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Heart-shaped box. (Or The Giving Tree reimagined.)

Are there two kinds of people in this world? Those who X or those who Y? Or maybe that is the paradox, thinking we can be this or that. But if I was the kind of person who asks if there are two kinds of people, (which I’m not) I would ask if you like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

You know the book– the story begins with a boy and a tree, and the tree, or Tree, ends up giving the boy everything and ends up being a stump for the boy, now an old man, to sit on and rest.

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

How do you feel about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?

The Giving Tree

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Do you ever feel tapped out by the financial and emotional demands of teaching? I sure do. This week alone there were tens of broken pencils on the ground. Stolen candy. Requests to buy T-shirts for ourselves for the school fundraiser. Requests to pitch in for the staff morale committee (12 years x $20 = $240, of which I’ve never received a card, birthday cake, or any acknowledgment or benefit. I’ve been in the hospital, my husband had surgery, and yeah); also, requests to pitch in more money for a friend’s birthday present (I have the misfortune of having a birthday during the midwinter break). I pledged $40 to the fundraiser already. Good thing it was payday yesterday…oops, and it’s gone.

Over the summer I thought ahead and made sure I would have  Lord of the Flies books, spending my time and goodwill with friends and family, begging them to donate the books I thought I would be using this fall. Like the Little Red Hen, I planned ahead, spending hours over the summer creating and curating important resources, building on research, professional judgment, and knowledge. And this week I planned lessons, shared knowledge, gave away books, bought a new teacher a $30 gift card for Amazon so she would be able to get a few books, got a request for books for a teacher returning to her classroom, and let’s not forget the four current natural disasters (although one could argue the ferocity of the Level 5 Hurricanes is man-made). There are teachers in Texas and Florida trying to rebuild their classrooms and schools.

So the teachers who are teaching 8th grade ELA this year asked me for the Lord books, and I handed over the box and then went to my room and cried. Those were my brand-new books with really cool book cover illustrations. They didn’t even have my name on them yet. I wanted to write my name. I have black Sharpies. They’re mine.

For me.

New.

Mine.

Later, I asked them both if we could please compromise, and they’re great colleagues, and I’m sure they will. But it wasn’t easy for me to speak up.

It’s so hard for people, and I could make a strong case for women especially (see The Giving Tree reference if you’re confused) to say no. Women have different sins than men. The sin of selfishness. The sin of owning things. The sin of hard work and time not being for everyone else’s benefit but their own.

My family takes emotional energy, in the best of ways, but in hard ways, too. Jobs, health, dreams, goals: mothers/wives circle around the members making sure everyone has what they need, and if she doesn’t, is thought of as toxic or dysfunctional. My own brilliant husband told me the other day he thought I planned stuff because I liked it. After 25 years he still has some things to learn about me. Because I am good at something doesn’t mean I like to do it. 

So here to permission for us all to say No, or I can’t make it. Perhaps another time. Or just back to “no?”

I’ll share a secret, too. Teaching ELA is the best teaching gig ever. Books, stories, creativity, imagination…and oh, did I mention the books?!

In Computer Essentials I answered the same repetitive, mind-numbing questions because students wouldn’t read a sentence or two of instructions. They don’t know how to talk to each other, no matter how many strategies I scaffolded.

But as far as not knowing, yet, how to do and collaborate, I don’t blame them: they have a pass with me. They’re wonderful, and they’re trying. And when they get something, they thank me, and I get a smile in return.

It may not be a coffee mug, but those smiles keep me going.

 

 

 

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Saving Summer: Amygdala and The Brain

Teaching is stressful, there is no doubt or debate. And it’s also joyous, satisfying, and filled with discovery and success.

But let’s get back to the stress for a moment so we can move forward with more moments of joy, satisfaction, and discovery.

My buddy Sharon and her Brainiacs are developing a PD session for SEL/Teachers/Students. Tangentially, I’m developing the digital curriculum, along with her and other colleague’s input. When we talk about preparing students for their futures, not our pasts, we must have a deep understanding or exploration of what is happening to our brains in the digital world. We must share this knowledge, so students can adequately reflect, practice mindfulness, and know when to take on that “big view.” Elena Aquilar’s post, “5 Simple Lessons for Social and Emotional Learning for Adults” was a deja-vu moment–my husband was just advising me of these ideas yesterday while we had street tacos at the local lunch truck. Take the big view:

“Lesson 4: Observe Your Emotions”

We are not our emotions. If we can practice observing them — seeing ourselves experience emotions from 10,000 feet above earth — we are more likely to make decisions that don’t emerge from them. We might notice that sometimes they’re powerful and gripping, and sometimes they’re lighter and less sticky. It helps to practice non-attachment to emotions. They’re just emotional states and they come and go — and remember that we have some control over these states. Sometimes I visualize my emotions as weather patterns: There are storms and calm skies, heavy rain, and light winds. They always change. I visualize myself as a tree experiencing these emotions that come and go.

An article posted in the New York Time’s by Lisa Feldman Barrett, “When Is Speech Violence?” walks through the key points of amygdala hijacking and the effects of chronic stress.

“What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.”

A school year is a long stretch of ‘simmering stress.’ Whose job is it to maintain the physical and emotional safety of a building? In truth, everyone is a stakeholder. Building trust and relationships that can find strength in discourse and dialogue, strong respect and cordial working relationships are the desired culture of any building. And as the Stoics believed, it is not what happens to us that affect us, but how we view and control our thinking about events. What if we all pledged to think about the school stress as a means to practice our own care and mindfulness?

In the meantime, I’m reading a book my husband recommended to me a few months back, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, first published in 1973. Yeah, not exactly a little light summer reading, but it’s what I need right now: hefty intellectual grips by which to grab onto the rocky surface, and climb up. Getting a new perspective or two is a great way to get that higher view.

And though I can’t control others behaviors, I will strive to speak the truth, ask questions, seek answers and common ground.

 

 

 

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Pledge.

These are to re-read, read, and organize: the binders need to be gutted and reorganized. Oh, sticky tabs and Sharpies: how I love thee.

I always have this summer break lag–it takes me a bit to realize it actually is break time, and not only relax, but reflect. And just not think at all.

Last summer I had everything planned out, and offered my time and expertise to go over the CCSS and come up with a menu of critical ones I knew our PLC should take a look at and consider for the common/formative/assessments. Well, that didn’t work, and that’s okay: the team decided to focus on one skill through the lens of one or two standards. Am I going to stop coming up with ideas? Did I learn my lesson? Nah. I can’t help myself. I love designing good curriculum.

Next year I’ve been tapped to construct Computer Essentials for 7th grade, and will be teaching only one class of 8th ELA. (Just can’t quit you, Humanities….). To say our students need the computer skills is an understatement. (I’ll post my ideas on that later.) In the meantime, this post serves as a pledge to myself to read: I have the trifecta of my summer: a hammock, sometimes blue sky, and time. My focus is to create a curriculum map that is more reflective of what ELA students are truly expected to know. The horizontal, silo-approach doesn’t work. I’m actually envisioning a circle map, updated, and global: a way to teach units that are connective and authentic, with a heavy dash of choice and design. Give me a week or two, and I’ll have something figured out.

 

Oh, and I need to add some new videos to the list:

What is one thing you taught more than one year, and feel it is a “must?”

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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. 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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Know better: Do better.

There are three concepts to juggle, and with any dexterity and caffeine, allow me to attempt this hat-trick:

We are not doing a great job, and we need to do better. 

  1. We’re not showing students what rigor and high expectations really mean, and moreover, what it means to them.
  2. We’re not working as leadership teams.
  3. We’re running through the standards in concrete lock-steps and not understanding nuances and complexity. (See #1, and then refer to #2).

This year, as best as I can say, seemed like being lost in the woods and someone stepped on my compass. The good news is next year I’m leading and designing curriculum, and I know it’ll be great: sharing ideas and asking others, collaborating, and teaming on what our students need is my jam. I can’t get over, though, the haunting dread that we are not really doing what we need to for our students. Our current practices lack for consistent connections, and it is unacceptable. We have master teachers in our building, trained at the highest levels of PBL, science, math, social sciences, humanities, and language arts. The elective teachers are experienced and hold our students to the highest standards, too. But what is happening? My theory is we’re still working in too much isolation and silos. Our PLCs improve every year, even through administration shifts, but our cross-content and staff heterogony are lacking. We’re too homogenous. We must do better at being allowed the time to share knowledge and information.

Article #1: Make It Meaningful (not lock-step)

Revolutionizing Inquiry in Urban English Classrooms: Pursuing Voice and Justice through Youth Participatory Action Research

If I bring up my ‘burning questions’ unit with new leadership/staff, and or if they bring up something that they’ve tried, where is the reciprocal curiosity? Where is the time to say, “How did you do that? What resources do you have? Will you share that with me?” Right now we do this by the seat of our pants.

Agency represents the power that derives from the pursuit of those questions that matter most to students. It is what fuels action, a central component of YPAR that allows young people to attend to and explore firsthand the nuances of issues that have a direct bearing on their lives. It is contextually bound, always in negotiation, and mediated by the histories, social interactions, and cultures that young people’s identities are entangled within. We argue that agency cannot be framed as a competency then, but as a capacity to imagine and act upon the world. Central to this is the opening of spaces for students in their plurality, spaces where they can examine their relationships with each other, with texts, and with the world.”

I would love a resource guide of the staffs’ individual areas of expertise. My work with the National Writing Project precludes my inclination and bias toward their research, and I make no apologies for it.

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Article #2: Scientific American (high standards/rigor)

Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of “Smart Fools”?

It is not enough to teach knowledge but constantly strive for the highest levels the taxonomy, creativity.

As the writer Claudia Wallis says, teaching ethics in decision making combined with knowledge is the goal:

“Basically, ethical reasoning involves eight steps: seeing that there’s a problem to deal with (say, you see your roommate cheat on an assignment); identifying it as an ethical problem; seeing it as a large enough problem to be worth your attention (it’s not like he’s just one mile over the speed limit); seeing it as personally relevant; thinking about what ethical rules apply; thinking about how to apply them; thinking what are the consequences of acting ethically—because people who act ethically usually don’t get rewarded; and, finally, acting. What I’ve argued is ethical reasoning is really hard. Most people don’t make it through all eight steps.”

Think about that for a moment: doing the right thing means there may be no reward. No tchotchke, no token: just the idea that doing the right thing is doing the right thing. A beloved colleague said to me the other day how frustrated she feels when she sees students throw away our offering of an excellent, free (to them) public education. Do they have the ethical right to do so? What if it was framed that way–would it flip their thinking about their lives and connections?

“If ethical reasoning is inherently hard, is there really less of it and less wisdom now than in the past?
We have a guy [representative-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana] who allegedly assaulted a reporter and just got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—and that’s after a 30-point average increase in IQ. We had violence in campaign rallies. Not only do we not encourage creativity, common sense and wisdom, I think a lot of us don’t even value them anymore. They’re so distant from what’s being taught in schools. Even in a lot of religious institutions we’ve seen a lot of ethical and legal problems arise. So if you’re not learning these skills in school or through religion or your parents, where are you going to learn them? We get people who view the world as being about people like themselves. We get this kind of tribalism.”

Article #3: No one else: You. Me. We.

7 Qualities That Promote Teacher Leadership in Schools

  1. New types of assessment are gaining ground. Several states are piloting performance-based assessments to replace standardized testing.
  2. Exemplars in the business community are now promoting flat organizational structures, where employees work in smaller teams and have more voice and power over how they work.
  3. Teachers are more networked than ever before, providing a unique opportunity to share and spread good teaching practice.*

*#3 makes me a little blue: I am more connected to my PLN in many ways than I am to my PLC. With my PLN, we can share ideas, no one counts or keeps score on how often I share, no one gets frustrated, and we simply share and collaborate. I want to be more connected with teachers in my building and this needs to be facilitated, without excuses.

If my friend and I go to a National Consortium for Teaching About Asia graphic novel seminar on a Saturday, how do we invite interested staff members to share in what we bring back? For staff members who send out an all-staff email about information from University of Washington opportunities to their upcoming roller derby match, how does a culture of a school encourage this knowledge and communication? I would love to know how other staffs communicate with one another: I understand the flat organizational structure, but I would rather see a web-shaped structure: interconnected and sensitive to the students’ needs: a roundtable, rather. We are a long way away from Finland’s shift to move to broader-based, connected learning? (No, they are not getting rid of topics.) How can we create more broad-based understanding and connections OPPORTUNITIES for students, that not only is of value but constructive?

“Classes are not taught in silos, but rather teachers collaborate on interdisciplinary approaches so students can see connections between things they learn.”

My wish is as the current admin returns to teams (hallelujah!) my enthusiasm doesn’t get the better of me.

This is a lot to process: teachers are feeling exhausted, that they must be all things to all students, and to themselves and their families. But I would caution all of us when we’re encouraged to say “no,” and to scoff or scorn, to look past that, and try to say yes, yes to each other at least. Yes to the idea people, the organized people, the curators, and collaborators. Do what we ask students to do:

  • Show curiosity in others’ ideas and knowledge
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Be open minded

And go to the roller derby match.

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