Sometimes I title my posts a bit too obscurely. Quick note: the reason why these posts are titled Renaissance Fairness is that I see a Renaissance happening in schools — more teachers are taking control and agency and doing best practices in collaborative work with their peers and students, doing problem and project-based work, and allowing for students to take agency in their learning. And we want the playing field to be as fair as possible –to remove the obstacles that prevent students from understanding conflict and confusion are normal. This brave teaching and learning may look messy to an outsider, and we just need to push through that. If the culture of the world and business is collaborative and cooperative, or at least that is our aim, then creating safe places to hash out conflict and disagreements must be set by the adults in the building or institution first. This is where we foster our students’ love of being confident with their partner projects as well as their independent creative time, and we must honor both.
I promised a quick checklist/reflection guide for teamwork, and here is my first draft link:
Sometimes we teachers may grow cynical about the ‘career and college’ ready mission statement. It’s not hard to see why: when our nation voted gave corporations the same voting rights as human beings we knew we were in deep trouble. To avoid that rabbit hole, I’ll just say this: we still work, and one of our jobs as teachers is to show students the opportunities and pathways so they can make the work-life decisions for themselves with the best and rigorous information.
And a secret to all this is — not all work is bad. Far from it. Modeling passion and personal engagement in our work lives is part of the mix of building relationships with students: when we point to the purpose of learning, the foundational piece comes from us. Establish our own engagement, purpose and love of our time in the workplace.
We were the nation of innovators and dream makers. We were envied the world over for our ability to create, for ingenuity and puppy-like enthusiasm. I am not sure we are that now, with a few exceptions (looking at you, Elon Musk). And I pin my hopes on the next generation of thinkers, inventors, writers, artists, and designers on helping students communicate and build the skills necessary to work together in order to solve problems.
The work I’m doing in the WABS/STEM Fellowship program and the PLU ELL Endorsement is guiding my thinking: I wanted to share some ideas from STEM group in terms of project/collaboration/employability rubrics:
Though it’s somewhat disorienting to see I have posted in over ten days, I am going to cut myself some slack–writers need some time off the keyboard once in awhile. Something incredibly fortunate came my way recently, and that is an opportunity to gain my ELL Endorsement via my district and Pacific Lutheran. This coursework began about a week ago and will continue through the summer, and parallels my prior commitment to the WABS/STEM Fellowship. And the new curriculum, and new students, and new new new new. Steady, lady! It’s going to be okay!
Working collaboratively, learning new things and ideas, and then practicing them in my classroom is pure joy for me, and I would wager the secret sauce for many other teachers, too. It’s at the heart of what we strive for our students: the world of work, family, and society may look very different to them. It’s not about the latest technology or gimmick: it’s always been about communicating and being part of communities.
However, we teachers have been systematically demoralized. Sometimes the criticism is valid–teachers can be racist, bigoted, small-minded, intellectually stagnant, just like others in the general population. For those teachers, I have little sympathy for your burn-out. Your job is to prepare all students for a world and future you may not be around to see, but if you can’t imagine it, it’s going to be difficult to get them there.
But that is not what I see. I see colleagues, friends, and family who help children every day, whether they’re in the classroom or not. Who understand the balance of putting students and children first by also supporting the adults. And if you ever feel discouraged, I’m going to let you borrow my son Daniel’s words–he’s going to a local community college and has met a few of my former students. Each one told him I was the best teacher they had.
You, yes, I’m talking to you, are also one of the best teachers your students ever had. Your work matters, and it’s valued. Take heart–you’ve got this.
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.
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: