Good at school.

As a teacher, I am constantly, every day surprised by what is difficult for my students. Things should be difficult, and it should challenge them to try and to become even more than they are. Afterall, anything worth learning should be hard, it should challenge thoughts and motivations, learning should spark more questions. But I see students struggling ALL THE TIME, and instead of being motivated by the struggle, they ignore it – they choose the Fixed mindset when we work so hard to choose Growth. They choose less than mediocrity in order to not be bothered.

All the time. Every day, every moment of every class period at least 1, probably more like 15, students are struggling just to sit still long enough to understand what they’re expected to do. Those same students are struggling not only to pay attention to the details of directions, but they’re also struggling to fit in socially, or if they’re socially adept, their entire focus remains on what friends are doing and saying they have no ability to even comprehend why it is they are failing when they haven’t turned a single assignment in all year. These are students that when the entire class is working to complete an activity, they’re making faces across the room, or staring out the window, or are stuck somewhere in their mind, daydreaming about something completely outside of school. School is hard for these kids. Not because they can’t do it or they’re not interested in engaging, but because they really just can’t seem to balance engaging in classroom activities while surrounded by peers. Those who are not engaged with peers or the window, are attempting to get away with playing games on their chromebooks or phones, effectively tuning out not only the academic part of school, but the social aspects as well.  What is going on?!

I know that students need to be interested in what is happening in a classroom.  Interested in a way that motivates them to be engaged, to come up with and ask questions – I know that students need to feel safe enough in a room of peers and a teacher to ask questions without knowing the answers. I just haven’t figured out how to sustain steadily this sort of engagements on a level which reaches these young individuals with different interests and goals. It’s at worst disheartening, but mostly just exhausting to daily think that I am learning more from them than they are from me.  When school begins to feel like glorified babysitting – what needs to change?  What should we do?

I don’t have clear answers, but I’m going to keep observing and attempting every day to welcome these kids and thank them for being here (even when met with groans of disappointment or annoyance).  I don’t know how not to be sad that I care more about their education than they do. Furthermore, I don’t know how to reverse that motivation within the context of a society that doesn’t clearly value education. Society and pop-culture (nearly one and the same) – value bombastic caricatures of what humanity might be at its most artistic, but is instead so broken. It offers models and idols and promise of fame with zero responsibility – it mainly offers lies that look like happiness. And I’m just tired.

People, we need to change the culture we’re in. Actively engage in changing it. Culture is not some all-encompassing dictator of our human movements – it is built by us! We are the makers and sustainers of culture. How can we change it to be better for these kids? For us?

This is my rant for the day – A bit random, a bit unfinished, but posted anyway – because I may be a bit random and unfinished forever and so I might as well share it with others.

This began last week and ended today and I sadly watched the disengagement overflow into the beautifully ignored pre-summer air – face down in their screens, not even looking into the eyes of the friends mumbling next to them – And how often do I model the same behavior?  How about you, friends?  Any ideas to change this culture? this zeitgeist that is the culmination of the wonders of technology and the lack of wonder for anything else? Let’s discuss. 🙂

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Building Positive Classroom Culture

(From the beginning of the year, to the end)

The title of this post, along with the above parenthetical, was the title of my very first ever professional speaking session. Mid-March, I was granted the opportunity to present ideas and strategies for creating positive classroom culture at the California Association of Teachers of English. I was, back in October, amazed and ecstatic when my proposal was accepted for the conference, and then as the event neared I was pretty much convinced only 5 people would show up to my session and that they’d probably all politely walk out mid-talk. Having this sort of self-doubt is probably not healthy, but it did probably add to my being overwhelmingly happy with the 25 people that came to my session, did not leave, and even stayed to ask questions afterward. So neat. This event has further convinced me that teachers may be some of the best people in the world (not trying to flatter myself, just the other people I come into contact with all the time). Teachers have the ability to educate masses of smarmy, often careless, de-motivated minors, while keeping the unending optimism that something said, taught, facilitated, is having a positive and life-long affect on those scattered and confused young minds. I met dozens of teachers, sat in sessions with hundreds – all of whom traveled to attend a professional development conference for 2-4 days over a weekend, knowing full well that Monday morning would land them without a proper weekend, rest, or time to grade/lesson plan before jumping right back into the classroom. It was lovely.

My own session went surprisingly well and I only forgot one part of my plan – to hand back anonymous letters of encouragement to the teachers in attendance on their way out the door – I caught the last stragglers and handed them each an affirmation, but I do hope that the ones who left without one, still came away with ideas and encouragement.

For fun, I thought I would go ahead and link here the padlet pages included in the talk.

First – a padlet of resources and ideas:

http://bit.ly/2FCp8JS

Second – a wall of gratitude – feel free to add what you are grateful for – It’s actually lovely to see what other people are thankful for.

http://bit.ly/2FeJJom

The specific prompt for this padlet was: Write 3 things that you are grateful for as an educator, about your profession – This could extend to any profession, but the purpose of this was to get teachers thinking about what they love about teaching, and them to challenge them to reflect on how and if their students and/or co-workers know that they are thankful for these things.  Do your students know what you love about teaching? If they do, they may have a little more understanding of you as an actual human being who has their best interest at heart. Do your co-workers know what you’re thankful for? Do you know what they’re thankful for? What would our school culture look like if we actually, vulnerably engaged in sharing, and listened with empathy to, what we’re thankful for, what we struggle with, what our goals and successes look like?

I love the variety of things that people shared, and the willingness with which they shared.  I loved the chance to share my ideas and short lesson plans that maybe someone else could find useful. And so, this final link will take you to the full slide show if you’re interested. Thought it better to share than hold on to. If you have any questions (because I did a whole lot more talking than is clear in the slides or in my notes), let me know. If you have any ideas to add to the resource board, or a classroom strategy that you employ in order to create a positive classroom culture, throw it my way!

Building Positive Classroom Culture – Slideshow : http://bit.ly/2EeKdpO

Happy Easter, Happy Teaching, Happy Spring and people, we are almost to the Summer, hang in there!

ps. the sunsets in San Diego are gorgeous:

Struggling with words

This weekend, I have had the amazing opportunity to attend and present at the California Association of Teachers of English Conference in San Diego, Ca.  It has been a place of networking, sharing brilliant ideas, asking and answering questions, and most of all: connecting with and feeling a new sense of inspired rejuvenation from being near like minded and passionate educators who are struggling and striving to provide classroom spaces that are meaningful and relevant to student’s lives.

Some of the workshops centered around poetry and giving our students space to authentically engage in spoken and written words. Spaces that allow them to continue struggling for answers, not especially designed to find answers, but to provide space for the struggle. As is normal for me, I have to test the waters of struggling before attempting to challenge my students to struggle, and so my struggle with words and life is below. I can’t wait to post about the rest of the conference and my experience as a presenter, but for now this is where I am and where I’m struggling.  Not sad, not worried that I’ll never find an answer, just here.

Finding a space

Loved. Love. Respected. Respect.

Care for other. Forget Self

Work hard. Go to College.

Be better.

Better than what?

Better than this?

What’s wrong with this?

Amazing parents. Working so hard.

High school graduates and then some.

Hard work. College. To work less. To be better.

To be more.

What’s wrong with this?

So happy. But so much work.

What’s better? College.

Right.

Get out of small town. Go. Better. Bigger.

More Debt.

I don’t understand.

Moving on. Growing up. Pushing away.

I’ll go eventually. Start a family.

Pull back.

Push away. Care for self to care for others.

Forget to forget self.

Selfish.

Bachelors. Masters. Job.

Education is broken.

In five years I will be….

Education is broken.

Breaking my beautiful kids.

…I will be….

I will fix it.

In five years.

19.17.15.

Where did the time go.

My beautiful kids.

Where did my time go?

What will I be?

Who will they be?

In five years.

Hold on.

Don’t let go.

I’m working hard.

You can work hard.

They’re still breaking.

I’ll fix it.

Work hard.

Don’t cry my little loves.

Hold on.

I’ll fix it.

We will make it better.

Together.

Working so hard.

Don’t give up.

Care

Don’t forget

In five years.

Love. Loved.

Lenten retreat

Some days I seek silence –

I want to sink into oblivion

Close my eyes and cogitate

Bend into – blend into – become

An escape – quiet and sublime

Lying face up

The Winter sun softly caressing my closed eyelids, sinking deep into my soul

Creating space and time

While the frozen air leaves quick and cold – so I do not forget it’s there.

Community Conversations: Education

 

This year I have decided to take charge of the plans I’d like to see completed, rather than just talking about how I want them to happen. As an educator and parent I see our current public education as a system which has good intentions but many holes through which many students continually fall. Rather than just continuing to research and plan on my own, however, I’m reaching out to my community.  If you have a moment – consider being part of this conversation – the more perspectives, the better able we will be to move forward toward providing education in effective and meaningful ways. Let’s change the culture of the educational community – maybe change or redirect the focus – and at very least, have a fantastic conversation.

If you received this via email, no need to respond twice, I am posting here to reach people who might be interested, but to whom I might not have talked previously. 🙂

Thank you!

Dear Friends,

   Many of you know that I am interested in the prospect of opening a school. I have begun preliminary research into how to go about starting a school and have also begun to outline what educational goals the school might have, and how it will fulfill needs not currently addressed within public education (as I have experienced it). While all this planning is well and good, I recognize that education systems are not something that one person can plan and change or create, but a system which  – because it should create and support community flourishing, also requires community involvement.
   So, I write to you as a part of my community and as people who care about education as educators, parents, community members, and friends. Using digital communication at this point, because it is the best and fastest way to contact the greatest amount of people, I ask you to please respond by answering the attached poll which will let me know whether this conversation is one in which you would be willing to entertain and engage.
Also, if you know anyone who may be interested in discussing education, please feel free to pass this or my contact information along.
Thanks so much friends!
Rebecca

Sensory overload

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rose colored world where I live.

Daily rhythm

dishwasher

laundry machine

-fingers tapping keys –

And the smooth, vibrato sound of molasses dripping from a muted horn.

A  minor seventh barely resolved

A minor movement of fingers and breath.

Twilight passes quickly here

in the rooms, in the space in my mind

Where I dream and remember and strive and forget

Waking only to dream again.

Words written and removed

pour forth like laughter

like tears

Making sense only to the one who pours

forth life into death and grace into darkenss

And light at the end of the day.

The twilight passes quickly here

rose colored world and rooms aside.

Darkness tinged with too-low lights

stars lost in the artificial glare, moonlit

darkness comfortable and quiet

but the darkness cannot stay.

 

 

Mission: Mindset

Discussions in the current education sphere have a huge focus on student mindset as a gauge for student motivation and eventual success. Given the research presented by Carol Dweck about Growth vs. Fixed mindset, and the additional research by Angela Duckworth on mindset and grit as a source of intrinsic motivation for students, teachers of all grade levels have begun to implement growth mindset strategies in their classrooms. These are great strategies that encourage focus on progress rather than perfection, gained understanding rather than perfect scores, and overall learning as a continuous spectrum of possibility rather than a means to an end. In my own classroom, I have engaged growth mindset strategies from the beginning of the year. I have attempted to have students make and gauge progress in various goals set both by myself and by each individual. I have encouraged students to adopt the motto that practice makes progress, not perfect, and I am constantly encouraging students not to compare themselves to each other, but instead to each student’s individual standard – somewhat of a personal record for English class goals. I will say now, however, that I feel that I am failing – losing battle before it is begun because the Education system as it is currently set up, does not recognize progress, but perfection.

First, I would like to define that I am not talking about my school not being supportive, nor individual classroom spaces nor other schools nor districts, but the entire system as it moves forward from Elementary to Secondary to Collegiate level study and the process by which students are passed through the various levels of this system. My school and district actually encourage growth mindset and attempt to instill the idea of lifelong learning and knowledge seeking in each student as he/she grows up in the district. However, as Educators, we are hamstrung by the need to grade students. Not only at quarter or progress report, not only on big exams and higher level work, but on everything that they do in a classroom. Grades are a symbol of success and not progress for most students, and for many students entering Middle and High School, they have never received an A-F grade and do not attach any progress related value to these symbols, but instead recognize a D or F as their inability to understand something (for some, a C), and an A, B, or C as a symbol for their success in a subject. Could a student start out receiving a D and move forward throughout the year to gain an A within the same subject – theoretically yes, however, most grading systems are cumulative and so, rather than receiving an at the end of a quarter because they’ve made progress in a particular subject, students receive a lower grade that has been averaged with their original scores in that class. The end grades in a specific subject, then, reflect not what the student knows at the end and is therefore not a real reflection of how they’ve progressed or their abilities in that subject when those grades are passed along to the next grade, school, or college.

So, this is my struggle and my question to you friends –  If you ever get the chance to speak with an educator who values growth mindset as a strategy in his/her classroom – or maybe you are one of these educators, I would like to know this: How do you balance growth mindset with grades and reporting grades not only to the student, but to his/her parents and other teachers?

I have a vague idea that perhaps we are beginning to better understand how the young mind works and grows and how mindset affects students academics as well as lifelong learning, perhaps we need to adopt a system of grading and goal setting that aligns with those ideas. If, for example, we replace grades rather than have a cumulative system of reporting, wouldn’t that give a better picture of how far students have progressed rather than averaging their not-knowing with their knowing?  Anyway – Saturday musings, I’d love your thoughts.