Monday, February 28, 2011

Hold Your Tongue - Why Feedback has to be Time Appropriate

    Today, as we practiced writing our weekend webs, the students had to focus on writing a catchy first sentence.  It all ties in with our major writing goals of better word choice and yet was still met with groans and eye rolls.  “But that’s hard, Mrs. Ripp” was expressed repeatedly.  “Absolutely,” I said, “And that is why we have to practice it.”  
After the 15 minutes of writing were up, I had students share just their opening sentence with the rest of the class.  As we went through each sentence, I stayed quiet beside the occasional “Nice” that slipped out.  These sentences were not created equal by any means.  Some were catchy, exciting, inviting and others were just ho-hum.  In the past, I would have given my honest opinion at each sentence, and yet today I held my tongue.  Instead of sharing my opinion to each individual, I asked the students whether they heard a difference in sentence quality.  All of them agreed and some even ventured that there were certain stories they would love to read right away.  A discussion then broke out as to the purpose of that first sentence.  Was it to explain everything such as “This Saturday, I went to the carnival” or was it to entice the reader?  This discussion would not have happened had I greeted each sentence with a comment.  Instead, I would have had some deflated students, unsure of what their next step should be.

Public criticism disguised as feedback is always something I avoid.  Not because I feel students should not be aware of what their goals are, in fact, we discuss this quite often in my classroom, but rather the public part of it.  Of course, there are times when public discussion does happen such as addressing inappropriate behaviors, or when the whole class is trying to learn from each other in a more deliberate way.  Just stating though that student’s work isn’t their best, is simply not doing them any good.  In this instance, I would not have had time to properly discuss ways to change their sentence, and I knew that some students would figure out theirs was not as strong if they simply heard the other ones that were.  So I am learning to be quiet, to be more deliberate in my delivery of learning, and to sometimes forgo it all together.

Feedback is one of our strongest tools but can also be one of our more damaging ones if handled inappropriately.  While you can easily build a child up by publicly praising their work, one misplaced comment can undo months of confidence as a writer, reader or student.  This goes for disingenuous praise as well; children will see right through it if you don’t mean it.  So as I continue to grow alongside my students I try to keep it simple, earnest, and meaningful.  Saying “good job” might work at that specific moment in time but the students learn nothing from it.  Just as saying “That wasn’t a great sentence” delivers no learning opportunity, we must be willful and deliberate in our words.  How do you handle feedback in your classroom?  What are you stopping doing?  Am I the only one on this word choice journey?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are You Just Being Critical?

As heated debate continues not just in my state of Wisconsin, but across the United States on whether unions are great or not, I find myself intensely affected by how the debate is performed. The debate it seems has not become so much about discussing ones points but rather how to viscously take a dig at ones opponent in order to belittle them. Even the governor takes part in this as he continues to criticize and demonize the 14 democratic senators that fled the state. I have been on the receiving end of this as well and have therefore limited my real life dicussions as well as my online ones. And yet, those actively participating in the belittling seem to genuinely think that their methods for discussion is spurring healthy critical thinking and debate rather than seeing it for what it is; simply being critical.

Being critical is much easier than being engaged in critical thinking. Rather than debate anyone using facts or statistics, one can just dismiss the opposing opponent as being a communist or a thug. Rather than educate oneself on the actual issues at hand, one can just repeat the rhetoric being presented by whichever side. Being critical simply saves time, brain power, and energy. Why debate when one can simply destroy?

It is time for critical thinking to be used again. Education and then disseminating the information is a method for moving forward in any situation, whether it be political or not. How are we supposed to build a stronger society when all we do is tear each other down? This applies in every aspect of my life. Think of the regular education discussion with colleagues; are we thinking critical thoughts or are we using critical thinking skills? There is a massive difference. Are we open to new ideas, or do we dismiss them immediately? If we shut ourselves out simply because we do not like the person who is delivering the message, or prior experiences we have had with something similar, then we are not being reformers.

It is time to put the thinking back in critical thinking.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Does it Feel Like to be the Enemy?

I have been asked by many to write about what it feels like to be a teacher in Wisconsin these last couple of weeks.  What it feels like to be a union thug, a protester, a deserter of our children, the enemy.  I have held off because it is overwhelming.  It is all consuming.  It is making me lose my appetite, lose sleep, and lose my belief in kindness.  And yet again, it has also restored my faith in collaboration, in fighting for your rights, in peacefulness and discussion.  So I guess, this is how it feels.

When the news first broke, I was shocked.  While I was not surprised that the next target would be teachers' unions; after all, has anyone heard of "Waiting for Superman?" the swiftness and ferocity of these attacks left me dazed.  Nervous chatter in my school led to anger, tears and deep, deep concern.  Not just financially but also over what our classrooms will end up looking like once this "reform" is complete.  I started the year with 27 students in my room, it was a tight squeeze, with no union bargaining rights, I have no doubt what will happen to class sizes.

So I wrote about my fears and placed my private thoughts out because that is what I do.  The response was immediate.  Lovers and haters abounded and the dialogue continued.  I debated my point many times but once the attacks started  to get vicious, personal, and irrelevant, I started to delete comments.  I have never before deleted comments.  Yet I could not provide a forum for people with so much hate in their words, so much desire to see me fired or even better, harmed in some way.  Is this what America has become?

This debate has destroyed friendships, torn families apart (mine included) and caused so much grief.  One thing is paying more for your benefits, and yes this amounts to about a $5,000 pay-cut for me (look up starting teaching salaries and you can see what I earn) but it is so much more than that.  By removing our bargaining privileges, we are saying yes to larger class sizes, to longer school days, to less collaboration, to firing without just cause or even a grievance process.  We are removing protection for those teachers that dare to speak up for the sake of their students.  That dare to try different things and challenge the status quo.  We are removing community and communication.  I fear for my own situation, but I fear more for the education of all the children of Wisconsin.

So the hate continues, the lies swell up and I am reduced to nothing more than a bad teacher.  Someone that others will cheer for when I get fired, someone others will clap at when I cannot pay my bills.  People say that teachers have not felt the recession and that it is our turn to share the pain.  They say this without knowing us or our situations; I am the sole provider for my family, the recession caused that, so do not tell me that I do not know or share the pain of others in this state.  Do not tell me that it is my time to pay.  Do not tell me that I am a thug who does not care about the children.  Do not insult me as a teacher. Do not insult me as a human being.   I care deeply about the children I teach, that is why I chose to be a teacher.  And that is why I fight.  For the sake of my own child, for the sake of my students.  For the sake of all the children of Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Teaching Dream

I became a teacher not out of glorified dreams but out of necessity. I needed to teach because I knew that if someone gave me a chance in a classroom I could make a difference, I could help kids from all walks of life learn. Teaching wasn't a choice for me, it was something I had to do to feel complete, to feel that I was giving back, that I mattered.

So in these times of unrelenting teacher bashing, stress, and uncertainty, I retreat into my classroom. I don't work less, I work more. I find the safe haven in my room and I strengthen my dedication to my kids. I cherish the every day, like riding home from show rehearsal with my students today and them being so excited. I cherish the girl who asks for a hug because she feels like it or the excited chatter amongst the kids when they discover something new. I cherish the short time I may have left with my students.

Tomorrow my district meets to write lay off notices and being a third year teacher my name is almost certain to come up. And yet as I think of the future I am not afraid. I know that no matter what gets decided, I must be there for my students. I must continue to believe in my kids, I must continue to dedicate myself, I must continue to be the best teacher I can be and then some.

So although my laundry is in piles and the dishes are in the sink, I labor over a complicated city building plan that will be a surprise project for my students. I spend time thinking of ways to make tomorrows math lesson more relevant to my students and I dream. I dream of the things we will accomplish, the challenges we will face, and the hard times that are already here. If this is the end of the road for me, I can only look back with pride, knowing that I gave it my all. That I gave them all of me, both the teacher and the person. I did make a difference and will continue to do so until the last day arrives. I became a teacher to make those dreams come true, to help others achieve their dreams, even as mine gets taken away. Thank you for giving me the chance to live it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bring Out the Experts

The education community loves experts. Experts are flown in, bussed in, and wined and dined. If you are an expert on something chances are there is a school that wants to pay you for sharing your thoughts. In fact, you don't even have to claim to be an expert, others will often bestow that title upon you as a favor. After all, how else will your expense be excused? So I wonder, how does one become an expert, after all, aren't we all just humble learners?

The word expert is tinged with weight. To be an expert you must be not just knowledgable, but also an authority. Yet who decides when one is an authority? Does it need a book deal? A huge following? Or someone else who is an expert to look at you kindly? Who decides who the experts are?

We are quick to bring in outside experts whenever there is a need but often I wonder who could we have turned to on-site? Who at this school could already have shared that same information at a fraction of the price? Who at this school could have had the opportunity to teach others, much as we teach our students every day. I consider myself lucky being surrounded by experts every day. I find myself among some incredible educators that work hard to bring their expertise into the classrooms to benefit the students. Isn't it time for all of us to recognize the experts among us?

I dare to propose that we are all experts. Although not world known, or even known outside of our small circles, yet we are knowledgable of something particular, something that we can claim authority on. And so consider this; at school you are indeed surrounded by experts. Whether they are experts at teaching the civil war, grammar, haikus or how to dribble, they have deep intimate knowledge that they can pass on to others. So share your expertise with others, go ahead open up and discuss what you know you are good at. We have to get better at celebrating each others knowledge, each others succeses, simply each other. We are all experts, how will you foster expertise?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Many Titles We Bestow

Today I told my students they were geologists.  We started studying earth material in science and so my students now become budding geologists along with the other titles we have earned in 4th grade.  When I pointed out that we were no longer astacologists (someone who studies crayfish) they correctly informed me that they were still that but now were just adding another title to themselves.  I stood blissfully corrected.

So why this title endorsement.  Last week I read a book called Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, in it he discusses the importance of our language when we speak to our students.  He details how we as teachers should not indicate to beginning readers that they must strive to emulate great readers, but rather tell them that they are readers and that all readers do certain things.  This really hit a chord with me.  I often have used the language of what "great writers" or "strong readers" do and have never realized that perhaps I am then boxing students in.  If I do place them outside of the category of being a strong reader through seemingly innocuous language use, then what stigma am I attaching to their reading skills?

So I have consciously broken free of my language.  Yes, it will take time and yes, I will slip up.  But it is worth it.  After all, we all know firsthand how incredible words can be when attached to our persona.  After all, how many of you got chills the first time you were called a teacher (or the 1,000th time for that matter)?  So think of the language with which we address our students.  Think of the power that we can invest in them just through better or more thoughtful word choices.

My students are no longer striving to be "like geologists," they are geologists.  In fact, as they pointed out to me; they are many things.  My students are writers, poets, readers and illustrators.  They are filmmakers, commentators, scientists, and social study professors.  They are experts, they are learners, and they are teachers.  And there will be many more titles to come for them.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dear 4 1/2 Graders

Dear 4 1/2 graders,
Boy, where has the year gone? This last week has given me some time to think about the goals, the learning, the excitement and the end of fourth grade. So as I prepare for our next units, knowing there is half a year left, knowing we have so much learning to do, knowing that we have so much growing to do, I get excited. The path we are on. this year is incredible, the learning journey eventful, and sometimes even a little bit magical. So as we inch closer to fifth grade, I hope we

Slow down to relish the everyday magic. It is ok to get excited when you solve something on your own or do that great work. Let's share, let's celebrate, after all, learning is meant to be wondrous.

Struggle together. Let's look for answers, questions our assumptions, and even question each other (especially the teacher!).

Reach out. The world is our classroom so let's invite others in and do our share to be global citizens. Think of how rich our lives a now because of our blogging and projects.

Believe! Let's believe more in our own brains, creativity, problem solving skills, and most of all each other. Ask others for help when needed but don't forget to ask yourself first.

Create. I am only a teacher, not the inventor of everything interesting. So create learning possibilities for yourself as well as we continue learning in our room.

Set goals - and then exceed them. We must continue to strive for better but also not be satisfied when we reach that goal. Push yourself when it makes sense.

Smile, laugh, giggle and have fun. School is meant to be somewhere fabulous where magical things happen, let's continue to make learning fun.

I cannot wait to see you on Monday.

Mrs. Ripp

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some Concrete Changes

Every day, I catch myself.  I catch myself before I say "stop," or "quiet," or "teacher point."  Those old habits dies hard, but every day I fight them and I renew my commitment to my students.  It is because of them I stop myself, it is because of them I am changing my ways every single day, ever lesson, every minute.  They deserve more, better, and sometimes even less.

So what have I changed, my big things I have documented, but there are so many little things as well, and they add up:
  • No more stay in your desk.  I used to have designated work time where students could leave their desk, now they can get up and move somewhere closer while I am speaking or while something else is happening.  I have a lot less squinting and fiddling going on now.
  • No more sending kids to the office.  I used to send kids to the office sometimes, feeling frustrated and not quite sure how to handle situations.  While this may also be because of my incredible class, I have had to send one 2 students all year for situations that were bigger than just my classroom.  Now I ask students to take a break, think about their actions and we find the time to talk.  So far so good.
  • No more set projects (well almost anyway).  Now when students ask if they can do a different type of project I always think "Why not?"  Often their ideas are much stronger than what I am coming up with anyway.
  • No more silent in the hallways.  As adults we converse quietly as we walk in the hallways, my students get to do the same.  This doesn't mean loud voices or out of control behavior.  They use whisper voices and are getting adept at walking like adults do.
  • No more assuming I know why.  I used to assume all of the time, why a student didn't do something, know something, or did something.  Now I ask instead; their explanations are way better than my assumptions.
  • No more "My classroom and you are just visiting."  The students take care of the classroom because it is theirs.  Granted my level of orderliness may be a little higher than theirs but they stp up when they need to.
  • No more "My Goal."  We are learning together and so the goals are all of ours.  We discuss our goals of learning, why they are set and how we can achieve them.  I may be the that knows the direction but we can all steer. 

I Am a Teacher

I am a teacher.  I have been ever since I realized that this was my life's calling, my passion unfolded, my dream in life.  I don't become a teacher when I show up at school at 7 AM and then turn it off when I leave hours after my contract time ends.  I am a teacher every minute of the day, every day of the year, with every breath I take.

I am passionate about teaching.  I spend hours every day at home thinking of how I can reach my children better (the students are all my children), how I can make their day better, how I can enrichen their lives.  I discuss, reflect, and I dream bigger, better, and more every day.  I lead, I comfort, I support, and I dare to believe in all of my students and what they can offer to the world.

I love my students.  I ride with them through their journeys in life; when they celebrate I cheer with them, when they grieve, I cry with them.  But more importantly, I teach them.  Every day they show up to school and even if they don't, I always continue teaching.  I see my job as an honor, as something only a select few do really well.  My job is not just a job, it is who I am.

Teachers are not made in college, they become them in the classroom.  Teachers reach out to anyone that enters their worlds, and they impact every single aspect of this American life.  Support them, cherish them, and right now, fight for them and their rights.  We are here to help America succeed and grow, not to take the blame.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Today I was Boring

I love Mondays.  They are loud, a little bit crazy, and always exciting.  My students are tapping their feet, their are sharpening their pencils and asking a million questions about what we are doing this week and when are we going to get to do this really cool thing?  The noise can be kind of intimidating to cut through but then you realize that it is excitement, not just chatter, and it becomes a different beast to maneuver altogether.

Today, I was boring, though.  I had my lessons planned, even with discussion questions, extra surprises and movie clips.  And yet, I fell flat.  During social studies, where I was teaching the writing of the Constitution, I yawned.  And you know if the teacher is bored, then imagine what the students feel.  So I stopped.  I put the book down that I was reading aloud and then asked them what questions they had.  A little bit of perking up.  Then I asked them to write on the board everything they knew about the office of the president, some motion and activity.  Then I started to drone on again - moment lost.

I don't know what it was today.  I had a long night with my daughter with croup, my mind is heavy with the scary legislation vote looming over us, and I didn't take the time to think this morning.  I have a pretty set morning routine where I get in 1 hour and 15 min early, turn on my music, jam to that while I clean, pull out, discuss, give hugs to colleagues and just focus.  Today I had no music, ran around, got visited by students early, stopped by a great Valentines Day breakfast and just spoke a lot of politics  By the time the bell rang, I was ready physically not mentally.

And what a difference that makes!  All day I played catch up, tried to find my brain - it must be around somewhere - and just made it through.  That is not what teaching is supposed to be like; surviving.  So I wonder; what do others do when the lesson isn't working?  Do you throw it out?  Stop and do something else entirely or just lumber through it?  I felt I robbed a great moment in history from my students today, something that I cannot get back.  So when your brain disappears and the day just seems to happen to you, what do you do to put it back on track?

I, for one, am going to bed early, charging my Ipod, getting my red shirt ready (all union workers are wearing red to show unity this week) and packing chocolate in my lunch tomorrow.  I will not let my students down like this again.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Dear Scott Walker

I can't afford to be a teacher anymore, at least not if what is proposed here in Wisconsin gets passed.  Don't get me wrong, I am not a teacher because of the money, I am not a fool after all, but if I lose 17% of my already insanely low salary, I cannot afford to remain a teacher.

I cringe at saying those words aloud, but the facts remain, if I want my child to go to daycare so that my husband and I can work to pay for our bills, then teaching does not let me do that.  We speak of wanting another child, yet know that on my salary today, it would be a far stretch with extra hours picked up wherever possible.  If my salary is cut, there will be no second child, no house mortgage and certainly nothing extra.

So the debate within me begins; can I give up what I so passionately believe that I was meant to do?  Do I even have a choice anymore if my salary is reduced and frozen?  I have been willing to sacrifice almost all of my social life to dedicate myself to the craft of teaching, but at some point, the realization hits that it will not just be time I am sacrificing but the ability to pay our bills.

So dear governor of Wisconsin, you may think that you are solving the problems, but who will you get to teach the children?  Who will have the luxury of being a teacher when they cannot afford to anymore? You speak of us as if we are using the system, stealing money from children who need health insurance, while you cut taxes for businesses.  Who will educate the future workers of Wisconsin?  Who will buy the goods of all those companies you lure to our state at the promise of less money taken from them?  Who will want to raise their children here when we slash funding and stifle the voice of teachers.  We do not have a lot, but what we have, you want to take away.

So that is where I stand.  Blamed for the deficit, blamed for why we cannot beat China in test scores, and blamed for why America is slipping in its world rankings.  One teacher with all the blame at her feet.  I wonder what will happen when the teachers cannot be blamed anymore, who will be next?


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Do You Know You Made a Difference?

How do you know you made a difference? Is it the test scores? The grades? The parent approval? Or your principal giving you a thumbs up? Is it the highlights? The low moments? The tears? Or the smiles? Maybe it's the hugs? Or the excitement? The introductions and the goodbyes?

Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is the people. The kids, the conversations, the handwritten cards. Your self-satisfaction from knowing you tried your hardest. The tiredness that comes from focusing on something you know is important. Perhaps it is the kind words sent your way, a friendly gesture, or a friendly hello. Maybe a plea for help or an offer of assistance shows you made a difference. Maybe someone letting you try that new thing or even that old tried and true thing. Maybe somebody simply believing in you or letting you try again after you failed. Maybe that means you made a difference. Or maybe, just maybe, believing you are making a difference is all that it takes to make it come true. Maybe if you believe in yourself enough you will know that it matter, that it all counts, and that the kids are noticing. Maybe then you will know you are making a diffence.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What I Didn't Learn in College

I was an adult student, attending college in all of my seriousness, so eager to learn everything there was to know on how to be a teacher. I wanted to be good, great even, and I studied, and I planned, and I reflected my little heart out. And then I graduated, got my first teaching job and realized that I had very little idea of what it meant to really be a teacher.

So what I didn't learn in college is really quite a lot. I didn't learn how to gain my students' trust, interest or even attention. Instead I learned systems of control, of management, of planning that would force students to listen. I didn't learn how to teach a child that consistently gets 5 hours of sleep every night because of parent job situation and therefore puts his head down on his desk every day. I learned that that child better pay attention to me because that is what children are spposed to do.

I didn't learn how to care about my students, this was meant to be a given, and not taken for granted. I didn't learn how to strip away all the layers and show the true meaning of the lessons being taught. I didn't learn to adapt at the start of a tantrum or the twist of an interesting conversation. I didn't learn to love them all, no matter their roughness or demeanor.

I didn't learn to change myself, to be humble, and to realize that this journey is not about my teaching but the students' learning. I didn't learn that there are at least five different ways to explain something, or in my case, at least twenty, because every student explains it their own perfect way. I didn't learn that often the simplest idea, lesson, or decision can make for the most meaningful moments.

I didn't learn how to be great, or even how to be good. I learned how to save paper, be efficient, and to plan, plan, and plan some more. I learned how to find sources, and ask for help, but not who to ask it of. I learned how to plan for the fictitious child with special needs, the unplannable, or even the out there. And so there are many things I didn't learn in college but I am not so sure you can. Teaching has to be experienced to be learned, not just read about, discussed and debated.

A great teacher is not something you are just taught to be in college, pushed to be through test scores, or coached to become through observations, it is something you become through your experience, reflection, and everyday life. I wish, I had been taught that in college.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


As I prep for the upcoming week of lessons, I find myself cutting ideas out and slimming things down.  I am simplifying my lessons.  And not because I am "dumbing" them down, not at all, instead I am offering my students the luxury of only having to focus on key concepts rather than overwhelming them with all the bells and whistles.

In order for my students to take ownership of the learning they have to understand what they are owning.  They have to be able to take an idea, make it their own and then push it through.  if I add too many components to something, they will end up confused, bogged down, or just plain bored.

In college I was taught to make it exciting, to add visuals, support, brainstorming sheets and even hand signals.  I now rebel against that notion of having to add more every time. Perhaps that is why I am no longer a supporter of IWB's in every classroom.  I don't need to be more interactive, my students do.

So this week, I am cutting back all the extras.  I am focusing on what the goal is and letting students add their distinctive spins on it.  I will have supports ready if needed but I will not assume they need them.  I will speak less and engage more.  Simplify my teaching = expand their learning.  I am excited.

This post was partially inspired by this excellent post written Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When the Day is Tough

No matter the noise, no matter the distractions, no matter how perhaps one lesson didn't go quite as expected. There is always something good to see, something wonderful to praise, and something that deserves to be recognized.

When the day has been rough and the kids have been tough, take the time to huddle. Take the time to relish the good moments because no matter what, they are there, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be remembered and shared.

So take a deep breath, gather them on the carpet, and ask them to share that one good thing from the day. Go around the circle, come back to those that need extra time, and then smile. Twenty-three golden moments all out in the open; the day couldn't have been that bad after all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Teach To Fit Your Students, Not You

Monday was a chatty day. One of those days where no matter what you do, the kids just cannot settle down and focus. One of those days where I would have moved a lot of sticks and gotten a lot of points. Except this day, I didn't. There are no sticks to move, names to write or points to take in my room, and sometimes that is hard. You see, when you can punish students for a behavior they often change their demeanor for a short time. Punishment leads to submission and the day can keep moving. However, punishment also means that nothing corrective takes place or valuable for that student. So I don't punish anymore.

And yet the kids, who are usually so on track, just had a hard time. Whether it was because of the impending blizzard, being tired, or one child starting the talk wave, I don't know. But teaching proved difficult. In earlier years, I would have ended the day lamenting about how the students didn't work hard or had problems focusing. Instead, this year I turned my glance inward and thought about how I could accommodate their jitteriness, their talkativeness, their seeming inability to it still too long. How could I change my teaching to make it a great day?

So Tuesday, I came prepared. We had decks of cards as manipulatives for math and the kids did most of the talking as we figured out probability. My planned lesson for literacy for our author study was switched to one about choral reading where the students had to create and perform their first ever choral read poem. We stayed focused on the day through small talk breaks discussiing the probability of a snow day. We spoke about our fifth grade friends in Egypt, we checked in on the live feed to an eagles nest, we took small body breaks stretching and then worked hard. That afternoon, we were able to feed our crayfish, clean their tanks and then have a small study hall with multitudes of choices. We ended with an exciting math game with our first grade reading buddies.

At the end of the day, I was unstressed. We had accomplished what we set out to do and we had also had a good day. The students had worked with their distractedness and made it a strength rather than, well, a distraction. I had realized that it is not my job to force my student into the learning, but instead shape my learning to accommodate my students. It is indeed not about me, but about them, and that is the most mportant thing to remember.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I am a Hypocrite

Today I had one of those great thought moments that can only happen during deep professional and personal reflection.  George Couros, a principal I admire, did some thinking out-loud on my latest blog post, a follow up to another post on behavior.  Part of his comment is shown below:

I am going to challenge you a bit on this post, but not necessarily on its content. I noticed that you listed some stats on how many hits you have had, retweets, etc.. I also noticed that you listed that "Alfie Kohn" commented on it (like it was some kind of award that he did that). You have also written how you were disappointed that you did not get an edublog award: (http://mrspripp.blogspot.com/2010/12/im-loser.html)

With the listing of these stats (kind of like marks) and discussion of awards, are you somehow showing that you have a part of you driven by the same thing that you are saying we should take away from students in the classroom?

Just some food for thought. I think that your posting discussing the importance of intrinsic motivation and not extrinsic motivators is contradicted by use of the stats of your blog hits and retweets.

Is there room for both to drive us? I know I have a twitter counter on my own blog posts and love recognition.

Part of my response to George was this:

George, what a great comment that really made me think early this morning. I think your questions prove avery valid point for me; we as adults struggle for the same recognition as our students do. However, the reason why I listed those stats etc with this particular post was because it showed that somehow this particular post really struck something in people, which I had no idea it would. I never expect anyone to read my blog so the fact that that many people took the time to share or read shows that this a debate that many others are either thinking about or engaged in.

So all day I wondered; was I indeed a hypocrite (not that George implied it, I label myself that way)?  Had I published those statistics and name dropped because I too craved recognition and reward from my peers?  Could I possible be wanting the same thing that I despise so much in my own classroom?  The answer is not easy to come up with.  On one hand, I really do not seek out recognition but rather reflection, however, on the other hand, do I obsessively look at my blog counts to see if I matter?  Is that what it really comes down to?  

Perhaps when we look at our blog visits or comments received, we are really looking for some sort of validation that there are others like us out there.  That we are not alone in this educational ocean where the tide continuously shifts.  Perhaps, when a lot of people respond to a post we have found an island on which others seek refuge as well.  Perhaps, the need for recognition is so intrinsically ingrained in us that we can never truly escape it no matter how much we try.

I am not perfect, which thankfully no one has ever accused me of being.  I struggle publicly with many of my own teaching practices and choose to chronicle this struggle in order to give myself clarity from a distance.  I wish I could be 100% staunch anti-reward, but I am not, I still praise my students for great behavior, amazing work or just being all around fantastic kids.  Some would consider that a reward as well.  What I am opposed to, though, are the public reward ceremonies, the in-class recognition of only the best and brightest, rather than different categories where all children can be celebrated.  So perhaps I am a hypocrite, but at least I am a hypocrite who is willing to share their thoughts.


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