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.  

Help, Not Hurt

“It is our job as educators to help children.  In all that we do, if we cannot help a child grow, then we should certainly not hurt them in their exploration of growth.”

This school year begins the journey of nurturing another group of students!  When we consider all of the responsibilities of education, one of the greatest of these is our ability to help and protect the students that we encounter.
When I began teaching, I worked with a seasoned educator that would ask students often, “was that to help or to hurt?”  This resonated with me on so many levels because I don’t think we begin the process of internalizing our impact on children as much as we should.  Or, I should say, maybe I don’t!
When we ask children to learn a new concept or challenge their views on a subject, we are asking them to step outside of their comfort zone and trust that our way is “stronger” or “more effective”.  However, many times we don’t realize the amount of trust that a student has to have in order to take our “word for it”.
As educators, we help our children so much when we open our minds to their need to see our investment in their development.  This certainly provides a level of interest that is beyond simply saying, “I believe in you.”  It involves the action of actually believing!

When we teach with passion, we help our students grow and trust in our actions.  When we help them grow and trust the learning process, we become a participant in their overall growth process.  If we can’t do anything but involve students in the process of growth this year, let’s do that!  In all that we do, let’s encourage our children to explore their ability to grow beyond their imagined potential.

Rough Waters Ahead…

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors- African Proverb

As we begin the journey of welcoming another group of students into our hearts, we must be reminded that our task is not an easy one, but rewarding nonetheless.  Many people will say that you should not begin the year thinking about the end, but I disagree.  You must begin the year with an end goal in mind.  You cannot expect to walk into the year without a plan of action and that plan of action has both an execution and end date.  This African Proverb suggests that, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” It echoes my thoughts about the school year perfectly.  Nothing is easy about education or being an educator.  Many times our expectations do not match our efforts.  Reality is a harsh pill to swallow, but it is a manageable one.  Our goal is to strengthen the students that we have.  Throughout this process, one certainty exists:  each school year creates another opportunity for us to enhance our skills as educators.

Summer time, Summer mind!

During the summer months, teachers are reminded of the certainty that school begins in sixty days or less by endless advertisements, emails and premature visits to the school.  In some cases, summer days are filled with teaching summer school, finishing off last minute details from the previous year or simply gearing up for the upcoming year.  Very seldom are teachers left with nothing to do over the break.  For this reason, I often wonder what type of professional development is expected of teachers over the summer. 
In other industries, rarely are employees asked to use their break as a time to work on new concepts or read up on the most up-to-date skills, but this is frequently the charge given to educators. Most colleagues spend their summers finding alternative strategies, buying supplies, or simply lurking on the internet for classroom ideas.  These activities should also be earmarked as professional development. 

In many instances, professional development describes classes, webinars or book talks.  However, the amount of time educators spend gathering, learning, meeting and preparing should count as well.  This summer I reflected, taught summer school, lurked for new ideas and simply read about teaching.  This summer I focused on recommitting myself to the actual practice of teaching so that my development remains in a way that is not stagnant.  This summer has not been like past summers because this summer I realized that teaching changes you more that you change it and thus summer time is an opportunity to develop my summer mind.  This summer take the opportunity to develop professionally by changing up your summer professional development.    

Teaching Without Boundaries…

We are headed into the fourth quarter of the year.  Once we return from Spring Break, it’s “game time”.  The students, prepared or not, will take the state and district assessments and begin the journey of discovery with their teachers.  This journey begins as the last test booklet or laptop is returned. 

As a public school teacher, I’ve come to realize that the most fun and educational part of the classroom journey is the last quarter of the year.  The students and teachers are relaxed.  Most pacing guides have run out, the curriculum is in review and the time to experiment and expose students is much greater.  This is the time of the year that you have the opportunity to teach students, I mean really teach students. 

Teaching occurs all during the instructional year, but during this time, innovation without boundaries occurs.  The students have the benefit of the curriculum under their belt and the teachers have satisfied the content expected for the grade level.  In layman’s terms, this portion of the year is termed “getting ready for _____ grade.”  I realized as a veteran teacher that this is when I recognize the Aha moments and the students begin to experience the levels of confidence that they need. 

I encourage you to take a day during this quarter and teach without boundaries.  You will be surprised how incredible the day will feel for both you and your students.