Happy 38th birthday Harry! You see, Harry Potter, although only a reality in readers' minds for 22 years now, was born on July 31, 1980. Our fourth grade students LOVE Harry! Prior to teaching fourth grade, my colleagues and I taught third grade. We really do believe that strong memories made in the classroom helps learning to stick. So, for many years now, we've used a theme to help make memories. The first year we did this the theme was "Hollywood". Since then we've had a "Superheroes" theme, a "Broadway" theme (we performed three musicals that year!), a "Road Trip" theme, a "Culinary" theme, a "Rock 'n' Roll" theme, etc. Then, we all moved up to teach the fourth grade. We knew we'd want to continue to use a theme but we wondered what might be appropriate for fourth graders. It couldn't be too babyish. We threw around lots of ideas like, "Star Wars", "Jungle", "Sports" but nothing felt quite right.
The theme we finally chose was "Harry Potter". It was a home run. Actually, it was the perfect choice because we were celebrating 20 years with Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling first published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. It was the 2016-17 school year so it totally made sense! Fourth graders (and their teachers) LOVE Harry! We carried our theme throughout the year. The first communication that students received from us was a letter informing them that they'd been accepted into Hogwarts. There were flying lessons on the first day followed by a sorting ceremony where students wore the sorting hats and were "sorted" into one of Hogwarts four houses. We authored our classroom norms and then, week after week, housemates nominated other students from their house to be prefect based on how well he or she had lived up to the norms. As we read one chapter of the first book each week. The students wrote letters to Harry based on what unfolded in each chapter. These journals, called "Dear Harry Journals", became the prized possession of many students. In the end, there were 17 letters where our students questioned Harry, wondered about the various situations he had gotten himself into, and reacted to the events that occurred. The journals were a wonderful window into each child's comprehension and writing ability. We could see evidence of their developing skills and of their empathy. We culminated our year with a real quidditch match, butter beer, and Hogwarts themed treats. It was an amazing year. By the end of the year each student really identified with the house they had been sorted into. We gave them many opportunities to work as a house. "Math in 3 Acts" tasks were often performed as a house. Students typically partnered up with students from their own houses. Even kids who had been sorted into Slytherin came away with a real sense of belonging. It was magical.
The following year, we went back to the drawing board. We had never repeated a theme. But how do you top Harry Potter? You can't! It was the 2017-18 school year. You guessed it. Still, technically, the 20 year anniversary. We decided another year with Harry made sense. Plus, we were in love with the theme and it made us simply joyful to repeat. Joyful teachers are never a bad thing. Again, the year was made memorable by all the rich connections to J.K. Rowling's brilliant books. We said that there definitely wouldn't be a three-peat.
Only, it appears that there will be. By the spring of this past year we were getting all kinds of community pressure to continue with the theme. "Kids are counting on it, they're really looking forward to it", we were told. Our school secretary was visibly upset when we told her that we'd likely go with another theme. "But you have to do, Harry Potter. Those kids have been waiting their turn!" she proclaimed. The guilt! In the end, we happily succumbed.
I got an email from my favorite bookstore yesterday. Seems they're having a 20th anniversary party at the bookstore that will celebrate Harry Potter. 20 years? What??? Turns out, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone wasn't released in the United States till September 1st, 1998. We'll be launching the 2018-19 school year. So, happy 20th (American) anniversary Harry Potter!
If you have any great fourth grade theme ideas please send them my way. I'm putting my foot down next year...honestly.
Today was a crazy sort of day. The day began fairly early with some chores that included watering plants, taking care of the dog, and packing for the beach. My two teenagers and I headed off to Marconi Beach in Wellfleet. We were there fairly early and spent the morning sunning, swimming, and watching surfing lessons. Watching this group of surfers learning confirmed what I already knew. Class size matters! But I'm jumping the gun. This connection wasn't made until way later in the day.
My kids and I were chatting. Full disclosure, these two non-surfers were analyzing the skills of the students in the class. They had given some of the surfers nicknames based on their ability and effort. This was not a great example of how kind my kids can be. After a while, the conversation shifted back to the previous night's chat about favorite teachers. My high school aged son started talking about this sub at his school. Apparently, this guy greets each child by name when they walk in the door. He then reads the plan of the day (which is typically...log into Google classroom where you'll find the plan for the day) and tells the kids to get to work. Then he sits down and reads. According to my son, he never even looks up over the course of the class. The kids don't mess around. They get right to work. There are never any issues. WHAT??? Seriously? He never has to use a stink eye or raise his voice with high school kids? My only thought is, there must be something pseudo-magical in the way he started the day. He greeted each child by name. Hmm. We'll return to this conversation in a moment.
Next, I asked my children about their worst teachers. I asked them to think about the worst teacher they ever had. I was wondering what makes a bad teacher, well, bad. In a nutshell, they said that the bad teachers never got to know them. My son said that he felt invisible in one of his classes. He really is kind. Really. He tried to explain that it was probably because the class size was so large. He said that he could, if he chose to, sit there day after day and daydream. He never felt any pressure to engage and the teacher would never call on him if his hand wasn't raised. Of this same teacher, he said that he really couldn't picture the teacher out of school. He hadn't gotten to know this educator on a personal level at all.
My son then transitioned back to talking about one of his favorite teachers. This teacher had gotten to know my son. My son insisted that this teacher was not "chummy" with him. He insisted that teachers shouldn't be their students' friends. He also told me that this teacher always seemed to be in an academic conversation with my son. The teacher was always trying to make sense of my son's thinking, applauded the way he thought about math in different ways, and pushed my son to think deeply and to make connections. My son always wanted to participate but when he didn't, he could count on this teacher to ask him about his thinking. You might be thinking, "well, your kids is just a math kid so obviously he connected with this MATH teacher." This is true but BOTH teachers were math teachers. One ignited my son's love for math and the other, on a good day, did little to inspire him, and on a bad day, lead him to question his ability to do math.
Relationships matter. Whether you're a sub or the everyday math teacher, you need to connect with your kids and get to know them. Kids respond when they feel that they are more than just a body taking up a seat. Connecting with students and taking the time to get to know them and their thinking makes all the difference. In the first class, my son was a struggling learner. His understanding and ability to do math at the expected level suffered. In the second class, he thrived. Not only was his achievement high (and it really was) his perception of his ability was off the chart. He took risks and pushed his own thinking even when the teacher was attending to other students. The class size was smaller in this second class but I think much more was at play than class size.
Does class size make a difference though? It absolutely does. Let's go back to those surfers. A couple of the surfers took to surfing right away. Maybe they had more experience. Maybe surfing is something they do with their families. This could be why they had a leg up. Anyway, every-time those kids got up on their boards they got positive feedback from the instructor. These kids were surfing anywhere from ten to 100 feet at a time. Their success was easy to notice and celebrate. They kept at it and attacked nearly every viable wave. Some of our kids are like this too. They come into our rooms thriving, perhaps because they come from a home culture where learning is valued, and need minimal positive feedback to keep thriving. Sure, their determination given positive feedback will help them meet the standards, as so little growth is necessary. But, how can we as educators help to guide these kids? Are we doing enough to take their learning deeper? Some surfers spent most of their time hanging out on the board looking like they were waiting for the perfect wave and the instructor never intervened. Do we have kids like that in our classes? We absolutely do. They are sitting at their desks waiting for the perfect opportunity to participate but are happy to be completely disengaged until that moment comes or until pushed. There were kids who were trying to get up on their boards with zero success. The instructor was able to get to very few of them to give them individualized instruction. Some of the students who received attention from the instructor improved. Some didn't. The instructor didn't check back in with all surfers to give additional feedback. One surfer, while attempting to surf, made a critical error and was taken to shore. She did not have the skills necessary to get her board through the surf so that she could rejoin her class. My kids watched this surfer struggle for over ten minutes. It was unreal. No one noticed her. No one helped. FINALLY, she managed to rejoin the class. She never made another attempt to surf. This happens in our classes too. Sometimes, students skills are far below grade level. They fall behind and struggle alone with little help from us. The get really frustrated. Their goals shift. No longer is the goal to thrive. The goal is to survive, unnoticed.
My big take away is that relationships do matter. The connections I make with students help them to feel like they have an important place in our classroom. The frequent check-ins and the questions I ask help my students to know that their thinking is important and that I believe in their ability to develop as a learner. All students come with different skills. Some are more confident. Some are already frustrated before they walk through our classroom doors. My job is to meet them where they are at, to notice them every day, to wonder how I can take them to the next level, to question, question and question their thinking and to make space for them to get their voices into our classroom. I need to let each student know that he or she is an important part of our community. I need to notice when I've lost one for crying out loud and I need to "swim" out there to where they have drifted and coach them back. I need to send the clear message that their learning is important. I need to send this message every day.
Class size matters too. Relationship building is so much more difficult to do well when there are too many students (or surfers) to coach. My class size is something that is completely out of my control. There are years when it has been way too large (27-29 students in 3rd to 5th-grade classrooms) and this next school year, I'm slated to have the lowest class size I've ever had (21 students, which would still be considered on the larger size in more affluent districts). I'm giddy about this. However, even when the numbers are high, I need to do my best to connect with all kids. It will make a difference.
Final note: Should my own kids ever want to take surf lessons, I'll spring for private or at least semi-private lessons.
My goodness, it seems like just yesterday when I was sitting with veteran teachers during lunch and listening to their conversations. These teachers loved working with kids. They respected their students and took their students' learning very seriously. I was a newbie to the profession. I remember listening to their conversations around district and state initiatives. They often spoke about the cyclical nature of education. They used a train metaphor. They often joked that if you missed the whole language train, don't worry, it'll be coming around again and you can hop on then.
I'm definitely not a full blown skeptic yet but I have to say that when I hear ed. leaders using a lot of buzz words I tend to indulge in a mental eye roll. That is not to say that I don't whole-heartedly support some of the practices that stand behind the buzz-words. For example, "Growth Mindset" is all the rage in education. If you go to Pinterest you will lose your mind when you see all the teacher created resources, mostly super-cute, to support growth mindset teaching in the classroom. I certainly do think that it is important to have a growth mindset when you're a learner. But is this really something new? Is it actually something that can be taught or cultivated? Can you achieve a growth mindset in all students with an adorable bulletin board or by reading clever picture books about smart characters who overcame obstacles because they had a growth mindset? I'm not saying that you can't but I'm wondering if we aren't paying a disproportionate amount of attention to something that the best teachers have always done well, with little to do. I'm pretty sure that even Carol Dweck would acknowledge that the best teachers have been cultivating a growth mindset in their classrooms FOREVER.
So what is this educator to do? I think it is important to stay up to date on the latest educational research. I also think it is important to have a solid, yet dynamic, educational philosophy. I'm going to keep challenging my thinking and making adjustments to my practice based on my learning. At the same time, I'm going to try not to become easily swept away by any of these buzz-word initiatives such that I'm losing sight of what is important for students. And, if I'm woefully seduced, hopefully, I'll recalibrate long before I start shelling out dollars for pretty stuff on TpT!
Largely because of Twitter and my colleagues who make continuous learning look like a sport, I'm always tempted to buy just one more book. I own many books that I have LOVED that are just part way read. These are books that have definitely transformed my thinking and made a positive impact on my practice. I just haven't finished them YET. There are a few that I still want to buy...DESPERATELY. 5 Practices For Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions is at the tip top of my list and has been for well over a year. It was recommended by a math specialist I admire. I know it is good. Many of the math heroes I follow on Twitter are talking about this book too. The last time I went to Amazon to buy it, it was out of stock. I just checked and there are five copies in stock now. Do I buy it? There are at least four books that are likely equally awesome that I already own and are partly read. Still, I am tempted and the $31 price tag is not a deterrent. If my husband knew how much I spend on professional books. UGH!
I know I spend more time on my professional development than many teachers. I know I spend more of my own money on it too. It is not necessarily because I feel I'm THAT terrible (although some days, I do). I just really love learning more about teaching and the content I'm charged with teaching. I want to be the best teacher I can possibly be for my students and for myself. I take pride in my craft. I can't imagine doing this business of teaching any other way.
Still, I get frustrated with not having enough time or money to devote to my learning. I would LOVE to get a master's in teaching math from Mount Holyoke College. I have taken one class in the program and it was AMAZING. The program itself is cost prohibitive for me. I'll begin to pay for college in just three short years (for my two children) and then will likely have college bills for the next six years. This is not my time.
One thing I do need to consider is how to carve out more time for my own learning. I never feel like my life is well balanced. I want to be an engaged mom for my two teenagers. I want to attend their games, meets, and drive them where they'd like to go. I also want to be a good spouse. I want to handle my share of the responsibilities at home that include yard work, house cleaning, cooking, shopping, laundry, pet care, etc. I want to be fit. I want to make space in my life for exercise. AND I want to finish those freakin' books! Oh, and I'd like some down time to simply relax. (Ha! Thought I'd throw that one into the mix too!) Really, I want to feel good about myself. I hate feeling like I'm mediocre in all things.
Maybe this is normal? Anyone?
Tonight, after our friends had left for the night and before another batch of friends showed up for a late-night chat around the fire, I asked my children who their favorite teachers were and why. After they shared the names of their favorite teachers and told me a little bit about their experiences with those teachers, I asked why they chose the teachers they chose. I was as interested in what they said as I was in what they didn't say.
Overall, they said that they liked their teacher because he or she helped to build their confidence. They left that particular grade feeling better about themselves than when they went in.
What wasn't said is that they liked their teacher because he or she was nice or fun.
I probed a little more. How does a teacher help to build your confidence? I was really curious about this piece especially when it came to my daughter. In elementary school she had been a quiet student. My guess is that she enjoyed blending in. Her work was stellar (it helped that she was older for her grade) and she took school very seriously but she wasn't what I'd consider a student-leader. Now she is heading into eighth grade. Yikes! When I reflect back on those years in my own life it is with a little bit of a cringe. They were awkward years dominated by feelings of uncertainty especially when it came to my friendships and academics. However, my daughter has only grown in confidence. Her personality has really blossomed. While she does put tremendous pressure on herself to do well and measure up to classmates, she does take risks and is an active learner who is comfortable sharing what she is thinking.
Anyway, one of the ideas that both kids cited was that the teachers who built their confidence called on them a lot. Interesting. I asked if there were times when they were called on when they didn't want to be. They both acknowledged that there probably were but that because they were called on so often and got positive feedback, they weren't upset when they were called on and had to provide an answer that they were unsure of. This makes sense to me.
What can I learn from this conversation? It is important for me to give my students as many opportunities to get their voices in the room as possible. Providing adequate think time and then giving students an opportunity to share their thinking is really critical. It also holds students accountable for the thinking. Fewer students, when asked to consider a concept, make a connection, solve a problem, etc. will just sit there if they know that they are going to be held accountable for their thinking. If they know I'm going to be calling on them to share their thoughts they're more apt to think so that they will have something worth sharing. Also, it is okay if I'm calling on kids who are not raising their hands. Helping kids to think about their thinking (metacognition) is an important part of helping children to develop as thoughtful learners. Developing this Habit of Mind sets kids up for a more successful future where they are capable of thinking deeply and are able to communicate with clarity and precision.
I was texting with colleagues the other day. We were talking about our teaching and learning. I've been doing a tremendous amount of professional reading lately. Even though I'm actually only taking on one real book for PD purposes, I've been on Twitter reading articles with great regularity. I've also been catching up on some of my favorite edu-blogs that I wasn't able to keep up with during the chaos of the last couple of months of school. To say that my head has been spinning is not an exaggeration. In our text thread, feeling kind of overwhelmed, I asked my friends if it was possible that I needed a break from learning I think I needed a little break.
I started today with a little writing (proofreading actually) but nothing crazy. I brought my son to work (it was POURING on the Cape this morning so he couldn't ride his bike to the fish market like he usually does.) He left his typical fish market shoes outside in the rain so I would need to deal with those later. He wore his better running shoes to work...there will need to be new running shoes soon. Anyway, I ran my car up to the shop for an inspection sticker. They were swamped and asked that I come back around 1:00 PM. I drove back to the cottage where I made breakfast for my daughter and me, cleaned up our dishes, vacuumed, dusted, cleaned the bathroom, ran a couple loads of laundry, and showered. I was just about to leave for the garage when my son texted that he was ready to be picked up. I grabbed my son and headed to get the inspection sticker. Once settled in the waiting room with my book, From Striving to Thriving, my eyes fell on a copy of "Navy Times". There was a headline on the cover that read, "Worst Uniform Ever?" My little brother is in the Navy and his wife was too. I read about terrible Navy uniforms instead. The car was ready. I grabbed an ice coffee at my favorite donut shop on the way home. My son was going to head out for a run and Caroline decided to go to the grocery store with me. The grocery store wasn't terribly crowded. Once we had everything we needed we returned to the cottage. Family friends were stopping by soon. We were heading out to dinner together. I got the groceries put away right before they arrived. We hung out and chatted for a while and our kids got caught up too. We fed the dog and drove to the next town over for burritos. I got a root vegetable burrito bowl. It was amazing. They stopped off for sweatshirts before heading back to our place. I rushed home to quickly grill the pork chops I had defrosted for dinner (before we decided to go out for dinner). I didn't want them to go bad. Maybe they'll be tomorrow's lunch. I roasted some carrots too. Our friends arrived. We built a fire in the patio fire pit and the kids made s'mores. We listened to 70s rock. It was bliss.
But why in God's green earth am I sharing all of this? Who the hell cares about any of it.? The point is, today was a really busy day with a lot of running around. Heading out for dinner with these friends and then sitting around chatting it up was the most relaxed I've felt all summer. Not only was I physically relaxed, but I also feel like my brain took a little break today. I really think I needed the break. Sometimes we just do, right? What about kids? Does it make sense that sometimes they just need a little break too? I try to sprinkle in just enough learning disguised as fun so that my students feel like they're getting a break. I think that every once in a while, a day of fun or a day spent kicking back can help us more than putting our heads down and grinding it out. Tomorrow I'm heading to the beach with this same family. I'll bring my book. Maybe I'll read it for a bit. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll write a post and maybe I won't. I feel like I'm running out of summer. While there is so much I need to do to get ready, I also feel an urgency to relax and refresh. Both kinds of preparation are important.
I'm expanding my math superhero list to include Kaneka Turner (@kanekaTurner). I reserve the right to add more heroes in the future too. Kaneka is awesome for lots of reasons but the one that sticks out today is that she is so comfortable with herself as a learner that she is willing to take her struggle public so that the rest of us can benefit and so that she can benefit from feedback she might get from the rest of us. All because she really cares about kids and their math learning. I'm not going to drone on and on about her post. Instead, I'm just going to leave the link here so you can read it for yourself. I couldn't actually do it justice if I tried to summarize. Suffice it to say that we share the same struggle and the struggle is real. I commented on her post and I will paste my comment below. Read Kaneka's post before my comment though. She really is far more knowledgeable and articulate than I am.
Math Learning and Students with Disabilities by Kaneka Turner
Actually, check out her whole site, reasoningmywaythrough.
Darn it all...I didn't copy and save my comment before I submitted it. It hasn't posted on Kaneka's blog yet. If/when it does, I'll share it here. If it doesn't, I'll try to recapture my thinking the best I can in a few days.
Like really, darn it all! Now I've let too much time pass and it is going to be work to share my thinking.
The general gist is that I loved Kaneka's approach to helping students who do not quickly grasp the concepts that we present. She takes the time to talk to her kids individually and she tries to question them so that she is able to propel their learning. She does not do the work for them. She avoids over-scaffolding. Sometimes she runs out of questions. Sometimes she has to walk away. leaving the student to struggle on his or her own until she's able to come up with another question. This is not to be confused with giving up.
Meanwhile, there is this constant push by some educators to provide "explicit instruction" for students who struggle. Honestly, largely due to my bias, the term "explicit instruction" is like nails on a chalkboard for me. What I hear some educators saying is that there are students who are not capable of making sense of math without scaffolds. These students need step by step instructions so that they can mimic procedures that come more intuitively for others. These students need help and more time memorizing facts. These kids need vocabulary instruction and they need lots of practice.
I'd argue that most of these kids just need more TIME to make sense. The are capable of doing high level math. It may just be that they cannot perform at the breakneck speed many educators move at. We move through content fast because there are so many standards to "cover". Our students need to play with numbers. They need to play math games. All of them do. There are many excellent games and fun routines that build understanding and confidence so that all students learn to dig in to problem solving. Time to experiment and question and to notice and wonder helps kids to make sense of math. All kids need time to make sense. It cannot be rushed. AND we CANNOT do this work for them. Explaining, step by step, how to solve a problem does nothing to raise the bar for our students.
What I really dislike (I'm working hard to not use the word "hate") about explicit instruction is the way that it is delivered. In my experience, it is individualized instruction that looks entirely different from how I individualize instruction for students who need their thinking pushed further. Instead of these one to one meetings or interviews, in the classroom learning space, these interventions happen out in the perimeter or worse yet, outside of the classroom. I've got to imagine that it doesn't feel great to always be the kid pulled over to the small table in the back of the room. And when kids are pulled OUT they are torn from their peers and separated from the "real" learning they know is going on in their classroom. They are made to feel different and they sense that it is because they're not equal to their peers. Kids are not fools. They are smart. This is damaging. They ARE missing the REAL learning. They now have EVEN LESS TIME to make sense of math. Their peers notice they're gone. The kids who are having "explicit instruction" done to them are missing out.
Maybe I'm being super short sighted. Is there explicit instruction out there that doesn't look like kids copying the way their teacher solves a similar problem.? Is there explicit instruction that is not bogged down with mindless practice? Is there explicit instruction that doesn't involve stupid worksheets or computerized interventions (digital worksheets)? Are there examples of explicit instruction that don't require kids to refer to a state approved reference sheets to practice a taught strategy that he or she doesn't even understand?
Do The Math by Marilyn Burns might be an exception. Our district can't afford it or at the very least, hasn't made this kind of intervention (in math or reading to be fair) a budget priority. It is expensive but man does it look good! It also looks like it is fun. Shouldn't all instruction involve FUN?
Want to check out Do The Math? Here is a link.
And just like that, I'm off topic.
My big take away: unless I'm terribly wrong about what explicit instruction is, I don't think it is good for kids. I don't think the practice of scaffolding is helpful. I don't think that teaching kids "tricks" to solve problems respects their learning. I don't think there is a place for memorization in the absence of conceptual understanding in our math classes. I don't think that giving kids "many opportunities to practice" mindless procedures is helping any kid to meet that lofty standards outlined in the Common Core.
I'm pumping the brake. I'm going to give my students more time. I'm putting my foot down, whenever possible, to champion true inclusion. I'm going to question my students and REALLY listen. I'm going to give myself time to think. I'm going to stay focused on and capitalize on what my students CAN do. Sometimes, I'll walk away because I won't know what my next instructional move is. I'll try not to be hard on myself when this happens. I will not resort to telling my students how to solve a problem. I will not over scaffold. I'll walk away and give myself time to think. My students deserve thoughtful instruction. I'll be back. Always.
As I continue to read Striving to Thriving, I'm getting bombarded with ideas. Some of the ideas are coming directly from the book. For example, the book mentions many things that classroom teachers can do to help get to know their students and build a classroom community beginning on the very first day. Many of the ideas are excellent and will be easy to add to my practice. I find myself drawing little hearts in the margins or underlining. Sometimes, my notes in the margins are longish. I know it is an excellent book when I feel compelled to interact with it. Some of the ideas that I'm getting are not necessarily coming directly from the book but are definitely inspired by the book. Regardless of the source of the ideas, my to-do list is quickly growing.
Thankfully, I've got some stress free items on the to-do list. For example, I'll be giving students an opportunity to share where in life they are a specialist as a way to get to know one another a bit better. For example, between grades 2 and 5 my son was obsessed with the Titanic and sharks. He really was a specialist when it came to these subjects. My daughter has been dancing since she was two and would likely consider herself a specialist in dance knowledge and technique. Giving my students the opportunity to share where their specialties lie will help us to begin the work of community building. It is on my to-do list but it really doesn't add much to my work load. However, after reading about how important it is to offer engaging literature to ensure my kids have access to books they'll love to read has me wanting to completely re-organize my classroom library. It really is robust but it needs a face lift. This won't be hard work but it will take time. This is a more stress inducing item on my to-do list.
I spend the better part of the summer on Cape Cod with my family. I'm fairly intense for 184 school days (and on the weekends and weeks in between). My family says that I am a completely different person during summer vacation. When I ask them what they mean by this they have a hard time explaining. I think, generally, I'm just more chill. Of course, this doesn't happen right away. It takes a couple of weeks for the chill to set in. We got off to such a late start this year due to snow days, CCD once school got out, and a sickly start to summer for my daughter. Here it is, the end of July, and I'm finally getting my summer on. And now I'm adding things to my list that can only be achieved by being physically present in the classroom. This is where the stress sets in. I wish I was the type of person who could just put off the classroom library make-over off till Fall. I can't. It'll need to be done for the first day of school. That's just how I am. Finding the balance is always so hard for me. I know I need the rest. I know I need to recharge my battery AND I know that I'll want everything buttoned up and rather perfect for the start of school.
I think, as a teacher, I'm stuck in striving mode and I'm seriously beginning to wonder if I'll ever transition to thriving.
I'm rereading Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I'm only through chapter four at this point and one thing that has struck me during this read is Joe Rantz's resiliency. Teaching growth mindset and encouraging kids to have grit have officially been added to the long list of things teachers need to accomplish inside of every school year. I'm fairly sure that Joe's teachers didn't teach him how to be resilient. I'm not sure, actually, despite our best intentions and very good efforts, that resiliency is something that can be taught. Maybe it is something that we can help students to develop, if they are willing participants?
There are people in my life who have demonstrated extraordinary resilience despite horrible luck and devastating blows, one after the next. I also know adults who have been given every opportunity in life to succeed, yet, they falter time and time again and are quick to blame their misfortune on a cruel and unfair world. The handful of people that I know like this always think that their teacher is out to get them or that their boss has an ax to grind. They are never willing to take any responsibility for falling short of the mark.
I do think that creating a space for reflection in our classrooms is a helpful first step in facilitating the building of a growth mindset. I think that having conversations with students about their success and what led to it is helpful. Having the opportunity to see their success as an outcome that happened after he or she attended to an interest or passion, made a series of good decisions, followed through, experienced failures and began again, sought out advice or information or counsel, and saw something through to the end, is truly helpful in developing resiliency. Having similar conversations with students who fall short of their desired outcome is helpful too. Allowing kids to see what stopped them and encouraging them to push through by developing action steps that are reasonable helps students to see that failure may simply be a temporary status on the way to great success. Undoubtedly, our students will face setbacks and loss that will not seem fair. In fact, sometimes, the stuff that happens to our kids IS cruel and unjust. Helping our students to realize that while they may not be able to control some of the crap things that happen to them, they can, over time, control how they respond or react.
Children's literature, at every level, provides parents and teachers with opportunities to make connections to growth mindset and resiliency. Taking the time to share a story or book and then chat about the characters' responses to challenge can create powerful learning experiences for our children. Taking time to reflect on how strong characters work through difficult situations can provide important social learning opportunities. Finally, resisting the urge to participate in the blame game when things don't turn out quite the way we wish they had in our own lives or in the lives of our children is one way that we can model self-reflection, growth mindset, and resiliency. Of course, we are all working hard to find our own way. It is important work that we can begin to do together.
When I have a few extra minutes I love to read Brian Bushart's blog posts (https://bstockus.wordpress.com/) or at the very least, check out his tweets on Twitter. His handle is @bstockus. One of the things that make me crazy is all the conflicting information out there. Even sources I truly respect are sometimes in conflict. We have so little time with our students to get it right that it is stressful when what we trust in our hearts is true is not always in complete sync with what we're asked to do in the classroom. My colleagues and I struggle with this. It has been especially hard for the last four to five years while our district has adopted one curriculum after the next. None are really aligned with what we believe as educators. Actually, these curriculums are not even aligned with what the administrators who facilitated their purchase seem to value. It makes for some very complicated and stressful decision making.
I just read Brian's post on his time with Kathy Richardson. She is an expert in math learning in the primary grades. In his post Brian writes that he is experiencing a little bit of a "crisis" because Kathy's expertise (which is trusted) is in conflict with the math standards Brian and his teachers are charged with meeting in grades K-2. Kathy asserts that the standards are not realistic given where many students are at developmentally in grades K-2. Brian is struggling with the idea that we're all charged with meeting the standards yet he knows how important it is to not rush our students. We all know that when kids are rushed to tackle content before they're ready, gaps are created that will need to be addressed in the future when some other teacher uncovers a less than strong foundation. The rush job sets our kids up for a stressful relationship with math versus a playful relationship.
I feel for Brian but man is it refreshing to see that teacher leaders I regard as my math heroes are not just cruising along. It is simply not just me. It is not just my fantastic team of reflective colleagues and me. It is many of us. Even the superheroes are struggling to figure it all out.
If you're not following Brian on Twitter, make it a priority to check him out. His work with Numberless Word Problems is truly awesome and his blog posts always push my thinking. Also, consider joining an elementary math chat. They're held on Thursday nights on Twitter. Check out the hashtag #elemmathchat and consider becoming part of the conversation where Brian and many other incredible teacher leaders push us to think deeper and be better for our students.
It is not just me or us...it is them too, the really great thinkers, who are still figuring it out. I'm glad to have such amazing company.