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The art of flying…

The ending before Winter Break was the worst of times…but also the best of times. We know our students react to the holidays often with increased anxiety, and no matter how tight or clear instruction is, sometimes a student or students can’t control their emotional responses. That is where our professionalism and patience are both tested and steeled. I just keep reminding myself that the majority of students are doing good, strong work and growing. The one to two who lash out just need more time, patience and support.

On the eve of the break, I received some amygdala-grabbing warnings about my teaching practice. Heaped on an already cortisol-filled heart and head, my best path to stress relief is to read and take stock, write notes, and make a plan.

Receiving negative criticism, however, need not be cause for alarm. With every negative assumption comes an opportunity to revisit positive intent. 

I am a HUGE fan of ‘assuming good intentions,’ and this article by Laura Thomas states why clearly:

Anger and Trust

What’s causing all this publicly shared ire? It used to be unacceptable to go to the scary rage place, particularly in front of colleagues or friends. Doing so would ruin one’s credibility. Now, due in part to the perceived anonymity of social media, we’ve reset the Overton Window on what is unacceptable — and we’re hurting ourselves as a result, because all of this anger may actually change the way the brain functions, as well as the heart, immune system, blood pressure, and lungs. When we feel attacked, a part of our brain called the amygdala floods our body with chemicals that prepare us for a fight. Angry outbursts feel like attacks, so we respond defensively, which from the other side looks a lot like an attack. In healthy people, the prefrontal cortex keeps us from taking a swing at the guy next to us (or at the very least telling him exactly what we think of him and his opinion). Lately, however, that system seems to be breaking down. We’re getting angrier while simultaneously feeling fewer inhibitions about taking that metaphorical or literal swing at the guy next to us.

So how do we stop it?

By recognizing what is happening, and surrounding and bolstering ourselves with intelligent, thoughtful relationships. To my colleagues who are smart and experts in terms of neuroscience, education, mindfulness and quality instruction. I am so blessed to have these women in my life. I will look to them for mindfulness lessons for students first.

Over-break Projects:

No burnout:

Don’t get burned out, but remain passionate.

Crafts, baking, walking, reading: enjoying my family’s company. My husband and sons are three of the smartest, funniest men I know. We are a creative, engaged family, and resourceful as all get-out. I realizing raising two amazing humans does not make me more or less qualified as an educator, but it does give me insights that help inform my practice. Raising humans is not for the faint of heart, and it takes a lot of heart to do so.

Seating Arrangments:

I went in today and cleaned up my room. I was sick that Friday before the break and reluctantly got a sub. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is seating charts. There are pros and cons, but ultimately it’s not the seating chart but the focus on what they will get done in that day. Though I have Learning Targets/Success Criteria always available, referred to and visible, greet them at the door, I am thinking daily success charts are the way to go. I’ve done these in the past, and they need to happen again. The management and logistics, however…that I’m not really sure about yet.

Trusting and listening to my students:

They are my ‘customers.’ They are who I serve. I love giving surveys and personality inventories, and choice. A lot of choices. However, choice to administrators or observers may look like chaos, and there is something to that. Not all students can handle choice: they’ve been through enough change and trauma to last anyone a lifetime, and they need direct instruction.

4. Go right to the kiddos.

Your students are the best evaluators of the success of your classroom. Throw together a quick survey and ask them how they think their year is going. This is also a chance for you to reflect on your core values; what’s important in your classroom?

For me, it’s every kid feeling free to be themselves—”You do you”—and learning in the way that’s the best for them. So, some of my survey questions might be:

  • Do you feel like I respect you as a person?
  • Do you think I do everything I can to help you learn? What’s one thing I could do differently?
  • What’s one thing you wish I knew?

(That last one can be heartbreaking, eye-opening and the best thing you’ve read all day all at the same time. Sometimes they just want to tell you they love you … and it’s exactly what you’re going to need in a moment of self-doubt.)

For some students, in particular, feeling they have my respect (they do) and my care (they do) is only as valuable as they use it to help them learn. And no one can learn if they don’t feel safe. (Including teachers.)

So: I’m working on this:

And then I’ll go bake something.

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You know nothing, Mrs. Love, Part II

Anchor Chart on One-Pagers from last year: time to bring this out again--still fits.
Anchor Chart on One-Pagers from last year: time to bring this out again–still fits.

Another thread on the Notice and Note site that spoke to me so strongly, ‘how do you tell other teachers some practices are out of date?’

And what if they’re not, and what if they just need to be polished?

How do you know when to reuse, recycle, or reduce our teaching stuff?

One thing I do know, is the good doctor, Sarah Donovan, PhD at Ethical ELA encapsulated what I’ve been attempting to do this year

http://www.ethicalela.com/9weeks/

This is what I’m trying to do with my Reading Road Trip, but we haven’t left the driveway yet:

I decided the best way to approach the quarter would be with the question of where stories come from, how authors craft stories for readers, and why we read and listen to stories. Framing our independent reading this way, meant that my job was to ask these questions every day and to set up experiences for students to explore these questions. Standards related to author’s craft, words in context, public speaking, and reading diverse, complex texts informed my instruction as I developed essentially five parts to our class, which I will explain below (independent reading, close reading, text structure, language lessons, and read alouds). Essentially, however, I organized our daily time this way:

  • Monday through Thursday: 7 minutes of language study,34 minutes of reading and conferring individually and in small groups; during the 34 minutes, I would either take a small group to a table to do a mini-lesson or I would meet with students individually to book talk  options and confer about what they were noticing about their books.

  • Fridays: readalouds

    . These days, students would read short pieces while their classmates/ audience would listen for and document textual evidence of sensory language, figurative language, tone, mood, word choice, character interaction, etc.

  • Daily Portfolio Development: Every day, students were responsible for documenting their reading experiences. They’d take pictures of books and sticky notes; they’d document reading responses on Google forms. We used these artifacts for an end-of-quarter portfolio to demonstrate learning and negotiate final grades.

Can I get this moving with a student teacher, other demands, PLC work, district demands, and general tomfoolery of a Title I school (everyone has an agenda, including me, on what works best)?

Someone mentioned the other day our scores have never been good.  I guess compared to the district’s numbers, that’s true. Not sure if I paraphrased that correctly, but that was the conclusion she drew.

But have they shown growth? Resoundingly yes.

So, for a few moments, I thought I would look over the scores on the OSPI School Report site, and they are a mixed bag of growth and famine.  Consider in the ten years we’ve had three state tests, and during the SBA(C) time the first year of a pilot year, we had no results or data to review. My continuing concern is that the SBA is not a transparent assessment, and we’ve been working mostly blind for years. The fact that my students scored 65-75% passing last year is a testament to them, not me. Overall, last year the 7th grade ELA PLC (of which I was a part) showed significant gains:

2015-2016-mcms
41% in 2015-2016
2015-2015
35% in 2014-2015

But herein lies the rub: whenever we make decisions about what’s best, how do we accurately gauge based on only two years’ worth of data? In other years my 7/8th-grade students grew from about 40% of passing reading to 60-65% on the WASL/MSP. Those years included as many best practices as I could muster, working as the Curriculum Leader in a collaborative way, and cross-content teams. It’s false to paint a picture that our students have never grown.

Here’s what I do know: if you focus on teaching it, students learn it. Clear and concise instruction that includes skills and strategies, with a hefty dose of student self-reflection, independence and choice make the most sense.

What data battles have you had to fight? Is it providing students with reading ideas based on solely their Lexile? Is the collective or group/team misinterpreting the data?

My biggest obstacle to instruction, however, isn’t from others, it’s from my students themselves. Those steeped in learned helplessness and confusion. Somehow along the way they have no idea what’s happening, and don’t try at all, and turn nothing in. And it is different for every student, and unpredictable (and thank goodness–this would limit my ability to truly get to know them).

So———-November. Nine weeks or so till the end of first semester. With my student teacher’s help, I think we can do this. Getting students to read, transfer those skills and strategies to bolster their reading confidence can only help. We’ve got this, right?

………

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Inner voice logorrhea.

Teachers need one for Shame, Student Success Joy, Professional Guide, and Data Wrangler.
Teachers need one for Shame, Student Success Joy, Professional Guide, and Data Wrangler.

 

Come on old brain, learn some new tricks! Is it possible to re-program a brain to think differently, not focus on the negative, but wash away shameful thoughts and quickly suture confidence? Hope so. Remember, there’s no such thing as overnight success, people! I have faith–I’m a writer, after all. Whatever that means. (Maybe I need Journalist Inner Voice, too?)

The other day I had a gift of an opportunity to discuss ideas for next year: it was a good chance to listen to new directives and possibilities. My local professional circle is characterized by folks of immeasurable generosity, new connections and long-time colleagues. I have been attempting to do planning now for next year, anticipating and adapting for students’ needs. I have a lot of questions about new directions, and am desperately trying to sort out the most important things. But me and my big mouth. Unfortunately, I wrote something in an e-mail that was too strident in tone, and I wish I could have the chance to say it differently, because what I was trying to say matters. Because I said it in a matter-of-fact way the perception (and understandable) may have been that I was being petulant and stubborn, not action-oriented. From that point, what got lost, because of my own stupidity, was the potential for a great discussion about the bigger ideas. I mishandled it, and made it worse.  Talk about the alarm bells going off! There isn’t a homunculus personified emotion representation for how it feels to feel ashamed at allowing the conversation to veer off into personality ditches. Where is the “Beating Yourself Up” inner voice?

My new homunculus: Inner Monk
My new homunculus: Inner Monk

Here was the big idea: there are solid concepts, enduring understandings, and pedagogical foundations that transcend change. A few examples may be the concept of Name, Voice, Identity, Social Justice, History Repeats, Monomyth Studies/Archetypes, Storytelling Over Time, etc. These themes in the Humanities are transformative for generations of students. The time and place, however, for these deep discussions about instruction is something I need to work on, big time. But what steps to take, which direction to go?

As we shift toward focused, skill-based conversations about instruction and less about the means of delivery, I know I’m blessed–the empowerment of teacher choice and autonomy is huge, and that message was clearly communicated, for which I am grateful.

Keep in mind, the standards are helpful in guidance, but not necessarily these ‘big view’ ideas:

Before we myopically fixate on any set of new standards, teachers and administrators would be well served to remind themselves two things about the new standards: (1) teachers who religiously follow them are being asked to do things that are not in the best interest of our students, and (2) these new standards will one day be ushered out the door to make room for the next generation of “improved” standards. When first introduced, new standards come with a certain gravitas— a gravitas, however, that is unlikely to persist. One study, How Well Are American Students Learning? The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, notes that “standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in.

Gallagher, Kelly (2015-02-28). In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom (Kindle Locations 157-162). Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Listening well is skill-based, too.

Most of the time I am in the role of listener. I listen to directives, agendas, targets, and translating subtext. (Translating subtext is a skill I wish I could shed, however. Blessing in the classroom when I’m listening to a student, a curse when I recognize others are not synthesizing or integrating concepts, or I’m failing at communication.) I am the receiver of others’ decisions and discussions, and no longer at the local ‘big kids table.’ And that is totally okay.

Choosing time and place is tricky. It was a great discussion about logistics and philosophies, and that’s really important. I listened, and listened deeply, to the bigger message. It’s possible, and perhaps preferable, to keep those big idea conversations in my own head as I clean out the mental teacher clutter. I am an ambivert, and need processing time. However, that internal monologue at some point needs to be external: I love my partnerships and collaboration, and am so grateful for PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). So the take-away: not all conversations should be about the means of delivery of instruction. This is where a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a lifesaver.

Connected

Ah, but what a gift that is: I am free to create on my own, and collaborate with whom I choose. One of my passionate PLN connections has, and will forever be, with the National Writing Project. I can’t wait for the first of two workshops starting tomorrow. I have things to pack my lunch, and extra snacks! (I might even write myself a note to put in my lunch bag: they’ll command, “Make Me Proud!” and “Make Good Choices!”)

 PSWP Writing Workshop | One of the pillars of the National Writing Project is that teachers of writing should write. In this class we immerse ourselves in the writing workshop, focusing on ourselves as writers. We spend time writing, working in writing groups, sharing craft lessons, and reflecting on our writing process. Genre for your writing is open; craft lessons focus on memoir, article writing, and fiction. We welcome anyone who teaches.

writing

PSWP Reading and Writing in ELA and Social Studies | This class focuses on language arts and social studies content and how to approach the new thinking and skill demands of the Common Core. We explore strategies for teaching students to think, read, and write in English, social studies, and/or humanities classes. This engaging class is inquiry-based, hands-on, and practical.

This past June, one of the nicest things an exiting teacher told me was to keep her on my ‘tech tips’ e-mail list; she loves those tips, and wanted to make sure she was still included. No one pays me for those, and oftentimes I thought they were either annoying folks, or being sucked into a vacuum. This local PLN heartened me greatly.

I strongly encourage you to curate your own PLN: Three Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network by Brianna Crowley. My own Twitter account, @mrskellylove, has a wide variety of interest and friends, as well as professional connections. (I am not so great at delineating knowledge and curiosity from multiple sources.)

Here are some good folks to follow:

John Spencer @spencerideas

Phillip Cummings @Philip_Cummings

Cult of Pedagogy @cultofpedagogy

Valerie Strauss @valeriestrauss

Hank Green @hankgreen John Green @johngreen

Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension

There are hundreds of potential PLN connections, from politics, to social studies, authors, researchers, science, math, current issues to history. Caution: once you fall down this rabbit hole it’s tough to get back out. But you won’t want to–it’s a safe place to discuss big ideas. And the coffee is just how you like it.

Postscript:

Part II: