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Audacity of August Meets Realities of September

Audacity of August Meets Realities of September

The audacity of August (and really June and July) has met the realities of September!

As the 2016-2017 year wound down, I found myself excited by my new found professional development (ie Twitter PLN).  Typically, I’d be looking forward to a nice summer “off” with a workshop or book skim sprinkled here and there.  But this off-season was shaping up differently. I was engaged by all these wonderful ideas to shift the way I taught. To rethink how I planned.  To jump in and try out different tools, apps and sites that could enhance my students’ learning.

All through June, July and into August, I was making a list… checking it more than twice… of all the inspiring and exciting ways to engage this next group of students that would come my way.  I was enlivened.  Invigorated. Ready!

But somewhere along the line, the realities of 24 students with differing needs, personalities and decision-making skills as well as school and district expectations came crashing down.  For convenience sake, let’s call all of this September.  The realities of September have landed heavily on all those summer aspirations.  Much of the audacious hope of August has started to buckle under the crush of behaviors, assessments and the frantic pace of “getting everything done”.

Years of compliance-based learning the root of frustration?

Some of the awesome instructional shifts and classroom management shifts have seemed to confuse or confound students (and frustrate their teacher).  In many ways, these students have never been asked to learn like this.  They’ve never been asked to take control of their learning, to be risk takers or to embrace mistakes for the positive outcomes they can bring.  They’ve never had to collaborate and communicate with peers in sustained ways. As I consider ditching the shifts to go back to what is familiar or putting my head down and powering through to what I believe is possible, I wonder if a few years of compliance-based learning is the root of the frustrations and lack of immediate success?  Are these just growing pains that will fade?  Or will this persist?  Every child is unique and every group of students is different, but has the way they’ve been taught in the past created rigidity in their expectations of “school”?  

Perhaps October will bring answers and optimism and not horrors unrelated to Halloween.

Me and Mr. Feeny

Me and Mr. Feeny

Growing up through the ‘90s of course meant watching TV (for you young-ins this means real TV… not cable or Netflix with all the choices and conveniences) and that meant being able to experience one of the greatest things ever to hit the airwaves – “Boy Meets World”!

IMDB.com

 You had to love the crazy antics of Cory and Shawn.  And Cory’s older brother Eric was always good for a strangely odd laugh.  But a main story-line of the show was the lifelong relationship between two of the main characters – Corey and Mr. Feeny (oh and I think there was a Topanga??).

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

 

By the time the show was hitting it’s stride, I had put away the “cool” answers to this question, and had settled in on being a teacher.  So I watched Mr. Feeny with keen interest.

 A year or so back, I remember half jokingly posting on Facebook that when I grew up, I wanted to be a teacher just like Feeny.  While I’m not there yet (and certainly hope I don’t follow my students through middle and high school), I had a stunning realization this week.  As we were winding down our Getting to Know each other conversations and activities, I took time out to let my current 3rd graders ask me questions.  One hit me with, “Why did you decide to become a teacher?”  I told them how when I was a kid I always answered with policeman, soldier, secret agent etc. but always heard “teacher” in the back of my head.  I also explained that by the time I was in high school, I knew I had been called into this profession and felt I could be great in it… not great for me but great for them.

 The conversation twisted and turned (as it will with newly minted 3rd graders) and they finally asked two more wonderful questions.  “Why hadn’t we done any subject stuff?” and “Why had we done all that other stuff (ie. motivational, class/school cultural, relational activities)?”  Both questions led us to a place I’d never fully been before.  I was sitting in front of my 14th class of students about to do something I had never done… be totally committed to them!

“They Deserved It!”

 I told them that what we had done was far more important than anything else we’d do with “subject stuff”.  I told them that I believed in every one of them and knew they would do great things.  I told them that homework would be amazingly important to and for them  instead of being worksheets that were only important to whoever bought the books they came from.  I told them they deserved and should expect me to be a great teacher!  Some of this I’d said before to other classes, but not with this much passion and certainly not with this much belief.

 As this went on, there was an energetic buzz in the room, in the students and in myself.  This was a different feeling.  This new year had now been set on a new, inspiring trajectory.  A proclamation had been made!  In the back of my head, for the first time as a professional educator I felt like I might just have begun becoming Mr. Feeny.

Ready for 2017-2018!??

Ready for 2017-2018!??

August 14th has arrived. While I’ve officially been back to work for two days, this being the first Monday makes it all the more real. So too does the fact that this evening is Meet the Teacher.  A new anxious and excited group of students and parents will come flowing into my classroom.

 

Ahh… the classroom.  As I look around Facebook (and my own building) at all the many Pintrest perfect rooms, mine can best be summed up as “Smoldering Crater”!  My desk is where it belongs, the ton of new math supplies are mostly stored appropriately but other than that, there isn’t much that screams, “parents and students will be here in mere hours”.  And I am completely at peace with this.

(Where’s my desk?)

I’ve never been the greatest decorator and my artistic ability is quite limited, so I’ve never been one to stress out too much over how my room looks.  But in years past I have spent much of the first few days back focused solely on “getting ready”.  That meant, desk tags, rows, laminating (oh the laminating) and poster hanging.  This was followed by creating stacks of papers for each desk so parents could go home with a forest full of different district centered information.  It left little time to really focus on what (or who) mattered most – students.


“Good is the enemy of great!” – Steven Covey

“Good is the enemy of great” is a quote that has come to mean a lot to me as this year begins.  For much of my career, I have been focused on being good enough.  But this year I wish to be great. Not for me, but for my students.  They deserve it.  So as I start this Monday morning, I’m thinking about engaging lesson designs, how to communicate more effectively with parents, students and colleagues to enhance student success and how best to shift teaching/learning from being centered on me up front to the students and what they are creating and how they are thinking.

 

The crater will get filled in… and whatever parts don’t look Pintrest perfect, the students can help create and improve once they arrive on Wednesday.  It is better like that anyway.  But just as a church is only a building and really becomes a church because of the people… my classroom is only a room until it is full of happy, engaged and energetic students.  Their desires, their passions and their creations focused on learning and being successful will make this room the caring wonderful place I hope it will be.

Run… Jump… Hold Your Breath!

Run… Jump… Hold Your Breath!

When I was younger, my family would go to Lake Norfork in northern Arkansas for our family reunion (they still do but I don’t get there all that often anymore).  The lake is a wonderful place and it was great to go fishing and swimming with siblings and cousins.  There is also a high cliff at one campground that provides a quasi-safe point to leap off into the water.  We’d go there from time to time either by car or boat but due to my fear of heights (and sub par swimming skills), I usually was a spectator.

 

Around the time I was 19 or 20, we ventured to this rock again.  I was all set to watch when my nephew, who was about 8 or 9, took one look at the water below, backed up and flung himself off into space.  Eventually, he landed hard in the water below and popped back up beaming with excitement.  After watching this two more times, it was evident that I could not be shown up.  I would have to put my fear (and rationality) behind me.  Tentatively, I took my place in the line of jumpers.  With a gasp, I took the giant leap!

 

Splash!  Here I am again taking another leap.  I have kicked around the idea of blogging for a few years now.  I’ve read certain blogs but always held back due to fear and doubt.  Who would want to read what I have to say?  There’s hundreds of blogs out there… what would be so special about mine. (The title “blogzillion” is a tongue and cheek shot at this. I must be the last person to start one right?).

 

Within the last few months, I jumped into the Twitter world (hope to post on this in the near future).  Here I have been introduced to outstanding thinkers in education via chats as well as had the chance to experience ideas from books such as Shift This! by @joykirr and Teach Like a Pirate by @burgessdave. These interactions coupled with the fact that I won a free year subscription to blog from #notatiste, have forced me past those fears.  A goal for this year is to see my 3rd grade students be more creators and less sponges when it comes to their learning.  If I’m going to ask them to do so, how can I sit back and not jump with them?

 

As with any good leap of faith, I have no idea where this blogging journey will lead.  But I know there is water down there somewhere… and I will eventually pop back up no matter what!

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