Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Guest post by Charles Williams (@_cwconsulting)

I do not profess to be a religious man. A man of faith, yes? But not a man of religion. I could dive into my reasons but that is not the purpose of this reflection nor do I believe this is the proper space to have that discussion. Maybe another time in another place.

There are, however, three words that have consistently presented themselves to me during this pandemic. Three words taken from The Serenity Prayer written by the American theologian, Niebuhr (nee-bur), around 1932. Despite various renditions curated by various groups for their unique purposes, all centralize on three concepts.

Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.

I recently took my daughter to pick up her high school graduation items. It was a surreal experience as we drove along a nearly empty roadway through the school’s campus to various stations returning books and collecting items. Aside from the handful of teachers at each station, there were no crowds, there was no cheering, there was no … celebration. And, nearly as quickly as it started, it was over. The whole process lasted maybe 5 minutes.

Four years of high school. Four years of studying. Four years assignments and exams. Four years of late nights and early mornings. Four years culminated in five minutes.

As we drove away, my daughter sat in silence. When I asked if she was okay she replied that she never imagined that this is how it would have ended. She had held onto a feeble hope that maybe, somehow, this would all go away and that she would have a real graduation. After all, she had already lost prom and senior banquet.

I drove along contemplating how to best respond. Knowing my initial logical response void of emotion would only make the situation worse, I kept quiet while I attempted to formulate the right words. During that time, those same three words returned.

Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.

With them in mind, I delivered a response. I don’t know if it was the right one. I don’t know if it could have been better. She gave me that smile, you know the one. “Thanks Dad, I know you’re doing your best.”

So I will do my best to share those words with you. I know that there are other seniors out there dealing with the same frustrations, hurt, confusion, and sadness. I know that there are adults experiencing similar emotions for their respective situations. This is for you.

Serenity, the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Seek to find peace in your troubles by letting go. I know that this is easier said than done but when you attempt to control the uncontrollable, you will find nothing more than additional stress. Accepting this fact is not easy. I know. As a leader it was one of the toughest lessons that I had to learn.

A story I share is one when I was still in the classroom. I was attempting to teach a lesson to a group of students who were particularly talkative that day. Few were paying attention and I was quickly growing aggravated. At some point, someone decided to stick a small piece of chalk into the automatic pencil sharpener resulting in a persistent drone. I attempted to remove the chalk by tapping the sharpener on the desk. Nothing.

Chatter, chatter, chatter. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Tap, tap, tap.

Nothing. I tried again. Harder this time.

Chatter, Chatter, Chatter. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Tap, Tap, Tap.

Nothing. I tried again. Even harder this time.

CHATTER, CHATTER, CHATTER. BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ. TAP, TAP, TAP.

Silence.

The students stopped. The buzzing stopped. The tapping stopped. I had smashed the sharpener on the desk.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had allowed my emotions to take over. I focused on something over which I had no control. And I failed myself and my students.

I encourage you to reflect on your situation and categorize the various aspects as controllable or not. What you will quickly realize is that a majority of the external factors are uncontrollable. You cannot control what others think or do. You cannot control the passage of time. You cannot control the outcomes of your actions. Your best hope is to influence.

What you can control is how you respond to situations. You can control your thoughts and actions. You can control your beliefs and attitude.

Find peace in focusing on those aspects over which you have control.

Courage, the ability to do something despite the presence of fear.

Fear takes many shapes and forms. It is present in many situations. It has the power to control us. It is imperative, however, that we find the means to not only face our fears but to overcome them.

For so many right now, there is a huge fear of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect in terms of this pandemic. Are things going to get better? Is it safe to begin reopening? Will we be returning to a sense of normalcy?

My daughter has been sitting on a huge decision. Should she attend Purdue or IU. She has been accepted to both. She has wonderful opportunities at both. She has friends that will be attending both. Outside of distance, the two are virtually identical. And yet, she has yet to make a decision. Why? Because she is scared. She has no idea what the future holds. She was accustomed to the fairly predictive nature of high school. This is different.

Stepping into courage is the first step of battling fear.

I sat on my podcast for years. I was scared that nobody would listen. I was scared that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skill sets. But as I listened to other educators, I slowly grew more confident. I can recall listening to Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy and finding episode 130 – Tips for Starting a Podcast. I started getting excited. This sounded very possible. Then I started listening to Tim Cavey’s Teachers on Fire Podcast. I found elements of myself in nearly every guest and started realizing that I too had something to share. Then I connected with Mike Earnshaw from the Punk Rock Classroom. He and his co-host, Josh Buckley, shared their experiences from their unique perspectives as punk rock educators.

That was it. I sat down. I started recording. And now The Counter Narrative Podcast exists. I have no idea where this will go but I challenged my fear by stepping into courage.

Wisdom, the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Both serenity and courage rely on wisdom. You need to be able to identify situations over which you have no control and those in which you need to step into courage.

Wisdom requires experience. Knowledge in the absence of experience is little more than facts.

Unfortunately many students, like my daughter, have not yet had the opportunity to gain the wisdom that comes from making mistakes. Instead, they must rely on family, teachers, faith leaders, or others to guide them in the right direction. Even as adults we do not always have wisdom and must rely on the counsel of others.

It is a humbling experience to admit that you do not know and even more so to ask for assistance. It means that you are vulnerable and thus you should seek out this advice from someone you can trust.

In time, you will gain enough experience to differentiate between those situations in which you need to let go and those in which you need to step forward.

For all of you reading who are experiencing times of difficulty, know this. It is okay not to be okay (thank you Traci for that one). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What is not okay, however, is to give up. Giving up is not the answer.

Find peace with those things that you cannot control. Find the courage to deal with those things that you can. And find the wisdom so that you may know the difference.

Until next 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  

 

Reaching out and Sciencing

As I am getting ready for STEAM Night at Lawton Chiles Elementary School, I am faced with a familiar conundrum: what do I wear that will make me look professional and scientist-like and also fun and approachable? Which begs the question-what DOES a scientist look like?

I settle on a blue dress with zebras and look outside my window. Ah, Rainesville! As I sit in traffic, my friends/fellow scientists frantically text me about the traffic conditions. “Step 1 to doing outreach: Show up early.” I’m surprised when I am greeted by a full parking lot. Gosh, those kids must be ready to learn about science!

Alberto Lopez, the School Outreach Coordinator, has everything set up and introduces me to my volunteers who will help me out tonight. Turns out, I’m a bat biologist and will show people how to make flashlights using popsicle sticks, copper wire, batteries and bulbs. Because flashlights are important. Especially in the field. (Always carry three headlamps-one on your head, one around your neck and one in your pocket because you never know when the batteries will run out in a deep, dark cave but that’s a story for another day).

Station 4. Make a flashlight-Tools used in science.

As I arranged the brightly colored bulbs on my table, nothing could have prepared me for the number of people who showed up at Station 4. The kids could barely contain their excitement with popsicle sticks in hand, ready to make a flashlight. It’s a truly humbling experience when you try to interact with several little humans all at once, while trying to make each one enjoy their time at your station.

This brings me to “Step 2 for doing outreach: Learn how to improvise.” The school band seemed to match the tempo of the people showing up as they played a fast tune. Due to the sheer number of people that showed up (350+), Alberto helped us modify the flashlights so that we could make them a tad faster.

Towards the end of the evening, we headed up to the stage to have a panel discussion. Alberto introduced us to the audience who quietly lined up with their questions. Kids will ask you anything under the sun and they clearly keep up with current events. They ask hard hitting questions and it’s okay to not know all the answers. “Step 3: I don’t know all the answers.” It’s why I love doing science.

Alberto Lopez, Molly Selba, Aditi Jayarajan, Allison Bordini, Eve Rowland and Sarah McGrath-Blaser.

“Step 4: Love what you do.” My favorite question came from a little boy who asked why we got into science. I love that I get to work in the collections at the museum. I like the fact that each specimen holds a special story and that I get to share it with people.

Cabinets full of interesting specimens in the Mammalogy Division at the Florida Museum.

This brings me to “Step 5: Have fun.” I appreciate the fact that so many parents brought their kids to an after school program on a Tuesday night. You need that support to fall in love with science. I have so much fun doing outreach events, it is truly what keeps me going!

**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  

When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

**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  

 

Finding Peace and Balance

 

Guest post by Karl O’Leary, @KarlOLeary4, High School Principal

The new normal has looked very different for all of us. From work, to family, to personal lifestyles, so much has changed to acclimate to what we need to do for our society. The old manner of taking time to have space, sit down dinners to review your children’s day at school, and the weekend at sporting events looks drastically different. But does it have to?

Peace and Balance

What does is mean? Peace has been connected to the long-haired hippie days of Woodstock and tie dye colored shirts. This is a misconception of perception. Finding Peace within yourself enables you to:

  • Look inwardly and reflect about how you live your life.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude (PMA).
  • Do good toward others.

This can be in mediation, or reflection, or journaling. Taking the time to look in the mirror to assess yourself and what you do can provide opportunities to reconnect with your passions. Start with the question: Am I being what I wish to be?

Balance is connected to daily routines and activities. Like any pie chart, listing what activities are done each day provides a visual to understand where time is spent. Finding Balance entails making the necessary goals for living life how you wish.

What is different now is everything! But there are opportunities with how change exists.

  • Find time to take the morning walk
  • Incorporate routine
  • Have fun with family in a different manner
  • Leave work for work hours
  • Be realistic with expectations

The new Balance does require for some phone calls outside the old hours, but there is also opportunity to not send information late to others. By flipping the conversation, would you wish to have your child’s teacher email you during dinner, or family time? That time can be used for reflection and relaxation. Balance the need to send assignments outside of school hours; the email will still be there in the morning!

The new normal of Peace and Balance are what we make it to be. There are so many great opportunities to connect, at a low or free cost, to try what we have always wanted to. Look inwardly to reassess our daily activities and press the reset for moving forward.

 

 

**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  

Metacognition and Why it Matters in Education

Some of my thoughts during this remote learning time.  Image created by Kitty Tripp for my book In  Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking.

An important part of learning and teaching is the art of reflection. As teachers, we need to be reflective in our practice so that we can continue to grow, be prepared to meet our students’ needs, and evaluate our own skills and growth. It is important that we model this same practice for our students so that they can develop their own reflective practices and build skills of metacognition in preparation for their future. Metacognition enables students to reflect on who they are, what they know, what they want to know, and how they can get to that point. I’m not an expert but this is a topic that I’ve become more interested in so I started to look into multiple resources to learn more.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition, a term that was first defined by John H. Flavell in 1979, is basically thinking about thinking. With metacognition, we become aware of our own learning experiences and the activities we involve ourselves in our paths toward personal and professional growth. We are better able to understand ourselves in the whole process of learning and can develop skills to think about, connect with, and evaluate our learning and interactions each day. But how and why is metacognition important in education?

It has been identified as an essential skill for learner success. Therefore, do we need to design specific lessons focused on metacognition for use in our classrooms each day? And if so, how can we make this happen?

From the beginning of the school year, I noticed some responses from students when it came to learning, the struggle of learning, and making mistakes. I also noticed that many times students were okay with avoiding an answer or accepting that the answer given was incorrect and did not push themselves to understand why or how to improve. It made me wonder if we need to be more intentional about working with our students on metacognition each day and how can we include it in our teaching practice.  My initial reaction is that it does and while I feel as though it is something that I have been doing, I need to be more intentional and consistent about doing more to promote metacognition with my students.

It starts with us

As educators, we need to be able to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in our teaching practice and think about them so that we can best provide for our students. We need to guide students to develop these same skills by modeling it for them and then by supporting them as they build their own metacognitive practices. With an increased focus on the importance of developing skills in social-emotional learning (SEL), metacognition plays an important part in the SEL framework. Through resources such as CASEL, which sets forth the five areas of focus for social-emotional learning, we can now learn more about how to find the right resources and the best strategies for helping our students develop these essential skills.

For our students to be successful in the future, they need opportunities to develop skills that are transferable beyond high school to do whatever it is that they ultimately decide to do once they graduate. They need to be able to self assess their needs in learning, areas of potential weaknesses and identify their strengths. Students then need to know how to use this information to plan their next steps. While the world of work will continue to change, some of the essential skills that students will need the most will stay the same. Skills like the ability to set one’s own goals, to problem solve, to analyze the tasks that they have before them, and to evaluate any challenges that might come along the way. These skills are in alignment with the three phases of metacognition: planning, monitoring, evaluating. Each of these is essential in the learning process and students need to learn how to reflect and to self-direct to the next steps.

What does it look like in the classroom?

In my classroom, something that I have noticed more each year is that students often possess self-doubt and lack of confidence in responding in class. When called upon to respond, students try to avoid answering by saying “I don’t know, I won’t get it, I can’t do it.” Any of these statements are often followed by “please call on someone else.” By avoiding the chance of being wrong, or extending the conversation, it does not help students to understand exactly what it is they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and how to push through to figure it out. I’ve been there. Even as an adult and educator, I struggle with this at times. But the difference is that I can push through it because I think back to my own experiences and try to relate to my own students that it is in our control to take the steps we need to go beyond the “I don’t know.” We have to say “I don’t know…yet.”

Following the “Power of Not Yet,” by  Carol Dweck, we need to place emphasis on adding that one word to the end of those statements and helping students to self-assess and determine how they can get there.

Strategies to promote metacognition

  1. Relationships: I believe that it starts with building relationships that are supportive and which promote two-way conversations in the classrooms. Creating a space where students feel comfortable answering and making a mistake, where failures are expected and welcomed as a boost to the learning experience, and where teachers model the same for students.
  2. Think aloud: Sometimes I have just talked one-to-one with the student and asked them to share what they know. Giving students the chance to think through it with you, or by rephrasing the question, can be a simple way to help them push through that productive struggle and develop their own strategies for when they feel that same sense of doubt.
  3. Share ideas: I try to share learning strategies and ways to help students question their learning process, figure out how they learn best, try different strategies and then take time to think through how a particular one worked for them or didn’t. Sometimes helping students to identify their learning style will lead to a quick boost in confidence and build self-confidence in learning.
  4. Resources: There are many strategies for metacognition. Catlin Tucker shared four strategies for metacognitive thinking and how to get students to think about their learning. These are easy to get started with and provide a way for students to build comfort in sharing their learning and help us identify some areas they might need some help with. Ideas include SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), weekly exit slips, video response or reflection tools, and ongoing self-assessment documents. For these, I think of using things like Google Forms, FlipgridSynth, or a tool like Kidblog for student reflections. There are many strategies available for educators to get started.
  5. Visible thinking: Help students to make thinking visible. Whether using an outline with questions or prompts and having students fill in their thoughts or trying a strategy like sketchnoting, where students can jot down ideas and make connections to learning, these can be beneficial for all learners. Some other strategies like Think, Pair, Share, or “I used to think…but now I think…” and others that have students interact with peers and also build on prior knowledge are helpful for students to build metacognitive skills.

Regardless of the method we choose, the end goal is the same: to empower students to drive their learning, build student agency, and foster a growth mindset in learning. We start by providing the right support, share our own experiences whether we struggled or we’ve had success, and showing our authentic selves to our students.

There are resources available like Benchmark Education, or posts which share example prompts we can use to get started. It is important that we help students understand that who they are now does not define them for the future; meaning that mistakes or areas of weakness in learning are just starting points for our learning journey.  Metacognition is critical for helping students work through these challenges and when we model and integrate self-assessment,  look at prior knowledge, and then evaluate what we need to know and determine our next steps, we build those metacognitive skills.

 

**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  

 

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  

Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**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  

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?

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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  

 

3  books.png

Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**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  

Book4.png

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