If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

**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  

Your Story Matters, Here’s Mine

LEAN ON ME, WHEN YOU’RE NOT STRONG

From the time I became very aware of what my parents did for a living, I firmly decided that I did not want to follow in their educational footsteps. They worked too hard for too little compensation for all the time and effort they spent on their work, students, and school. They were outstanding educators (my dad retired as an elementary principal, and my mom retired as a psychological examiner for an educational cooperative). In college, as I considered my major area of study and degree options, Dad pointed out that careers define where we live. At the time, I wanted to write for a magazine, so I was considering a Bachelor of Arts in English. However, Dad suggested that if I completed a Bachelor of Science in Education with an English major, then magazine companies would still view it as an English degree, but I would have the flexibility to become a teacher as well, allowing me to live anywhere.

AND I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND

I took over my first classroom a few years later in October, becoming the third Spanish teacher that year for McDonald County High School after working for Missouri State University for 3 years. I nearly hyperventilated the night before my first day as I pondered all of the responsibility I had just agreed to shoulder, but the next morning, as I stood in front of my first class of thirty high school students, I realized that I was finally home. Education was where I belonged.

I’LL HELP YOU CARRY ON

Thoughts of my greatest accomplishments in education over the years always have me looking outward, not inward for impact. Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Many have made a difference in mine. Am I transmitting inspiration and motivation? Many have inspired and motivated me. Have I equipped students to be able to walk through any door they want in life to fulfill their dreams? Am I walking through my own doors? These questions are why I am never satisfied with my own knowledge and skill. I must know better so that I can do better. Toward that end, I relentlessly pursue professional development, typically completing 150 or more hours each year (and I’m blessed to have a passion be what I do for a living, though I also get time away from PD, so don’t judge your own learning based on mine. Nothing normal here.) As I learn, I share what I know with other educators everywhere. Since the summer of 2016 (I had Twitter before that, but I had no idea what to do with it), I have become a connected educator on social media and have discovered my voice, my audience, and shifted my focus to being a conduit of empowerment for all learners, adults and students alike.

FOR IT WON’T BE LONG

I tell my students that while in my classroom, they will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Together we will push ourselves to take risks and go beyond the boundaries of what we think we can do (Thanks, Dave & George!). In my classes and professional development sessions, we leverage technology to flatten the walls of our classroom so that the world awaits. I have connected my students with experts and companies (Thanks, Buncee!) from all over the world during global DigCit Summit 2019 (Thanks, Marialice!). We connect with students from as close as Jackson, Missouri (Thanks Lance!) and as far away as Argentina (Thanks, Rachelle!) to learn other cultures, spread kindness (Thanks, Heather!), practice digital citizenship, and to develop authentic audiences for our work (Thanks, JessicaJamie, and Heather!). My passion for technology helps me guide students in a world where they no longer have to wait “grow up” to make an impact (thanks for reminding me, Kevin!).

‘TIL I’M GONNA NEED

Besides leveraging technology to empower students, I also cultivate their voice. Communication is another big skill that employers look for when hiring. Google, at the time this post was written, ranks it second in their top 7 desired employee skills, so I want my students to be able to articulate ideas then see them come to fruition. Students guide my teaching by giving me after action reports when I try a new activity or lesson. They give me as much feedback as I give them. Students have input on what activities we do, how we do them, and in choice of tool for completing the activities. Their voice matters (Thanks for reminding me, Rick & RebeccaLet Them Speak: How Student Voice Can Transform Your School).

SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON

But I don’t stop there. While I flatten the classroom walls for my students, I also do that for myself. An educator in North Carolina, my friend Holly King, pointed out that one of my talents is in connecting the dots, whether that be in combining learning sciences with supported research based teaching strategies, social emotional skills with academics, using tools in new and unique ways to help students learn, or just in the realm of ideas and theories, I make connections. By doing so, I connect people. Whether it is high school students or adults, I connect people, which connects ideas, and that elevates us all and empowers us with a platform, with a sounding board, with a brainstorming opportunity to be better, to elevate the field for us all. (Speechless, Holly.) This is what a lot of us in education do, whether we realize it or not. It’s why left our own islands and continue to grow our professional learning network. Teaching is a life changing business (Right, Dave?), and not just for students. It changes us all.

HEADING TITLES ARE PARTIAL LYRICS FROM BILL WITHERS’ SONG, LEAN ON ME, © UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP

******************************************

**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  

Dealing with Child Anxiety Stemming from Coronavirus Crisis

Guest post by Simon Choi, a mental health advocate and small business founder. He foundedStandout Bands which supports Beyond Blue and allows him to write for his mental health blog, Healthy Minds. Simon is particularly passionate about supporting those experiencing depression. Currently, Simon is supporting those struggling as a result of COVID-19 related mental health issues. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

*Opinions expressed are those of the guest author.

Times of Uncertainty

 

The Global Coronavirus Pandemic has been ongoing for months now and there is a great deal of uncertainty among government and society. Adults are dealing with loss of work, changes to daily routines and possibly even sick relatives. However, the uncertainty is not only limited to adults.  

The Effects on Children

Children are not immune to the fears that this global pandemic has produced. Their lives have been greatly affected as well. Children are not only out of school, but they are not able to visit their friends and family as well. For example, fear of the health of the elderly means most grandparents are not advised to see grandkids in the present environment. Parents and educators can try to help and reduce some of this anxiety. In the following article, we will discuss seven ways that any educator or parent may be able to help those they care for and teach:

#1 Keep Their Usual Schedule

For a child, it can be difficult to experience many external changes. Since they have no control over being out of school and not seeing their friends and family, it is best to stabilize the things that can be stabilized. In order to give your children stability, do not change their sleep time, their school hours or other regular activities. Even if your child has to practice their sport in their own front yard or get violin lessons over Zoom, try to keep up with their previous schedule and activities as much as possible.  

#2 Don’t Let Kids Watch Too Much News

The news can be informative, but it can also be full of unwanted scenery and troublesome for younger viewers in particular. Since that is the case, you do not want to let your kids watch too much news.

#3 Talk to Kids Openly

Kids need to feel like they can openly express themselves with adults. You want to ask your kids questions about their feelings and give them age appropriate answers. Children are inquisitive by nature, so this process could require some patience, but it will help to dispel some of their fears.

#4 Watch Their Associates

If your children are spending a lot of time talking to virtual friends, make sure that you are aware of the other kids who they are talking to. Other children can have a big influence on your children’s feelings, so you want to monitor or at least be familiar with their friends.

#5 Play with Your Kids

Make sure that your kids are getting exercise. Each day, make it a practice to add an exercise routine to your kids daily work. Just like gym class at school, exercise should be a healthy part of their at home learning journey. Try to play sports with kids as well; this is especially true if your kids are involved in any extracurricular sports. That way, they can keep up with their skills and get out some extra energy as well.

#6 Talk to A Professional

If you think that your child is having an extra hard time dealing with the stress of COVID19 and you notice that the stress is interfering with his or her daily activities, you may have to contact a professional who can give your child a consultation over the phone and provide professional advice.

Make the Best of a Difficult Situation

It can be stressful to deal with an unknown situation, but this stress can also build resilience in a child. Even in a global pandemic, you can help your child to make the best of the opportunities that staying at home can present or as an educator if over teleconference. When a child is taught to deal with difficulties in a healthy manner, he or she will be well prepared for whatever life throws at them. With the right support from you children can build resilience as a result of this time.  

 

**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  

My podcast

Listen here

 

 

What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**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  

Connecting Students through Buncee

Leveraging  the right tools for remote learning

By Rachelle Dene Poth, Spanish and STEAM Teacher, @Rdene915

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.

 

Buncee is more than just a creation tool, it is a supportive educator network that is invested in fostering connections, expressing kindness and gratitude. There have been  many initiatives for classrooms and families around the world to join in, most recently Hugs for Heroes. This is an amazing project worked on by Kristina Holzweiss, Barbie Monty and Amy Storer. Learn more about itand create your own!

Why Buncee?

Now with the shift to remote learning and educators looking for ways to connect with students and provide authentic and meaningful learning opportunities, I have been recommending Buncee more. As a multimedia creation tool, it offers so many possibilities for educators of any  content area or grade level, and provides resources for students, families and educators to get started right away. For ideas, check out some of the  Coffee Talks!

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators become quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. With the sudden transition to remote instruction, this is another one of the reasons that I recommend and choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in providing exactly what educators, students and their families need. 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.

null

Fostering the SEL skills and making connections

At the start of each school year and throughout the 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. Earlier this year I created a project for students to learn about the Spanish language and culture and also 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.

null

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.

A recent feature is the ability for students to comment and give feedback on the boards. This is a great way to encourage online student interaction whether through comments or emojis!

nullOne 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!  Check out the video to learn more here!

Check out  the information from Buncee for Remote Learning and everything you need to get started here.  Want to learn more about  Buncee? Sign up for their live webinars happening each day, Monday through Friday  at 12:00 and 3:00 pm EST. Sign up here.

 

**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  

To Be a Global Educator

Guest post by Ava-Gaye K Blackford (@BlackfordAva)

(I read this post and and agree with the foreword below, Ava is an inspiration and her passion for education is clear.)
From Ava’s blog

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ava through my work with Participate. I was helping to pilot a new professional development program, and Ava was one of the brave teachers who took a risk and learned alongside her students as they looked for ways to make their school lunch healthier through multiple student-driven avenues. I was immediately impressed with her motivation and excitement toward teaching and learning and her openness to feedback. Here’s what Ava believes about education and what she’s been up to since I last worked with her.


lunchAva.jpg

I believe that teaching is the foundation for all other careers which requires compassionate and patient individuals who have a passion for scaffolding students and imparting knowledge. I feel that it is the ability to help others to acquire new information, competencies or values and implementing specific interventions to help students who need support to learn particular things. I also believe that teachers are born and not made. I know that I am an outstanding teacher because I am able to connect with and relate to my students to bring out their true potential. I also do not crumble under pressure or when I face obstacles instead I persevere. I am intrinsically motivated, and the reward I find in teaching is the personal satisfaction I obtain when I see students learn something new and achieve academic success and development. Being a part of the Participate international teaching program has been a very fulfilling and life-changing experience, and I recommend more teachers to gravitate towards this adventure.

My decision to join participate was due to several reasons. First, I wanted to share my culture by acting as a Cultural Ambassador so people can learn the uniqueness of my Jamaican culture as well as learning about other cultures. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and build partnerships with stakeholders in the education system. Besides, I would be able to learn new strategies so that I may share with colleagues back home, learn about different technological devices, apps, and sites that may be used to boost students’ engagement and learning. Finally, to grow professionally as an educator. Reflecting on my journey thus far, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and have grown into a productive Global Educator.

Currently, I have been assigned the role of Local Advisor. I have been granted the opportunity to guide two new Participate teachers and help them to transition smoothly in their new job position. As a local adviser, I serve as a mentor to new international teachers and share my own experiences, cultural opportunities, and ideas on how to be a successful exchange visitor teacher and cultural ambassador of their country.

School lunch project

School lunch project

 To be a successful exchange teacher, one has to capitalize on both human and physical resources present within the walls of the school to maximize students’ full potential, improve one’s self as a Global Educator and adjust to the school’s culture and climate. In my first year, I worked closely with the Academic coach to plan classroom routines and school-wide management procedures. The use of technology in my lessons made my work as a teacher easier because I am able to allow students to direct and take control of their own learning by conducting research, become involved in Project Based Learning, and participate in online quizzes. I researched different sites that I may use with students to boost active engagement and learning.

I share students’ work on Twitter, send emails and write letters to pen-pals in Jamaica and other countries like Mexico. We participate in video calls with students from Jamaica sharing culture or concepts learned, and we have even video called resource persons from Nigeria.

In addition, I try to globalize my lessons as much as possible. Students enjoy learning about other countries, and this makes learning more authentic and meaningful. I also collaborate with grade level teams to focus on differentiated learning opportunities for students to meet students where they are at. We also gather suitable resources and plan effective and developmentally appropriate instructional lessons and strategies. We progress monitor students and use data to set grade-level goals and identify students who need tier 2 or tier 3 interventions.

I have learned so much throughout my journey as a Participate teacher, and I have enjoyed sharing and showcasing my culture. My students and I participated in a Last Year’s Winter Celebration (December 2017) where were attired in Jamaican costumes and paraded for parents and community members to view. We also did a presentation where we sang Jamaican Christmas Carols like “Christmas a Come me Waan me Lama.” My colleagues, principal, students, and parents were fascinated by the performance, and we received positive feedback. This was the perfect opportunity to connect with the school community and bridge the gap between home and school.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

We also prepared a Jamaican display for all to view, ask questions and learn about the Jamaican culture. Students seem to be eager to learn about other countries and cultures so by globalizing lessons this makes the teaching and learning process more meaningful and interesting. I have also done research and read about schools that have shown marked improvements in academics because of the inclusion of Global Education to the curriculum. This has helped me to develop a new level of understanding and depth to my teaching.

I have made a positive impact on my school and living community by allowing each stakeholder to develop vicarious experiences about my culture. In data meetings or team meetings, I help to include information about the Jamaican culture in our lessons. I also bring colleagues and community members Jamaican souvenirs, teach songs and stories from my culture and share past experiences about my country. I mount multiple display boards showcasing the Jamaican culture in the classroom, also during culture night and market day celebrations. For Market Day this past year, my students and I made Jamaican souvenirs such as key chains, flags, and bracelets. We were also mentioned in the Time News. You may click here to read the story.

Being a teacher means demonstrating the ability to provide authentic, engaging, meaningful and cultural learning experiences to cater to the needs of diverse learners. It also means equipping students with effective and efficient skills needed to function in a global society. I have learned to do this through imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be a global citizen, giving students the opportunity to build vicarious experiences and travel the world through virtual exchange. The world is becoming a smaller place due to advances in technology and mobility. Hence, students need to be globally prepared, develop self-awareness, cultural understanding and empathy so that they will be able to appreciate others and their culture. As Global educators, we should incorporate Global Instructional Practices used to integrate global concepts and lenses in the classroom meaningfully.

AVA JRNEY.png

My continuous participation in Professional Development activities has boosted my self-confidence and determination as an educator. When I return home to Jamaica, I also plan to conduct workshops to impart some of the fabulous strategies and interventions that I have learned here. I have already started sharing best practices with some of my colleagues back home, and they all seem to be loving them and are trying new things in their classroom.

Since writing this post, Ava was invited to present at Participate’s Global Schools Symposium on “Using Cooperative Learning Strategies to Boost Students’ Learning and Engagement”. In addition she attended a Life Lab PD in Santa Cruz, California, and she continues to inspire her students and the community through innovative projects like incorporating garden-based learning into the mainstream curriculum and being a facilitator at three of ABSS’ Core Four Professional Development workshop focusing on “Learning in the Outdoors.”

 

**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  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Buncee: Learning Anywhere

Providing Ways to Keep the Learning Going

Over the past week, there has been a lot of conversation about what educators can do if schools need to close for a period of time, especially due to recent events related to the Coronavirus. Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a topic of discussion for many years, so it is not entirely something new. However, with the current situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away.

Over the past few years, many schools have started to offer flexible learning days to deal with school closures due to weather conditions, environmental issues or something else entirely. Being able to keep learning going and have ways to collaborate without being in the same physical space is important. Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. With so many choices out there, it can be tough to figure out exactly where to begin, especially when time is a factor.

As I’ve been talking with some friends this week, a large part of our conversation has focused on what to do if our schools were to close and even in the general sense, how can we also provide more for our students for times when we need to be out of the classroom? For times when I have not been able to be in class, whether due to illness or a pre-planned conference, I rely heavily on technology to be able to connect with my students so that they can ask questions and have the support they need. However, I also rely on it to provide them with rich learning experiences through versatile tools that they can work on independently wherever they are. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space.

Buncee = Learning Anywhere

As I have been thinking about some of our recent Buncee projects, my 8th grade STEAM course has been working on a few activities. They have created an About Me Buncee, a few for gratitude and most recently, “Tech Over Time.” In the Tech Over Time project, students have been exploring the transformation of some digital tools or electronic devices over the past 10, 20, 30+ years and also making predictions for the future.

As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with me wherever I am. Teachers can assign fun projects for students or choose from the many ideas in the Buncee Ideas Lab.

We have used Buncee for years in all of my classes and through it I have been able to provide opportunities for my students to engage in more authentic and meaningful learning, to be creative and to drive their learning experience. Whether students use it to design a Buncee to share their experiences, engage in project-based learning, summarize a book they have read, explain a concept in math or science, for a few examples, the possibilities are endless for what students can create.

As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms. It can be used to have students work through a Hyperdoc, or used as a model template for students to then create their own Buncee, make a timeline, solve word problems, and more. The idea is that we can leverage the tool to provide something that will connect with each student and it can be done from anywhere.

Ideas for your Classroom

1.Make an interactive book

2. Create a timeline

3. Design a digital business card

4. Explain steps in a process

5. Teach a lesson, add audio and video

6. Book summary

7. Design classroom signs

8. Create study aids

9. Create an ebook

10. Recreate a moment from history, personal experience, or make a future prediction

Creating an Action Plan Through Reflection

Guest Post by Debbie Tannenbaum @MrsTannenb

During Winter Break, I read three amazing and thought-provoking books. Each one provided me with new ideas, takeaways and made me examine my practice. The last book I finished was Innovate Inside The Box by George Couros and Katie Novak. As I began reading Part Three: You Are The Change You Seek of this book, George issues this challenge, ” We can consume pages and hours of great content, but until we do something with it, we have no ownership over the process of learning. He then asked the reader to reflect on these three questions based on our reading

1. What has challenged you?

2. What has been reaffirmed?

3. What will you do moving forward?

When I began to consider what challenged me from my reading, I really had to stop and think. Having already read Innovator’s Mindset last year and having prior experience with UDL, so much of what I read in this book resonated with me.

As I returned to school on Monday, several ideas from my reading kept bubbling up in my mind.

1. Shifting our focus and practice to be learner-driven and evidence-focused

2. What does risk mean?

3. Encouraging problem-finding and not just problem solving

Learner-Driven, Evidence Focused

In chapter 2 of the book, George Couros describes how he dislikes the term data-driven. Working in a model PLC school, there is no doubt that we spend a lot of time on data- in fact, some months, with increased testing, it feels like all we do is collect data. So when I read this, it gave me pause. Are we truly learner centered? Are we telling the story of the whole child? Are we preparing students for their futures or to meet benchmarks and goals based on our school improvement plans?

This section really led me to question our practices as educators. It made me examine why we do things the way we do, why I do things the way I do? Is the support I provide “opening doors” to the future? If so, are there any ways that I can further tweak this to make it more learner centered?

Risk-takers

In chapter 5, George and Katie discuss risk-taking, which is one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As I read this, their definition of risk caught my attention and made me look at risk through a different lens. I have always called myself a risk-taker, an early adopter, but reading this definition made the WHY behind it so clear. “Risk is moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better.“Looking at risk through this lens took the negative connotation usually associated with this word away. It equated risk with innovation.

As a tech coach, I am constantly not only taking risks, but modeling it for all my learners. How can I better empower my learners through the use of UDL to develop more agency and risk-taking.

Problem Finders- Solvers

Chapter 6 shares how when we act as problem finders-solvers, we demonstrate an Innovator’s Mindset. In the district I work in, we have been heavily immersed in PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. In late November and early December, one of our PBL Leads even came to our CLTs to help us plan upcoming PBL units. I love the idea of PBL and giving our students authentic purposes for their learning.

So when the idea of being a problem finder was introduced, I looked a little closer. I love this idea; it reminds me of 20% time and Passion Projects. It sounds amazing, but once again, time seems to be a culprit. How can we provide time for students to cultivate such endeavors while covering the curriculum? Could we involve students more in planning our PBLs beyond just the “Need to Knows?”

Reading this book reaffirmed so many things for me especially as I CHALLENGE myself this year to establish healthier habits and take more risks.

In chapter 3, as George and Katie described the importance of empowerment and shared how it leads to ownership and agency. It reminds me of how Ron Ritchart emphasized the importance of language when I attended WISSIT19 this summer.

In chapter 4, George and Katie share the importance of not only being a master educator, but also a master learner. If I have learned anything this break, it has been what a dramatic impact that reading 10-15 minutes a day can make in my learning. “In a profession where learning is the focus of our job, growth is essential and the target is always moving.” We all need to embrace that mantra and model being lifelong learners for our colleagues and students

So as I look towards the future, what will I do moving forward? The first thing that came to my mind was reflection. As part of #myoneword2020, I CHALLENGE myself to journal regularly. Journaling is such a huge component of reflection. George shares, “Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.” As I journal and monitor my goals daily, I am focused on my goals and making progress towards them. Linked to that is the idea of self care. ” When our job is about serving other people, we have to not forget to serve ourselves.” Moving forward, I CHALLENGE myself to be committed to healthier eating, regular exercise, doing activities that fill my bucket such as blogging, reading and writing. Dedicating time each morning to this pursuit has been so inspirational so far.

“Is there a better way?” Sometimes there is and we need to take a risk. Other times, we need to examine if what we are currently doing meets our students’ needs. But behind it all, there are so many ways we can take our learners and the relationships we build with them and empower them for an amazing future. I am ready to take the CHALLENGE, are you?

************************************************************************************


 

**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  

 

3  books.png

The Power of Listening

Guest post by Charles Williams, @_cwconsultingOpinions expressed are those of the author.

Anthony* stormed into the office, marched past the front desk without acknowledging the startled office manager, and into my office where he dropped into a chair heaving deep breaths with a hint of moisture in his eyes. Calmly, I stopped working on whatever mind-numbing report I was completing and turned to him.

“Hey Anthony.What’s going on?” I asked as I took a tissue from my desk and handed it to him.

Wiping his face, he responded, “They never listen. They always get to talk but they never want to listen.”

I didn’t need to ask. I already knew to whom he was referring and it was something that I knew needed to be addressed. But how? How do we get teachers to actually listen to our students?

Recently I was introduced to the concept of Talking Circles through the book “Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community” by Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis. I was sharing my frustrations with a colleague and he immediately reached for the book. As I listened to his similar experiences I thumbed through the pages noting that it offered strategies for both students and staff both in the classroom and during meetings. Two days later, I had my own copy.

This past August we held our first Courageous Conversation as a staff during our back-to-school orientation week.

The first question asked was what led us to the field of education. We were surprised to find that many of us did not start in this field and thus brought an entirely different world of expertise that we could now tap into. We had chefs, engineers, and even artists. It was enlightening.

The second question asked was why we have remained in education. The stories varied but they all had the same central theme – we’re invested in our students. From those ah-ha moments to grieving with families through loss to providing for a family in need to celebrating a student’s graduation, we knew that our students had potential and that we were committed to helping them find it. It was emotional.

The final question asked about privilege. Some teachers reflected on how they struggled growing up, needing to figure out how to reach their goals with substantially less than some of their peers. Others talked about their appreciation for the ability to have access to resources and materials without worry. Some noted that they had forgotten what it was like to struggle now that they were financially secure. It was powerful.

There were several reasons that I wanted my staff to engage in these Courageous Conversations.

First, I wanted my staff to understand the power of listening. A central tenet of Talking Circles is that only one person at a time is allowed to speak. Furthermore, the other speakers are encouraged to share their own thoughts and are not expected to respond to someone else’s comments. Participants are, essentially, forced to listen to others.

Second, I wanted my staff to separate themselves from their titles. Talking Circles remove any form of hierarchy. During these conversations, no participant is more important than the other. The information being shared by all is equally valuable and should be treated and respected as such.

Third, and the biggest driving force, I wanted my staff to connect this experience with our students. I wanted them to see how they learned something new about a colleague and how that information may shape their interactions moving forward. I wanted them to readjust their perceptions from seeing our students as at-risk to budding successes. I wanted them to remember that our students come to school on a daily basis dealing with so much more than academic tasks.

My teachers were hooked and asked that this become a regular part of our staff meetings. It has.

More importantly, this practice has become common place in the school. It may be implemented differently from class to class – some start the week to get a pulse of the students’ after a weekend while some end to help students bring the week to a close while some use it when the vibe in the classroom isn’t quite right – and that is okay.

This simple yet powerful practice has had profound impacts on the school’s culture and climate. During the first two months of school, our referrals have dropped nearly 70%. Our attendance rating has soared to 97%. I now see teachers and students mutually engaged in honest conversations when issues arise to develop solutions.

And Anthony? Well, he still visits my office regularly. Only now its to check in on me and to take a peppermint.

Charles Williams is a professional educator with nearly 15 years of experience. Williams currently serves as a K-8 Principal in Chicago, IL. He is also a member of Great Expectations Mentoring and Men of Color in Education. Williams has presented at numerous conferences including the Statewide ESSA Conference, the Annual INCS Conference, and the CPS Leadership Institute. He has also started his own educational consulting firm, CW Consulting.

**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  

 

3  books.png