My #oneword

Education is about learning, about change, about love but most of all, about kids. My last few years as a teacher, I have been privileged to find my voice, define my purpose and connect with so many innovative, creative and passionate educators from around the world. Last year’s #oneword challenge was difficult for me; trying to simplify one’s goal, one’s essence to a single word seemed like a daunting task. As I have been reading the many #oneword posts from educators across North America, I cannot help but be inspired. This year’s #oneword came with no hesitation: BE KIND.
(Okay, for the perfectionists like me, it is technically two words, but I do like to challenge the status quo, so I am permitting myself to think outside the box.)

Kindness has been a life-altering choice for me. I have had the honour of working with several classrooms across the world on kindness collaborations: from stories about kindness, to songs, discussions, to even choosing how we can make a difference by spreading kindness in our communities. There is so much negativity present in our everyday lives, so much judgement, hatred and jealousy. It just seems so natural to try to counter all those feelings with more positivity and kindness.

So as every day passes in 2018, I want to remember to:

Be kind…and listen to others. To know their stories, know their passions, understand who they are.

Be kind…and celebrate others. People need to feel important, noticed, cared for, that they matter.

Be kind…and share time. Time is the most precious gift you can share with others.

Be kind…and inspire. Inspire others to see, talk and live kindness and love.

Be kind…and smile. Be happy for yourself, share happiness with others. The world needs more happy.

Be kind…and dare. Dare to challenge, to transform to be different. Dare to be you.

Be kind…and dream. Dream of better possibilities, dream of change and dream of a better world.

Be kind…and take care of myself. As much as I need to be there for others, I need to take care of myself as well.

Be kind…and share love. Build relationships, care for, empathize and be present for kids.

So as I reflect on 2018 and think about what many adventures it holds for me, I feel empowered to know that it will be filled with positivity and kindness. For the longest time, Ellen DeGeneres has been a role model to me. As she strives not only to help others, but to promote kindness, I feel it is our duty to do the same. So every day that I get to spend with my students, with colleagues, with family, I feel it is fitting to always end it with “Be KIND to one another”. In the end, that is what matters. That is what will change the world and transform education.

“You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” – R.J. Palacio (Wonder)

Always choose kind.

Here are links to other amazing #oneword posts:
Keith Peters https://t.co/rw2x9PDyPa
Russ Shwartz https://t.co/mKSYfD3vHG
Lindsey Bohler https://t.co/UCgMxq6qcI
Todd Schmidt https://t.co/SWf4J97bGW
Bethany Hill https://t.co/GTF7roQAlA
Mandy Ellis https://t.co/z2UgJ6e5kG
Jeff Kubiak https://t.co/tfoKZwtE1r

 

“We must be willing to assume the role of learner as we work side by side with children and our peers in a never-ending growth process of excellence.”

studentteacherwriting

Post by Dr. Mary Howard and Roman Nowak

As we write these words, we are mindful that schools everywhere are contemplating what intervention practices they will implement for their most fragile learners. We (Roman and Mary) spend much of our time pondering this very issue so we applaud these efforts as we are committed to the collective responsibility of educators to ensure success for all learners.

Given the recent study showing less than promising results for our intervention efforts in RTI (Response to Intervention), however, we wonder if we are posing the right question. What if we redefined our focal point so that “What intervention practices should we implement?” is transformed into “How can we humanize our approach to intervention?”

We believe that this question could shift our efforts from a grab-and-go intervention mindset to professionally responsive decision-making grounded in honest conversations that lead to positive practices. If we re-envisioned our roadblocks or challenges as opportunities, we could make thoughtful choices with a broader purpose designed to ensure success for our most fragile learners while awakening personal passions residing deep within those learners.

As educators, we are aware of our profound mission of helping students find success. There is an immense pressure placed on teachers to help students attain standards or achieve various state tests and benchmarks. This pressure often translates into a desire to find quick fixes that could apply to all students in a professional trade-off where little attention is given to the student before us. Each student has unique needs but these are often ignored as we try to find grandiose and convenient “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

Pernille Ripp’s tweet below illustrates how this intervention shift could refocus our efforts within a renewed spirit that would deepen and amplify learning rather than replace our most powerful pedagogical practices.

pernille

As we begin our reflection on possible solutions or pathways to success, let us keep in mind a common belief or practice that often hinders transformation in learning and support. As an education system, in the search for efficacy, we often look to convenience for solutions. In The Danger of Convenience, David Cain argues the downside of relying on some “new technologically-endowed superpower” to solve problems that may not need a technological fix. Albeit convenient, technological solutions cannot replace the heart and empathy of a passionate educator. With busy schedules and high pressures, we may be satisfied with quick and suitable solutions. But these solutions rarely take into account the specific needs of students; therefore not allowing them to reach their full potential. As a system and as leaders, we need to strive to push past this traditional belief and implement solutions that are more complex, have more depth, but that always keep kids at the center. And this kind of responsible decision-making by its very nature means that we must take the time to engage in committed professional dialogue so that we can make the most informed choices.

With this lofty but achievable goal in mind, we take a closer look at some shifts that can help us initiate our journey to re-envision professional roadblocks as opportunities for success:

Keeping the child at the center of our efforts
Programs, packages, and scripts have become increasingly commonplace in schools. These one-size-fits-all approaches have exacerbated our efforts to support children who do not fit neatly into such a narrow perspective of learning. As a result, we are seeing the aftermath of what Tom Rademacher aptly describes: “With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.”  When fidelity to the program requires our full attention, fidelity to the child, who brings unique needs to the learning table, will inevitably be minimized.  We can only keep the child at the center when we loosen the reins of obligation to the program. We do this by making room in every day for the essential practices that accommodate responsive differentiation and allow children to take ownership of their own learning so that they can become active participants in that learning. Practices such as read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading allow us to address learning needs through approaches that bathe children in high quality texts they can read and choose to read. Students need to be able to have a voice and choice in these texts so we fill our learning spaces to brimming with beautiful options. This helps develop their autonomy, responsibility and encourages deepened engagement in tasks. Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward remind us that “Books are the best intervention.” Yet independent reading and engaging peer collaboration that revolve around those texts is often sacrificed for interventions that actually reduce the volume of reading and meaningful talk.

Using numbers to inform our practicescodered
There was a great article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership about being “Data driven vs data informed.” Although data often comes to us in numerical formats (percentages, ranks, grades), we must move beyond the numbers and see our students in the data. What story does our data tell us? What story does our knowledge of children tell us? What school story do we want to share with the world? Numbers can be a great starting point since the results of assessments can help inform how the student conveys his or her learning at any given point. However, in order to get to the root of any challenges or roadblocks, educators need to go beyond the numbers and learn about students as they actively engage in learning in order to professionally assess how to support learning. This deeper knowledge is inseparably connected to the daily learning process. It is important to challenge current beliefs and practices with data and to be aware that the numerical data may conflict with our deepest understandings about children. We must be responsible for our school story and the unique faces that bring that story to life. When people pose questions about success and begin to cite numbers from rankings, turn that story to the names of your students and everything they are accomplishing. As educators, we need to advocate for our students and put the focus back on their personal learning journey. It isn’t all about the numbers…it is about people and our responsibility to support each individual journey.  

Acknowledging our first line of defense
We have inadvertently created a revolving door leading to the “fix it” room as we relinquish professional responsibility from the heart and soul of our intervention efforts – the classroom teacher. With the best intentions, these thirty-minute instead of supports ignore the other six hours of the day that offer our best support opportunities. Even when tiered supports are deemed appropriate they reflect in addition to instruction that maintains the classroom teacher as the first line of defense. Our most effective interventions occur in the heat of learning moments based on expert kid-watching, flexible small groups, side by side support and intentional differentiation. These on-the-spot interventions reflect the carefully designed supports that occur in the natural course of any learning day as students actively engage in a wide range of meaningful independent or collaborative learning experiences. We must remember to encourage, build and celebrate professional practice. In order for our educators to be fully engaged in every child’s success and well-being, we must offer the right tools and opportunities that fit the child, the experience, and our purpose as we acknowledge that financial incentives will not solve current roadblocks. As Daniel Pink expressed so well in his TED talk based on the book Drive, we must give our people autonomy, mastery and purpose in the work they do; this is how we will encourage transformation in our schools. When knowledgeable educators are afforded the freedom to make the professional choices for the students in front of them, they are far more likely to expend their precious available minutes in the learning day in the best possible ways.  

Making professional knowledge our first priority
The very foundation of our instructional efforts rise from the decision making of expert teachers based on sound professional knowledge. Intervention programs are prevalent but none of these will ever replace teachers who have a deep understanding of literacy practices informed by research. This requires schools to hold ongoing professional learning in high esteem, using day to day instructional experiences as growth opportunities. It is this deepening knowledge over time that can help us to identify or refute practices as we sharpen our instructional lens to focus on intensifying our efforts so that we can achieve the accelerated progress that can only occur within a spirit of professional urgency. Professional wisdom helps us to make these moment-to-moment choices that draw from our best understandings about children at any given time. As we try to include voice and choice for students, we must offer a parallel system for our teachers. We need to allow them to have more autonomy and choice in the professional development we offer as we broaden learning opportunities that are designed to support their personal growth and where they are in their learning journey. We must continue to break the traditional mold of professional development and offer creative solutions for a constantly evolving world. Just as we make room for children to follow their passions, we must build a culture of support where we can celebrate professional curiosity so that we can encourage teachers to follow their passions on their own and through collaboration.

It is clear that educators have a great heart and want to support the needs of the learners in front of them. But it is imperative that our hearts and intellect unite as we cautiously examine our own practices so that we can alleviate those that are ineffective and embrace those that truly merge our beliefs and our actions. As leaders, we must acknowledge the commitment of our educators by offering the professional support that translates to informed commitment. This requires us to continue reflecting and challenging the current status quo to ensure that any programs, solutions and pedagogical practices that make their way into our classrooms are dynamic, research-based and evolve based on the needs of students. We must resist the temptation to simply purchase a product or implement an instructional approach without the benefit of the best interests of children guiding the way.

In a system overloaded with data, we must keep our sights on the individual faces and stories of the kids before us. Given a vast sea of professional options, we are ethically responsible to make thoughtfully responsive choices. Let’s not assume that what we are doing works. Let us question, let us learn, let us grow so that we can constantly do better for students based on our heart and our head. We must model success to help learners find their own success. And we must be willing to assume the role of learner as we work side by side with children and our peers in a never-ending growth process of excellence. Only then can we truly say that we have made the shifts that will humanize our approach to interventions.

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References:

Study: RTI Practice Falls Short of Promise https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/11/11/study-rti-practice-falls-short-of-promise.html

Code Red; The Danger of Data-Driven Instruction
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/nov16/vol74/num03/Code_Red@_The_Danger_of_Data-Driven_Instruction.aspx

From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
https://shop.scholastic.com/teachers-ecommerce/books/from-striving-to-thriving-9781338051964.html

The Danger of Convenience:
http://www.raptitude.com/2017/11/the-danger-of-convenience/?utm_source=Jocelyn+K.+Glei%27s+newsletter&utm_campaign=f44dad74e9-Newsletter_11_30_17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0d0c9bd4c2-f44dad74e9-156827377

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching by Tom Rademacher
https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2017/11/21/why-the-phrase-with-fidelity-is-an-affront-to-good-teaching/

#nationaldayofwriting - You are You-er than You!

In honour of #nationaldayofwriting, I reflected on what I wanted to contribute as a learner to mark this important day. I have recently struggled to keep up with a regular schedule of writing. With my busy work schedule, balancing family life, kids’ activities and homework, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of events that often leave me too tired to devote the time needed to share a written expression of my thoughts.

So as I ponder the recent reflections of educators and students on #whyiwrite and #nationaldayofwriting, I am left thinking of my students who often share their difficulties in keeping up with the demands of writing prompts, writing certain types of texts and the overall rigid demands they often face at school. I often find myself sharing my own struggles with writing and how I try to overcome them.

Passion for me is of the utmost importance when writing. When faced with the task of writing a prescribed piece, where structure is rigid, I also lack motivation. So as I think of students and their struggles with writing, I see myself being the champion of voice and choice.  As much as we want to share the characteristics of certain texts, as much as we want them to have that perfect essay or newspaper article, my true goal is to have students who want to express themselves, who know how to formulate their ideas and who can communicate clearly.

Therefore, in honor of #nationaldayofwriting, I have decided to write with my passion in mind: education. In a recent post, I celebrated my own learning and shared a piece of my story. As an educator, I do not only shine, I don’t always have the most exemplary strategies and have the most engaged students and my class isn’t always a picture from a magazine. So as I write about my passion, I strive to continue sharing not only my successes, but to also share my struggles. Therefore, I feel compelled to write about my first teaching experience.

As teachers, we often think that our first life changing experience will be either during our practice-teaching placement or even the first day of school following our teacher’s certification. In Ontario, where I grew up, there was such a shortage of certified teachers that I began my first contract during my second year of university, while completing my honors in History and French literature.

At 20 years old, I was going to be in charge of arts and physical education for grade 4-8 students. I was excited because I wanted to get my career started as soon as possible. I was warned about one of my groups because I was going to be their fifth teacher in several months and they were known as an “active” group. Thinking back so many years, I didn’t know what I did today. I didn’t walk into my job thinking about building relationships and getting to know my students. I went into my classroom with the same mentality that I grew up with: I am the teacher, you owe me respect.

Picture this: I walk into the classroom on my first day, slam the door shut and begin by giving these 25 students a lecture on respect and how they would listen to me and because I was the teacher and authority figure. Thinking back to this moment, I am not proud. I cannot even believe that it was me. I mean, it is definitely no Ron Clark moment (yes he is my first EDUhero). To add insult to injury, when one student actually did act out (why am I not surprised), I made her copy a page from the dictionary.

So why do I share a story that most people would keep hidden? I could have, and honestly, until this post, I have never talked about this experience. I share it so others can realize that no matter where we currently are in our career, we have all had those not so good moments. Life isn’t perfect. If Twitter existed back then (yes I am old enough to say this), I don’t think I would have tweeted the moment, but I would have reached out to PLN for support. That is the difference.

So my challenge to all of you today: Don’t be afraid to share your story, your moments of weakness, your learning. That story will resonate for someone. Your lesson will help uplift someone going through a difficult time. Most of all, by sharing your story, you help support the idea that not being perfect is okay. Today may be #nationaldayofwriting, but I encourage every educator, every student and every learner to keep writing when passion strikes, keep writing every day. Find your voice, share your words, and no matter how imperfect things are, remember the words of Dr. Seuss:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. Shout aloud, I am glad to be what I am. Thank goodness I’m not a ham, or a clam, or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam. I am what I am, what a great thing to be. If I say so myself, happy everyday to me!” 

“Dare to reach out your hand in darkness, to pull another hand into the light.”

– Norman B. Rice

In education, like many other professions, it is easy to be inundated with the daily grind of stress, pressure and negative feelings. As a student, teacher and administrator, often we find ourselves frustrated and doubting our abilities. In our schools, we emphasize the importance of building strong relationships, both with students and staff. It is through these relationships that we are not only able to build connections, we are setting the table to allow learning to happen. As in any relationship, we need to remember that time needs to be invested. Time to not only learn with someone but time to celebrate the learning that is happening.

If I (Roman) go back to my experience as a student, I can vividly remember my experiences as a learner. I listened in class, I studied, filled out the assessment and got back my corrected copy. Based on the amount of red ink on my paper, I was able to decipher whether I was good or not. When I needed to deepen my knowledge on a topic, I did what most teachers suggested: study more. As a teacher, I have lived similar experiences. When it is time to get assessed by my administration, I listen during meetings, I prepare, I teach my lesson and I get a copy of my assessment. Based on the amount of comments, I am able to decipher whether I was good or not. Reflecting on my experiences, learning with my professional learning network (PLN), I have come to discover that this isn’t the way I want to continue to experience learning.

Looking back on my career as a student, I (Joshua) worked incredibly hard for teachers who I felt cared about me, provided encouragement and celebrated success. My grades reflected my exact feeling toward a teacher. If my grade was good, it was likely because I respected the teacher and worked to get the respect and praise of that teacher. If my grade was poor, it was because I didn’t feel the teacher cared about me, therefore I didn’t provide the appropriate effort.  As a teacher and administrator, I continue to seek out people who are genuinely invested in my growth and who care about my well being.

Before we even talk about learning or assessments, we need to address the question of building relationships. Every person is unique and has amazing gifts and talents to share. As leaders, we need to make sure we get to know each person and to know all they have to offer. As we get to know them, we must also remember that we need to take the time to interact with them on a regular basis. Foundations for strong relationships are always created out of positive experiences. We must therefore learn to celebrate and uplift those around us in order to pave the way for more meaningful and ongoing conversations. We teach students that learning continues across a lifetime. We want teachers to acknowledge that they themselves are lifelong learners and that students and parents are great collaborators to their learning. What is most important, if we want our staff to believe in this, is that we as leaders must also be lifelong learners alongside our teachers. We are all in this together.

During a recent Twitter chat, we were asked how we coached, supported and gave feedback to under-performing teachers. This question also applies to students who are under-performing in our classrooms. As I (Roman) was reflecting on how to answer, I couldn’t help but go back to my own learning experiences shared earlier. I didn’t want to reflect the same old model that separated learning from relationships. Therefore my new conviction has become, “let me learn with you. Let’s see how amazing WE can make this.” If we truly want to celebrate learning, as leaders we must be willing to go in the trenches with teachers and students. Learning will not and should not happen alone. Let’s find the time to go on the journey with them. Let’s find the time to always lead with the positive!

What are some of the ways we can go on this learning journey and celebrate with teachers and students?

  1. Written Affirmation: When you see accomplishments, learning, good actions or progress, take the time to mail out a handwritten card. It can be done after your observations or in conjunction with various holidays throughout the year. Celebrate those around you as much as you can. Yes, it does take time and yes, it does involve a certain cost. Trust us, the impact is much greater than you think.
  2. Conversation: Take the time to simply pull someone aside and share your celebration with them. Help emphasize the positive that you saw in them. Share with them your pride in them for what they have accomplished. As leaders, we sometimes feel that sharing positive comments may seem overly sentimental; in reality these words have unimaginable positive effects.
  3. Gestures: If we really want to go out of our way to show appreciation, small gestures of kindness and appreciation have profound effects. It shows another person that they were important enough for us to invest time in them; it makes them feel special. So when we can, take that person out for a special lunch, buy them a surprise coffee in the morning, share a special book with them, bake them a small surprise, share a gift card with them, do a special activity with a student, give an extra planning period to a teacher and go teach that class yourself. A gesture does not have to be over the top, all we need to do is show that we care and we appreciate them.
  4. Involvement and Collaboration: Take the time to involve staff and students in decision-making and the transformation of school culture. When you want to find innovative ways to show appreciation and create new traditions at your school, ask them how they would like it to happen. As leaders, we sometimes feel like we must have all the answers. Involving and collaborating with staff and students goes a long way in continuing to build those strong foundational relationships.  

wediscover

We all lead busy lives and the school year goes by extremely fast. There are many challenges and emergencies that we must face on a daily basis. Let’s make it a promise, that no matter the obstacles, no matter the surprises in our daily routine, we must remember to always make room for the positive. Let’s make it a priority to celebrate others, to lift their spirits and to do our part in making the world a better place. After all, if we don’t lead the way, who will?

To those who inspire us, to those who lift us up and to those who support us: Thank you! It means the world. Let’s all be lights of hope and kindness to others. That is our pledge, that is our mission.

Edu-Leaders Emphasizing the Positive

Mark French / @PrincipalFrench
#GoodNewsCallOfTheDay

Mark’s #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay movement has had a sweeping impact on the educational world. On Twitter, you can see the hashtag being used by many schools as administrators are calling home to brag, celebrate, and uplift their students. Mark inspires us all to build relationships with our students by eating lunch with them, reading books to classes and celebrating kindness of others.

Based on several educational leaders’ impact and inspiration, such as Mark French’s #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay, my (Joshua’s) campus has adopted a system to reward positive behavior each day, which leads to a positive phone call home to let the student’s parents or guardian know how their child has made good choices. The practice of calling home and getting to know students who are making a positive impact on our campus has been uplifting and extremely rewarding for everyone involved. It’s fun and interesting to see each child come to the office with reservation until they find out they are being celebrated.

 

Todd Nesloney / @TechNinjaTodd)
#KidsDeserveIt

Todd is the co-founder of #KidsDeserveIt and he continues to find innovative ways to celebrate students and staff. At Todd’s campus, they celebrate students by writing students’ names on a chalk board wall, taking a picture of the student and tweeting the student with a campus hashtag. Todd also has large photographs of his students and staff throughout the school and staff family photos in the staff lounge to share a sense of belonging. For staff, Todd has also called the teacher’s parents to share all the positive things they are doing on a regular basis.

 

Sean Gaillard / @smgaillard
#TrendThePositive

Bethany Hill / @bethhill2829
#JoyfulLeaders

 

Sean and Bethany have continuously celebrated students, teachers and other educational leaders through the #TrendThePositive, #CelebrateMondays and #JoyfulLeaders hashtags. Both show how their teachers share inspiring notes to each other, use positive referrals, and validate students with positive notes and twitter selfies. Sean and Bethany create a positive culture though their strong leadership, actions and communication.

 

For more posts from Joshua, please go to his blog at joshstamper.blogspot.com joshuas

Through the looking glass

Posted: October 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

“When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them.”  – unknown

lookingglass

Sometimes, when we look at pictures of other teaching realities, especially on social media, we see such an awe inspiring view. A beautiful realm of decorations, colors, flexible seating, perfectly placed books and papers and well-behaved students. As I look at those images, I tell myself, who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? Now don’t get me wrong, we need goals, we need creativity and innovation, most of all, we need people to inspire us to be better; to reach for the stars, to shatter boundaries and to be the best that we could be.

With such ideals, the adverse effect can also be true. When we look through the looking glass shared by another, a surge of emotions can be felt. Many educators look to these posts and images and immediately feel inadequate. They feel like failures, they feel unworthy. Although we always hope to inspire teachers to try new things and to transform pedagogical practices, in the end, we sometimes push them to retreat into old habits, into isolation and we encourage a fixed mindset.

So how can we find that delicate balance between inspiration and reality?

What we must always strive to do, is to share our stories. We cannot only share the ideals and our successes. Whether good or bad, if we truly want to inspire others, we need to share our learning.

I, like many others, went into teaching in the hopes of making a difference. Isn’t that what we all strive for as educators, to be able to live those “aha moments”, to see the wonderment of learning, to support others? Although many look up to me as inspiring, I also need to share, that like many, I often look at myself and say: “I am surviving”.

As I reflect upon my experiences and let you peer into my looking glass, as you look at my pictures, as you look at my smiles, can you see me:

  • Being bullied during my first grade at school?
  • Being laughed at for the “no-name brand” clothes I wore because we had little money?
  • Eating almost a dozen muffins after school because I didn’t want my mom to to feel bad that no one chose the food she made for the potluck?
  • Feeling broken that I could never go to another kid’s birthday party because we couldn’t afford to buy presents?
  • Being ridiculed for being overweight?
  • Being the last one chosen on a team because you didn’t play sports because you couldn’t afford registration fees or equipment?
  • Feeling heartbroken at funerals for students following a car crash, an illness, a natural freak accident, a suicide?
  • Being told I was one of the last people a student talked to the night before he took his life and that I had no idea that those thoughts were even going through his head?
  • Witnessing breakups, family traumas and violent outburst?
  • Agonizing over students not getting their high school diploma, knowing the stumbling blocks they have faced, only to be faced with leaders telling me, that they are adults and they need to learn their lesson?
  • Being laughed at for being that first-year teacher (keener) who wanted to be on every club or committee?
  • Being told by veteran teachers to stop personalizing report card comments because it gave others unwanted pressure?
  • Being bullied by other educators because my “different” methods of teaching (according to them) weren’t preparing kids for the real world and didn’t match what others were doing?
  • Trying to survive, feeling hopeless, after the loss of both parents to cancer and losing a baby during pregnancy?
  • Feeling devastated after losing some of my closest friends?

There is no perfect life, there is no perfect teacher, there is no perfect classroom. No matter the ideals we want to share with others, we have to realize that we are role models and we set an example, not only for students, but for colleagues as well. I can choose to share those perfect moments, those picture-perfect scenes, or I can choose to share my life, through my looking glass. I can share my realities, no matter the ups nor the downs.  

So why share my story, the not so perfect moments and difficult challenges of my life? Because they have helped shape me into who I am today. How can I want students and teachers to open up and share their stories if I can’t do it myself?

So maybe you won’t always see pictures of my perfect decorations, my amazing bulletin boards, my amazing classroom activities. Maybe you won’t receive my 101 ideas for an amazing literacy activity or a creative math lesson. I can tell you that I look to so many educators and friends for inspiration and for ideas. What I do pledge is to always do my best, to share my positivity, my heart and my kindness with everyone. I truly believe that the world does need more of it.

But as you do look through my looking glass, as you read through my blogs, as you interact with me, I hope that you not only see what led me to experience the many highs I have had in education, but that just like any other person, I too have been broken. My story is not perfect and I often feel like it is not “Pinterest” worthy, but I hope to always share my story, to share the real me: a person who is flawed but who is also privileged to learn with the best educators out there.

A promise for my students!

Posted: July 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

reading

“I promise to develop their hearts, their skills and their voices so that they themselves may be empowered to live their dreams.”

As a teacher, I aspire to always give my best to my students.  I hope that their experience in my classroom and in their four years in our high school always remains positive. For anyone who knows me, relationships have always been of vital importance.

As an English teacher, I have reflected immensely at what my true mission is as an educator. What are the skills we want our students to learn? Do we put those skills above content? Do my students enjoy reading, writing and learning at the end of our semester?

With these questions in mind, I have made a promise both to myself and to my students. I promise that I would transform what my English class would look and feel like. This does not negate that learning was occurring in my classroom or that students lived meaningful and enriching learning experiences with me. However, as I continue to reflect and ask myself: “Is this best for students?” and “Are my students becoming creative and avid readers and writers?” I know that I must adopt certain changes.

For my students to truly enjoy reading they need to learn to become readers and I need to create the conditions to make this happen. First, they need to have autonomy in their choice of reading. Every student is at a different level of reading; they all enjoy different genres and styles. As a teacher, I need to ensure that they have access to a variety of literature. To do so, I myself, must share my own reading journeys with them. Students can learn from the literature I read to help make informed choices of their own. In my first year of teaching English, I organized reading circles where students were able to share their current reading material. It gave them a voice, a place to share their thoughts with their peers, it helped them learn how to formulate opinions and share them with efficacy. It also allowed my other students to see what reading possibilities existed beyond their scope of knowledge. I also promise to promote and celebrate diversity in reading material. Readers often want to feel connected to characters and their stories. It is essential that there is literature available to them that tell the stories of various people from different cultures, religions, countries, sexual orientations. In short, books that share the stories of many different people, so that students may learn about the world through the eyes of another.

Second, students also need to develop mastery in their reading. Students love challenges; I have never seen a child enjoy an easy video game. They often spend days and weeks trying to collect the items, reach the end game or replay games to uncover all of the secrets that exist. We need to look at reading through the same lens. As our students begin to read more for enjoyment, as they access a more diverse series of literature, we now need to challenge them as readers to experiment with different styles and genres. Literature can be superficial, meaningful and complex. As we build our relationships with our students and as we get know where they are as readers, through various discussions and conversations, we must suggest and challenge them with books about social justice, empowerment, history, emotions, stories of empathy and kindness. We want them to ponder, reflect, live the stories and share their own reading journey. In my class, I had an avid reader. His suggestions, thoughts and choices influenced me and many of his peers. When challenged to read, he embarked on the journey thereupon enriching his classmates’ views, choices and reading diversity. Is that not what we hope for?

Finally, students also need to have purpose when they read. We cannot solely create reading experiences for students based on literary analysis, literary cannon, or curriculum expectations. Although we may want to develop and deepen certain reading and literary skills, the most important mission we have is to create a genuine love for reading and writing. As a school, one of our missions was to create and live a reading period every day as a school community. Every teacher, every student, every staff member, participated in this special time dedicated to reading. No book was assigned to them, this was not a study period for class; this was a reserved time for everyone to read for pure enjoyment. Our administration and I even took the time to walk the halls as we were reading to show all students that everyone took part in this community time. Even the custodians knew that no work was to be done; administration knew that no appointments should be scheduled: for those twenty minutes, as a school, we all wanted to read.

So today, I make my promise. For my students, I promise to promote voice and choice for their reading. I also promise to help give them autonomy, mastery and purpose (thank you Dan Pink) in their reading. I hope to never have a student submit work only because I asked it of them. I believe, and I hope, that my students will truly enjoy their learning, that they will grow as learners and that they will help build each other up. A curriculum may be the guideline and map of expectations that we must follow as educators. However, for my students who embark on this journey with me, I promise to develop their hearts, their skills and their voices so that they themselves may be empowered to live their dreams.

 

readingsky

Reading with emotion

Posted: June 16, 2017 in Reading

books

Reading has always been an event for me. As a child, my mom instilled an importance to education, structure, rigour and the traditional 3 Rs (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic). As I grew up, reading became a personal journey, an event where I could escape into a fictional realm, a different narrative and live something that might otherwise be impossible. I experienced various professions, trips around the world, exciting adventures and accounts of historical events. Books opened my eyes to a person I wasn’t or a life I couldn’t live at the time.

As I went through the education system, I learned about different books; the classics, fiction, non-fiction and so many more. Almost always, the books were chosen for me and as a conformist, I did as I was told. Luckily, in my personal time, I did enjoy reading and I was able to experience different emotions as I read the books I chose. Many years later, as I began as an educator, I adopted the same practices of prescribed readings, mundane questions and traditional literary analysis. The one thing I failed to remember: the importance of reading with emotion. The one quality that was so important in my personal reading journey didn’t translate into my teaching practice.

In the last while, I was able to regain and restructure my schedule to start reading more. As I already read a lot of pedagogical books, I wanted to regain my love for reading with emotions. I recently wrote about my experience after reading the book Wonder. Yesterday, I had the chance to read the book Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon from beginning to end. There are certain books that you love and there are certain books that give you that ultimate emotional experience, and this one hit me like a train, in a good way.

There is one passage that really spoke to me:

“I’ll have to think of all the hope I had. Of how I fooled myself into thinking that I was a miracle. Of how the world I wanted to be a part of so badly didn’t want me back.”

As I read these words, chills ran down my spine, goose bumps appeared on my skin, and tears ran down my eyes. I start remembering my years as a high school teacher, walking the halls, teaching classes, interacting with students and wonder: how many of my students feel like this on a daily basis? How as an educator, can I ensure that all kids see themselves as true miracles and to not feel excluded or unwanted? How do I, myself, remember this when I feel the same way and sense doubt in my life? When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusiveness, isn’t that what we want for everyone? It has been one day since I read this book and I can’t shake these thoughts from my mind.

As we plan our lessons, run our schools, prepare activities and field trips, promote our school, find creative ways to change our pedagogy we cannot lose sight of the only true mission we have. We must remind kids that they are miracles, that we love them, that we want them to learn and that we make time for them. If we put this into place…if we lead with the heart  and keep people’s emotions, feelings and values as drivers to our decisions, not only will our school flourish, our kids will become caring, empathetic and kind citizens and adults, who will take care of one another and transform the world with unimaginable beauty.

I encourage you to take the time to read this novel. Take the time to read with emotion. Take the time to feel vulnerable, to feel empathy and think of others. As educators, we are there for our kids and for our community. Make every single person you interact with know that they matter. Emotions are driving forces in helping our society grow; let us not suppress them, let us embrace them! Pick up a book, read it, feel it and most importantly, share it. Reading can change lives, reading can move mountains.