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Monday, January 16, 2017

Sounds Good in Theory...

A friend of mine recently told me that a lot of what I say sounds good "in theory". When I was a classroom teacher, I often read the posts or Tweets of people who were no longer in the classroom and thought that what they were posting was great in this same way, but they had lost the practicality of their idea. Even some of the instructional coaches I felt had lost touch with what the real challenges are in a classroom. Since moving out of the role of classroom teacher, I have tried really hard to remember the million things a teacher has going on at an given moment, how inundated they are with new initiatives whenever I'm suggesting an idea or change, and that they are dealing with real students on a daily basis (versus the pretend class I talk to in my head).

Today, our professional development time was structured like an edCamp. I stopped into a session that was suggested to be a discussion regarding Flipped Lessons, but had morphed into a discussion around how to get students to watch the videos at night in order to be prepared the next day, which morphed into a discussion about student motivation...and it was fascinating. We know, in theory, how to motivate students. For example, the teachers discussed creating relevance between the content and students' lives, but then the Chemistry teacher questioned how he would take some of the more complex chemistry lessons and make them applicable to students. Not that he wasn't willing to learn, after all, that's why he was there. He just didn't know how to implement that practically into his teaching for every concept. We discussed how tired we are of compliance measures...how the teachers want the students to watch the videos because they want to be engaged learners and not just because they are getting a grade, but are constantly demoralized when students just want to know what they "need to do" to earn an A. The general question was: How do we get kids to care about everything they learn ALL the time? How do we, as teachers, make everything we teach relevant to students? Again, we know what sounds good in theory...how do we implement it?

I thought about the fact that I need to do something called a PDP in order to renew my license. Basically, the state collects a bunch of artifacts that we submit to see if we have met a goal that proves we are good teachers. In general, these are seen as something to check off a list. There is no buy-in whatsoever to the process. I related this to a subject that a student has no interest in, and thought to myself, "What would I need in order to be engaged in the PDP process?" I decided I would be engaged if I could create my own goal and work toward something meaningful. Well, guess what? The PDP process allows for that, which means that my attitude toward the PDP is really about my mindset. If that's the case, are students' learning and motivation about their mindset as well? I believe that's something that can be changed, so how do we go about changing that, and not just in theory?

The only reason I was slightly disappointed in the conversation was that we didn't have enough time to finish it. I wish I would have had answers for these teachers and I just didn't. We clearly need to change our practices, but need practical answers on how to implement the ideas. How do we go about creating change to incorporate everything that sounds good in theory?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Kids Get It

I had just gotten home and was sitting eating dinner when my kids started complaining about their homework. My kids hate school. Every single one of them even though they excel, have high GPAs, and are well liked by their peers. When I ask them why they don't like school, their answers range from "it's too easy" to "I don't see how most of it relates to my real life".

Hmmmm. Sounds like a blog post.

Tonight, however, the object of their distain was specifically their assigned homework, which they know that I am anti-compliance-based-homework as it is. Although I have four kids, the two most vocal are my daughter, eighth grade, and my younger son, a sophomore. The conversation went something like this:

Daughter (in her best rage filled voice): "I have MORE problems to do in math. Just because I'm advanced, doesn't mean that more of the same problems are going to affect my learning".

(spoken like a true educator's child)

Son: Well, my homework is about finding an imaginary number. That's right. A number that actually doesn't exist. A fake number. I am spending time finding a number that is imaginary. Mom, when have you ever needed to find an imaginary number?

(insert blank stare here)

Daughter: Or how about finding a set of numbers on a coordinate plane. How about that, mom? When's the last time you did that?

(well, when I taught it in fifth grade, but insert another blank stare with a smirk)

My kids don't see the connection from what they are learning to their real lives, therefore, they have no buy-in as to what they are learning. They will do it because they have learned how to be students, play school, and get good grades so they can "learn what matters" (in their words) in college. They look at their K-12 career as hoops to get through to learn something that means anything to them. My fear is that they have learned so well to play the game by fulfilling the compliance measures set that they are not even sure about the why behind anything that they learn anymore. It's so important for us, as educators, to make sure we are creating learning opportunities where students can see the connection to content and their lives and to know that there is a purpose behind the experiences.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

#oneword for 2017: Relentless

I work on a school calendar. My year goes from September to June (I think July and August are in there somewhere), therefore when I create goals for myself they are initialized in early September. I don't make New Year's Resolutions. We are halfway through my year by then.

I do, however, love the #oneword trend, and after watching my PLN follow through on some of their one words from last year, I have decided to choose my own. My #oneword2017 is:


In the past, this word irritated me. It is the number one word that people have used to describe my personality (or some version of it: tenacious, persistent...) and I always felt it carried a negative connotation. I'd connect it to other things people have said to me: "Why are you constantly thinking about that?" or "Why are you so obsessed with (insert anything here)?" or "Just give it up already!" because I didn't know how to give up. Then I realized...I didn't know how to give up! I could look at being relentless as negative, or I could turn it into a positive personality trait that would guide me in times where giving up is the easy thing to do. Times when other people might give up. Luckily for me, I don't do easy. Why? Because I'm relentless.

Jennifer Hogan (a seriously intelligent and kind woman whom I hope to be like one day) posted this quote on Twitter to support her new three word blog post (that you can find here), and I felt it was fitting for the pivot I needed to do in order to rework the definition to be a positive trait:

It's all about changing my mindset.

My one word this year will guide me in my new career...relentless in creating a new culture within my department which will be more effective in giving teachers and students the tools they need to learn and be innovative thinkers and problem finders. Relentlessness will allow me to come back from failure stronger and smarter than I was prior, and be proud of any gains that I make in the process versus disgusted at not being successful the first time. Hopefully, if I model this trait, others will see the value in it, too.

I will be relentless in my personal life...balancing all of the facets of my family, career, new endeavors, relationships while continuing to try my best to be kind, empathetic, caring and giving. When I'm down and feeling like I'm not good enough for what I am trying to accomplish, relentlessness will move me past that to see what I can do to be better.

I choose to view being relentless as having courage to go on when others won't, to continue to try to create real change even when it is difficult, and to continue to love, encourage and support others when they don't see the value in moving forward.
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