Moving the Finish Line

In any great race, there is a finish line.  The finish line is the end.  At the beginning of any race, goal are established with the end in mind and then backwards design happens so that you are able to reach the goal.  Education is not any different.  Teachers are given a finish line and they plan accordingly.  Well, what happens when the finish line continues to move? 
This is something that happens often, but there is not a viable reason why in many cases.  An example of moving the finish line occurs when you are told to test on January 7th, and the window has now been moved to December 15th.  This is one example, but not the only way that the established end can be moved.  This is at times, frustrating for both teachers and students alike.
Teachers are expected to be more flexible than rubber bands, but just as resilient.  This flexibility comes at a cost to both the teacher and the student.  You cant allow the goal to be compromised because the finish line moves, you have to keep running.  This applies to the classroom as well.  If the window moves, keep teaching with the end goal in mind.  It will work out.  Teach, test, remediate, be patient and repeat. 
AS a veteran teacher, I constantly remind myself of how difficult I found flexibility in the beginning and how it is still a challenge when it comes to the classroom.  Thats what I remember each time I am asked to do something that requires great flexibility.  However, I remind myself that the rubber band doesnt break it expands. When the finish line moves, it wont break the teacher or the student.  Teach and move on.  It will work itself out.  It always does! 


I received a bit of advice early in my career that warned against, letting one event from your life become your label.  This was such an important statement because we discuss labels so much as educators.  We say that children are talkative, shy, loving, sweet, sullen, interesting, or hard to read.  The list does not stop there, it continues.  These are all labels whether we would like to believe it or not.  Many times students overhear our label and that becomes their stamp or thought of themselves as well.
Its incredibly difficult to shake off someones perception of us, but its not impossible.  If the label is positive, then we work really hard to maintain the label; however, if the label is one that is not encouraging, we are constantly trying to reframe ourselves in the eyes of the other person.   

Our students do this daily and as they enter our hearts, so do their labels. As we get to know our students better, are we able to change our perceptions of them?  

All Things are New

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.- Socrates
One thing that I have learned over my 12 years as an educator is the value of energy.  When we assume that we can take old ideas and create new realities, we are certainly mistaken.  It takes new ideas to create new realities.  We cannot expect to get a new outcome from our students when we rely on their old thoughts.  We are asked to transform their thinking in order to get these results.  In turn, we cannot expect to get a new outcome from our class or work ethic when we rely on our old techniques.  We must transform our thinking as well.
I am consumed most recently with this idea that the old ways and ideas are not transforming students.  In Socrates quote, he suggests that we need to focus all of our energy on building new.  I wholeheartedly agree because many of the foundational approaches that I developed when I began teacher are now changing.  In some cases, I welcome them with open arms, while in other cases, I am skeptical about how these changes will affect students.
However, what excites me most here is the idea of new.  New suggests that something has to be transformed or changed.  Usually the something is my thinking or my actions.   Its hard to look at a project and realize that you will need to start all over, but in many cases, it becomes easier to start from scratch if you will.
I imagine this being similar to asking students to do a problem over.  Their first thought is to immediately erase their original problem and rewrite or rework.  However, we encourage them to get a new sheet of paper and start over.  We consistently ask our students to do this, but how many times do we encounter areas of our lives as educators when we need to discard our original plan and start over?
As I look at the students this year, I have to challenge myself to rethink the way that I approach certain techniques.  Each time I do this, I remind myself that…”my new thoughts will create new words, my new words will create new actions and my new actions will create new habits.

Your Thoughts Matter...

My blog entry for this week is inspired by Dr. Seuss.  We know that many life lessons come from his books, however this lesson comes directly from his thoughts and ideology about listening and learning from people.  Dr. Seuss suggests,
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind dont matter and those who matter dont mind.  I really love this!  I teach my students that when they struggle for their answers and thoughts, this is an important part of the process.  They will often hear me say, fight for it.  I am simply trying to allow them the opportunity to talk though their thoughts in order to arrive at the answer.  I think this think time is so important in class.  Through their struggles to articulate their answer, many amazing ideas are found.  I dont ever want to answer their questions for them, I want to give them the opportunity to finish.  When a student tries to answer a question and then says, never mind, I am always so discouraged for them.  Their frustration in not being able to articulate their thoughts coerces them into silence or defeat. 

Seuss suggests that we should say what is on our mind or better yet, what is in our hearts because if its important to us, it will be deemed important to those that are truly listening to us.  I enjoy this idea immensely because we listen to our students in an effort to help them find their authentic voice.  Through listening, we are encouraging them to express themselves in a way that creates a sense of vulnerability that many adults require, but never give.  Lets encourage our students to share their authentic voices so that we can help them cultivate their ideas and encourage a sense of authenticity that can never be diminished.   

Do You Know When to “Take a Knee”?

Earlier this weekend I was introduced to a new term, Take a knee.  Apparently, in football, this term means knowing when to stop a play.  I really like this expression and see how applicable it is to the teaching profession.  When you realize that a situation is beyond your control or that the cause is greater than your ideas or wants, you need to take a knee.  This doesnt mean that you stop caring about what happens after you walk away, but it simply means that you recognize what is necessary for the greater good

In teaching, I have come to realize that every situation is not one that I need to be involved in.  For this reason, there are probably more times that I should take a knee than not.  Over the next few weeks, I encourage you to analyze situations for necessity and importance.  If neither exists, Its time to take a knee.  I am certainly working on taking this advice and preserving the moments during the day when my effect on any given situation outweighs my affect on that same situation.  

Fruit is Always Sweeter….

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweetAristotle

After one month of being back at work, teachers begin to remember challenges from years past and these challenges are sometimes more pervasive than the successes that will occur over the next eight months.  However, I am reminded of this quote and it keeps me grounded.  When Aristotle suggests that the roots of education are bitter in my mind, he is arguing that when we look at education as a tree that bears incredible fruit, there are various other components of the tree that we forget, elements that we must forget in order to enjoy the fruit that the tree bears.  For instance, the roots that steady the tree are not visible, but they serve a purpose and are necessary for the growth process to continue.  In the eleven years that I have been in education, I can say that there has never been a year that the roots havent battled with the fruit, but the fruit is always sweeter.  It is important for me, as well as those that are beginning to get discouraged to remember that although roots anchor trees, they are not seen.  There are some battle scars that must be covered and not shown.  When the days get difficult, as they are during our initial stages of setting up classes and learning who our students are and what weaknesses exist, we must press forward.  Roots may anchor a tree, and establish a foundation, but the fruit establishes the legacy.  Difficult days cant always set the cadence.   As educators, we must work hard to make our fruit sweeter than the strongest roots.

Feelings Don’t Lie!

Kids dont learn from people they dont like!- Rita Pierson

The teacher-student relationship is an incredibly delicate balance that vacillates during the year.  Many factors can change the way a teacher feels about her students and the way a student feels about his/her teacher.  Although all of this is true, there are many ways to avoid the inevitable disconnect.  Show your students that they matter. 
The quote above really resonates with me because I dont have a poker face.  Many times my emotions show up all over my face, whether I want them there or not.  It can, at times, be my fatal flaw.  However, one thing that Ive learned, with children, is that they are more perceptive than most adults.
In a high school English course, I was addressing an issue with the students and I sincerely said, Im not upset, but!   One of the students interjected right in the middle of my statement. 
He said, You always say that, but you really are upset by what we are doing.  He was right.  It was at that point that I stopped telling my students one thing, but thinking something else.  It is okay for them to know that you are disappointed, pleased or even satisfied with their actions.  Whats not okay is the alternative.  Students dont like what they cant trust.  So in turn, if my students dont trust me, then they cant really like me.  They dont know what Im thinking or if I am going to tell them the truth when it counts. The term for this is shady.   
I want my kids to learn from me, so I am honest with them about how I feel.  It may not make them happy, but it will help them trust me and that will allow them to open up and learn.  I am not implying that you should give them feedback in the most unfiltered ways, but I am suggesting that you give them true feedback. 
Ill leave you with this.  A few years ago, one of my high school juniors came to me after a summer of having me for English and she said, I really like the fact that you were honest with me when you didnt like my behavior, but that didnt change the way that you graded my work. You were always fair.

Be honest with your kids, but dont let that change your teacher-student dynamic.  Ive learned, and am still learning, that delivery is everything.  

Do You Bloom Where You Are Planted?

This particular post is one that I have struggled with for some time.  I wonder if its counterproductive to ask questions that I may already know the answer to, but in this case, it may be okay.  I was listening to my hair dresser talk about relationships and how it is necessary to water them in order to see growth.  Now, I have heard this before, but it was something about the way that he presented it that made me think about the relationship that I have with my career. 
Blooming where you are planted is an important part of any educational journey because your plan may not always be the direction that your career will take.  For instance, when I began my educational career with my current district, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.  It seemed like the place that I would call home.  Eventually, as I began to grow in the position, I was asked to consider moving to third grade.  I wasnt initially excited about it because I wanted to chart my own path.  However, after transferring to another school, I was told that there were not any kindergarten positions left, and I was offered a 1st grade position.  I thought, why not”!  This move changed my views on many things.  I realized that as a kindergarten teacher, I needed to teach 100 times harder in order to have the students sufficiently prepared for first grade.  I taught first grade for 4 years, realizing that it is by far the most difficult grade to teach, but the most rewarding.  Blooming where you are planted can be challenging, but most effective when you make an effort to do it!
A few years later, I was called into the office and told that I was being moved to second grade.  We were changing our curriculum and our reading series, so I was a bit excited about my new move.  I didnt think anything could top kindergarten and first grade, but I was certainly wrong.  Second grade became my newest love. 
Each move that I had within grades was one that I didnt initiate, but enjoyed nonetheless.  I am left to wonder if I had moved to third grade 9 years ago, how different my perspective would be.  I look at this time and these experiences and really ask myself if its just easier to bloom where you are planted and enjoy the process. I am reminding myself that in education there is usually a silver lining and if I look for it, I will certainly find it. 

Do the Students that stand out stand a chance?

This is the first week for most teachers, but in many areas school has been in session for some time.  We have now been introduced to new coworkers, parents and most importantly, new students.  Each year, when I see the students that I will be working with, I look forward to understanding their needs.   
In most cases, many of the students are vocal about what they want and need in a teacher, but there are few students who stand out more than others.  They ask really telling questions or require extra attention when doing small tasks.  These are the students that may have parents that hang around a little longer than expected.  They may take a bit longer to sit or prepare for the lesson.  They are also the students that are apprehensive about coming through the door each morning. These are the students that become your stories or pull at your heart strings.  Because these students stand out, do they stand a chance?  Do we place our students in boxes in the same way that we place adults in specific categories?  If this is the case, many times, as adults, we are left struggling to prove that we are different than what was previously thought. 

In life, it is easy to meet people, or in our case, students and place them in categories based on initial interactions.  These interactions do not write the story for the remainder of the year.  We cant box our students in the way we box in coworkers, friends or family.  We have to allow them the opportunity to evolve.  Many times the students that stand out and cause concerns may end up being the students that exceed your expectations.  Day one does not determine what will happen for the remainder of the year.  I encourage you to allow all of your students the opportunity to grow, even the ones that stand out on the first day!  They just might surprise you.   

It Does Glitter!

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone.  Be the one that finds the gold.  Proverbs 11:27

Many times, when we begin a new project, before we celebrate the successes, we often spend time condemning ourselves for the failures that happened along the way.  Very seldom we take the opportunity to look at the areas of our lives that are right on track.  We spend so much time dwelling on those aspects of our journey that we’d like to redo, rework, rewrite, or remove.  Although this is something that we struggle with as adults, our students are the exact opposite. 

Kids tend to have instinctive confidence in their abilities to do anything.  That confidence is intuitive, and somewhere along the way that confidence turns into doubt.  I’m unsure if that doubt comes from repeated failure or not enough positive reinforcement for the need to continue trying, but it does exist.  Not only does it exist, but it emerges at a young age.  I am often saddened to see the lack of confidence in our students because it means they don’t realize that failures teach you more about life than any success does.  When students fail at a task and have a teacher in their corner, repeatedly encouraging them to continue trying until they succeed, their confidence is encouraged.  We reinforce the idea that failure is a part of success. It is so easy to find the bad in situations, but if you look for it, you can also uncover glimmers of hope.  As teachers, our job is to find the gold; it exists!

Do You React or Respond in Situations?

Recently, while listening to a DJ, he asked one of his viewers if they react to situations or respond. Now for some time, I didnt realize that there was a difference. I listened to hear a difference in the two but didnt ever hear a distinction made between a reaction and a response.  Well, I thought about this in reference to my students and life in general.  When I look at the two, is there a difference and if so, which am I more likely to do?  Also, which is best for my students? 
At first thought, both words seem synonymous.  If you place them side by side, theres not much of a difference.  However, at second glance, the two words are very different. 
A response is a well thought out answer or comment to something said or done.  On the other hand, a reaction is an emotional response.  So, in essence they are similar in that both include a response, however one is teamed with emotion while the other is based on reason or logic if you will. 
As I evaluate situations with my students, I wonder if I lead with my emotions and react or if I think about my impact and respond after a lot of thought.  It varies based on what is at stake and what is necessary, but is there ever a time and place for one over the other?  I plan to take some time this year to adjust my reactions and replace them with responses and see if the outcome is different, better or the same?

If you teach them…..

A Harvard Professor of Psychology walked around a room full of students while teaching about stress management.
To begin his lecture he grabbed a glass of water and raised it above his head as if he was going to propose a toast, and instantly everyone expected theyd be asked if the glass was half empty or half full as part of the lesson.  Instead though, with a smile on his face, the professor asked "How heavy is this glass of water?
 Students called out answers "6 ounces" and "10 ounces" but he shrugged them off.
He replied, The actual weight doesnt matter. What really matters is how long I've been holding it.  If I hold it for just a minute it feels very light.  If I hold it for an hour, Ill have an ache in my arm.  If I hold it for a whole day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.  Any longer than that and I will be very tempted to give up and drop it.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesnt change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.
The students were all blown away by the simplicity yet truth of this lesson.
However, the professor continued, The stresses and worries in life are like this glass of water.  Carry them for only a short while and they're manageable.  Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.
And if we think about them all day long, or longer, we can begin to feel paralyzed and hopeless – incapable of concentrating or focusing on anything else.

The upcoming year is fast approaching and like the above anecdote, teachers feel paralyzed by the many responsibilities that they will face with their newest students.  Worry never fixes a situation, action does.  Stress is the result of unwarranted worry!  As we walk into this new school year, we must ensure that we dont hold the glass too long.  We have to plan for situations and have a backup plan, considering the best interest of our students. Once that plan is effectively in place, we have to teach and lead.  Our goal is to make sure that we wake up each day with the intent to teach, the intent to lead by example and the assurances that if we do, our students will grow.