And thus endeth the 2016-2017 school year.
Last night, our seniors walked the stage in celebration of completing degree requirements. Adorned in purple robes, filled with hope and expectancy, they turned their tassels and walked out into the real world. It was a beautiful moment.
While backstage lining up, I noticed one of my Student Council members, Natalie, kind of zoned out. She caught my eye, smiled and said, "I'm having a moment of deep reflection."
I'm taking her cue, and having "moment of deep reflection" about this school year. I want to look at the highs and lows of the year, in chronological order.
I set up my coffeehouse classroom, and had an open house at our You Matter district conference. Then I get a chance to share the concept with a few teachers on my own campus. They like the smell.
I begin requesting a wi-fi boost for my room because, well, it's like dial-up in the nineties down there.
Students come to class. They love the room, but some are skeptical. I think they assumed it was a prank to lull them into a false sense of security, then BAM! Rows of desks out of no where. They set goals, written on Starbucks cups that will be brought back at the end of the semester. They sign other goals on the poster boards on the back wall. They like the smell, too.
I introduce two unique concepts to my classes. All classes do Coffee Talks- student led discussions about current events related to the content we are learning. It's a shaky start, but by the end of the month, great things are happening. The second initiative is "Perfect World Projects" in sociology. Students choose a group, and start developing their culture based on concepts we learned in class. They can migrate if they feel they are not a good fit with their group.
The world is great. Students have really bought into the classroom concept. No one is sleeping in class despite the dim lighting. Coffee talks are great, but we have already discussed dress code twice in our Debate class. I've had some district administrators visit to see the design and concepts. I am introduced to the idea of student voice, and begin researching. I get to join our district's Dream Team- a sort of think-tank for innovation.
No wi-fi yet.
Debate team gets busy planning a tournament to host while competing in tournaments. My weekends disappear.
I am in love with student voice. I am seeing the power and potential for empowerment that is inherent in letting students talk and dream of solutions.
Students love the room be the culture we are creating together. They are bringing friends by before school and between classes. My goal of engaging my students at a 90% rate is accomplished. Students LOVE learning when they have control. I start to really believe that for teachers content is secondary- how students handle the content they find online is our primary responsibility.
But my students still have very little wi-fi to find that content, I create the hashtag #wififorchad in the suggestion of a fellow teacher. Other teachers wonder why I complain because it means students rarely have their phones out.
At a district Social Emotional Learning meeting, my campus is discussing our Anti-Bullying campaign. One teacher suggests it should be a district initiative, we pass it on to one of the district admins, who suggests I present it to the whole meeting. A big new undertaking starts at the district level.
Classes are rocking. Freshmen & Sophomores are often taking the lead in classes, even though they are with Juniors and Seniors. We begin a sociology project to design the perfect classroom. Students build models and design curriculum. They will present to teachers and administrators.
I start getting ready to take the practice test I have to pass to take my principal certification.
It it is not fun.
We take class field trips to the cafeteria to get wi-fi.
We have a coffee day to celebrate goal accomplishment it progress. It's a powerful moment.
Students present WILD classroom concepts. I learn sometimes limitations on projects are good. Other times, no limits nets awesome ideas.
I say goodbye to my sociology classes.
I pass that pre-certification test and sign up for my actual test.
I feel I am being pushy with the wifi, so I give it a rest.
Anti-bullying planning goes really well, we start to identify possible programs and Dude.BeNice takes the lead.
New classes start, we set goals. I sort psychology students into houses for group work based on a personality quiz. Students deny they are Freuds, I respond by saying that subconsciously, they really are.
I go to to take my principal test. The system crashes. I call to reschedule. The system crashes. I finally get rescheduled. I quickly take the test, in case it crashes. It doesn't, and I pass.
Take that ETS.
We host our debate tournament. That was a LOT of work. Learned a lot.
I apply for my first assistant principal job.
Psychology houses were a terrible idea.
Ok, they were a good idea that I executed horribly.
My debate kids have gotten so comfortable with coffee talk that they are like a family. A family that argues ALL. THE. TIME. We do positive coffee talks where you have to say nice things about each other. All classes start doing this in some way.
We take a psychology field trip to local schools for a child development research paper. Kids actually enjoy doing research when they see it's relevance.
I interview for the AP position. I don't get it. I get great feedback, but it's still a tough loss to take.
Senioritis strikes my Psychology classes. I try to work in ways to keep students connected.
Wifi boosts start showing up all over campus! I feel I have some small part to play in this, but I play it cool.
It is is tough to keep students interested in work in my psychology classes. This is the worst case of senioritis I have seen. Kids are still engaged, but I'm losing ground.
Debate students finish required content, so we start doing TED Talks. Begin exploring other "passion project" ideas.
My group in Dream Team has focused on student empowerment and develop the concept of an ambassador program with student developed community projects. The night we present, my group looks at me and says, " You present." We get held back by the superintendent and told to get this going for next year.
I apply for a couple more AP positions.
Still no AP job. Still hurts some.
Students in Debate class prepare presentations on school or community improvement ideas because THEY requested a chance to practice presentations they might give to the city council or school board.
THEY. ARE. AWESOME.
Psychology students get to abnormal psychology and engagement goes way up. I constantly warn them to not self diagnose. Or diagnose each other. Or family members. Or me.
So they get to diagnose Batman villains. Win for all.
My application to present about classroom design and student voice at Region 12 in Waco gets accepted. I begin writing a book on my CREATE Culture concept.
I say goodbye to my debate team seniors that started the program with me four years ago. It is bittersweet because they are so important to the identity of our team. And they are amazing people who I respect greatly. But they have such promising futures.
I also step down as a Student Council sponsor.
A little ethernet cord dangles from my ceiling. Still no wifi. I'm just laughing about it now.
And learning humility.
As the year ends, I see a lot of successes in my room. I have grown as an educator and learned more about dealing with adversity than I was expecting. In all, I think this has been my best year in the classroom. Yet I end the year struggling with some unexpected disappointments. I had hoped to be an administrator next year, but that looks to not be the case. So I am refocusing on how to improve upon my teaching and educational culture.
I choose to always seek growth and improvement. I still want to be an administrator, but I also look at the ways that I will be able to impact students next year, in my class, my debate team, and the two district teams I serve with.
It is always about the students.
Thus endeth my "moment of deep reflection. "
There is more to life than education.
Chances are, you read that one of three ways. One, you screamed "Life is EDUCATION!!!" and stopped reading. Two, you said "Totally true! " and listed off all the ways you take a break from talking teaching. If you are like me, you took option three- you stopped and realized how much you talk about education with family, friends, students, random people on the street....
A recurring scene in my home is that I go on and on about school, educational culture, and plans for how to further my educational and teaching journey and my wife listens patiently (usually), then reminds me there is more to life than just education.
She's a teacher, too, and she has often caught on that I get lost in my calling. I think about how to improve my craft and how to innovate all the time, but often forget that there is, in fact, more to life than education.
So, I am issuing a challenge. This summer, take pictures and share experiences via social media with the hashtag #morethanedu. I am not saying stop posting edu topics or even stop thinking about and reflecting on your craft- but make sure to take the time to recognize that there is more than educational theory and creation. Take a hike, ride a bike, go swimming with the family, start a new hobby- and share it with your fellow educational bloggers and on Twitter and Instagram.
More importantly, do not neglect the actual people in your life that you care about.
I am issuing this challenge because my wife called me out. But I am also issuing this challenge because I believe a well-rounded life makes us better educators because we see more than textbooks and classroom design and pedagogy. It helps us find relevance and relationship with the world around us.
It keeps us grounded.
And if you return next fall with more energy and excitement- thank #morethanedu.
And my wife Kristin (@krisknitsing).
As the year comes to a close, I reflected back on a lot of me talking about the power of student voice in the CREATE Culture. What I noticed was a lot of me, and not a lot of students. So, without further ado, here are some Student Voices explaining how my class impacted them, and why student voice is so important to education.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Sure, its an old joke, but it can be very applicable for how to initiate change in education. I'm not a "one bite at a time" kind of change person, but I realize that not everyone works that way. Change for some is invigorating and exciting. For others, it means buying stock in Tums and lots of deep breathing.
Yet, there are many educators who want to initiate change, but just do not know where to start. I had a conversation with another teacher that really demonstrates that. These words inspired this blog: "I love your room, but I don't know where to start. There is so much there!"
Truth be told, I have been thinking about how to explain the small steps someone can take to CREATE their classroom without eating the whole elephant at once. So if you want some ways to change your classroom environment, but are intimidated by complete change and redesign, this ones for you!
Flexible lighting might be the cheapest and quickest adjustment a teacher can make. Simply get a few lamps and place them around the room. Depending on your school's rules, Christmas lights also do a good job of offering light variety. Darker rooms actually help increase focus and discussion, as students are not as easily distracted and feel less exposed by the stark white florescent bulbs. But if you need full lights, a flip of the switch can accomplish that.
Flexible seating is our next stop. This is a buzzword in education, but it has real value. We often see couches thrown out as an option- and they are- but they are costly. Sure, you can find them cheap at garage sales, but you can accomplish flexible seating without them. Arranging desks or tables so students can make eye contact with each other has shown to be a powerful tool for increases engagement and collaboration. Setting the room up in a way that allows for free movement for those kinesthetic learners is good as well. If you have budget and access, there are numerous seating options such as bean bags, fidget stools, and exercise balls. Yes, there can be a distractability factor, but there is also the consideration of student comfort. For those who say that flexible seating won't work in a STEM classes, I suggest you take a look at some of the great things a teacher in my district is doing in her middle school math class. Follow @stephanieryon for some great ideas!
Classrooms can have a ...unique...odor. So, an easy fix is to take control and provide stimulating and refreshing scents. For most of my year, I have used coffee scents, but recently I have begun using nature scents like rain and forests. These are more clean and invigorating scents, which are needed as the spring wears on. It may seem simple, but if a room smells good, it can helps students to relax and feel comfortable.
I have an added incentive. There is a weightroom right across the hall.
Depending on your classes, you may have need of a lot of supplies. Be creative with how and where you store your supplies. I was inspired to have these supply stations by two sources. One, Starbucks uses a similar design to the tower in the left of the picture for storing some of their coffees and merchandise. But I also observed a video of our floral design teacher Sheridan Clinkscales utilizing centralized stations for students to retrieve supplies from. I saw this as a great time saving and personal responsibility opportunity for the class. I built the tower, and my mom built the colored pencil holder from a Pinterest board she saw using pallets. (She's a big supporter.) Even if you do not have a lot of supplies, you may always have students needing paper or pens, and this helps to meet their needs.
School walls are BORING. So when looking to dress them up, you could use motivational posters or educational ABC posters....or you could let the students design. I have always displayed student work products, but this year I had a really ugly cinderblock wall and not enough student work to display on it. So I got some black poster board and butcher paper and made a goal wall. Students can write their goals and keep an eye on it as the year progresses, they can monitor progress. Meet your goal? Sign and date and write a new one. The wall is highly visible, so it is easy to monitor for inappropriate phrases, and it lets students literally leave their mark on the room.
It is at the heart of the CREATE Classroom, but Student Voice is often the hardest for the reluctant teacher to initiate. It is letting students have more control, it is risking chaos, it is unpredictable. There are time constraints and content to cover. What if there is a tangent?
Valid questions, but I counter with this. What if it increases student understanding and thus success? Start small- you don't have to spend more than a couple minutes in class letting a student ask a question of the class. Indulge in a little tangent, then try to steer it back to content. Ask students what they want to learn- and how they want to learn it. Let students design a lesson, then teach their peers for five minutes.
Let them talk.
I want to leave you with a challenge. You do not have to make your class a coffeehouse, or spend 10-15 minutes a day letting students lead. But the challenge is this:
Try something. One thing, one element.
Let's see what that can CREATE.
CREATE means Collaborative, Reflective, Empowering, Active, Timely Environment.
I think I am reflective to a fault.
Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to the people and things that have made an impact on my life, and shaped me to be who I am. It started with preparing to interview for administrator jobs, and thinking through questions about my beliefs and practices. I was also informed that the building I went to high school in was being closed down, the students moved to a different facility. Then, I learned that one of my high school teachers was about to retire, and I began thinking about him and other teachers that gave pieces of their own philosophy and practice to create the mosaic of education that I have become. The reason I feel I am reflective to a fault is that once that ball starts rolling, it doesn't stop. Even when I need to sleep.
There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
So I began to think about the people and things, and then the song above- "In My Life" by the Beatles- floated back into my life. I have liked the song since I was a teenager, but as an adult it comes with a different perspective. As a high school student, I looked at the song as a a hope of what was coming- meeting new people who would impact me and hold a special place in my life. Now, I am at a point where I am looking back on those people and places, and reflecting on how they have shaped me.
- Mr. Reynolds- the retiring teacher- who always gave us projects because- "They are never going to sit you down in the real world on a Tuesday and give you a test." Now, I teach- and don't give tests, I strive to give real world applications.
-That nameless girl a friend of mine and I evangelized on campus at A&M for about half an hour. A week later, I ran into her on campus and avoided her because I didn't have time (in my mind). I learned that I should never try to teach or share an opinion with someone unless I cared about them- it was hypocritical of me, and a disservice to them.
-Bob Mayfield, who taught me the time to check in on someone who was grieving was about six weeks after the loss, because the calls and visits and attention stops then, and people really begin to feel the grief. That's when they need it.
-The patch of ground I sat on at the back of my family's 90 acres to watch the first cool front of the fall roll in. I found peace there, and in that memory still.
-The image of my friends Morgan and Michael running to the stairs of my apartment in college the day my dad died- dropping everything to be there when I needed them.
-Mr. Nims, my English III AP teacher who taught me that failure is the best way to realize the importance of creatively learning. By giving me a failing grade on the first day of class for not going deep enough in analysis.
-The moment in my wedding when Kristin surprised me with a song she had pre-recorded. I cried. I still have not forgiven her.
-Disc Golf with my college best friend Dusty Stoddard at Research Park. And all the times the water had a magnetic pull that defied science. The power of relationships and honesty and a good angle of hold on a disc.
- Getting to baptize both my children- one in a church, one in Adamson Lagoon Pool.
-The two mountain tops I have stood on- the peak in Rocky Mountain National Park outside Estes Park that I was the first to the top of, and last down, but did not have to work for. And Handies Peak- 14,048 feet high that I DID have to work for.
-Glenn Shock, the pastor I worked for who challenged me to write my own curriculum. He had no idea what he would start, and now I see the power of writing so much clearer.
- Before my dad died, he told me how proud he was of who I was becoming. I cherish that.
-My mom's strength and resilience- and presence- that inspire me.
In my life, these people and places and events have shaped me. These are moments that some of them probably remember- and some probably do not. Some are dead and some are living. Some were intentional moments, some just happened.
As a teacher, I think of the countless moments I spend with students. How many are intentional? How many just happen?
How many of those moments will a former student someday look back on and say "Lehrmann made a difference in that moment, he helped shape me"?
The truth is, we never know what moment will become an "In My Life" moment for our families, friends, and students.
So make the most of them all.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.