Sunday, 13 November 2016

Purpose

#DigiLitSunday

purpose


This is a word that demands attention. 
Commitment. 
Focus. 
Seriousness. 

purpose 

We all seek purpose in our lives. 
Without purpose we are lost.
Stranded.
Without purpose we have no direction. 
That's why we look for something or someone to give us the praise - validation - 
that we sometimes desperately seek. 
The validation that will reassure us our lives have purpose. 
But, external validation is not what we need.

As a mom, my purpose is to support my children as they carve out unique paths in the world. Although I cautiously dole out advice, it is just that. Advice. What my children do with it, and everything else they encounter, is what makes their life their own. 
As a young mom, I was drawn to Khalil Gibran's poem about how parents are simply conduits for their children to this life. As they grow older, we need to let them go. 
They need to make their own way in life. They need to define their own purpose. 

In my relationship with my spouse, we have a shared purpose: to make sure our relationship grows and remains healthy. This is for the long haul. 

As a teacher, my purpose is to love, encourage and support my students to grow their best selves. This is a lofty purpose. Not something to take lightly. To dismiss or delay it until next week. It's a responsibility that I take it seriously. 

purpose

It's what gives meaning to our lives - both personal and professional. 

purpose

Figuring this out, given the recent elections in the US, is what will get us through the next four years. At least, for me. Each one of us must determine what role we will play to fight bigotry in all its forms.

There is no better purpose than to help influence the future as teachers, as activists, as parents. 

Purpose. Purposefully. With intention. Not potential intention, but action. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

How Do I Focus?

How do I focus? 
#DigiLitSunday

This is a great question with several entry points and no easy answers. 

I could write about how I stay focused, or not, by getting things done despite a myriad external and internal work demands. 

Or, I could write about how I maintain a focus on what matters

Or, I could write about how I make effective use of my time and stay on task. 

Focusing is a disciplined response to something important or valuable. As a result, focusing is about paying attention and following through, no matter what else is going on at the time. 

Truth #1: I have a hard time focusing on just one thing.  

Truth #2:  It's really hard to focus on more than one thing without compromising something else. Starting a project is easy. However, completing a project is not. Yet, the satisfaction of having done so is what makes it all worthwhile.

Truth #3: I take on way too many projects and responsibilities and tend to lose my focus. I forget what my purpose was for starting the project and then it doesn't seem so important anymore. I have a hard time saying, "No," or "Not now". (Note to self: Learn how to do that.) 

We can practice for the big projects (those that matter and help us grow) by saying "no" to less important things that don't matter and don't help us grow. This way, when it's time to create something or follow through on a commitment, we will know why we took it on. We won't be overwhelmed and become paralyzed. 

For those of us who teach, the day-to-day demands on our time are difficult to manage. It's easy to lose track of what's urgent and what isn't. To lose focus of what's important and meaningful. Everything appears equally important and urgent. 

In fact, this urgency about every new initiative in schools is just plain odd. If everything is equally important, then nothing is important. Isn't that what we tell our students when they are first learning to annotate text? If you underline everything in a text, then nothing is worth focusing on. If every initiative is equally important, then nothing requires our undivided attention. We can make a haphazard attempt at a lot of things and therefore do nothing well.

We lose our way when we lose our focus. And, so do our students. 

At school our focus has to be on our students. 
No one else. 
Nothing else.  

So, back to the question that @MargaretGSimon posed this week on her bloghow do I focus

I focus by slowing down.

I focus by taking stock of what's happening with my students, myself and my family.  

I focus by taking a metaphorical step or two away from a situation to decide what's important...for now. 

I focus one project at a time so that I get really good at starting AND finishing just ONE thing.

I focus by remembering what's important at any given moment.  

That's it. 

What about you? How do you focus?

Cross posted to Reflections on the Teche

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Thank You

Source:
http://www.planwallpaper.com/static/images/thank-you-clothesline-752x483.jpg

I had a hard time writing this post. In fact, I kept putting it off all week and now, a week and a day later, I am forced to write something. I feel like I should have a big, inspiring story about a former student who contacted me years later to thank me for being his or her teacher. 

But, sadly, I don't have a story like that though after 30 years of teaching, it seems like I should. At least, I don't have one big story. I have small moments. 

It seems like those should count, too. They're important. Aren't they?

I can excuse myself by saying that of the 30 years I've been in education, I spent seven out of the classroom, and so I lost contact with a lot of kids and their families. But, that sounds lame. What is true (read: less lame) is that I have never stayed more than six years in one school site and I've moved from North to South America and back again twice. It's easy to sever ties when that happens. 

Nevertheless, I do have one small moment from this past year to share. In January one of my students moved away and for a few months after that, we were in touch via email. My student would write about how much she missed our class, what she was doing and, in one memorable email, thanked me for being a strict teacher. 

Bye miss I will never forget you, from all the teachers I had you’ve been the funniest, hilarious, and the one who most teached (sic) me. I like you most...because your’e strict. Take it as a good thing because you are preparing us for the other grades. THANK YOU. You’ve also been very funny. Never forget me because I never will.

This was from a student who spent the entire time she was in my class trying to undermine or poke fun at everything we did. I could never call her out on it, but I knew she was doing things behind my back. The fact that everyone found her charming, and I found her sneaky, made my suspicions that much harder to handle. 

Social media has facilitated staying in touch with families of former students. Facebook, LinkedIn, email, and Twitter make it easy to track down just about anybody you want to find who wants to be found. 

I know that my students from my first few years of teaching are out there somewhere. They're in their early 30's. I sometimes wonder where they are, what they're doing. How they turned out. Do they remember our year together? 

It took me over 20 years to connect with a teacher who was my mentor in high school. I don't know if I've ever told him how much he meant to me at the time. Even after reuniting face-to-face a few years ago in NY, I never got up the courage to thank him for his support, encouragement and unconditional faith in my potential to become whatever I set my mind on becoming. I wonder how often that really happens. There are definitely stories out there, but how often do students contact their former teachers to thank them? I wish I'd told Mr. G how grateful I was that he was my teacher. But, I still haven't done that. Does that mean I care any less? Does that make him less effective?

I'd like to think it doesn't. But, taking the time to reach out makes us feel appreciated and loved. 

As I move into my 31st year in education, although I have no regrets there are many things I wish I had done differently. I hope my hundreds of former students out there know that I love them and wish them well. 

And, I hope it's mutual. 

I learned so much more from my students than they could have ever learned from me. 

Thank you for being my teachers. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Writing Does That For Me

Writing has always been a cathartic activity for me.

I write when I'm upset or confused and, after just a few minutes, I start to feel better.

Writing about failures or challenging situations helps me clarify my thinking so that I can sort through the muck and figure out what my next steps might be.

Writing allows me to uncover what was hidden and is no longer so.

Writing can free me up so I can discover a better version of myself.
To uncover something I didn't know.
To sift through the parts in order to get to the whole.
The whole that matters.

Writing does that for me.

And, just as quickly, a perceived barrier to making my writing public can shut me down.

If I can't write publicly about a controversial topic without feeling vulnerable, then I feel lost.

Untethered.

Groundless.

Without a backbone.

Trapped.

I want to write without worrying that I will offend someone. But the fact of the matter is that every piece of good, honest writing will always offend someone. If that someone is a co-worker, friend or family, then I have to censor myself. Either I have to dance around the topic or simply write for myself, rather than for a larger community. Of course, while there's nothing wrong with that, this is the kind of writing that begs for an audience outside of myself.

Sigh.

So, the last few days have been difficult. 

I have been working with my students on declaring strengths, and setting goals and plans for reaching those goals in academic and social areas. 

And, it has been hard! 

We haven't done any reading or writing outside of what was needed for setting goals. 

Tomorrow my students will confer with their parents about their goals. 
I look forward to seeing how my students frame their goals and how they respond to their parents' questions. 

I look forward to stepping back and thinking about this process. About how to make it more authentic. How to guide my students to set goals that are truly theirs. Goals over which they feel ownership. In order to do this, I will be asking my students for their perspectives. 

After the feelings of frustration and helplessness wear away, I will reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly in order to hopefully create something better and more meaningful.

I can already feel the waves of frustration and anger slipping away. I feel the calm settling in. 
I am ready to witness my students' brilliance shining through.

Writing does that for me.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Teacher I Want to Be

The

I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal. 

I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don't like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I'm looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for. 

Teacher

An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was asking her how she decides if a book is just right for her. She started telling me that one of her strategies is the five finger  rule. Before she could finish explaining, I interrupted her. (Mistake #1) Instead of listening and probing with more open ended questions, I told her not to use the 5-finger rule anymore because it doesn't often work. I continued by asking her what else she does to determine if a book is just right for her. She proceeded to do a perfect retelling of what I had just told her about the 5-finger rule. When I asked her if that's what she really does or if she was telling me what I wanted to hear (not in those words exactly), she nodded sheepishly. 

One lesson that I am learning over and over again during this first month of school is that I need to listen more and talk less. I need to simpler questions that force students to dig deep within themselves for their truth. I need to ask questions that help the learner think for herself. I need to ask questions that support students in doing more of the work. I need to ask questions that honor the learner and what she brings to the table. I need to really see the strengths rather than the deficits. Because in the big scheme of things, focusing on a student's deficits says more about me than it does about the learner. I need to stay positive as I notice and name what students can do even if it's incomplete or tentative. 

I

I need to continue to listen to what I say to my students. I need to weigh the value of my words. 

Want to Be

Although all of these changes may be awkward at first, I know it will get easier with time until I get closer to the teacher I want to be. 

The Teacher I Want to Be

I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal. 

I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don't like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I'm looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for. 

An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was asking her how she decides if a book is just right for her. She started telling me that one of her strategies is the five finger  rule. Before she could finish explaining, I interrupted her. (Mistake #1) Instead of listening and probing with more open ended questions, I told her not to use the 5-finger rule anymore because it doesn't often work. I continued by asking her what else she does to determine if a book is just right for her. She proceeded to do a perfect retelling of what I had just told her about the 5-finger rule. When I asked her if that's what she really does or if she was telling me what I wanted to hear (not in those words exactly), she nodded sheepishly. 

One lesson that I am learning over and over again during this first month of school is that I need to listen more and talk less. I need to simpler questions that force students to dig deep within themselves for their truth. I need to ask questions that help the learner think for herself. I need to ask questions that support students in doing more of the work. I need to ask questions that honor the learner and what she brings to the table. I need to really see the strengths rather than the deficits. Because in the big scheme of things, focusing on a student's deficits says more about me than it does about the learner. I need to stay positive as I notice and name what students can do even if it's incomplete or tentative. 

I need to continue to listen to what I say to my students. I need to weigh the value of my words. 

Although all of these changes may be awkward at first, I know it will get easier with time until I get closer to the teacher I want to be. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

#EdCollab and #TWOTC twitter chats

I participated in back-to-back Twitter chats tonight. Two hours of fast-paced, free professional learning, coaching and collaboration. Ideas, encouragement and pure inspiration that I will take back to my classroom tomorrow.

#EdCollab and #TWOTC

Back-to-back learning opportunities.
My choice.
My needs.
Nerdy teacher heaven.

Here are nine takeaways from these two chats:

  • When I am working with a student, I must always make sure to teach at the point of a child's strengths and zone of proximal development.
  • As I grow and change my beliefs and practice, I will benefit from creating a "cheat sheet" with questions to ask students when I confer with them. Questions that remind me to talk less so that students do most of the work.
    • I need to ask questions like - 
      • What did you try? 
      • What will you try? 
      • What have you tried before? How did that go?
      • What can you try now? 
      • Tell me about what you did here.
      • What makes you say that?
      • If you knew the answer, what would you say?
  • I will stay focused on my students' strengths and not on their weaknesses. I will celebrate my students for who they and not for who we want them to be.
  • In order to grow as a teacher, I need collaborators. Other teachers who want to dig deep, talk, probe and innovate with me. I need other risk takers who are also there for the students.
  • I need to listen more and talk less. Those doing the talking are doing the learning.
  • Starting tomorrow, I plan to ask my students: "What are you proud of?" @SteveWyborney The focus is on celebrating small and big successes that students recognize about themselves.
  • It's important for students to understand how we learn so they can take charge of their learning.
  • Learning is not about magic or innate ability. It's about having a positive disposition and engaging in hard fun in an environment where the learner is not penalized for his or her learning. @GosnellMac
I truly love Twitter chats. I always learn something new about myself. I am always inspired by other educators, and the generosity of teachers to coach each other into better versions of ourselves.