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Seventh-Inning Stretch


Sunday we went to a Mariner’s game. It was organized by a colleague, and I brought my husband and two boys. Well, they’re not really boys anymore. Where did the time go? Just yesterday we were planning summers that involved trips to Target for sun/water toys, and me desperately trying to think of ways to entertain two energetic and inquisitive sons. It would seem a day at the ballpark would entertain a 17 and 20 year old, but, as the kids say, “meh.” However, I was happy: I love going to baseball games. The zen of the whole thing, it reminded me of the old George Carlin bit about baseball versus football.

While there, of course I may have glanced, once or twice, at Facebook, or my other educational/interest feeds, and saw this article questioning if the last ten years have been a waste.  My friend looked up at me and asked if I ever stop: stop reading, researching, thinking: nope. I wanted to give this some thought. Even at a baseball game. And what I’ve come to is, no, it has not all been a waste, not at all. It’s been painful, and destructive, and a lot of truth to power kind of stuff, but no, not all a waste. Many of the Common Core standards are refreshing and challenging. The refocus on literacy is enlightening. And, if we have all been pushed harder in our professions, then so much the better. (Many have been pushed over the edge, and we’re still working on that.) Overall, it opened up a dialogue between policy makers and educators that has been raucous, at times contentious, but worthy. I believe more parents have gotten involved in a deeper, effectual way, and more voices are heard.

Every year during testing time a student will inevitably ask me if school is ‘over’ after testing, that somehow the last 20-30 days will find us all in a stasis, as if hermetically sealed until unwrapped in August. No, young sir, this is when the real fun begins!

A former student stopped by the other day (as they do from time to time). She confessed she felt she slacked off in 8th grade, and then this year, her freshman year, she started in Core Language Arts, and then moved to Honors, and is thriving. She credited directly what I taught in 8th grade prepared her to make this leap, even if she felt disengaged at the time. Her pride was evident, and justified.

We’re in this for the long stretch, not just a burst of speed. Nothing is a waste if we learn, talk, and reflect. Grab a snack, check the stats, and enjoy the game.


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Let’s talk this out.

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.

I am very interested, and have been for years, working on building safe, active, and engaged discussion zones for students. One might even say it’s personal with me. Growing up, in schools and with peers I was made to feel ashamed for being “outspoken,” shamed and put in the corner or out in the hallway for talking, and told by friends my vocabulary was too much for them. And not because I want the world to pay attention to me, as an extrovert/ambivert, I want everyone to respect all styles of discourse. I listen to the quiet ones, made friends with all kinds of thinkers, and feel an ambassador myself to the large and small voices.

Yes, it’s personal. 

So when I saw this post shared by a friend, “A Mild Case of Fisheye” from the Cult of Pedagogy blog by Jennifer Gonzalez, I realized I had found another incredibly useful piece of instructional knowledge. Here is my exchange with my friend about the article:


So just how do I get buy-in from both the extroverts and introverts? I think it’s important to understand that both come from a place of fear. Not always, but yes. Fear of not being heard, and fear of being heard. And judged. Judged for not saying the witty, clever thing, for not being ‘on’ all the time, and judged for saying something not brilliant when the room has been waiting an eternity for the introvert to speak. Talk about pressure from both sides! And, according to Gonzalez’s article,

The quiet ones MUST learn to speak.
Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers surveys employers about the skills they most want in potential employees. In 2013, ‘verbal and written communication skills’ climbed to the top of the list. If our task is to help our students become college- and career-ready, we are responsible for helping them grow as talkers. All of our students — especially the quiet ones — must learn how to present their ideas effectively, and no amount of listening compares to the cognitive and social challenge of actually having to frame your thoughts into coherent spoken sentences. Although our painfully shy students will resist, and our compassion will make us want to protect them, we do them no favors by letting them avoid this practice. Writer and teacher Jessica Lahey, in her February 2013 Atlantic column, agrees: “If anything,” she says, “I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.”

Yeah…this isn’t quite as compelling a reason for me, because they’ll do better in the workforce. I want their own narratives to come first, then being able to express themselves clearly in any situation is the boon.

I’ve had to learn the hard way to put myself on mute. The trick is to take oneself off of mute, too. It’s a tricky balance. What I do know is this can’t wait until the extroverted kid is out sick, and I can’t depend (though I don’t, but it’s tempting) on digital means of social discourse. I do know the writer’s workshop model is a great way to pair thinking. I’m not sure why I’ve been hesitate to do real Socratic Seminar work though. It just feels too much like Quaker Meeting for me, waiting till the spirit moves us to speak. But I do like the ‘duck’ idea, and I really like the green cards idea of my friend’s. Visually monitoring how much oxygen we’re taking, or denying ourselves in the room sounds like a great way to keep kids focused, and that terrible word, “accountable.” But I’m not going to let that get in my way of what the bigger picture is: sharing ideas rocks. I love being quiet and telling a student, extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, “I never thought of it that way before, thank you!” What a gift.

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Understanding Inclusion: Insights Welcome

Wipe your differentiation at the door.

Note: This is my attempt to understand the inclusion model. I am humbly requesting any anecdotal or quantitative data you may have.

Least restrictive environment. Absolutely. Check.

And, from Inclusion: What is Inclusion?

Two Models

There are generally two models for inclusion: push in or full inclusion.

“Push In” has the special education teacherenter the classroom to provide instruction and support to children. The push in teacher will bring materials into the classroom. The teacher may work with the child on math during the math period, or perhaps reading during the literacy block. The push in teacher also often provides instructional support to the general education teacher, perhaps helping with differentiation of instruction.

“Full Inclusion” places a special education teacher as a full partner in a classroom with a general education teacher. The general education teacher is the teacher of record, and is responsible for the child, even though the child may have an IEP. There are strategies to help children with IEPs succeed, but there are also many challenges. No doubt not all teachers are well suited to partner in full inclusion, but skills for collaboration can be learned.

Differentiation is an incredibly important tool to help children with disabilities succeed in an inclusive classroom. Differentiation involves providing a range of activities and using a variety of strategies for children with different abilities, from learning disabled to gifted, to successfully learn in the same classroom.

About four or five years ago, the inclusion model was brought to the middle school where I work. There was never any training, professional development, conversation, or guidance on how this new model would look, what benefits and perhaps pitfalls may be. We as a staff have had to try to make sense of it through three administrative staffs, (and now going on the next, who’s starting next fall). I have never had a set or regular para-educator. The special education teachers in my building are some of the superlative educators I am honored to know: their voices and contributions to the inclusion model, from what I have observed, has been hamstrung from the beginning. The students are no longer in their classrooms, but in general education, so now their time and insight is diced and parsed thin. The IEPs are kept in school district drives, and unless there is an IEP meeting and a diligent review of the special education needs students on one’s roster, often these students get lost. We have no more Honors classes, so students who are seeking a faster paced class are made to scramble through the stew of differentiation. And, those in the ‘middle’ seem to push both sides further to the edge and marginalize them. The core kids tend to bully both groups, the honors and special education students, to establish their own dominance and try to hide or save face academically.

Most of what I read describes the benefits and ethical correctness of allowing those with IEPs (Individual Educational Plans) or Special Education children mainstreamed with general education classes.

Anecdotally, I have seen:

1. Where there was a 50/50 blend of Honors and Special Education students, the classroom was lively and engaged

2. Where there were 1-3 Honors students, 1-5 Special Education students, and the rest Core, there is chaos and confusion.

The Honors kids stop taking academic risks, the special education students are left to be guided by the “honors” kids because of the misconception that the honors kids will be leaders, and the core kids bully the two extremes for being ‘smart’ or being ‘stupid.’ I have had to fight for the legally-required para-educator hours for the special education kids, because it’s assumed that they are needed elsewhere, or that any of the honors-level students will step in. Anyone who’s watched Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts knows this is wholly unfair to many honors students.

No one wins.

Sixth period, yesterday, May 12:

Two female students wrote great ode poems about their friendship, but declined to share it. I understood: their poems were great examples of odes, (the learning target). Both students would normally be considered ‘honors,’ but are in a class of 31, with 10 ‘essentials’ students including 3 special education students. “Essentials” were those two hour long blocks of reading or math instruction, so ‘essentially’ they’ve come to hate math or reading by the time I see them.

Step in one young squire, who couldn’t care less about odes, recitation, and repeatedly said ‘he didn’t get it’ and even when I checked pre-and post for understanding, would not allow himself to admit to any new knowledge. At all. It was such a clear case of obstinance, he couldn’t even feign the weakest level of engagement, compliance. Was he so terrified of showing that he gained some modicum of education he could barely function? Appearance, staring at basketball shoes, and looking good seem to be his values, at least they are at this time in his life. But what is next for him?

Recently on an NPR report, “Students’ Work Ethic Affected by Peer Groups, Desire to Be Popular,”  (one of those stories/research projects I could have conducted!), the researcher concludes:

VEDANTAM: Well, I think, as you just said a second ago, Steve, teachers and parents need to be keenly aware of how much peers affect the choices that students make. Sometimes it’s not the best idea to say everyone who wants to go the extra mile in class put up your hand because sometimes it’s better to allow students to make those choices in private so they don’t feel ostracized by their peers.

I cannot find how to help those students who need faster pacing, who may be introverts, and now are not taking risks because of peer pressure. For students to be silenced is just as egregious as those who need extra help. Most articles discuss the benefits to special education students, which I wholeheartedly agree. But it makes the assumption the faster-paced students will lead. No. Please, just no.

From Seamless Teaching: Navigating the Inclusion Spectrum:

What General Education Teachers Should Know
The central legislative force behind education’s inclusion movement is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—the federal law that mandates that all children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education and that “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … [should be] educated with children who are not disabled.” The law also requires that each child be placed in the least restrictive environment—the educational space most like that of the child’s typically developing peers in which she can succeed academically.

Once a child is identified as having a disability (as defined by IDEA), an individualized education program (IEP) is crafted by a team of school professionals and the child’s parents or guardians. IEPs include information on academic performance, emotional and behavioral issues, and academic and behavioral goals. Teachers have a legal responsibility to implement the requirements outlined in the IEP.

• Invite the special education teacher or specialist to your classroom to see how the student does in a larger setting. “This is particularly important for students with behavior goals written into their IEPs.”

• Make sure the student who leaves your classroom for instruction is working with the same content as your students in general education. To achieve this goal, you must devote time to meeting and planning with the special education teacher.

But again: what about Honors, High-Cap, or Gifted students? Gifted students fall under the special education spectrum, too.

In a perfect world, all students would understand that there are all kinds of learners in the world. They would not feel insecurities when their learning is not on par with a peer’s, and would be confident that their paths would lead them to their own success. All students would congratulate and celebrate when every classmate does well, and not label others as “stupid” or “retarded,” or teacher’s pet – I don’t hear that colloquialism too often, but the sentiment is still there.

Students at the beginning of this year shared this horrible Youtube video about a little boy whose uncle makes fun of him when he doesn’t get a math answer right. The repeated word is “21.” After awhile, I told students the next one to say “21” in that context would receive a lunch detention. Yes, their repetition of that meme got to that point. I explained to them carefully why I hated that video, and why it was not funny. They are more interested in laughing at others and establishing a pecking order than actually learning about their own learning style. The other terrible phrase that’s cropped up this year is “neck,” or ‘that’s neck.’ It means you verbally slap someone on the back of their neck to show how stupid they are. Right now I am really tired of the meanness, the lack of self-respect, and fear many of my students have. I feel we have done a terrible job of inclusion, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Lectures on kindness are meaningless. For middle school students, whom I am now labeling ‘in the trough’ (more on this theory later), they are unique creatures. Many don’t have the simple kindness and empathy they had in elementary school, and lack the maturity they will gain in high school: they are wholly concerned with how they will appear to their friends, as either too smart or dumb. Being “smart” is the greater sin. A student was surprised when I said many kids don’t want to appear ‘smart,’ or interested in what they’re learning, and when I gave him examples of what other students actually said, he understood. This is more than growth-mindset. This is truly their future.

What are we teaching our children to value? If we are to make inclusion successful, what will it take for the middle years?


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The Power All Along…

power shoesRemember that Wish List? In fine, faded green marker is a note about high school certification. Every year there are a handful of students who wish that I was moving up to the high school with them. (To be fair, there are a few who wish to never see me again, but that is a story for another day.) I researched as best I could, having this on my perpetual to-do list, and asked those who would know how would I go about this.

Even this particular odyssey is not without bumps in the bricks. I contacted the OSPI (Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction), and they weren’t quite sure if my National Board’s would grant me access. After filling out paperwork, making phone calls, and getting misinformation from my Human Resources department (which took the wind out of my house, so to speak), I finally contacted the genius bureaucrat on Friday afternoon. You heard me. Genius. Someone so sharp, so confidently concrete/sequential, not only in minutes did she find my lost application (that was from a previous phone call), she answered my question clearly and succinctly (yes, you will be granted 5-12 grades ELA, and “…we haven’t put ‘age’ on the certificates since 2011: who told you that?”)

Do you theme or label your year? I do. Of course I do. I’m a language arts teacher, the Queen of Metaphor-topia, and ruling Duchess of Diphthongs. This year’s theme is ‘kink in the hose.’ Everything was running smoothly and clearly, and then it went sideways. I have been marveling at how incredibly hopeful and peaceful I felt for the first months of this year. At year nine, I’m by no means a rookie, and felt that we had weathered enough change that no tornado or twister could possibly spin me out. My PLC is rich with talent and colleagues not only do I admire and seek, but creative, ingenious folk. Sure, administration was mostly new, but what could go wrong? District made decisions to shuffle personnel, and I had always worked collaboratively with administration at every level to support discipline, etc. We have the new teacher evaluation system, but I had received thorough training, and was a teacher-leader with my principal the first year’s roll out, serving in a collegial role to work out the wrinkles in the new and intense system. My plan was to refine, polish, and carry the strengths of instruction and throw away the unworkable.

So what went wrong? Flying monkeys? Buckets of water? Apple-throwing apple trees? Well, it doesn’t really matter. I can point to a few specific incidents, but again, it doesn’t really matter. Once in awhile there’s just that perfect storm of clashing agendas and miscommunications. And until the house lands on that witch, there’s not much that can do about it. A lot of my colleagues are ready to move on. They too, are seeking employment elsewhere, or perhaps pursuing a life goal. I am not in a position financially, nor professionally, where I can go do something…else. Many are crossing thresholds into unchartered lands, or healing wounds, or packing up the difficulties and calling it done. And they are not quiet about it, either.

Things don’t always work out as planned, and the reasons are as varied as the people involved. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if folks came into a new job and had to be honest? What if I went to a new school and told students and colleagues the truth about me? The truth that I love what I do, I am interested in new ideas, but oftentimes I like to craft and refine my own instruction. I have introverted tendencies. I have a lot to offer in terms of vision and collegial support/conversation, but will fight back if attacked. If I think your bias toward my abstract/concrete random personality is overwhelming your good judgment, I might just call you on it (unless you are a genius bureaucrat).

So let me end with this wish, this hope: no matter where we take our talents and expertise, we are more powerful than we sometimes believe. Don’t be bullied by those who would plasticize your dreams. Everyone has a desire, and sometimes just asking, “What do you want?” is enough to calm egos. I’m not sure if I am going anywhere physically, but I do know I’ve moved on emotionally. I am proud of myself for always finding ways to find my way home, of giving myself options. Here are your shoes back, W.W. I can find my way from here.