Educational Insights, Victories, struggles, Parables and questions
In college, I was an officer in an organization that was at a turning point. For decades, it had provided a variety of services to students in one location, but in the more recent years, new organizations were starting to perform those same services. The director asked the opinions of all the officers, and I expressed, with perhaps too much youthful arrogance, that the time had come to change some of the "sacred cows" of the organization. Other groups had made certain aspects of our organization their sole purpose, and were doing it well. I proposed that our organization do the same- focus on our areas of strength, and provide a unique service no one else was. I also advocated dropping some offices- my own included- because there were better ways to provide that leadership than the way it was currently structured.
That organization was a Christian organization, and I was advocating the elimination of the evangelism committee.
Not that I thought we should cease to evangelize, but the medium of doing it as a committee rather than an organic and natural part of life was not being effective. We just maintained it because we always had. I proposed the same role could be served through the organization's biggest strength- the missions program.
My idea was not accepted.
But the next director, who came just a couple years later, did something very similar to what I suggested, and the organization is going strong today.
What does that have to do with education?
We too have "sacred cows-" I'll call them "sacred desks." There are structures and practices that we persist in using from our local schools to our national laws, and it is time we tip them over.
I am currently a part of our district's Dream Team- teachers and administrators and a few students who gather to innovate answers to some tough questions, and this past week, the question centered around the things we do that we do not know why we still do them. The topics that rose to the top for us were:
I became a teacher after about a dozen years of doing something else. I do not look at education like someone with an education degree, and for some that is a detriment. It has been for me at times because I do not always know the lingo, there are educator in-jokes I do not get.
"There are a lot of things I do because I was never told that I couldn't."
But that deficit of degree is also an asset. I do not try to solve things from inside the box, and when I do, I work to reshape the box as much as I can. As an alternatively certified teacher, there are a lot of things I do because I was never told that I couldn't. I let my students engage in conversation because I had seen it work in my other careers- that was where ideas came from, not textbooks. I want my students- in every class- to learn to communicate their perception of the material because that is how my students in youth ministry learned to grasp things.
I let students have ownership of the classroom a little every day because I know some people learn best when they are the one teaching.
It is how I learn.
I've read some traditional teaching books since I have been teaching. They do not describe education like I do education. And maybe that is an important thing for us all to consider as we move forward in our field. I have not had time to watch it- but Eric Sheninger has been tweeting about his keynote on disruptive leadership. I love that term. Leaders often disrupt. They often "break" a system in order to fix it.
Looking back at our list, where are we being "disruptive leaders?"
Homework- do you still have your kids do it every day? Is it designed to further their learning, or to check for understanding? Do you flip? Is flipping really "disruptive" or is it just a new technique? Does your homework serve a purpose, or is just what you do because it is expected?
Discipline- do you get upset over phones being out in the classroom, or do you use it as an opportunity to teach personal responsibility? Do you send behavior issues to the office, or do you try to create a teachable moment that builds student character along with your relationship with the student? Are there some behaviors that you discipline because YOU were disciplined for it when YOU were in school- but culture and expectations are different now?
Honors, AP, Pre-AP: Some schools are questioning the need for honors courses- but do they still serve a need? Are there students who are need more challenge than on-level, but need less than AP? Why are "bonus points" set up the way they are in your school- do honors get the same points as AP or different? Do you treat students in those classes differently than your on-level? (They have a heavier workload, so they can have more time. Or: They can do things my lower levels cannot.)
Grades: Do your grades measure your student's progress? Are we really using them to measure where we need to reteach, or just checking off OUR progress? Are tests even a relevant measure in our current educational environment? Is it fair to give retesters only a portion (75%) of their total possible points- or should it be all? Are grades as we know them doing good for our students- or harm? Could we better retest our students by having a discussion to determine mastery? Are grades themselves our best measurement of mastery? What about progress checks/standards based grading?
Why go to school 5 days a week? Some schools are taking advantage of Texas' new minutes vs days rule, and getting creative.
Here is a bold question- why does school still have to look like school at all? What if it looked more like the workforce? What if work was not assessed by a teacher, but by the target group for the project/work? Why can't a student who is accelerated really move at their own pace in a class, course, or year? Why can't students phone a friend during an assessment if they can do just that in a career? As teachers, we encourage collaboration with each other to get the work done- why don't we extend that to our students on tests more?
In the 21st century- what if the sacred desk we tip is the desk itself?
When I proposed doing away with my position with that ministry organization, I tipped a sacred desk. As educators, perhaps we fear if we let students lead in their own education too much, we become irrelevant.
"We may not need to introduce content to students as much as we need to open it up for them to see its potential depth."
I do not think that will ever happen. Our students may be able to find answers for their content from Khan Academy, YouTube, Twitter or friends, but they do not always know how to navigate that information, and how to work with it beyond simply finding it. We may not need to introduce content to students as much as we need to open it up for them to see its potential depth.
So, what is your sacred desk? Are there jobs, techniques you use that can be replaced by a better way? This is scary for many of us- and yes, there are some things that scare me, too. But the key is always this-
If I must fade so that my students can succeed, then fade I must.
I am teaching a unit in Sociology this week that I love: Urban Legends.
Now, any sociology teacher out there is going- "Wait, that is NOT in the TEKS!"
Nope, its not. Except that it is.
See, we need to teach norms of society and cultural life in the US, and there is where Urban Legends lie. They teach us social control- "Do not go out parking with your significant other or a hook man will get you." They shape and help try to make sense of the things we do not understand, such as the cloud from the Towers on 9-11 that "has the face of the devil in it." They are a part of the culture of America in that we all know these stories, and we have adapted our behavior because of it. How many of you remember parents rifling through your Halloween candy to find that razor blade some psycho might have put in- and sampling some just to make sure?
I love this lesson, because I enjoy the story and scary aspect of the legends. But I also enjoy it because it makes things relevant for students. Plus, the assessment for it is that student groups will have to present an urban legend of their choosing, explain its origins, and what behavior or norm it is trying to reinforce or deter.
If anyone wants to use the lesson, I will share the Prezi here.
Just wanted to share a quick lesson idea, and a challenge to find the beauty hidden in the standards.
It may be a guilty pleasure, but I really like the tv show Supernatural. Not gonna lie, the music and the car are big draws, but the general theme of a never ending journey strikes a chord more than anything else.
Each season starts and ends with a classic rock covered recap of what has happened- the road so far. It serves to catch you up, and set you up, for what comes next.
Blogging is is your own "The Road So Far." Each blog let's people in on what has brought you to this point in your story- and that's what this is- a story. Your story. No matter what type of blog you write, it is a snapshot of the "where have I been and where am I going?" moment that is now. So what can you write about?
Not necessarily Socrates and Plato.
As an educator, you have beliefs about your craft. Blogs are great places to work that out and test it out with your audience. My Philosophy type blogs are like Why? where I discuss motivations and beliefs about teaching. These can be intensely personal, or even more reflective. I think these are a good place to start, because they are about digging into feelings.
Reflective blogs are ones that look back and ask how something went. Last year, I did weekly reflective blogs for the first semester. It was a great tool to have me evaluate myself, but also to share with students to see what they thought. Though they never responded to me, I just learned this weekend that they were in fact talking about it with each other and other teachers. Culture Success was a reflective blog from this year.
Like Reflective Blogs, these share something you have done, but in a way that allows others to take your idea and run with it. Multimedia is very helpful here- sharing pictures or better yet video allows your audience to see the concept in a multi-dimensional way. These can be instructional, demonstrative, and also theoretical. I have done some about things I am GOING to try. Can You Hear Me? is one of my Practice blogs.
Like Philosophy, this blog talks about beliefs, but this also adds a plan. I set out my vision for my classroom culture design in CREATE. The vision has changed since then, but it allowed me to combine philosophy, theory, and practice, and share a vision for what I think class can be like. Vision blogs also act as call to action blogs, saying "this is important, take a look and take a step!"
I really am throwing this out there because I know there are people have different learning styles. Some blogs are not like typical blogs. Some fiction writers have serialized their novels in blogs- I think Stephen King has tried it. I decided to branch out with a series of blogs that are parables to explain educational concepts and philosophies. Two that I am particularly proud of are A Parable of Trust and A Parable of Choice. These are not for everyone, and can be more difficult to sell to your readers, but I do think they are extremely valuable and a great way to differentiate our own learning.
This is for the terrible typers out there. Just kidding. Sort of.
So, you hate to type, but love to share. Turn that camera around on your phone and start filming. It is just as awkward- maybe more- as blogging when you start, but it has such power. We are visual, and a blog is that. It is also usually quicker to complete than a blog. I take up to an hour to write a blog, but 5-10 minutes for a vlog. You need to be comfortable with your recorded voice, though. I know a lot of educators hate being on film for that very reason, but I encourage you to power through. Vlogs are excellent tools, whether your goal is to eventually give a TEDtalk or not. Here is one of my more recent efforts: didacticchad.weebly.com/home/create-classroom-collaboration
The Road So Far
I wanted to share my own personal road so far in hopes that you might find a great place to start your own blogging journey. What I have listed is not exhaustive, but it is what has worked for me. Your journey will most likely have its stumbles, but that is the beauty of blogging- they are all, in a way, reflective. We grow, we stumble, we pick ourselves up, we grow.
And the journey never ends....
I have been meaning to get some video of Coffee Talk up, and was challenged earlier this week by a fellow teacher in my coaching cohort to do just that. Here it is a (mostly) complete Coffee Talk with Debate 1 students. It is longer than typical, and we were doing this after a test, but what you see is typical of this on-level, introduction class of freshmen to seniors. Enjoy!
Four years ago, I entered the field of education as a Math Lab assistant at South Knoll Elementary. I soon began working to get certified to teach because I recognized that I loved teaching and I wanted to make a difference.
Three years ago, I walked into the first classroom that was my OWN. Today, and three classrooms later, I am completing the first six weeks of my fourth year, I am enrolled in the just-past-halfway course in pursuit of my Masters in Administration, and I am taking part in several leadership courses that are designed to inspire and foster innovation, including the IMMOOC and the newly minted CSISD Dream Team.
At the first meeting for the Dream Team, a sort of district think tank/innovators gathering, we saw a video that made the rounds a great deal over the last few years by Simon Sinek about the importance of finding your "why."
Two years ago, our district challenged us to find our "why" and as a result, I wrote the following at the start of my second year of teaching. Some things have changed. I no longer teach history, I teach debate and sociology along with psychology. I would also like to add a few things, and so they are in there, in bold. But the message is the same, my heart is the same- only more committed to this "job" called teaching. The last four years have been some of the most fulfilling in my life, and it makes dealing with all the junk that often comes with education worth it.
I teach because I come from a family of teachers, and I married one. They seem like great people.
I teach because my high school AP English teacher, Jack Nims, taught me that the right answer is not always the best answer. He taught me how to think, not just how to regurgitate information.
I teach because the more I teach, the more I want to learn. Just when I think I know all I can about a subject, a little breadcrumb promise of something more is dropped, and I chase it down, hungry for more.
I teach because I have seen the difference an adult can make in a child if they just pay attention. I have seen the faces of parents who were just thankful I took the time to appreciate their child for who they are, and the face of a student who saw an adult besides their parent care. I teach for those that have been missed.
I teach because teenagers today impact our culture more than even they know, and I want to point them in the way that makes them the best they can be. I hate the phrase "Children are our future." They aren't. They are our now. They are shaping our music, our worldviews, our technology, our approach to life, etc. Sometimes it is beautiful. Sometimes it is terrifying. Students need teachers that do not seek to make them better people- that would be social engineering. Teachers should guide and encourage students to find who they are. I teach to point students to find the best person they can be.
I teach history because I love to tell stories. I teach psychology because I love to try to figure out the way people tick. I teach them both because the stories of history and understanding people are my favorite way to point students toward that "best person they can be." I teach debate because our students need to know how to win arguments with class, and lose with dignity. I teach sociology because we need to be able to understand each other better, now more than ever. I teach these classes because students are learning lifelong skills that shape them- and the world around them- as human beings.
I teach because the moment of understanding is the most intoxicating thing there is on Earth. Whether you teach Math, Science, English, Art, Football, Foreign Language, Social Studies, Philosophy, or Theology - the moment a student's face lights up with recognition or irreverently shouts out that they "Got it!," is the best feeling there is. I teach because I am addicted to those moments, and want more and more.
I teach because I want my students to know I see them as people, and I care about them succeeding not because it makes me look good, but because it makes them stronger and smarter people. I teach because I like my students- all of them.
I teach because I am addicted to creativity. I love to build new things, both physically and in theory. I love to shape bland cinderblock walls into coffeehouse classes not so I can have the coolest classroom (which I think I do) but because it creates a place that student WANT to come to and engage and grow and learn.
I teach because I want to share not just with students, but with fellow educators about ways we can learn and grow- not unlike our students.
I teach because teachers matter. I teach because they are needed. I teach because they are on the front lines of making a difference in the lives of millions. I teach because I want to be a part of something that truly, positively affects the world.
I teach because it is- So. Much. Fun.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.