Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

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Guest Post by Dan Haiem, @danclasscalcco1 

“But teacher, why do I need to learn this math stuff if I can just use my calculator app?”

Every teacher has heard this at some point. Most students have asked this at some point. Up until around 2007, teachers had a great answer that kinda-sorta worked, which went something like “You’re not going to always have a calculator everywhere you go, are you?”

The opposite of that, of course, became a reality when the iPhone became the most common tool found in any student’s pocket, and gave them access to powerful calculators like Desmos, Geogebra and our very own ClassCalc.

Here’s my opinion though – the old answer was never a good answer, and the ubiquity of iPhones has given us a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a very valid question. What’s the point of learning math if we have calculators that do math for us?

In the words of NYC’s (possibly) most high-energy math teacher, José Vilson, “Math shouldn’t be limited to a disconnected set of rules and jargon that doesn’t seem to mean much of anything.” If math really was about the rules and jargon, then a calculator could truly replace the need for learning it. Fortunately (for humans), it’s not.

For the sake of simplicity, and because this is my first blog post ever, here’s a short roadmap of this post’s approach to this topic:

  1. First, we’ll discuss how math helps students build tools and skills, and define the difference between the two:
    1. Tools: Spreadsheets, running an analysis, doing taxes.
    2. Skills: Good communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving.
  2. Next, we’ll discuss how math has shifted from serving us as a tool, to helping us sharpen our skills – most important of which is problem-solving.
  3. Finally, we’ll take a look at an example of how a specific math problem helps us build a specific problem-solving skill called mental-triage, and how we might help students make that connection as well.

Onwards.

Math serves two primary purposes in education: it gives students the tools to play with numbers, and it serves as practice to sharpen certain mental skills that are important in life. To define the two:

  • Tools: Concrete things a person “knows.” Examples include: spreadsheets, coding, writing blog posts (a tool I clearly lack), social media advertisements, taxes, etc.

  • Skills: More abstract, broad abilities that are not particularly associated with executing a specific task – the kinds you always see in leadership charts. Examples include: Hard working, communicative, optimistic, honesty with self, problem-solving, etc.

*Credits to Business Simulations

In this sense, math falls into an interesting crossroads as both 1) part of the abstract skillset a person has, (ie: “problem-solving”) and 2) a tool that can be put to work (ie: part of your “toolkit” – like running a statistical analysis on two data sets).

It’s important to keep in mind though that:

Math will play a fundamentally different role for different students, and we need to bring that understanding into the classroom.

An engineer will likely benefit from math as both 1) an exercise in problem-solving (skill) and 2) a tool to accomplish certain tasks.

An artist might use the abstract side of problem-solving (skill) but – and this is especially applicable today, with all the calculators in our pockets – they probably will not have much use for math as a tool

Here’s a screenshot I grabbed off the might internet that summarizes the point (albeit, aggressively):

*drops mic*

I believe it’s important and ok to tell our students that not all of them will be using math as a tool. At this point, most people don’t need math to do taxes (here’s a calculator for that), split a tab (here’s a calculator for that) or accomplish any of the other tasks that might have required math as a “tool” before calculators were built.

To recap:

  • Math confers two types of skills: Abstract problem solving (skill) and an actual tool in your toolkit (tool)
  • Everyone can (probably) benefit from the problem-solving (skill) aspect. While some people (engineers, some scientists) benefit from having math in their toolkit (tool), most can get by with their super powerful pocket calculator.
  • So, for students not interested in pursuing a career that would require a math toolkit, we must focus on the abstract problem-solving (skill) aspect of math.

As brilliantly stated by Baltimore Ravens lineman and MIT mathematician John Urschel, we need “students to see that math extends far past the confines of the classroom and into everyday life.” What’s more “everyday life” in the 21st century than problem-solving?

Now the questions shifts to: How do we show students the relationship between learning math and developing this abstract ability to “problem-solve”?

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. One thing to consider is that skills and tools are actually mutually conducive. Google is a tool you learn to use. Being able to learn stuff on your own is a very important skill in today’s workforce. Knowing how to use the Google tool will help you build the learn-stuff-on-you-own skill. I think the same applies to math.

Although students may never use calculus directly, the mental exercises they go through in solving calculus problems might help improve the mental muscles required for peripherally related skills.

  1. We need to find good examples to demonstrate the above. I mean good examples. Not the “Well, don’t you want to know how to do this without your calculator?” type of answer and not the “Being able to do your taxes is very important” type of answer and not the “here’s an example of Timmy calculating the volume of the Earth by standing on a ladder and looking at the horizon (although that’s super cool)” type of example. These examples all focus on the tool aspect of math, which we know won’t be as relevant to all students. We need to focus on the skill aspect of mathematics.

So now the challenge becomes being able to demonstrate to students a link between learning math and learning how to problem-solve. A good approach might be to 1) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to succeed in math 2) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to problem-solve 3) Discuss the cross-overs.

One of my favorite examples is mental triage: the abstract skill of quickly finding the most efficient path through a challenge given a limited toolkit.

Here’s an example of a math problem that helps sharpen the sub-skill of mental triage:

  1. Math itself is a limited toolkit. You learn how to move numbers around. How to draw graphs etc. Each time you learn one of these new tools, you’re essentially learning a new way to play with numbers. When we approach a math problem, we subconsciously run an analysis that goes something like this: What do I want to make these numbers do? What tools do I have to move these numbers around? What tools am I not allowed to use? What is the most efficient tool path to an answer?
  2. As an example, let’s take the following problem, a favorite of the SAT:

  1. Here’s how my brain runs through my math toolkit.
    1. I gotta solve for x.
    2. Problem: x is in the exponent.
    3. Do I have any tools to get rid of an exponent?
    4. I can raise both sides to ^(1/4x) which would lead to:
      1. No good. Back to step c.
    5. How else can I get rid of the exponent? Logarithms, let’s try that:
      1. which simplifies to:
    6. Great, we got rid of x in the exponent. Onwards! Divide both sides by 4log(2):
    7. Plug into by handy dandy ClassCalc Calculator to get:
      1. x=1

There we have it: mental triage in math.

Finally, we’ll bring it full circle with a real-world example of mental-triage as a sub-skill of problem solving.

Teaching my high school students how to pick a college

It was the last day of my physics class last year, and my students were just about done with school. They had already taken the AP test and were ready for summer. Instead of squeezing in another physics lesson, I decided to tackle a more pressing concern of theirs – choosing a university.

In retrospect, my method for picking a university was suboptimal – I just asked my good friends where they were going and what they thought a good college was, and ended up at UCLA. Lucky for me, I met good people there and had an awesome experience, but many others who take the same approach are not. I wanted to teach my students how to be proactive and problem-solving-oriented in making life choices.

Rather than start with “I want to go to college” I wanted to help each one of them hear their inner voice, and begin a dialogue with it. Start for the bottom. Here was my approach:

Student: *Says something*

Me:

And this is what the conversation ended up sounding like:

  • Student: What college should I go to?
  • Me: Why do you want to go to college?
  • Student: I need to get an edu-
  • Me: Yes, but why do you need an education? What’s your goal?
  • Student: I want to make money. Goal number 1: Make money!
  • Me: Honest, but fair. What else? A lot of jobs will make you money.
  • Student: I want to become a doctor.
  • Me: Do you for sure 100% want to become a doctor? Have you had real exposure to medicine? Or is it alluring to you for other reasons?
  • Student: I’m not sure. I want to figure out what I want to become. Goal number 2: Explore career options!
  • Me: Ok, what else?
  • Student: I want to make good friends and party. Goal number 3: Have fun
  • And so on..

By the end, we put together a list of priorities for each student. I could see their perspective change drastically. Rather than listen to a parent’s friend’s suggestion, they were determined to go online and research.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that a better mathematician is going to be better at selecting a college, but certainly, the tools we learn in math can inform our decision-making process for the important choices we must all make in life, especially if we are aware that there is a problem-solving oriented approach to making these decisions. Our jobs, as teachers, is to help students form that awareness.

A good method for cultivating that awareness is with Miyagi Moment every so often. What’s a Miyagi Moment moment, you ask?

It’s a metaphor for when a teacher (or sensei) helps a student develop a crucial skill by practicing adjacently related skills that at first do not seem connected.

In the first gif below, we see the legendary Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel San how to…wax a car. Not really relevant to fighting karate.

In a later scene, Daniel san gets angry, accusing Mr. Miyagi of wasting his time with chores, when he should be learning super cool action moves to take down the big bully Johnny. Right then and there, Mr. Miyagi throws a couple of HYAH punches and BAM. Daniel san blocks them – all the while shocked in disbelief that he had developed the skills to do so. That moment of disbelief in the newly developed skill is the Miyagi Moment!

In math, students will often be practicing skills that seem almost irrelevant to them in life. It is up to us teachers to remind our students every so often that that is not the case. The best way to show them that is with a Miyagi Moment. It is time away from teaching the next chapter or lesson, but it is time well-spent.

I think blogger and math teacher John Trout McCrann put it beautifully in writing “Deep understanding about the process of solving an equation helps everyone understand how to create systems to solve problems at work, in their families, in our world. The kinds of problem-solving strategies you might use to tackle a big project, develop a more efficient engine, or address an issue that’s arisen between you and your partner. Deep understandings about shapes help everyone understand how to reason spatially, a skill that you may one day apply as a designer or as you lay out the furniture in your first house or apartment.”

About Me (Daniel Haiem):

  • I love math and education.
  • I’m an ex-physics teacher
  • I founded and lead a company called ClassCalc – the lockdown calculator app that lets teachers lock students out of all outside distractions such as instagram, calls and texts, keeping students focused in class, and preventing cheating on tests. Our goal is 100% access to calculators for students across the planet by 2025.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Kimberly Tumambing Executive Assistant at Gorman Learning Charter Network

Digital Citizenship

Recently, I was visiting with my nine year old niece, when she proceeded to pull out her iPad and log into her Youtube account. She showed me the amazing little videos she is creating, editing and publishing. In the same evening, my twenty-six year old niece told me she just learned that she can open a .pdf on her phone. I laughed. The difference in digital presence and understanding is huge when you think about the fact that there is only a seventeen year gap between the two girls.

Today’s youth are faced with so many opportunities for success and achievement, but also with so many possibilities for failure and regret.

How can we help them to become better Digital Citizens, when so much of what they are experiencing is still new to us?

This is the question that has inspired me to help parents learn more about what it means to be a Digital Citizen and how you can help equip your children with the tools they need to navigate this new world.

Digital Citizenship is when a person utilizes Information Technology in order to engage in society, politics and government. Information Technology consists of computers, laptops, tablets, phones, and other devices.

So when I started this campaign, I asked myself, what would I tell my younger self, if I could send her a Facebook message. And what I came up with is this: once you put it on the internet, it is forever on the internet. Photos you wish had never existed, conversations you wish you hadn’t had, personal information, and so much more. So, younger me, how do you participate in this digital world without risking college scholarships, potential jobs, and possible legal ramifications? How do you keep yourself safe from predators, while engaging in social activities?

And I came up with this answer: by being well informed. We can’t shelter children from the dangers of being a Digital Citizen. But we can teach them what to share, and how to share, responsibly. But where can parents go for help? If I were to try and teach you everything I have learned, you would be reading this blog for the next three to four hours.

So instead, I’m going to share with you two of my greatest resources. My school has a go to website that we recommend for our families when parents call and ask about the dangers of certain websites or applications. The organization is called Common Sense Media. I recommend you start with the privacy and internet safety section for Parents. Did you know many of the applications your child is downloading will come with locations settings turned on? So everyone will know where your child is just by checking the background location indicator. But there is a way to turn this setting off and protect your child’s location. My hope is that this website will help you keep your students safe.

But what about their online etiquette? Everyone looks at a student’s online profile these days. Colleges and Universities are looking at possible athletic candidates and the photos they posted during their middle school and high school days. Future employers are looking to see what kind of language a person uses online, or what articles they favor, or if they fight over social media or maintain some kind of respectful dialogue. And they aren’t just looking at Facebook either. Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitch, Youtube, and personal blogs are great places for someone to learn everything they may want to know about your child.

To be a good digital citizen, your child also needs to realize they are not protected just because it wasn’t “said” in person. A student can be prosecuted in a court of law for digital threats, accusations, and “jokes.” Students who threaten to kill others, even if it is a “joke” on Twitter, can be prosecuted and face possible charges.

I also recommend the National Online Safety website. The resource section of this website has some great infographics describing websites and applications that students tend to favor. They even cover video games and chat rooms. They also have some helpful information about Social Media sites and the effect on your child’s mental health. And their infographics are updated regularly depending on what is trending amongst kids.

Parents, you don’t have it easy these days. You have to teach your children to be safe and polite in both the physical world and the digital one. You have to teach your children how to interact with people they are talking to face-to-face and people they are conversing with via instant messenger. My hope is that the websites I have provided to you will give you the information you need to train up strong, well informed, world changers who can travel between both worlds with ease.

Guest Post by:

 Peg Grafwallner, Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist, Ronald Reagan IB High School, Erica Breitbarth, Music Teacher, Ronald Reagan IB High School

One of my favorite ways to spend the first block is to observe a music class. I am an
Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large, urban high school. I collaborate with dozens of teachers by supporting them in embedding literacy into their classroom teaching with disrupting their learning objectives. This particular morning I observed Ms. B’s Beginning Chorus class. As students practiced their scales, Ms. B played the piano and offered instructions. She encouraged students to use Curwen hand signals to align to the notes. These hand signals offer a kinesthetic connection to the notes giving students the chance to, according to Ms. B, “visually and spatially represent the sound they are producing.”

As students were practicing their scales, I noticed explicit similarities between reading and music; and most notably, reading in music. Ms. B. prefaced the lesson’s song by offering background on the composer and the arranger. Frequently, the background of an artist can be directly related to the piece they create. Therefore, that background is often analyzed to make meaning from the piece. Likewise, when I introduce a short story, I always share with students the background of the author. Often, the author’s interesting life experiences is a hook to get students interested. As an example, the life of Edgar Allan Poe is as emotionally complex as his poem, “Annabelle Lee.” Therefore, it is beneficial to spend time on the connections between author and text and in this case, between the composer and the music.

6E56F311-72C8-4FAC-83B5-79D1E9CCAF0ANext, Ms. B asked her students to listen to the introduction of the song and try to predict
what it was about. What mood did the piece evoke? How did it make them feel? These questions encouraged students to imagine what the composer or musician is saying within the music. What do they want us to know, to feel, to understand? In addition, students were encouraged to apply music terminology to their explanations. Utilizing that terminology supports their practice of music language and inspires them to communicate as a musician. In a similar way, when I teach a new piece of text, I often “tease” students with the first couple of lines from the story (“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities) or the name of the main character (“Bigger Thomas,” Native Son) or the location of the setting (“Starkfield,” Ethan Frome). I ask them to predict what they think the story is about, or to anticipate the attitude of the character or to foresee the importance of the place. That conversation helps students to imagine the theme, the characters and the setting.

Next, Ms. B distributed the sheet music and asked students to take a few minutes to
“read” it over. She asked them to sing the rhythms on counts and encouraged them to keep reading the music even if they mixed up a rhythm, but to continue working on it both visually and aurally. As a reading specialist, I encourage students to keep reading if they get stuck on a word. I remind them of various “fix it” strategies to make meaning. As an example, can the student determine meaning from the prefix, the root word or the suffix? Is the student able to understand the gist of the reading without the word?
When students finished reading, Ms. B asked them to highlight their individual line so
that it would “stick out of the musical texture as you read.” This type of close reading, or
“musical annotation” is a valuable skill in all content areas. When students begin a new piece of text, even a brief close reading supports their annotation skills. By doing a close reading, students are asking questions, making comments and deciphering unknown vocabulary. This engagement with the text helps students for the challenge of reading and making meaning of what could be an unfamiliar topic.

2F7ECCC0-891D-4DF0-AE40-86521386832BAs students read and highlighted, Ms. B prepared a video of the song being performed by
an authentic ensemble, so students could “feel” the style and the spirit of the piece. This visual is critical in making an auditory connection. By listening to the music and watching the singers’ body language, the student is hearing and seeing the relationship between the singers and the music. Similarly, I often show a video or play a recording of an author reading a portion of their short story, poem or novel. I want students to see the author’s demeanor when reading and hear the tone and inflection of the author’s voice.
Finally, after a visual and spatial warm-up, an introduction of the artist, a prediction of
the piece, a detailed close-reading with annotation, and lastly, a visual and auditory opportunity to hear the music, Ms. B’s students were ready to practice the piece themselves.

In closing, it is essential to create scaffolded reading opportunities in all classes, not just
the four “core” where one would most expect them. To support students in reading, explicit and useful strategies are necessary to make meaningful reading connections, which in turn, highlights the value of reading in every single subject. Applying those specific reading strategies in music and all classes demonstrates the value of that discipline and the ability to transfer those strategies from one content area to the next.

References
Dickens, C. (1859). A tale of two cities. London: Chapman Hall.
Wharton, E. (1860). Ethan Frome. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Wright, R. (1911). Native son. New York, Harper.

Peg Grafwallner is the author of Ready to Learn: The FRAME Model for Optimizing Student Success, available now through Solution Tree.

EB9E4BE1-B0CE-4383-9A1D-316C6DF1DB91  Ready to Learn

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Originally published on Getting Smart
As an educator, summer is a time for me to focus on a lot of things that tend to slip by throughout the school year. One of the most important is self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, go on a vacation or a staycation even, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When summer arrives, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few weeks to adjust, but I find that once the end of June arrives, I am well into my summer routine of learning and enjoying the extra time with family and friends. The days are still filled but with more than work, although many educators seek professional development during the summer, it is on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

But it’s also the time when educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and implement new ideas and strategies for the school year. For those who had the “summer off,” making the shift back into the daily school routine can be a challenge. Even though we stay busy, we can still struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth once the school year starts back up. So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

 

Guest Post by Andrew Easton, @EastonA1, Personalized Learning Collaborator and Consultant, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

*Future DBC Inc. author on Personalized Learning, Spring 2020

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

 

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal  Completed Two Goals Completed Three Goals  Completed Four Goals Completed All Five Goals 
Week One 4 Students 5 Students 4 Students 10 Students 25 Students
Week Two 5 Students 4 Students 4 Students 8 Students 27 Students
Week Three 1 Student 2 Students 7 Students 2 Students 36 Students

 

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (bit.ly/WPPodcast)

WestsidePersonalized.com

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Liz Janusz, Instructional Coach in SD113A in Lemont, IL. @mrs_janusz

I know the end of the school year is near, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about next year already! I have many goals for next school year: get into some coaching cycles with our amazing teachers, share more professional development books, but my number one goal for next year is to begin to build a culture of readers in our school.

Creating a reading culture in a school is essential if we want to encourage students to become engaged and motivated readers. Reading for fun should be celebrated and encouraged throughout the school day! Developing a strong culture of readers takes time and commitment from all involved, which is why I’ve already started planning for next year!

What do you need to begin to build a culture of readers?

  • Everyone should have a clear understanding of why building a culture of readers is so important. Reading for pleasure is the BEST way to develop and strengthen literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
  • A shared vision of what your school’s reading culture means in real words.
  • Full support of all staff in the building, including custodians, PE teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.
  • Books, books, and more books!

What are some things I can do to start building a culture of readers?

  • Encourage students to book talk the book they just finished reading to the rest of the class. Most of the time, they will be able to hook their peers on a book better that we could! Peer recommendations are one of the most powerful ways we can get more books into the hands of students!
  • Offer book clubs during the lunch periods. Pick a few books from an award list (Caudill, Newbery, Monarch, etc) and offer the chance for students to come in during their lunchtime to discuss the book that everyone is reading. Picking a book from an award list, will more than likely will leave them wanting to read the rest of on the list!
  • Set up an area in the school library where teachers can leave book recommendations for students.
  • As you are walking around the hallways, try simply carrying a book with you. I’m shocked at how many kids stop me in the hallway when I am carrying a book! They want to either tell me that they are reading it too or want me to tell them what they book is about.
  • Make your classroom library and sacred and inviting space. Don’t just throw random books in tubs and be done with it. Get your students involved and be thoughtful about how you arrange your library so it would be most accessible for your class.
  • Make books available all throughout the building! Put some shelves in the hallways and make displays based on what grade levels are teaching about or highlight a certain genre.

How can I get ALL staff members involved?

  • Over the summer have students and staff take pictures of themselves reading and post them with a school hashtag. When school begins in the fall create a slidedeck with all the all different pictures so we can celebrate all of the summer reading!
  • Create “What I’m Currently Reading” signs for EVERY SINGLE staff member in your building. These can hang outside their classroom, office, lunchroom, gym etc. Staff members can update these every time they read a new book. Students can see that all staff members value reading for fun and will hopefully get them excited about their own reading.
  • Set up a book swap! Have all teachers look through their classroom libraries and select books that they would put in the swap. Other teachers and students could then come look through the books and decide which “new” books they would like in their library. Everyone gets “new” books for their library, without spending money!
  • Make sure your school has a wide variety of books! For example, there are a lot of great math books out there. Buy some for your math teachers to have in the classroom that they can read aloud or reference while teaching.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

Each year, I continue to explore new ideas to have students create with the content, rather than doing the exact same project or using traditional worksheets or other assessment methods. For years, I assigned students to complete very rigid projects in the same format and left little up to student choice. Now, after seeing the benefits of being more flexible with my instructional methods, I’d rather open it up more to student choice and see what students come up with.

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators becomes quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. This is another one of the reasons that I choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in offering more than just one way for students to create. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

Learning about students and pushing them to explore

At the start of each school year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. But this year I decided to do something a little bit differently to not only engage students in learning about the Spanish language and culture but to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(country)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds. For the second slide, students

were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

One other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!

 

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Jethro Jones

Twitter: @jethrojones http://twitter.com/jethrojones

Web site: http://transformativeprincipal.org

My name is Jethro Jones, and I am a principal in Alaska. I have helped three schools become trauma informed as a principal and many others through my podcast and Trauma course. I have worked long and hard to figure out some strategies that all school personnel can implement effectively. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and a lot of errors where I have really messed up and I’m going to share some of those secrets here.

Whether your school has created or attended a trauma-informed practices training or not, there are three things you can do to respond to situations in your school in a trauma-sensitive way. Implementing these strategies is simple enough that you can start implementing them today. They are powerful enough that you will see results almost immediately.

1. Ask Questions

Anytime you’ve got a kid who’s acting out or who’s struggling or whatever, instead of saying, “You need to be doing X,” ask the student questions.

This is really simple.

“How are you doing?”

“What are you working on?”

“Where are you heading?”

“What’s going on over here?”

“Can you help me understand…?”

Asking questions gives the student an opportunity to express him or herself in a way that allows them to deal with whatever’s going on.

The challenging part about asking questions is sometimes we as teachers turn questions into statements of condemnation!

For example, “Why are you running in the hall when you know you should be walking?” is more of a condemnation than a question.

We need to ask questions and figure out what is actually happening. Give them an opportunity to express themselves and deal with it. This is a hard thing for us. Because we have rules, we have expectations, we have policies and procedures.

And we as adults are very comfortable in those shoes.

And if we’re not comfortable, then it’s easier for us to say, Stop running. Stop doing that. Stop this. Stop that.

And that’s just not helpful to a child experiencing trauma. Because they’re not thinking–they’re only acting. We need to get them to slow down and think!

When you ask questions, you require the student to stop and think about what they are doing. Your voice doesn’t sound like a teacher in Charlie Brown when you ask a question.

Don’t turn questions into accusations, but make them clear, inquiring concern for the student.

You’ll get great results.

2. Don’t Take Things Personally

Every educator works hard and takes her job seriously and personally, and teachers put so much into their work.

And I don’t mean don’t take your work personally. What I mean is, don’t take the students actions towards you personally.

They’re most likely not a personal attack.

Yes, they will hurt. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But you can’t take what they do, and think they’re acting out towards you to hurt you personally, that’s just not what is happening. Even when we feel like it is.

Kids desire to please the adults around them. Kids desire to make good choices.

The number of reasons that they have acting out is probably innumerable.

It’s rare when a student wakes up and says, boy, Mrs. Jones really is going above and beyond and helping me at school, I should totally do something that hurts her today. That’s not what kids do.

Sometimes, kids don’t know how to react to someone giving them positive attention, and they attempt to push them away. I once had a student who found out she was moving away from the school, and proceeded to destroy all the hard work her teachers had been putting in. When we talked to her, she was finally able to articulate that it was easier to leave with people mad at her so she didn’t feel like she was missing them as much, because you don’t miss people who are mad at you.

So there are two things you can do. Number one, ask, why is this kid doing this?

Number two, what can you do to deal with this behavior?

We as educators have to recognize that we can’t change anybody, every person has to make that choice for him or herself. We can certainly put things in place to help them make good choices, which we do all the time.

But we cannot change anybody. They need to change themselves.

We need to be sure that we are making choices that allow us to not take it personally like they’re attacking us, because even if they do attack us, it’s not personal. Kids are naturally kind, nice, wonderful, sweet, thoughtful little human beings. It’s when they’ve had these adverse childhood experiences, that they start acting differently.

And what our role is, is to help them to be successful even when they’ve had those experiences.

3 Know Your Role

The image above is a powerful way to make sure that people know their role is in a school that is trauma informed. Get a printable version here that you can use as a handout.

You’re not a counselor or a social worker. You’re an educator. You shouldn’t try, and NOBODY should expect you to be anything you’re not.

Could you be a therapist, counselor, or social worker if you tried? Yes. Do you have what it takes? Absolutely!

When a student doesn’t know how to read, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to write, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to drive or swim, or do whatever, what do we do? We teach them,

When a student doesn’t know how to behave, what do we do? Usually we punish them, what we should do is teach them.

And so our role as educators is to teach and help kids learn.

Now, there are so many different ways to do this!

Our purpose here is not to discuss all the many ways we can teach them, but to emphasize that it is our role to teach them, regardless of how they come to us.

Now, I want to share an experience that is really powerful. In her book, Allison Apsey shares a very similar experience. There are certain students that take up all your time! You are constantly spending time with those students, recognizing that it is worth the time and effort to intentionally and proactively spend time with those students that take up all your time,

if you’re going to be spending time with them anyway, why not work with them to get support in advance, why not work with them to build that relationship?

I call this Proactive Teaching. Some call it check and connect, or check in check out.

These students that are really struggling need additional support. You’ve got to have good Tier 1 behavior expectations and practices in place, but you and I both know there are kids for whom that doesn’t work, and they are the kids that reside in Tier 3! They need the extra help.

Instead of waiting for this student to be sent down to the office, we proactively go teach this student how to make good choices. Don’t think you can do this with 100 kids! It won’t work.

Find those two (or maybe three) students and get with them before they cause the trouble. Take the initiative and connect with them before they can get into trouble. Get with them before they get overwhelmed and can’t perform. Get with them before they wreak havoc in your class!

I had one student who would have a meltdown nearly every day because he was so worried about his mom and young sister. Instead of waiting for his behavior to cause him to be taken out of class, I met up with him before he had a chance for that, and talked about how things were going and what I could do to help him. Then, when his meltdown would inevitably come, we already had a connection that day.

Did this take a lot of time? Yes.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was, because it was so much better to do that in a positive, preventive proactive way than it was to deal with the issues and problems that he was going to have after the fact. Because when he had a bad day, he wanted to get it out in an aggressive way that hurt other kids, and that just wasn’t going to work in our school.

So instead of spending the 30 minutes trying to calm him down after a problem out on the playground, we spent 20 minutes before and during recess to give him that support.

It wasn’t my role to help him deal with his issues at home. I needed to be a trusted adult who was teaching him how to deal with things at school. Of course, a counselor was involved to help him deal with the challenges he faced at home.

To recap:

1. Ask questions.

2. Don’t take it personally

3. Know your role.

These three strategies will help you out immediately with whatever challenges you are facing in your school. If you need additional help or support along the way, please reach out to me by email or at my web site: jethrojones.com/trauma

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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