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Heroic measures: repair

Months ago I ordered a ceramic unicorn — “thing.” It’s a decorative object, and I don’t remember why I liked it. I’m not normally a unicorn person. Perhaps in that moment of questionable online purchasing decisions, it looked cute and majestic. I can’t justify or rationalize why I bought it, and truth be known I completely forgot about it until a big box from some Scandinavian country showed up on my doorstep. This magical unicorn traveled a long way to get to me.

Carefully opening the box, it was obvious the shipping and packaging design meant to ensure the protection of this delicate creature: insulted with custom blown styrofoam edges, taped for miles and bubble-wrapped ad infinitum, and multiple layers. There was a box within a box, and then a cylindrical custom-made cardboard insert where the unicorn nested, protected. Or at least that was the idea.

However, with all that protection, planning and packaging, the unicorn arrived broken.

(Yes, this is a metaphor.)

Summation of events: my classroom management efficacy is in question. I work at a tough school, and overall there are systems in place to support students and teachers. But no matter how I packaged, bubble-wrapped, insulated and insured, some unicorn legs (aka student behavior) broke. And I will defend my practice and be wary of when others label it as defensive. But I will also do what it takes, polish my practice and carry on.

When asked to litigate and document one’s process in classroom community building, routines, procedures, protocols, and processes the one thing that can’t be answered is when those practices don’t do everything to insulate a child from making a rash decision. We work with adolescents, after all, and no matter how many times we tell them ‘Don’t eat the daisies’ some daisies might be eaten.* Students flirt, badly. They touch things that don’t belong to them. (Body parts, computer parts, cell phones, Takis, whatever.) They act in the moment, all id and amygdala**. Staying calm, waiting it out, finding the peaceful moment to reflect, converse and regroup is tantamount for long-term success and relationship building. That is the only trend worth noting: “Does the teacher find time and space for behavior concerns?”

The answer for me and my students has always been a resounding yes.

So cleaning up my classroom environment is one thing I consistently do. Transitioning from being an ELA teacher to the Computer classes can’t happen overnight. My evaluator prefers clean walls and simple, elementary-school level instructions.

Cleaned off this wall. We are out of white butcher paper so I had to use pink, which is hard to read.
Explicit.
All positive.

There are always things to learn about being a better teacher and improving our practices, there is no doubt about that. At my core, I am a learner and thinker: anyone who is creative and imaginative holds these qualities. But what doesn’t help is being demoralized: I haven’t heard one positive thing this year about my curriculum, student engagement or practices. And I may not ever hear that. But I can fix my own unicorn, and make my own magic.

 

Some related information:

This article is about a local district’s challenges with discipline, but it could be most districts around the country:

Is School-Discipline Reform Moving Too Fast?

This is an article by John Hattie and the misinterpretation of growth-mindset. Please read.

  • The triggers for when growth matters: When we face challenge; Receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others; When threatened or defensive (Dweck, 2016, p. 3-4

“When threated or defensive“: time to be growth-minded!

*Yes, I am showing my age wisdom.

**Think I just thought of my new rock band name: Id & Amygdala

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Heroic measures: the loud quiet moment

“39. We must learn that when our art reveals a secret of the human soul, those watching it may try to shame us for making it. (p. 70).
The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages Journal, Julia Cameron.”

Notice the moments.

Notice the tiny moments that may seem insignificant, but are what we look for: make the invisible visible.

Notice:

  • Young sweet student passing who loved the adults in the building loved with his whole heart, and loved belonging to my Minecraft Club*
  • Group of students working yesterday, talking to each other about the assignment, holding each other accountable, without ANY reminders or redirection from me.
  • Young man asking respectfully how he can play sports, get his work done, and walk again with grace. For listening to his grandmother, me, and his coaches.
  • All students in my toughest class working. Engaged. Happy. Relaxed. Many of them even saying they wanted to keep working on the project at home.
  • Surprising someone with insight (sometimes the most terrifying thing is when someone says “yes” — no more obstacles or excuses).
  • Telling a student that her love of K-Pop was nothing to be ashamed of: “Millions of people around the world love K-Pop, and the opinion of one 7th grade boy doesn’t mean spit if you love it, too.” And she smiled.
  • Though some have described my classroom as ‘controlled chaos’ – most of the time it’s actually calm creativity.

Making a point to intentionally name and label when things work, and reflect in a balanced way. Hold steady and true.

 

 

*It changed because of the new after-school program that doesn’t allow students to attend a club unless they have no missing work or Fs. I couldn’t fit it in with my schedule of having it directly after school. 

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Heroic measures: let’s do something (anything)

Happy New Year’s Day!

Last night we went to see the new Star Wars movie. I bought the tickets in November and made it until the show without a single spoiler. I am thinking now — if I can navigate social media for over six weeks without a single spoiler or discussion thread — I can certainly navigate social media better overall. Because at times, it’s been terrifying.

Even from those I respect and admire.

In fact, quite disheartening.

There are many wonderful voices shaking up the world now and have been. Voices whose candor, truth to power and legions of loyal fans pave the way to get them to the forefront. And yet, I still have the nagging feeling that anytime anyone puts forth shakey argumentative devices, credibility and authoritative legitimacy are lost. We know better.

However; I can only be mindful and reflective of the information I seek or is provided: “Be critical of the media you love.” — Anita Sarkessian.

Resolved:

  • Continue to question, research, and revisit/revise
  • Continue to change and adapt
  • Keep track of the narrative; revisit accordingly with new information
  • Understand people are in pain, and pain causes fear.
  • Take care of your own heart: then take care of others:

I don’t have anything financially to give now. It’s been a cause of my own stress and concern. But being who I believe myself to be, I always think there is a way around or through it, it being the problem or task at hand. If not having enough money to pay the bills or worrying about when the next paycheck will come from interferes with my teaching ability, consider how this stress and insecurity affects students every day.We all must be unstuck. They need to see past the fear in the next place.

Follow me here, though: ideas are relatively inexpensive and can provide bountiful returns.

The other day my friend and I were sitting have a sandwich, and the older couple sitting next to us struck up a conversation, found out we were teachers, and long story short, treated us to our entire meal. It was a generous deed that buoys my heart. I needed this good deed more than I realized. And if I can feel this way, perhaps our students need this as much, too.

What we tell students we need to tell and support teachers, too: just as we tell students they are more than a number, I, too, am more than one observation. My aggregate joy as a teacher cannot be summed up in a tweet or post: it is sustaining and messy. Clarity and chaos. Human, and flawed. And perfection. With this support we all can use our collective creativity, generosity of ideas, and metaphorical community barn-raising about how do we educate our children and support the professionals who are in the classroom every day, on the front lines, learning how to navigate this world as it changes?

So–if you want to do something, really do something–continue to speak your truth to power. And in your power, please consider:

  • Buy a teacher a book for his or her classroom. Go around the bureaucratic time wasters. (The couple didn’t realize how much time is spent for teachers to fill our Donors Choose forms, POs, etc.) Find your local schools and buy a class set of diverse novels from diverse authors.
  • Does anyone know Jeff Bezos? Does anyone have his ear? Perhaps a trillionaire can begin giving back, too?
  • Better yet: if you know authors because you’re a well-known activist and have connections, come speak in classrooms via Skype.
  • And really free (except for your time): Don’t have $340? Neither do I. But perhaps you could write a post about your favorite current books and share with students around the country what you liked in a book discussion.

If you want to change the world, create literacy. Create critical thinking skills. Show students who are coming up in the world that you aren’t afraid if they disagree with you. Show them that there are a million other voices besides the narrow, tunnel-visioned silos of past hierarchies.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
― Isaac Asimov

Resolved: help students hear that books, discussions, and real people doing powerful writing may sometimes act in self-serving ways, but the act of service and hope to others far outweighs everything else. We must fight the anti-intellectualism together, fight fears that make us lie, fight with whatever tools we have.

And one of the best tools to fight ignorance is a book.

Please share with me other ideas you have about helping our students be true, thoughtful and confident critical thinkers. Confidence not from hubris or willful ignorance, but the confidence that comes from open-minded that they did their research, they understood the nuance between truth, opinion, and facts, and can adjust their thinking when new information comes around.

Happy New Year: I am hopeful and excited.

 

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Heroic measures: teach critical thinking

My big question this morning: how do we teach, and learn, to think critically?

Not the surface-level fluff–but the hard questions, the wrestling with the trifecta of intellectual stagnation: cognitive dissonance, justification, and rationalization?

Do we need heroes/heroines?

What would happen…if…we…didn’t?

What if…we were good to each other, did no harm, and made our classrooms, lecture halls, and online spaces engaged and safe places to discuss questions and seek ideas and answers?

Consider and read this thread: keep track and curate the narratives you teach: by every figure, do a character study. We need to face and review the decisions of the past and reconcile and come to terms with our future.

Example: what if Ruth Hopkins didn’t follow this path? Discuss the narrative of Lincoln’s heroism and his great, grave flaws?

But we don’t really teach critical thinking because that would cause a potential revolt to order.

What Does ‘Critical Thinking’ Mean?

This feels very big to me right now, and scary, but this is the gift I want to give my students most of all: the courage to question, and draw their own conclusions, and then have the mindfulness and mental flexibility to adjust those conclusions if necessity demands.

Now: that is a big idea. How to go about it?

Okay. Any ideas welcome.

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Build and Grow

Are we micro-managing reading, and not seeing the big picture?

Can the skills for the future be taught? 

Skills–strategies –the future will depend on our ability to solve problems–and that ability relies heavily on strategies–

Actually, legitimately taught and learned?

Two things crossed my view recently. Using my mental ‘crazy wall’ yarn and thumbtack skills, I’m going to play and mold how they may be related:

Turns out, Bigfoot does not work for the CIA.

Reading scores are stagnant for U.S. children: reading, and loving to read, has become a source of shame for many students. In a recent Hechinger Report, “Third Indication U.S. Education is Deteriorating” by Jill Barshay discusses the conundrum that parents and educators face. This does not surprise me. Consider the vitriol and desperation of many of us educators to help students read we’ve managed to kill the love of reading altogether.

And then there’s this:

Hidden Brain interviewed Alison Gopnik:

The Carpenter Vs. The Gardener: Two Models Of Modern Parenting

And the TL:DR is: “To get to good outcomes [sic] …not worrying about outcomes at all.”

Alison Gopnick.

The carpenter parent believes in raising children with blueprints: with planning and preparation, they can craft their child into the proper structure. The gardener parent encourages growth and happy surprises. Of course, there should be a balance between the carpenter and the gardener, but we’ve swung our hammer far too wide to the carpenter side with prescriptive reading programs, reading logs, and all sorts of canned curriculum, and haven’t dug deep enough into many of the wonderful and innovative ideas out there. It would appear, nothing is being done very well.

Perhaps if parents want their children to grow, a refresher on how to construct reading is in order.

Also: let children play.

The Importance of Play

Piaget stresses how important learning the rules of the game is in the process of socialization; a child must become able to control himself in order to do so, controlling most of all his tendency to act aggressively to reach his goals. Only then can he enjoy the continuous interaction with others that is involved in playing games with partners who are also opponents. But obeying the rules and controlling one’s selfish and aggressive tendencies is not something that can be learned overnight; it is the end result of long development. When he begins playing games, a child tries to behave as he could in his earlier play. He changes the rules to suit himself, but then the game breaks down. In a later stage he comes to believe that the rules are unalterable. He treats them as if they were laws handed down from time immemorial, which cannot be transgressed under any circumstances, and he views disobeying the rules as a serious crime. Only at a still later stage—often not until he has become a teenager and some even later than that—can he comprehend that rules are voluntarily agreed upon for the sake of playing the game and have no other validity, and that they can be freely altered as long as all participants agree to such changes. Democracy, based on a freely negotiated consensus that is binding only after it has been formulated and accepted, is a very late achievement in human development, even in game-­playing.

So let me see if I understand this:

  • Some students have a difficult time just being in class–understanding and cooperating with the community, the guidelines, protocols, and the rules–the simple rules–of how to function in a classroom.
  • Some students did not get enough time to play–to interact, socialize, and learn basic forms of human interactions…(and they still don’t)
  • Some students are in the classroom challenging and disrupting every aspect of those protocols*: the teacher’s instructional practices, the expectations for himself or the instructor, and constantly surveying and monitoring the pressures and praises of their peers…

If we miss out on “…it is the end result of long development” and come to the place in secondary education where a student struggles to function from hallway behavior to classroom cooperation it is our obligation and responsibility to ensure secondary students understand this and offer solutions to why they’re acting out, and what impact that has in the present and long-term.

It’s time to return to helping students see themselves for who they are, and who they can be. The grand potential is over time, not in a single moment.

*When the status quo is oppressive and racist there is a demand for disruption and protest. This is not a call for blind obedience–the opposite–this is a call for reflection and nuance, and most of all empowerment.

I really miss my friend and colleague who worked at our building until this year. She single-handedly brought back safety and community to our building and helped students find their integrity and honor, and consistently built bridges between teachers and struggling students. She’s doing good and important work elsewhere, but she’s left a vacuum. One of my strengths is building relationships: I did it before she came to our building, and I’ll do it again. But I’ll take the gardener approach, thank you.

Back to my original question: can we teach what we need to, and can students learn it?

We need to ask this question first: What do we want them to learn? — Answer: We want them to learn how to be in the world andcooperativelyy solve problems.

That has always been the answer, and they learn this by playing.

Oh: and the Digital Dogs blog is going very well. I still have a few students who need help finding their voice, but it’s a work in progress.

Book recommendation: Long Way Down