see that their story contributes to the little person in front of you. 
In essence, as the proverb states, “a child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”.  Students seek attention as they yearn to be embraced by their village.  As an educator, we are the village that must embrace them. The amount of attention they seek varies, but if given, it will make for a much smoother transition.  Many times a little “warmth” goes a long way.  

Success and Survival...

Enter to Learn, Depart to ServeMary McLeod Bethune

In honor of the final day of Black History Month, my blog is dedicated to the most selfless educator that I know:  Mary McLeod Bethune.  I was introduced to her early on, and began to understand why she risked her life to educate children, specifically children of color.  She is most notably the woman known for erecting the college built on prayer, vowing to rebuild each time it was torn down. 

Bethune, like many early educators understood that learning was tied to survival.  Once a child learned how to read, the world could not contain them.  For as much as this is true, Bethune also coined the phrase, enter to learn, depart to serve.  As we break apart what Bethune is asking of students, we realize that she is requiring them to serve others with the same tenacity as she served them.  This tenacity is an unyielding one; one that is found in many educators.

Bethune understood the level of service required to educate children.  She took the responsibility of arming her students with the tools necessary for survival very seriously.  I am compelled this evening to ask myself and encourage you to ask yourself what tools you are arming your students with.
When they depart or leave your classroom to serve others in whatever capacity they desire, are they prepared?  On the eve of Read Across America and the heels of Black History Month, Im pondering that very question.  Have I armed my students with the tools they need to be successful this year?  Am I preparing them for success and survival? 

Reflect, Reset, Restart

During winter break, many educators feel a sense of tension.  This tension occurs as they are heading into the second half of the academic year.  It emerges because there is a realization of the various tasks that must be accomplished before the end of the year.  It is possible to feel anxious and distraught that many of the items on the To –Do list from the first semester have not been addressed.  Instead of focusing on what hasn’t been done, during this break, it’s necessary to look at what has been accomplished and press RESET.

Reset allows you to begin again.  Similar to the small button on your phone or iPad that gives your device a surge of energy, educators need a similar button.  The winter break serves as that button.  It’s an opportunity to reflect on the first part of the year, but also look at what changes need to be made as you walk into the second half of the school year.

Reset isn’t a do over, and it shouldn’t be addressed as such.  You aren’t starting over, but you are learning from the mistakes made during the first half of the school year. 

As you are resting over the break, take a few hours and look at where enhancements can be made to your schedule, time management, or lesson planning.  These enhancements are specifically for the benefit of instruction and improvement.  During this necessary break, take a few moments to reflect, reset and restart.  

You choose, you lose! Or Do You?

I was listening to a pod cast recently and the presenter suggested that choosing your battles does not mean ignoring the problem.  I identified with this quote on so many levels.  As a classroom teacher, many people will give you oodles of advice and the most prolific statement that a veteran teacher will say is choose your battles.  I struggle with what this means on so many levels because it is such a weighted statement.  When we, as educators, see students misbehaving or acting out of character, we are compelled to say something.  Many times, we weigh what saying something means to the overall situation. 
You ask yourself, Will the student react poorly? Will he/she get upset?  Is this situation related to something other than the classroom? 
All of these scenarios cloud your judgement, and many times your solution is to leave it alone.  This becomes a staple for many teachers because its easier to just note the issue than to actually address the issue.  However, whats easiest is not always best. 
Once this situation mushrooms into a larger problem, our parents or administrators ask pivotal questions.  One of those questions is How long has this issue been going on?
As you think back on the student, you realize that its been a constant issue for some time.  And you also note that ignoring the behavior the first, second or third time didnt correct the problem, it actually enhanced it. 
The phrase, choosing your battles, means much more to me after becoming a teacher.  I realize that in making a choice to fight the battles that students present, it doesnt mean choose to fight some and ignore the others.  What it truly means is weigh the outcome and then make your decisions accordingly. 

As a veteran teacher, I am learning daily as well.  I realize that more battles are won when they are addressed.  So in essence, address the problem in the most professional way, but when working with children ignoring it doesnt usually make it go away!  

No Longer a Novelty, but the Norm…

Once upon a time, working with students in leveled groups and using differentiated instruction set one teacher apart from another.  This skill was not practiced by all teachers, and those that did engage in this type of instruction became the model classrooms, having teachers from far and wide stop in to see what the practice entailed.  As times have changed and students and 21st Century classrooms have evolved, these practices are considered best practices and they are no longer novelties, but normal classroom procedures.  Ask yourself, is differentiated instruction the norm in my classroom?  I encourage you to step back and observe your best practices.  Are you updating your skills?  

Final Destination… Success!

Failure is just a resting place.  It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.  Henry Ford

What we teach our students about failure is what we believe about failure.  In pursuing a goal, there are many certainties and one of them is that we will fail at least once along the way.  When we begin the process of working with our students on new concepts, do we teach them that failures are necessary for success? Many times, failures help you appreciate the success that is sure to follow.
This lesson is learned the hard way by many students because they dont realize that in order to appreciate any success, they must respect the process.  One essential aspect of that process is the emphasis placed on continuing when failure ensues.
When a student fails at a math problem, it simply means that he or she has missed a step along the way.  When a student is not successful on a test, it doesnt mean that the student will never be successful at anything, it simply means the student needs more opportunities to succeed.
Henry Ford asks that you allow failure to be a stop on the road, a resting place, but not a destination.  Failure is never a destination that we want for our students, but if we dont teach them how to continue moving towards success, they will surely make failure their home.

What we teach our students about failure is just as important as what we teach them about success.  These two experiences are one in the same. As we begin to cultivate learners, let us remember that many of our best stops along the road, our most important resting places were failures.  However, those were only resting places, not our final destinations.