Why Twitter?

I have a 21 year old daughter who is a social media guru. Twitter is one of her favorite tools for connecting to the world. I was a Twitter hold-out.  I had a Twitter account for years that I set up basically to keep an eye on my children and their friends. I chose some interesting people to follow such as journalists and politicians – some because I liked their thinking and some because I did not.  But I didn’t post. Ever. I didn’t understand why or how people were so connected on Twitter. THEN I started my journey with personal PD by reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. He made me see Twitter differently.  That was a little over a year ago. Twitter has been career-changing, not because it is moving my career forward neccessarily, but by how I am moving through it.

People who have known me for a long time tend to discredit me when I say that I am shy. I don’t come across as shy because I approach interacting with new people like a fire-walker before a bed of coals.  I have always been a bit awkward – too much pondering and too much passion for the average user, I suppose.  But on Twitter . . . there is no such thing as “too much”. Pondering and passion are the life-blood of these educators!

I just finished my Saturday morning ritual of #leadupchat with @PrincipalPaul, #satchatwc with @Burgess_Shelley and @BethHouf then #EduGladiators with @mgrosstayor. Saturday mornings are perfect for me. Everyone else is asleep. The house is quiet. The internet and coffee are all mine! I do my best to jump into other powerful chats at other times, but it is challenging. Family first.  By the end of each chat, I have a new idea, renewed inspiration, revitalized growth mindset, a new idea to ponder and sometimes a sense that I contributed something meaningful to the conversation.  That is powerful.  It may ultimately be the difference between burning out or pushing on in this totally consuming career.

When my thinking is challenged on Twitter, I can safely assume it is for mutual benefit. When I ask a question or plead for help, answers and assistance are immediately forthcoming. I have made connections with people I would hope would be my friend should we cross paths “in analog”.  I want to thank a few people who made an impact on me and how I see myself as an educator: Melissa @ChouinardJahant, Beth @BethHouf, Teresa @teresagross625, Bethany @bethhill2829, @valerietilton, Mark @shiftparadigm  . . . and so many others, because they are kind, positive, encouraging and growth-driven educators who made me feel validated even if challenging me.

If someone tells me they want to grow as an educator but they don’t want anything to do with Twitter, I sigh deeply because Twitter is the water they are asking to drink. Come grow with me.  The ideas and possibilites are endless, but the time we have to impact our students is limited. Begin today.


Contemplating Summer

I miss my students. Is that normal? I want to know if Maria’s dog had her puppies. Did Annabelle get to go to Arizona to see File_000her grandparents? Is Armando spending the summer fighting with his big brother or are they playing video games together? How is Kyra managing her anxiety this summer? Is she using the tools she worked so hard to cultivate during the school year? Is Jayden hanging out with positive kids who will build him up and push him forward, or is he getting in trouble?

I could go on and on with all the things I wonder about them. We shared our lives for 10 months. Every morning we shared our celebrations and concerns. It feels like a favorite TV series ended ubruptly without any closure.  Some students will be back in August, and I can grab them for a quick chat to see what happened while we were away.  Others will have moved, and I will never know.  And I will never stop wondering.

Summer is rough.  I need it desperately. Loving and learning with so many people for so many days is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Not to mention I have so much to learn and reflect upon so I can be even better teachers the next year.  I am grateful for the days that I have been able to get away to sit on the beach, read an actual novel, catch up with friends who never see me during the school year. I have taken one nap, but I have plans for at least one more.

So here I am, stuck in the strangeness of summer. I revel in this time to develop me and nurture my personal realtionships while simultaneously missing my school life and school family.  Summer vacation is half over and over-booked. Better go breathe deeply for a bit. In a few weeks I will be nostaligic for this moment in time.


The Learning Curve is a Circle

In my short career as a full-time teacher, I have discovered that the idea of learning the curriculum and settling down to teach is a fantasy of a by-gone era.  This is true for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I have yet to “settle down” myself into one grade level. That, I hope, is going to change and I can at least know where I will live at school for a while.

With that being said, what we are defining as curriculum has changed. In the No Child Left Behind years it was “I know what the reading, math, science and social studies TEs want me to do and the pace the district wants me to teach these subjects. I have developed activities and projects to go along with it. Done and done. Send forth the students.” Right? You could develop a master plan and play on repeat for years with little tweaks here and there.  After a few years in one grade level, you were a master.

Then something happened. Universities and Corporate America were irritated that our top-scoring students and the workforce had no idea how to think critically, to create innovative products, to work collaboratively with their collagues or to communicate effectively with their cohort and/or global partners. The “best and brightest” students and the workforce wanted to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. The problem was that the world changed while no one was watching, and the we were not equipped with the skills the world needed. When that happened, all eyes turned on teachers with an accusatory glare.  As if.

So here we are, in the 21st Century, with newly defined learning goals that have reading, writing, math, science and social studies embedded within them, but are not defined by them. We have a new definition of literacy that includes coding and effective use of social media. We have students who live in the fast-changing world, not just neighborhood and are so used to getting their needs met instantly that rigor and failure are not something that come to school with having muscles for.

What does that mean to me, as 21st Century teacher? It means that there is no “learning curve” to becoming a master teacher. It is a circle. My primary teaching tools are not textbooks and pacing guides because they will not provide my students with the skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration or communication.  My role has changed from dispenser of information to guide, and the people “on my tour” constantly change as does the landscape out the window.  The tools I have at my disposal for guiding seem to be innumermable with varied levels of efficacy – more and more being “sold” to teachers all the time. It is exciting and confounding trying to make sure that the tools are more substance than flash, that they are learning and expression tools and not just gimmicks.

The biggest challenge, I believe, is to help students quiet down the inner noise and discover the great questions – the questions that they wanted answered incessesantly when they were three years old: “Why? What if?”  Our textbook, memorize and repeat system has “schooled” the very skills our students arrive with and need to succeed in our modern economy right out of them. It sure was easier, in many respects, to teach students how to work in the widget factory than to teach them for unforeseen the jobs of the future.  And as long as the world keeps up its pace of changing, I will have to keep up with it. The learning curve is without end. That is exciting, friends.

Letting Go

May is getting ready to close it’s doors, so if I don’t move fast I may get my fingers slammed in the hinges.  By now we’ve been learning, growing, creating, loving, coping, flipping, dabbing and figeting together for nearing on 180 days.  We have had nine students move on from us and seven find their way into our classroom family. We are tired and ready for a break but not really ready to let go.

I know this is true because all the tell-tale signs are there: anxiety is up, hugs are constant, new “behaviors” have popped up, and some students have flat-out asked to be held back so they can stay with me.  Change is hard.  I try to remind them how scared they were to come to fourth grade and leave their favorite teacher. “But now YOU are my favorite teacher!” they argue.  Here’s a secret I tell them, “You will find your favorite teacher every year.”

I think they have figured out that I don’t relish letting them go. Hugs are longer and tighter, and the “pep talks” are given with more gravity and misty eyes.  I have to trust I did everything I could for them this year academically and social-emotionally, that their tool box is packed.  I hope that no matter where they end up, back on our campus or on a new adventure, they look back on fourth grade as a great year and their teacher as someone who loved them and always wanted the best for them.

Four more days of memories to make, then I have to let them go.

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

This year could have been the death nell of my career.  The academic, social and emotional needs of my students overwhelmed me.  Throughout the year, I found myself reciting the final stanza of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Perhaps that is why my sleep tracker tells me that I average about 3.5 hours of sleep per night! If only it would track the miles we have gone.  They were uphill, meandering and often felt as though they were being travelled in knee-deep snow.  For most of the miles, next to my footprints you will see a trough, the rut caused as I drug one of my students alongside me against his will. So many times I wanted to stop and leave him behind, my energy zapped and my heart broken.
The places the rut disappears and changes to foot prints are the times he was working on his Genius Hour project, reading a book on Epic!, coding, making a book trailer , on a VR adventure or doing a STEM challenge. Those were the times that he could forget how he defined himself as a student: incapable. Any mention of “Yet”, “Growth Mindset”, “personal learning goals”, would shut him down completely.  He wanted none of it. He said to me “Not listening to you and not trying to learn is easier than trying and failing.”
Reading through his files, I could see how he arrived there. His educational journey had been fraught with struggle in every way. There are Individual Learning Plans, Behavior Contracts, and report cards which illustrate that neither the former nor latter had any effect on improving his outcomes.  Arriving in fourth grade without many tools in his belt, a habit of not working and no self-esteem created a blizzard that he wanted to immediately take shelter from. It was understandable but not acceptable. Somehow I had to find a lifeline to tether house to barn and convince him to reach out and grab it.
Building trust and reducing risk while simultaneously doing “school” is not a job for the meek. He cried – a lot. I cried on my drive home – a lot. We held meetings. A lot of meetings. His parents refused counseling, tutoring, testing, mentoring.  They demanded accounability through brute force. “None of that soft stuff.” They believed that making him clean toilets at school would be the trick to getting him to invest in school. No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
As the year was winding down, progress was being made academically, but there were holes I couldn’t seem to fill. He was still entrenched in “I’m just stupid” and “I hate school”. State testing nearly killed us both. It was brutally demoralizing, like hand had come down to unravel our tenuous rope.
But something happened.  I don’t know what. Maybe he had shored up enough success. Last Tuesday, after crying and saying “I can’t and won’t”, he let me work with him instead of shutting him out.  He listened and tried and succeeded. The next day, after too quickly finishing yet another mandated test, he came to me and asked if he could sit with me and practice what he learned and “maybe I could help him with something else he didn’t understand”. Before long I had a small group, eager to figure out or practice some math concepts.
Now here we are, fourteen days left, and miles to go before we sleep.  But now it feels like a race agaisnt the clock. It took about 165 days to get this child to trust me enough and himself enough to try. We will walk together for a bit, two sets of footprints in the snow side by side. And then I have to let him go and trust that his new guide will ensure the tether does not come undone until the storm has fully passed into Spring.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

“I choose love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote hangs in my classroom, among others. It needs to be our mantra as a divided country. I will not let the world change me. I will stand up and not by. I will look hate in the face and say, “NO!” to those who attempt to use fear to make me less than who I was created to be or to demoralize my brothers and sisters. There is no color of skin, religion or sexual orientation that can strip away the humanity of our fellow global citizens. It is only man’s weaknesses that can do that – and only if we allow it. Happy birthday, Dr. King. I will do my best to love, knowing it won’t always be easy. Your legacy of peace is more important than ever.

Report Cards. SMH

I don’t know what goes on in my brain while I am sleeping. Strange stuff, though, I am sure.  I wonder if perhaps I follow Alice through the looking glass, because when I wake up I have the most random ideas floating through my psyche. This morning I was pondering if my students could understand the difference between a defining moment and a pivotal moment.

I sent home report cards, and I hated it.  I knew that no matter what I said, they would wear those letters like labels, ala Hester Prinn – some for better, some for worse.  Would they read the comments and see that I am tracking their growth? Could they understand in the confines of limited space that I am so proud of them? Could they see grades that were low as a chance for a pivot instead of a definition?

I ask them to have a growth mindset. We use the words persevere and iteration. So I feel a sense of betrayal grading them based on a standards system.  I would rather have them work on their digital portfolios of work and reflect on their learning.  That would be a lot of work, a huge paradigm shift and a loss of accountability as our culture knows it – and would be outside of the mandate, of course.

Someone out there has made the shift. I am certain of it.  Is it you? What did you change, and how did you make it happen?