Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I Teach

While browsing the internet, I came across several journal articles entitled, "Why I Teach."
I thought this would be a great way to reflect on why I do what I do each day. So, here are some of my reasons for why I teach!

1.  Students notice if you have new shoes or a new haircut, or they ask you what you did over the weekend.  It makes me feel loved when they take notice of the littlest things you have done.

2.  The expression on a student's face when it shows they finally understand a complicated task.  It makes me realize that patience and perseverance are gifts to be shared often with students.

3.  Sometimes students come into my room and ask me to help them find a good book to read. They have trusted me enough to help them enhance their imagination and they value my opinion.

4.  When I meet my colleagues in the hall and we spend a minute chatting or laughing.  A kind word or a chuckle can be the moment that gets me through a trying day.

5.  After students have gone on to high school and some of them come back to visit my classroom during the first month of school. I know they come back to experience a moment of safety and recognize an old familiar face; they often feel a little lost in high school at the beginning of the school year.

6.  Parents who email, call, or visit  about their child's struggles and successes.  I appreciate their insight and partnership to do what is best for their child's educational experience.

7.  I like it when students share their personal stories with me: their pet cat, a television show they watched, how they did at an athletic event, or even what they had for supper the previous night.  When they do this, they trust me. Even though it may be the 14th time I have heard the same cat story, I can still appreciate their honesty and youthfulness.

8.  Collaborating with other educators in the building excites my brain, whether it be planning a long-term genre unit, sharing professional articles with each other, or talking about student concerns. I learn from other teachers' insights.

9.  I spend an adequate amount of time reading professional texts and books, teaching and taking classes, and stretching myself professionally. I believe you don't truly grow if you don't step out of your comfort zone.  If I continue to ask my students to learn, I must lead by example.

10.  Watching kids learn material that will make them successful in their current grade, the next grade, and in years to come is the ultimate goal of any educator.

And lastly, I like going to bed each night, hoping and knowing that somewhere I made a small difference with someone throughout the day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Fine Arts and Bullying

This past weekend I went our high school's musical performance. While the majority of the cast was female, there were several males who played important roles in the production.  As a sat in the audience, I glanced around the auditorium and was happy to see many other high school students show their support of the school's musical production and of their classmates. Across the aisle from me were several students I was surprised to see in attendance. They rarely came to support their fellow classmates in athletic or fine arts events.

About a third of the way through the production when a male cast member came on stage for the first time, this row of four students made a loud, verbal acknowledgement of his presence. And then I saw a phone come out of one student's pocket and begin to find the perfect angle for a picture. My mind swirled of what the he was going to do with the instant photo. I made eye contact with the student and he put his phone down without snapping a picture, but several times through out the production, he tried to sneak his phone out. Again, this action received aisle glares from me. He was unsuccessful during all his attempts. At intermission, several audience members asked who the students were and complained of their behaviors. Another teacher informed administration of their behaviors and they were monitored throughout the second act, until they became frustrated with the constant supervision of their behaviors and left the performance.

As I sat there and thought about the situation, it made me even more proud of the students on stage who set their anxieties, nerves, and fears aside to find the courage to perform in front of two hundred community members.  The amount of time and dedication they put forth to achieving a successful show, was admirable.  However, these other students who chose to pay money for admission, sit in the back row and in hope to poke fun of another student because he chose to participate in a school activity, angered me. I wanted to ask the students, if they felt they were so much better than the other students on stage, why hadn't they had enough courage to try out, be on stage and share their talents with others.  I already knew the answer though. They were cowards.... just like all the other bullies of the world.  And cowards never achieve much in life because they are always too busy putting other people down instead of working to reach their own life goals.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Twitter & the Brain

I have had a twitter account for a few months now. I following some really interesting people: Jason Glass, Gov. Branstand, Tim Allen, Adam Levine, Todd Whitaker, Jon Gordon, a few classmates, some amazing professors from the graduate school I am attending, Deepak Chopra, and several organizations dedicated to improving education. I try to follow the update tweets once a day on my Kindle Fire. I find myself reading links that connect to another link, which sync to a blog, which refers to a book, and then has a webinar or a video clip or an interview with the author. After scrolling for only a few minutes my head begins to spin… in a good way! It's almost as though I can feel my brain making new connections and sparking and fusing to increase my brain knowledge. Here's the technical explanation:

"The connections between nerve cells are known as synapses, and they allow information carried in the form of nerve impulses to travel from one neuron to the next. In the human brain, there are trillions of synapses forming a complex and flexible network that allows us to feel, behave, and think. It is the changes in the synaptic connections in areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex and hippocampus that is associated with the learning and retention of new information."

So this got me thinking.... If I feel this way about reading information on Twitter, do my students feel this way all of the time with their social media devices attached to their hips as if they were IVs for their bodies? If so, am I slowing down their synaptic connections when they are in my classroom because the presentations of my lessons? If so, how can I make sure the teaching I am doing and the learning I am creating have the same effect as when I read tweets on Twitter? So this begins a new learning path for me: continued reading and understanding of student engagement and brain-based learning. I owe it to my students and their synapses!

Monday, July 16, 2012

What does failure mean?

I've been thinking a lot about failure and what it means to fail at something.  Several situations have made me really examine my beliefs on failing grades.

*Earlier this month a family member shared their little girl failed swimming lessons because she wasn't able to open her eyes underwater.  After the family member shared her story she said, "I don't want her to be a failure."  I thought is being able to open your eyes make you an effective swimmer?  Because their little girl (she is only 4 years old) failed to open her eyes, in my opinion she by no means is a failure, but only needs more practice. 
*In a class I was teaching to pre-service teachers, we got into a debate about late homework. A pre-service teacher shared part of a student's grade was being able to hand the work in on time as we are grading their responsibility as well.  Is classroom homework a reflection of what a student has learned or what a student is able to complete with responsibility behaviors attached?  Is the classroom grade a real reflection of what the student knows? 
*I failed biology as an undergrad, mind you; I was a biology major.  I did not apply myself or work to my potential. I was not motivated to learn anything about ribosome, DNA, or other biologically terminology.  Am I considered a failure? At the time I felt like one, but what did failing teach me? It taught me I needed to really pick a major and career path I completely enjoyed and be motivated to do my best and grow professionally within it.
*Asking a few family members and friends about what failure means to them, brought similarities to my own thinking. Some said if they failed at something it meant they did not try hard enough.  Others said they were not motivated enough to achieve the goal.

In schools we fail students when they do not meet our expectations, either behaviorally, socially, and/or academically.  Is it fair to fail a student if they hand in their homework late?  And what if they never hand it in? Are they really learning the material then?  When and how do we truly know a student has learned the material? Only when they past our assessments or when they are able to remember the information at the end of a semester or a school year, or for the rest of their lives?  Maybe if we look at our definition of success, we will be able to define failure.

I don't know all the answers about failing and passing students, nor do I feel I have a supported opinion either way at this point. I am however going to think about what I grade, how I grade it, and what it really shows the students are learning.  More reflecting and reading required to fully understanding this educational concept, and yet I may never come to a clear answer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Flipped Classroom

I recently taught a class for practicing teachers at a nearby university.  We had many great discussions about what works well for students who struggle in school and what teachers can do to support them in the classrooms.  I asked them if they had ever used the idea of a flipped classroom in their teaching, which had been introduced to me by a co-worker this past school year.  They had not heard of these types of lessons.  I challenged them for one of their teaching lessons to create a math lesson using the idea of a 'flipped classroom.'

This came with some trepedation & many questions, not only from them, but myself as well. I kept wondering would it be beneficial for students, would teachers be excited designing their lessons, is it worth the time & effort it takes to create the lesson, video, & learning guide? We continued to challenge each other with the idea of a flipped classroom through our conversations and questions, and I began to explore research-based articles & web links of teachers who use the teaching concept. 

The last week of class came, and I had never seen practicing teachers so excited about presenting their learning to each other before. Each student chose a different math lesson and presented by creating a powerpoint, used storybooks & sing alongs, manipulatives, and visual presentations for their students. The lessons consisted of learning how to count & write the number 5, finding the perimeter of polygons, determining the correct change after a purchase, and finding patterns based on colors. I had chills with what they created, and I felt I had done something really great for their students, even if I never meet them face to face.

We discussed how flipped classrooms are beneficial for students in many ways:
  • Students come to class knowing what they are going to learn
  • Parents can see what students are learning and through the teacher's examples may be able to help at home with questions & homework
  • Even if students don't have access to computers or internet at home, teachers are more than willing to find time & resources during the school day to access the flipped lessons
  • Teachers will be able to use class time to apply concepts and have time to meet with each student to ensure they are understanding and learning the material
  • Students are held accountable for their learning by how the teacher designs the flipped lesson
  • Using flipped lessons may be a way to help close the achievement gap for struggling students
  • Using flipped lessons could extend gifted learners to the next level of understanding a concept
  • Learning new ways to reach students is really, really exciting for teachers!

I realized I had done something really exciting when one teacher in the class said she had already talked with her principal about implementing flipped lessons in her curriculum to help reach students. The principal and her are going to continue to talk about it as the school year approaches.  I, too, am already planning on using a several flipped lessons in my math classes, and I am really, really excited about trying somthing new & growing professional!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time to Blog

While I have already spent the majority of my summer reading books & professional articles, many tweeters are sharing how important it is to blog weekly to get into the habit of self-reflection & writing.  So, here is my blog committment to the virtual world that I plan on blogging each week.  There it is, out in the universe via technology, my blogging goal! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


There is something about the school year ending that is exciting! While I am saddened to not see students & coworkers on a daily basis, it is invigorating knowing I have time to recharge my batteries before the start of another school year.  I have my summer days planned out of sleeping in a little more and waking up without an alarm clock, reading until late into the evenings, going for bike rides and walks, grilling out with family and friends and sitting on the patio reminiscing of past memories .... and of course how I will change my classes and teaching for the next school year.

I do wonder if all my students look forward to the summer as much as I do. Will they have a guaranteed breakfast and lunch in their homes, since they won't be in school?  Will someone be able to provide them structure throughout the day where they know the expectations as well as they do during the school year?  Will someone make sure they are reading books even though it is not for a grade?

This brings me to ponder the "time" students spend in schools.  I don't know how I feel about year round schools, but sometimes when I think about some students who need the structure & security of the school day, I am all for it.  Maybe by changing the number of school days required by each district should increase. With the demands of becoming a nation of global learners & educational reforms affecting districts, teachers, students, and families, maybe it would be okay to go to school longer each year. If that is the case, I am going to have to get some solar batteries that will recharge me each day and not just at the end of the school year!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Love of Reading!

I love to read! A perfect day for me is to be curled up on my couch or bed reading anything from a novel, a professional magazine or book, People magazine, or my local newspaper.  If it is raining outside with a few crackles of thunder it is an even better reading atmosphere for me!   This past year I have been reading many professional related books, partly due to the texts required for the classes I am taking, but also the desire to become a better educator. Whatever the reason for reading, it is enjoyable.

My parents were not avid book readers, but they were newspaper and magazine readers.  I knew at an early age reading was important, but it was never forced upon me by my parents.  My mom often tells me I really never wanted to play with Barbie dolls because I was too busy coloring and reading.  I guess I knew I was supposed to be a teacher at an early age! How many parents are models for their kids and read in their free time?  How many parents share with their kids how important reading is and that reading is a lifelong skill?  With many schools implementing Reading Counts, Book-It programs, and Accelerated Reader, do students still share the same love of reading I had in elementary school, or are they motivated only to earn so many points or a prize with the completion of a book?

My earliest memory of reading was when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I remember I spent the whole day reading a Hardy Boys adventure book. It was the first book I had ever finished in one day.  As I turned the last page I looked at the book and was flabbergasted. At that age I didn't think it was possible to read a book in one day!

As I got older, I don't remember reading a lot of books in middle school or high school.  We were required to read Johnny Tremain and To Kill a Mockingbird, which I did not read as I hated being told what book I had to read.  These two classic novels are still on my current reading list, which I hope to enjoy as an adult.  I will be honest and tell you that Johnny Tremain is probably the last book on the reading list though!

Now when I read novels I escape with the characters to faraway places as off on a mini-vacation, and if I read a non-fiction book I sit with pen and a stack of post-it notes to mark the key points I don't want to forget. My bookshelves are to the point of overflowing which I am ecstatic about!

I found this year while teaching struggling 8th grade readers they really have the hardest time finding a book that will interest them.  There are two boys who want short books about sports or the outdoors. If the book is over 150 pages they feel it will be too hard for them to read. One girl loves to read realistic fiction, especially where the main characters are having a personal struggle, but the struggle cannot be about abuse because it hits too close to home for her.  Why hasn't anyone written a series about a farm boy and his adventures running the family farm with his parents, in hopes of one day becoming the 5th generation farm owner?  I have a student who doesn't love to read, only likes to read, that would probably read that whole series in a month!  Finding middle school level books, discussing middle school students' interests at a lower reading level has been my biggest challenge as a teacher this year. No wonder reading continues to be a challenge for these readers!  The search continues for the right adolescent book for each of the kids in my classroom.

Even with these few classroom struggles,  I have remained excited about reading and have motivated myself to read more during my free time instead of watching reality television. To continue to make it a priority, I decided to post a list of the books I have read this year to help me keep a running tally (and at the end of the year I hope I look at the list and am flabbergasted!):

* The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
* The Principal's Guide to Curriculum Leadership by Sorenson, Goldsmith, Mendez, & Maxwell
* How Successful People Think  by John C. Maxwell
* The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel
* Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah
* 10 Traits of Highly Effective Teachers:  How to Hire, Coach, and Mentor Successful Teachers  by Elaine McEwan
* How Full is Your Bucket? Tom Rath & Donald Clifton
* The Highly Engaged Classroom  Robert Marzano & Debra Pickering
* Reframing the Path to School Leadership  Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal
* Readicide: how schools are killing reading & what you can do about it Kelly Gallagher
* Shifting the Monkey Todd Whitaker
* Diana Sarah Bradford
* You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader Mark Sanborn
* The Lucky One Nicholas Sparks
* Sammy Keyes & the Hotel Theif Wendelin Van Draanen
* The Wedding Dress  Rachel Hauck
* The Wedding Letters Jason F. Wright
* Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning and Behavior Problems Sharon Vaughn & Candace S. Bog
*  Heaven is for Real  Todd Burpo
* So Far Away  Meg Mitchell Moore
* Training Camp  Jon Gordon

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mega Millions Jackpot

The hype and excitement of the Mega Millions Jackpot has leaked into my middle school classroom.  Students were working on their adding and subtracting fraction review, and began to discuss what they would buy if their family won the lottery.  Secretly, I was thinking of that also.

Visions of a new house built on a wooded acreage, adirondack chairs in the background overlooking my timber, and the echoes of a small stream in the background.  Of course, I would also be refreshed from having slept in since I would only be volunteering my time, instead of working full-time.   I would donate a great deal of the money to local school districts and my church, while supporting causes that mean a lot to me.  Taking a trip to meet the Queen of England and travel to far off lands for months at a time, while sending postcards back home would also be on the list of must-dos.  This was the beginnings of my planned Jackpot spending.

I was brought back to real-time when a student was rattling off the 4-wheelers and ATVS he would buy with his winnings.  I smiled and asked the other student in our math group what he would want to spend his Jackpot on.  He said he would be buy a double-wide trailer because he wanted more space to live in.  I stopped my fleeting thoughts of extravagant spending.  I asked him what else he would want to buy.  He said nothing, he only wanted a new trailer.

His response allowed me to step back and realize that while I am spending my money on things I don't really need, he was focused on achieving Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  To him, owning that trailer was all he really needed and wanted.  To him and other students I interact with, their only dream is having their basic needs met.  It was a moment for me to step back and see his perspective on life's Jackpot.