Sunday, July 31, 2011

We are Part of Something Bigger

We are part of something bigger.  Those of us who choose to ask the hard questions, those of us who dare to raise our voice in the face of testing, rewards, and sanctions.

We are part of something larger than us, something that is taking root in America, in the world, and educators are standing up and saying "No more."  Our children are the ones who suffer under politicians latest ideas.  Our children are the ones we experiment with, hoping that someday we will get it right.  Our children deserve something better than having school done to them.

It is time to listen to the passionate teachers that actually have ideas for change.  It is time for us to raise up and join together, reclaim what is ours, education,  and let our voices be heard.  It is time.

So join the discussion, write your editor, blog, speak up, discuss with anyone you can.  We are not failing as educators, changes need to be made but they need to come from us, not from the politicians.

Meaningful Student Blogging - My RSCON Presentation

Last night, I had the privilege of presenting at the Reform Symposium on something I am very passionate about - giving students a voice through blogging.  In fact, I find whenever you can give students a voice in your classroom leads to a much more engaged learning environment.  While the archives will not be up for another week or so I did want to share the slides I used for my message.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Saying Goodbye

How do you say goodbye to someone that has been there for you for 13 years?  How do you let them go, peacefully, and still let them know that you are there no matter what?  That you will never forget all of those years, all of those times spent together.  About an hour ago in the middle of an #RSCON3 presentation, my cat Bailey fell over and started crying.  She has been sick her whole life, I picked the runt of the litter, the one that farted and sneezed when I picked her up.  And yet, I knew that this time it was more than.  This time something was seriously wrong.  And the vet agreed, there was no coming back from this one and so the decision was made and she drifted off peacefully, more at peace than I have seen her in months, off to a better place.

And so I sit here in an empty house picking up the pieces.  Picking up our memories and remembering them for what they were; unforgettable and ours.  Bailey picked me as much as I picked her and she loved life.  She would purr and wiggle in urging you to pet her, give her attention, until her belly was raw from all of the stroking.  If you tried to sleep on the couch you knew she would be right there, cuddled up by your ear, not willing to move even when you had to get up.  Naps simply were another excuse for her to be close to us because that is where she felt she belonged.  And I agreed.   For many years she would sleep right on my head and all night I would battle with her over the pillow.  I would listen to her snore and wheeze due to the chronic respiratory infection she had gotten from her mother.  And yet having her right there, sometimes right on my head, meant a certain comfort, of being home and being with someone, even if Brandon was out of town and the house was too quiet.

I found Bailey 6 months into me moving from Denmark to America.   Practically alone, unless you count the one boyfriend I had, until I found her.  She was 9 months old when I stumbled upon her, already having been rejected by one family as being too mean and too sick.  For me it just felt right.  Her and I could do anything together.  Through breaks ups, lonely night and finally finding my soulmate she was there, always ready to cuddle, always ready to be together, running to the door whenever I came home.   When I moved she came with me every time, always finding peace as long as I was there.  Her illness would go through cycles and we thought we would lose her more than once.  But she always pulled through.  The joke in my family was that she would outlive us all.  When she was 7 she was viciously attacked by a stray dog and we thought at first that this was it.  She proved us all wrong.  And when the doctor said that her back leg would have to get amputated, she proved us wrong again, regaining the use of it within a couple of months.  Through all the years of trying to have a child, she was there when I needed her.  With every failed atte,pt and all of those tears, she sat patently on my lap reminding me that she was there and she understood that it was sad but that life would move on as it always did.  When we found out Thea was coming and my belly grew, Bailey would climb on top of it, having found a new place to snuggle up to - even if it kicked her at times.  She just knew when I needed her to just curl and be.

So I write this post as a tribute.  Some may think I am a crazy cat lady and that is alright.  For this crazy cat, I am.  In an hour I present at the Reform Symposium, and Matt, my co-presenter, always the gentleman, graciously told me that he could handle it all.  I declined, I will be there because that is what we do as teachers.  We pull through and we get the job done.  No matter what is happening in our personal life our jobs move us on and the demands continue.  We know that what we are committed to is important and we don't back away from that commitment.

I am not sure why I write this post but I had to.  I had to say thank you to the tiniest little cat who always just was.  We found each other when we both wanted so desperately to be loved.  Thank you for loving me so unconditionally and teaching me that quiet time can be the best time of the day.  Thank you for just being there.  For putting your faith in us to treat you right, for naps, and car rides, and all those moments where you jumped up on my lap reminding me that life is about love and showing those that love you that they mean the world to you.  The house is too quiet without you.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Does One Pick - Some Must See's at #RSCON3

I swear my life this weekend will be difficult for my family.  I may be absent most of the weekend, definitely distracted but very engaged.  (Just not with those in my house).  Reform Symposium 3 is here and I am thrilled to not just be presenting twice but also to be learning alongside with educators from all around the world.  So as I sift through the schedule I decided to pick a couple of don't misses for me that fit my learning journey.  This was very hard as there are many presentations happening simultaneously so thank goodness for the archives.

Here in time order are the presentations I am hoping to catch:

And this is only Friday and Saturday.  I do not think I will be able to catch many presentations on Sunday due to family time but I will also be trying to grab some keynotes as well as panel discussions.  As you can see, there is so much to choose from!  So whether you go to one presentation or go to many, I know the learning will be deep and you are guaranteed to be inspired.  Don't miss out on this amazing FREE professional development opportunity.
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To Blog is to Bare Oneself and I'm Ok With That

Hello, my name is Pernille Ripp and I am blogger.  Two years ago I would never have been able to introduce myself that way, it has only been a year and yet this journey has profoundly changed me, my teaching, and my world.  And yet how does it feel to be out in the open?  How does it really feel to be blogging with my real name, real thoughts, and real fears?

I decided to blog because my husband thought it would give me an outlet for all of my thoughts.  I have always loved to write, poetry in particular, and I have pages upon pages filled with horrid teenage misery that hopefully no one will ever find.  I have tried journals and seen them fail - who would want to read my thoughts after I die?  What a selfish notion.  And yet blogging for me is a journal in some way even though it didn’t start that way.  Instead my blog came about as a way to digest all that was happening in my head, a reflection of my classroom and the things I had been taught in college unraveling.  I wrote for myself, for my own clarity and then something happened; people responded.  They shared their stories, their lives with me and trusted me with their words and sometimes even asked for advice.  From me!  A fourth year teacher who is an infant among the great teachers.  Encouraged by their thoughts, I kept on writing about whatever I had to change.  I figured if I made it public it would be more binding to me, it would become more urgent because the world was watching.  And again people responded, some kindly, some not so much and I found myself debating, articulating, and always reflecting upon my actions and my words.

I have never considered a pseudonym, not that there is anything wrong with that but for me it just didn’t even cross my mind.  Mostly because I thought no one would read my blog anyway and I am honest to a fault and therefore wanted to represent me in the online world.  I never considered hiding my blog from people I worked with or others that meet me in the “real world.”  After all, I have nothing to hide and I am not ashamed of admitting that I still have a lot to learn.  As a teacher there has, of course, been conflict. Some people do not appreciate me writing and think I should know my place.  Some people think my ideas are too out there and do not like what I propose for my classroom.  Some people think I am addressing them even though I only reflect upon my own choices and education as a whole.  And so the battles happen between my blogging and people who may take offense.  There have been days where I have cried, and days where I have rejoiced.  Once a parent emailed me a comment on a piece I had written.  Baffled I told her I did not know she read my blog.  She responded that she had a for awhile and admired my thoughts.  I shouldn’t be surprised; all sorts of people read it, and yet here was someone who’s child was directly affected by my teaching style saying that what I did was a good thing.  Humbling.  So I write as if I am telling a story to the head of my district, I choose what I write about it and try to remain positive.  The world does not need anymore reminders of just how awful it can be but it does need reminders of all that we can change if we believe in it.  The change starts with me, with my real name, and real life details.

So I blog with my heart and my mind knowing full well that I cannot please everyone.  I know that some people who cross my path may not agree with my ideas, and I am at peace with that.  My blogging has shaped a new facet of my identity, one that is rooted in reform and thinking about the needs of the children versus my own needs as a teacher.  This writing in the open has brought sorrows yes, but it has also brought so much joy to my life.  I now enter my classroom with passion, knowing that this is the kind of room I would have loved to have been a student in.  I am becoming the kind of teacher that makes my mother proud.  Blogging did that for me.

It Started With an Idea - The Global Read Aloud

This project started with an idea, as most things do in life, and yet this idea in particular resonated deep within me.  It brought together two passions; the love of books and a love of global citizenry, the notion of creating global citizens in my classroom.  And yet for this cautious teacher from idea to reality was quite a leap of faith.  When you publish an idea to the world chances are no one will listen.  And what may be so important to me may be nothing to others.  And yet this idea found people who became just as passionate about it as I am .

So the Global Read Aloud was created and it survived it first year with more than 40 classrooms actively connecting.  And they loved it and more importantly, the students loved it.  So this year, it is a little bit bigger, a little bit changed; two books rather than one, and yet the heart of the idea remains: One shared read aloud - one global connection.

So join me and more than 200 other classrooms this fall as we embark on another global read aloud.  You choose how much time you dedicate, you choose how you would like to connect.  Share the world of books with your students as they realize that all around the world children are discovering the same book.  Share the love of listening to incredible books being read aloud and for the love of questions.  We have made it easy for you to participate, all you have to do is take a small leap of faith with us.  Welcome.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ask the Children - Reform Symposium 2011

I wanted my students to blog because I wanted them to create an online portfoloio.  Little did I know that in doing so our whole classroom would change, our world viw would be affected and even the most reluctant writers would beg me to not delete their blogs.  Yeah, when I say blogging changed my life, I am not exaggerating.

So this Saturday at the Reform Symposium I am excited to share the story of my classroom and how blogging changed our world.  I have written about this with my students throughout the year but never presented on it before, now is the time to inspire others to take the leap and make it meaningful.  Blogging became such a vital part of me stepping away from the center of the classroom and allowing the students to express themselves honestly, frequently, and easily that I could never see removing it from my curriculum.

We say we want to give the children a voice; blogging does that for us.  We say we want to hear their thoughts, blogging does that for us.  We say we want to grow as educators, well, ask the children.  They will tell you what you are doing wrong and what they love.  So ask them but do it right and join me on Saturday July 30th 7 PM CST to engage in  a conversation about how blogging can change us all.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Stop the Tear Downs

Education and particularly teachers are under a harsh lens right now.  Everywhere you turn headlines scream out new nasty discoveries about bad teachers, horrible programs, and how schools are failing.  As a teacher, it is hard to not drown in all the negativity.  Yet as most of the teachers I have encountered, we choose not to drown, and instead we focus on our students, on our lives and continue to do what we do beast; teach, knowing that this too will end and at some point sanity must be introduced back into the conversation, right?

Yet as the rhetoric gets more cutthroat and the divide grows, this mentality of us versus them has formed and cemented itself into too many educational debates.  No longer are teachers united, rather it becomes veterans versus new, tech users vs non-tech users, always a split, always two sides, never just one united front.  And we teachers buy into it as well.  If one teacher is heralded for doing something good, other teachers get upset because then they must be doing something wrong.  If a school is highlighted as working well, then other schools within the district must be performing poorly.  Rather than view success of one as success for all, it becomes just that; success for one and failure for everyone else.

This epidemic of negativity must stop.  We are tearing each other apart, trying to climb to the top, vying for the same spotlight.  But that is not what teaching is about, we teach our students that we are only as strong as the weakest performance, and that we must celebrate everyone.  And yet, somewhere that message is lost.  The public may want us split, because then it is easier to create "reform" and yet now is the time we must band together.  We must relearn to celebrate successes and not be afraid to share them.  It is time for people to speak up when something incredible happens in their classroom or in their school, and it is time for everyone else to celebrate it, not tear it down.  This isn't me versus you, it's all of us together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask the Children - My Presentation for Reform Symposium 2011

I am thrilled to be invited back to present at the upcoming Reform Symposium - a free virtual conference for all people interested in education.  My first presentation on Friday July 29th 5:30 PM CST will be with the wonderful Matt Ray discussing our New York - Wisconsin connection between our classrooms and hopefully inspiring others to reach out and create connections.  The second time I present is all by myself on Saturday July 30th 7 PM CST where I share how to set up meaningful student blogging with students.  Please join me for this wonderful opportunity to learn!

Written By Shelly Terrell

In a few days, nearly 8000 educators from over 40 different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON3. This free award-nominated e-conference is going to take place on July 29-31st, 2011. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide. With over 12 Keynotes, 80 presenters, and 3 keynote panel discussions you are bound to be inspired!

- View the schedule to plan which presentations you will attend!
- Download the flyer to share with your school!
- Watch this Youtube video of January 2011's conference!
- See if your school will count this as continuing education credit!
- Consider hosting a viewing party!

We would like to thank the incredible organizers- Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Mark Barnes, Ian Chia, Cecilia Lemos, Jerry Blumengarten, and Kyle Pace- and Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 and The Future of Education online communities for making this incredible conference possible.

We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Choose

The failing of the American teacher.  The crisis of our educational systems.  Headlines blare, people believe, and yet we can still make choices.

I choose to be a teacher because it is the only choice that ever felt natural.

I choose to think of my students as family, not numbers, or just kids, but my own.

I choose to let parents in, not exclude their voice, as mine gets excluded sometimes.

I choose to not label students but think of them as individuals who have talents and needs specific to them.

I chose to give my students a voice, to let them know they matter, that their thoughts shape our classroom.

I choose to not be punitive, knowing that trust, respect and relationships will take me much further in this journey.

I choose to have a team because I know that I am powerful in the greatness of others.

I choose transparency and honesty above all so that others may think they can do it as well.

I choose to change when needed, bend when it makes sense, and believe at all times.

I choose to put connections first, to not forget about standards but make them work for me rather than become a dictation of my classroom.

I choose to not let labels break me, to not believe in the naysayers, to believe in our system even though it is flawed and fight for change from within.

I choose to let others evaluate because even among our critics we can find ways to grow.

I choose to not be the pebble, but let positivity run my days and smile, laugh and work to make this world a better place rather than one discarded.

What do you choose?

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't Leave Out the Parents

Parents - every teacher has an opinion on what their role in the classroom is.  Some people welcome them with open arms, others prefer to keep them in the copy room.  Whatever your take is, parents and dealing with them are an inevitable part of our job.  And yet nothing is really mentioned in teacher's education about the role of parents and just how valuable they can be to our classroom.  No one sits you down and explains that when parents contact you it is probably because they have the best interest of their child in  mind.

I think we should embrace parents and their role in our teaching realm.  I think we need to stop assuming we know what parents want in our classrooms and rather ask them.  I think we should start assuming that parents are truly on our side and not someone who is out to get us.  This does not mean that I suggest they plan our lessons, but most parents know their child much better than we do, so we not ask their advice?Now is the time to reach out and create a lasting relationship built on trust and truly include parents in our classroom.

I think we are taught in college that we need to be the ones with the answer so if student X is acting out then we have to present a plan of act to X's parents.  Why not dialogue instead?  Why not include them in the thought process rather than present them with a final product?  Mind you, I know that there are parents that are non-existent or truly do dislike a certain teacher, but even so, we must try.  After all, aren't we yelling loudly how our voice is being left out in the education debate?  Don't exclude parents from your classroom; what are we so afraid of?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It Is Time to Reclaim Tests

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps it is time we reclaim the word "Test."

Perhaps we, as educators, can show society that yes tests are part of the picture but they are not the only way to assess learning.

Perhaps we need to change the way politicians see tests as only multiple choice, scantron torture devices and bring them into a realm of good tests.

Society has bastardized the word tests and now many educators shudder at the mere thought of them, but it shouldn't be that way.  We know all tests are not created equal and we know that all tests are not inherently evil.  We just need to find a way to show those in reform power what a good tests looks like.  Something that actually teaches our children and helps their knowledge acquisition.

Are we up for that challenge?  Is there such a thing as good test? 
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do Teachers Have the Right to Privacy?

I owe this post to the excellent comment left by Jennifer Diaz on my So You Want a Teacher Job.  Thank you for bringing this up!

With an onslaught of teachers seemingly caught bashing their students on Facebook or being reprimanded by their school boards for sharing pictures of themselves drinking, I am starting to wonder whether we as teachers have the right to privacy?  Now don't get me wrong, I think everyone should be careful what they post publicly and bashing your students is just idiotic.  But what about the more innocent pictures of you holding a drink?  How about you actually drinking at a public venue?  Or riding a motorcycle with no helmet (even if it is not breaking the law)?  Or smoking, swearing or wearing lowcut clothing?  Do teachers have a right to do this in public or is that considered morally corrupt as well?

I agree that as a teacher, we are instant role models for all children and that we must behave, dress and act accordingly.  However, what about in our free time?  Are we still expected to follow the same code of conduct outside of school walls as we do within?  Should we as teachers live the life of a seemingly flawless adult and do anything that could be viewed as "bad" by children only within our own houses?And don't get me wrong, I am not talking about anything crazy here.  Just the act of having a beer at a bar or heaven forbid actually getting drunk.  What about pictures of you showing off you new tattoo?  Is that considered morally reprehensible?

As new teachers get ready to interview and ask for advice, I always tell them to check their privacy setting on Facebook and to Google themselves to make sure they like what they find.  View it through the lens of an employer and make sure their path is clean.  However, is it right for society to place teachers on a moral pedestal that no other professions, not even politicians, have to attain?  I don't have the answer but I would love to start the discussion.  Are we as teacher allowed to have "a life" outside of school doing normal adult stuff that in any other profession no one would even think twice about?  Are we indeed allowed to have a private life?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Case Against the "Thanks for the RT"

Twitter logo initialImage via WikipediaFor some who are not on Twitter this post may bear no meaning to your life.  But for others who like myself use Twitter every day for professional development, I pose a question: do we really need to thank someone for retweeting a post?  You see, it is not that I am lazy, forgetful, or ungrateful when some decides to resend out something I have posted.  In fact, often I reach out to people to thank them for reading or leaving a comment.  But the "Thanks for the rt" post that I am bound and destined by some Twitter etiquette - well, I am over it.

I get that people on Twitter are trying to mimic real life; when someone passes something for you, you thank them.  And yet Twitter is not real life in that sense; I am not running to Canada to personally thank a friend every time they tweet out something of mine.  So instead we try to thank them with an inane statement that does nothing to bridge communication.  Does anyone ever write back "You're welcome?"  Does anyone do anything more than skim the thanks for the rt?  I know we all want to be noticed and I know we all want to be thanked for our contributions on Twitter, but let's thank in a different manner.  Let's really thank people instead of taking the easy way out of the canned statement.  If you really do appreciate someone sent your post out, well, then tell them that.  Or don't.  At some point there just is no keeping up with it.  Some of the people who write many posts a week probably have no way of thanking everyone, and I think that is ok.  I don't think we need to bash people for not saying thanks.  I think we need to let this part of Twitter go.  Yes, it is nice to be thanked, but when it is a hollow oft-repeated statement then what is really the point.

So I will say it now; thank you for always resending my posts.  I notice and I appreciate it.  I apologize if I do not thank you that day but sometimes I forget and other times I don't have time.  And I think that is ok, do you?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Things I Said - Cringeworthy Statements From a New Teacher

This summer the memories of my first year of teaching comes floating back and more specifically the insane things you would have heard me say.  So had you been a fly on my wall, here are some of most cringe-worthy....

Put your name on the board!

One more check mark and we are calling your parents.

You will have to stay in for recess since you did not return your test.

I am sorry your mother did not sign it, you will lose a recess and bring it back tomorrow.

I do not think he deserves to be in the talent show since he does not do his homework.

What do you mean you didn't have time?  It was homework!

Sit in your chair and listen.

Wake up!

Put that chair down.  Put that table down.  DO NOT SLAM MY DOOR!

Stop sharpening that pencil.

Don't you have your own school supplies?

Do you see these zeroes?  That means you are failing 4th grade.

I am doing this for your own good.

The goal?  Well for you to do this assignment.

Ah yes, the plight of a first year teacher.  I barely recognize myself in them and yet I know who that person was because if I didn't then I wouldn't know who this teacher is today.  We all have our journeys as teachers, mine took me far away from this, and for that I am thankful.  Where does your journey lead you?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hey It's Ok!

Hey it's ok!
...to smile widely on the first day of school

...to spend your summer vacation getting excited about the upcoming school year

...for your brain to keep thinking about teacher stuff even when it shouldn't

...to sing, dance, and goof off with your students

...to make mistakes and discuss them

...to think students need to have a voice in education and give it to them

...to not be worried about grades but rather about learning

...to not have rules posted

...to be the techy teacher and still not know how a computer works really

...to think teaching is the best job, even if it is grossly underpaid and underrated

...to love your life even when it is not working out the way you thought it would

What else is ok?

Thanks Glamour for the inspiration

Monday, July 11, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing - I Am Over-Connected

I am over-connected.  This weekend I added Google + to my ever expanding social media use and I can tell that it was the straw that broke the camel's back.  While I absolutely love the concept of it, I just cannot connect this much.  I cannot share my life and thoughts in 3 different places and have a normal life.  I now feel obligated to be witty and helpful on Twitter, sarcastic and joyous on Facebook, and smart and non-repetitive on Google+.  This introvert just cannot muster all of that.  Alas, it is not the mediums fault.  I love social media; social media, particularly Twitter has absolutely changed my life for the better.  I wish I could blame the products but I cannot, I can only blame myself.

In a typical day I wake up and check all of my networks right away.  Being the creator of the Global Read Aloud means I have quite a few emails to answer as we gear up for the next attempt in September.  Some get answered right away, others before I go to bed.  Then on to Twitter to thank for rt's and mentions, and say something smart and pass something on.  There are always people to speak to and things to read.  Facebook allows me to see where my friends are at, how my brother in Afghanistan is doing (he is ready to come home) and put something about Thea on there.  Now onto Google +; who has added me, what have people shared that I haven't already seen and do I have anything to share.  This is an hour of work at least.  Throughout the day I continue my quest to connect.  I check in with them all to see what have happened.  I have a smartphone so that I can stay connected while at the park with my daughter or even while stopped at a light.  My poor husband communicates more with me through instant messaging than in real life sometimes.  I blog as well, which I would never give up, and yet that takes time away too.  As we speak my daughter is sitting next to me waiting for me to finish.

It is taking a toll on me.  Life is becoming about connections with people that I have yet to meet, and even though I would love to meet everyone that I have connected with, I have to start facing the connections I already have here in Madison.  If I devoted at least one hour to connect with my colleagues on a day-to-day basis, can you imagine what we could accomplish?  We tend to push the face-to-face connections aside because they take more time, and then we say we do not have the time to pursue them.  Well, we do, because we choose to invest the time somewhere else, so I am re-evaluating my time spent connecting for the upcoming year.

Now I am not one to be extreme, I don't plan on unplugging or going connection free but I am aware of it.  I am aware of the choices that I make about the time that I spend on my computer every day.  I am aware now of what is worth it and what does not pay off in the end.  And that is what is important here.  We have to find the balance and not let the people in our lives suffer because of our choices.  There is such a thing as being over-connected, let's face it, and let's own it.  I am grateful that my husband has not complained of me being so into it all, yet, however, I wouldn't blame him if he did.  I wouldn't want to be married to me when I am in work mode (which I am most of the time).  Beth Still wrote a great post on what being so connected does to our relationships and she is right, they do harm and it is something to be taken serious.  We have to rebalance and refocus on making strong connections globally but also locally.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Drop the Doing

All around the world education is being done to students.

It is time to drop the doing to and just educate.

Educate students; don't do it to them.

My School - A Dream to Work With

We all talk about "If I was in charge..." or "If I could decide..." then this is what school would be like.  Well, here are my ideas, unfinished, a lot of wishful thinking and yet powerful in their simplicity.

My school would have less walls, more carpets for laying down and many nooks and crannies for self-reflection.

My school would have less bells, more time to explore and not so set schedules of when one class ends and another begins.

It would have farmers connected to teach students about food and to celebrate where food comes from and teachers would be given the time to collaborate and even teach each other's classes because they are all our children.

My school would have windows that could be opened and fields that beckoned for exploration.  There would be desks of course, but also stand up tables, shelves, couches and beanbags for students to choose from.

Curriculum dreams would come true meaning standards would be followed but not shoved down our throats and we would have enough time to update our learning quests.

Questions would be posed from the students and then time given to find the answers.

Engagement would be evident, as would loudness and excitement.  And that is just talking about the teachers not to mention the students.

There would be real accountability, urgency, and a shared goal for progress.  Results would be discussed and reflected upon, not just noted and scored.
Collaboration between grades and level would be expected as would the sharing of resources.

Students would be heard as equals and parents would be brought in to discuss change and direction and actually be listened to.

There would be no grades, just progress and feedback.  No homework other than meaningful projects and punishment would not be integrated either.  We would have to to build community and discuss behavior.

My school would be for all students and students with special needs would be given the resources they need.  Teachers who work with them would be given the time to do so right.

Technology would be used to connect with the world and strengthen students voices, but books would also have a home as would pen and paper.  There is no need for either or at my school.

We would be flexible but firm and have a clear vision.  A vision that we all created together and that never became stagnant.

My school would be a place where everyone knew they could learn, where no one was just passed through the system, where students actually were listened to as were teachers.

My school may only exist in my imagination, but many ideas I can implement into my classroom already.  I cannot wait.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ask the Children

There are many experts in education.  Government that seems to know best, education secretaries that certainly have the solution, districts that mandate, standards to be followed, and teachers that always know best.  Yet in many conversations surrounding education we seem to leave someone important out; the students.  No one seems to be bothered to ask what they think of the state of the American educational system.  No one seems to care how they feel about Race to the Top, college tuition, or even day-to-day curriculum.  No one seems to care because we do education to them.  

Students are not seen as the experts that they truly are.  Students are not included in the debates, in the decision making and yet all of our decisions impact them the greatest.   This year, I ran my classroom with one word in mind: ours!  This classroom does not belong to me, I am not there to "do" anything, I am there to educate along with my students.  And believe me, they want to be heard.  When I provided them with the opportunity to speak either through conversation or blogging, it was like a floodgate had been opened.  These 4th graders already knew how they learned best, they knew how to be the best students they could possible be, except no one had ever asked them.

We claim to be experts yet forget to ask those we are experts on.  How can this failed social experiment continue to function?  How can we do education to all of these children without ever asking them how they feel about it.  Ask the children!  Hear their voice and then change!  It changed my life when I let my students speak, don't continue to support the silence.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Barren Wasteland - A Room Without Rewards

A barren wasteland with no smiling allowed.  A silent classroom with a teacher standing sternly at the front slapping a ruler against their palm waiting for the next kid that dares to actually have a good time.  These are all images people tend to get when I say I do not believe in rewards.

Recently I wrote a post detailing how I reward my students through time rather than extrinsic motivators.  One comment I received asked me whether I believed in whole classroom rewards or not, which is a question I often get.  The answer is no.  I don't believe in the idea of rewards and agree with Alfie Kohn when he states that "Rewards and punishment  are ways of manipulating behavior that destroy the potential for real learning."

I believe that rewards twist the focus of the classroom and provides students with a false reason to want to engage.  I believe that rewards always end up benefiting the same students and some are always left out.  I know some will say that classroom rewards are the answer to that inequity, but ask yourself; how often have you taken away classroom points or not given marbles based on the actions of one kid or just a couple?  I know I used to even though it did not reflect the behavior of the whole classroom.  So you still produce an inequity because the other kids certainly know who it is that makes them lose points and believe me that plays into social situations sooner or later.

The bottom line for me is when we perpetually stick a carrot in front of students faces whether it be through points, letters, or marbles, we are teaching them that they should not do anything without a reward.  So while in the short term it may work to have kids get points to earn something as a classroom, in the long run it is not shaping their behavior to want to behave simply for the greater good.  I need kids that want to be in my classroom and I expect kids to take responsibility for their behaviors.  So I do not make kids "earn" anything in the reward sense, and I do not single out kids.  Instead we celebrate class-wide whenever an occasion arises.   Celebrations are given not earned and they can be based on whether we have achieved something or it is a certain time of year.  Often students and I discuss how we should celebrate something and it is never ever taken away from them.    I never use it is a way to manipulate their behavior or to point out anything.  We simply celebrate, and there is always a lot to celebrate!

So while classroom rewards may seem harmless, think of what it projects.  Think of what message it really is sending the students.  Are we trying to tell them that we do not expect them to behave without some sort of reward?  Are we trying to tell them that society will always reward them extrinsically whenever they do what is expected of them, because if we are, those kids will be mightily disappointed in adult life.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GIve Me Back that Gold Star or How Do You Reward Your Students When You Don't Believe in Rewards

Image taken from here

It used to be when a student did something exceptional, I would place a cute sticker on their worksheet, homework, or test.  I had a drawer just meant for stickers and I lovingly picked new ones for each year in the office catalogs.  I also had Bravo certificates and even great stamps that quickly but distinctly told them exactly how I felt.   Who doesn't feel great after getting a stamp with a big thumb on it telling you "Thumbs Up!?"  Sometimes, when I had a little more time,  I would even write "Fantastic" next to that sticker just so that they knew I really meant it.

If the class was having a great day I couldn't wait to dole out those kid points (if I remembered) so that they could earn another party. Never mind the fact that they knew they would earn it eventually because odds were they would have many more great days than bad days. I thought my kids knew that I thought they were great. I thought my kids understood why they were great.   In fact, I even had an "Awesome Wall" where all the A+ work would go up. Of course, I hoped that all kids would eventually have their work prominently displayed, but truthfully some just never did.

So this year I threw it all away. Well, I kept the stickers but they are for my daughter and husband - he loves motivational stickers on his honey-do lists.   The awesome wall got replaced with a world map, the kid/teacher points disappeared. And I felt so empty; after all, how would my kids know when they did a great job? Wouldn't they miss the stickers and the fantastics? Ummm no. In fact, no kid ever asked me for a sticker this year. No kid ever asked me to explain their fantastic remark because I didn't write them often.  Truthfully I found out that kids really didn't need those extrinsic rewards, that learning still happened, that the kids still stayed motivated, of course some days more than others because guess what, they are kids.

So in throwing out all of my rewards, I found out about the biggest reward of all; time.  This simple concept that I know we have precious little of in a classroom is a hot commodity to everyone.  Now when my kids deserve recognition (which they do every day) I give them time.  Whether it is to take the time to speak to them about their work, or to write feedback.  Whether it is to give them time to work or just time to speak to one another.  How about time for a sledding party?  Or time for 5 minutes of meditation after that awesome assembly?  How about the time to just be a classroom, to just hang out and celebrate all the amazing things happening in our room, in our school, in our world?

So don't feel like giving up rewards will steer your classroom management off course, I believe it will actually heighten it.  I believe that when you push the superficial things out of the way, deeper connections arise and the students become more willing to share, more connected, more motivated.  Finally, by getting rid of rewards I also gave myself the biggest one of all; the chance to connect deeper with my students.  The chance to speak to them more.  The chance to have them all be equals and not labeled and ranked according to grades or homework.  The chance to finally all be "Fantastic."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons Learned from Home

Coming home to my native Denmark never ceases to ground me, remind me of who I am, as well as provide a few lessons that I bring back to my classroom.  This year, I chose to share them with you.

On one of my first night's home, my mother shared this story with me:  In 1938 when my 98-year-old grandmother was young she wanted to go to France with a friend.  The daughter of a woodcarver and an aspiring math teacher, she knew that she could realize this dream but that she would have to bike there; all 648 miles.   Their minds made up though, they rode their single gear bicycles the whole way in 2 weeks, stayed a couple of days and then rode their bikes back.  The whole trip took them around a month.  Lesson learned: perseverance and fortitude.  Instead of waiting for the opportunity to arise, my grandmother or mormor as she is known just did it. 

It has been more than 2 years since my best friends, Laila and Julia, and I have sat face to face.  More children, more wrinkles, and more life experiences have shaped us differently and yet we are still the same.  Those old friendships spanning more than 16 years nurture me and sustain who I am and who I want to be.  Those two know me better than anyone and every time we get together we are able to just be ourselves. 
Lesson learned: those who knew you when, matter the most.

This past weekend as I was home alone with Thea, we were chicken sitting for my aunt.  Imagine my horror as a fox attacked them and I was left to call my aunt with the news that the fox had managed to snag half the hens and all the chicks.  While on the phone, the fox came back for me and charged a chicken close by me.  My reaction:  A blood curdling scream and charging toward it.  The poor chicken ran inside the house, the fox ran the other way.  Mission accomplished. 
Lesson learned:  You never know how you will react when something is at stake.

As I visted my grandparents, I told them of how excited I was to move to 5th grade and in particular what we had planned to do for our math instruction.  My mormor, a former math teacher, instantly perked up and told me that she would really like to hear about what we planned on doing and to keep her informed.  She would even offer up suggestions if she had any.
Lesson learned:  Once you find your passion you never grow out of it.

Coming home I instantly felt I belonged and Danish is spoken to me automatically wherever I go; I fit in.  In fact, I wrote a post about how important it is for kids to get the same feeling when they enter our classroom.  I could only feel this way because I know the social norms and expectations in this nation, something most tourists are not privy to. 
Lesson learned:  Share expectations, norms and normal behavior for everyone to feel they belong.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

We Say it is All About the Kids

Time and time again I hear the statement, "I do it for the kids..." or "It's all about the kids."  This before I hear any educational philosophy or methodology, but I have yet to meet a teacher that does not think it is all about the kids.  So then what happens from that statement to our classrooms?  Where does the disconnect start because how can you say it is all about the kids and then assign punishment or rewards?  How can you say it is all about the kids and assign hours of homework even at an elementary level?  How can it be all about the kids when there are no re-takes, no extra chances, no resources allowed on tests?

So if it is true that it is all about the kids, then perhaps we need to rethink what that means.  The way a lot of educational systems are set up is apparently all about taking time away from the kids and making sure the teacher is in focus and in control.  Do we not think that all about the kids could mean the kids had a say, were more in control and were even listened to?  Because if inane classroom management, pointless homework, letter grades with no explanation, and test upon test is what is meant by being all about kids, then no, I am not all about the kids.


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