Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Is it strange that I have not written a post in almost three months? It is almost embarrassing to admit that fact as I sit here writing this post. I have started writing many times in the last few months; yet the words never made it to a full post, nor did they make it to the digital world.

As I came back to teaching full time in August, I came back with an fervent attitude, a strong passion and a smile that beamed from ear to ear. Over the days and weeks, I kept my passion and smile, but something was slowly happening. I was struggling. Struggling to keep up with my routine, struggling keep my balance with work and family, struggling to write or participate in my regular Twitter chats and struggling to be me.

Often times, social media is a place where we can share the amazing things we try and do. This is a great outlet to showcase our wins, our pride and the amazing work of our students and colleagues. What we rarely see is how all teachers struggle. We have grown up and lived our lives with the stigma that struggle is negative, that it is bad and makes you weak. Although we can pretend like this is not the case, the pure absence of struggle in most posts, carries the faulty truth in this generalization.

I fell into this stigma. I felt like less of teacher because not all my posts or my days were always positive. I felt like a failure because there were days where I simply wanted to break down and cry because I could not reach every student. I felt like a failure because people brought down my optimistic, and maybe innocent, view that I could actually change students’ attitudes towards learning and reading.

As I looked to others for support, for inspiration, for advice, I just kept thinking: Why me? Why do things not work out for me?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not easily beaten down, I don’t let go without a fight, but  I do have moments of pure struggle. I also reflect on the existential question of should I be an educator? Although many have a hard time admitting it, I need to share this vulnerability with my mindset; it is of course what I ask my students to do on a daily basis.

We all have those doubts about how effective we are. We all feel like we are making strides, to later find ourselves two steps back. But I want to believe and to share that this is normal.

We need to reflect, we need to be authentic, we need to let others know that we are not always okay. That are smiles often cover up some doubt, some worry, some deep reflections. It is fitting that this post comes after my last one, The Fear Within.

Yet no matter the questions, no matter the sleepless nights, no matter the countless efforts on a daily basis, I continue:

Because I have hope.
Because I believe.
Because my students deserve better.
Because I am where I need to be.

So…
I am hanging on!

 

Image result for the minute you think of giving up, think of the reason why you held on so long

“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.”

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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.

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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!”