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“Fear less, build more.”

This post is dedicated to my crazy teacher friends who try everything they can to help our students, even at the expense of their colleagues’ goodwill. Based on a recent email thread, we’re all trying so hard, but we’re trying too hard alone.

That has to change.

Do you have departmental/content issues? Does the history department turn up their noses at the math teachers or is the elective crew treated like a tertiary annoyance? Supporting our colleagues is more than bringing in a few shoeboxes and glue sticks. It requires deep, drilled-down communication and understanding, and allows for every department to support and connect with one another. Of course, an administration is an integral part of an overall vision: communicating to staff may require multiple messages, reminders, little check-ins of how the vision is progressing once the vision has been shared. It doesn’t mean lockstep. It doesn’t mean one size fits all. It doesn’t mean one ring to rule them all, either. Throw that garbage in the fires of Mordor and carry on, Samwise.

It does mean that departments are talking to one another, and know an overall vision of the school Like other PBL projects before, the Zombie unit was the 8th grade ELA department’s attempt, and we learned a lot about it. We have some refinement to do, and it was clear based on all of us whose students had more time to dig in, whose students had someone helping with hands-on skills, and whose had lipstick “infection” marks on their faces and played tag (cough).

When everything is important, everything becomes jammed up: think of a school day more like well-run traffic and flow engineering, or flocking science: when kids can move with a flexible, responsive schedule, or when a big PBL project is being conducted, perhaps that is the day when there is a shift in time; better yet, they can go to each class and work and consider through that lens.

(Students are trying to avoid predators, after all–aka going to class.)

It’s going to require some brave teachers and administration to put aside egos and come to solutions that are best for students. We have the skill sets and the drive to do something like what Emily Pilloton does with her girls. We need to include all, however. I am wondering if we have the will. 

Can we build this together?

https://www.edutopia.org/article/changing-who-gets-make-world-tom-berger

Girls’ Garage’s slogan, “Fear Less, Build More” is an appropriate anthem for our times.

http://girlsgarage.org/

 

 

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Little Miss Hollywood

The Teaching Sisters of the Rock Star

Ann Beatty recently penned a brilliant article for The Atlantic, “Hollywood’s Reductive Narratives About School.” Not only does she make a case against most popular teacher movies, but articulates what I’ve been trying to say for a long time. Over the years, students occasionally, with moony eyes and hope, ask me if I “love” Freedom Writers, and seem kind of hurt when I say no–but then come to some deeper understanding of when I tell them why. The “great White savior-teacher-lady” is bullocks, basically. But Beatty says it better. She writes: “Bulman argues these films are popular because they bolster the middle-class fantasy that holds individuals accountable for low-income students’ successes or failures, while conveniently absolving viewers of any responsibility to lobby for system-wide change.”

It is Hollywood, and it is a fantasy.

This fantasy resides in the same room as bootstrap baloney and the grit myths. The [white] middle class, usually young teacher, (so much ageism in Freedom Writers….so…..much….) comes to the school, loses her relationship with her husband, looks great in sweater sets, gets a paternal nod of Fatherly Approval from Daddy, and carries on, changes the world, and enlightens one and all. The thing is–her students possessed abilities and THEIR OWN STORIES the entire time. Somewhere along the way, they were taught to read, make letters, write, sing their ABCs, etc. I wonder if these narratives seep into our culture to the point where students can’t see past their own experiences, either, making short-cut assumptions about their teachers, no matter their race, gender or age.

The dangers of the ‘rockstar’ teacher or group include the shallow dismissal and incorrect thin-slicing of a group or individual personalities and dynamics. As in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story,” (which Beatty alludes to in her essay as well), the danger lies in accepting one’s perspective as the only perspective, and everyone else is getting it wrong.

Stop: it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not a competition. It’s not a ‘celebration’ when there are winners and losers. It’s a celebration when it’s a celebration, and everyone is invited to the table.

Beatty distinguishes between pity and empathy: pity leaves us all diminished and weakened. Pity is the beast that lower the bar, doesn’t maintain high expectations, or gives a pass when too tired to keep pushing. Empathy, however, should work reciprocally: we and our students come to better understandings of one another’s, and our goals align. (Easier said than done, clearly.)

“Pity means I tell students who I think they are; empathy means I ask them, again and again, to tell me who they are. Such a shift resets a power imbalance. Classrooms where teachers and students actively work against the narratives and misconceptions that batter them are places where real learning happens.”

What Beatty comes to, and where I came to a long time ago, was that students are so much more than a Hollywood narrative, and so are we. When we work together and stop putting each other in ‘rockstar’ or competitive situations, zero-sum games, when we don’t reduce one another as colleagues or reduce our students to simple numbers, we see a much bigger and more beautiful picture, a bigger life, one larger than any Hollywood truncated narrative. As the next few weeks fall into summer, what final messages will I, in some cases desperately, in other cases seamlessly, instill in my students?

Well, as friends read Beatty’s post on social media, many agreed with the list of damaging teacher films. But everyone still likes “Bad Teacher.” Okay, I’ll let that one slide.

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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”

Sigh.

Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.

Ideas:

Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:

 

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Spun out.

Spinners.

Water bottle flipping.

Dabbing.

Clicking.

Candy wrappers.

Sunflower seeds.

Little pencils.

No pencil.

No paper.

Uncharged laptop.

No charger.

Lost charger.

Little skateboards.

Little paper footballs.

via GIPHY

My list is incomplete. There is a legion of ways kids use other objects to distract or fidget with. And no wonder. Quite frankly, a day in the life of a 6-period middle school kid and teacher is physically demanding. Imagine running for a flight eight times a day: in the morning, between every class, 30 minutes for lunch, at the end of the day, trying to take care of biological needs and process learning. It’s go-go-go all day. I completely understand why the average student senses they “need” this, how those spinners seem to help with attention, but from my anecdotal observations, they hurt more than help, if only because they distract us, the teacher, from being effective.

If you want someone to “blame” for the spinners, it’s this man, Scott McCoskery. He had very good reason to create a spinner.  From an interview on NPR:

SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.

MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn’t really need to attend.

MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or…

MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?

MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.

MALONE: All right, all right.

Well, I guess we should be glad kids don’t flick switchblades in class.

One of my favorite education bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo comes out on the side of the spinners, telling teachers to ‘chill out.’ He also confesses to only seeing two out of his 130 high school students. Let that sink in. Two. One-hundred thirty. High. School. Not twenty to thirty a day out of 130 MIDDLE SCHOOL kids. All day, every day, most teachers in my building watch students who click on games sooner than the actual assignment. Kids who reach for a spinner versus a pen or pencil. I agree, we teachers do need to choose our battles. I know kids aren’t getting enough fresh air, time to eat, time to talk and play, and often I feel more like a jailer than an educator. And the inmates will do anything to keep from going insane, and I don’t blame them.

Health Buzz: Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD? This article has a balanced approach to them. Just, you know, in case you want to read a balanced approach versus my diatribe.

But I’m not battling spinners only: the onslaught of cell phone use, and if it’s not that, it’s talking. And then I’m told I need to have them engage in ‘accountable talk.’ What if you were told that in chunks of 55 minutes you had to only have ‘accountable’ conversations? I can only imagine how awful book club would be if we couldn’t chat, catch up, talk about kids, food, work, and then spend some time talking about the current book. The thing is–truly–students rebel all the time against this daily structure. If they didn’t they would go nuts. They don’t want extrinsic token-economy fluff, they want time. 

As I plan out the next few weeks, I’m going to build that time in. And parents–if you’re reading this — consider instead of a spinner a little sketchbook or some books they can use when testing is over, or they have some time:

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

The Total Brain Workout by Marcel Danesi

Here’s your earworm du jour. You’re welcome.

 

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An Ode for Earth Day: The Science of Storytelling

Our world is a story: we are the story of our world. We find patterns, we seek gods and goddess, and we desperately seek control. We destroy. We create. We mimic nature in those actions, coming close to apotheotic levels of transcendence.

Whoa.

Sorry.

Got a little carried away.

On any given day we reach those heights and dig in the vulgar mud. And because of who I am, and who we are, I am thinking it will be, and continue on, to be the storytellers who help us make sense of who and what we are, and where we live.

Here is a curated list of To Be Read books that may help me on this path:

Frankenstein — I am about halfway through the novel. Don’t judge. I’m sure you have a high school text or two you used the Cliff Notes for.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

 

Life After People


LIFE AFTER PEOPLE – EPISODE 1: LIFE AFTER… by valeriivankov

I am putting together more titles/media about this subject. What are some of your favorites?

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