Tag Archives: Education

All Means All

I was fresh off my extended maternity leave, eight years at home with my kids, and I landed a job at my former stomping ground. The caveat–while I could teach with my former team for just 80% of the day, still being able to take my son to a late start first grade, I would be sharing classrooms. Yes, plural. Four classes, four rooms. I was an itinerant teacher. Homeless. I commandeered a library cart filled it with my classroom supplies and pushed it throughout the day. I even purchased a BBQ cover for the days it rained, to keep my books and papers dry. 

Moving to four different classrooms meant teaching in four different teachers’ spaces. Each handled the invasion differently. One sat at her desk and simply ignored me and my class. Another would observe and offer advice to me as she felt necessary. One left me completely alone, disappearing daily even before I got to her room. The last, though, would work at her desk, while paying attention to the students. When she noticed a need, she would stop what she was doing and tend to the child, answering questions and giving feedback. At first I was completely annoyed by this. It threatened my pride. I had never been in any type of co-teaching model. I was supposed to handle MY OWN students. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about this teacher and what she taught me. One day, after a particularly difficult class period, where she stepped in and lent a hand, teary eyed from the exhaustion of trying to make a lesson work while managing challenging behaviors, I emphatically thanked her. She simply responded, “All the kids at this school belong to all of us.” 

These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “All means all.” I know it applies to so much in the social media world: equality for all people despite orientation or identity, all are welcome, all should be included. In education, all means all can refer to the understanding that our programs and our day to day practices include every student. We must not just educate the ones that fit the traditional student mold, but children with special needs, English learners and more. All. 

As a new administrator, this is more evident to me than ever before. Every single student on my campus is entitled to equal access to curriculum and services. But as an assistant principal, who mostly deals with behavior, I am also learning the same lesson again from the teachers on my campus. Just the other day, I had a student who needed extra attention, just as the final bell rang. As I am sitting with the student, our woodshop teacher walks in, asking if he can help. He had heard on the radio that there was an issue. Without thought, he came to lend a hand. 

I am so grateful now, as I was back in my homeless teacher days, for educators who understand that schools are a community of all types of learners. I am also thankful for educators who know we are all in this together. Every student belongs to all of us. All means all. 

Pencil on notebook

The Write Reminders

As many know, three years ago I spent a large chunk of my summer commuting to UC Davis, dodging bikes and squirrels and writing. There was lots of writing. I was lucky enough to be trained as a Teacher Consultant for the Area 3 Writing Project. Not only did I write, I also learned very valuable lessons on the pedagogy of writing, getting our students to write well, but also why it was vital that I write, too.

Last week I had a refresher. I took part in the Advanced Institute, where in just three days my head was full with incredible ideas of how to bring writing, REAL writing to our students. Authentic.(Mentor texts, people!) I was reminded of Donald Graves and his understanding of the process of writing, and how we butcher that process in school. Graves understood that writers need to write almost every single day–not just for the essay at the end of the grading period. Writing is not merely just the end. Writing is thinking, formulating thoughts and getting them out on paper or a screen. It is not always polished, and it is definitely not always good. Reading a passage from Graves, again, his work hit me as hard as the first time I read them: “If students are not engaged in writing at least four days out of five, and for a period of thirty-five to forty minutes, beginning in first grade, they will have little opportunity to learn and think through the medium of writing” (A Fresh Look at Writing, 1994). Graves goes as far to say that if you can’t commit to the time, don’t even bother teaching writing. Whew! That’s a tall order for a middle school teacher who only has her students for 45 minutes each day. So how do you fit it in? 

One of the best parts of my three days was getting to sit and discuss that exact question with a group of like-minded and like-frustrated middle school teachers. We discussed many viable solutions–starting the period with writing every day no matter what (which is what I have done the past three years), creating a system of centers to try and differentiate needs and meet with students. Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle tackle this same issue in their awesome book 180 Days (READ IT!). What resonated with me wasn’t just the solution in the English classroom, it was the suggestion of a systematic approach. Writing should be done across all content areas. The 35 minutes a day should not be just in the English classroom. In that case, how do we get our science, social studies and even math teachers to embrace writing? 

I think the answer is low stakes writing. Low stakes means the writing can be on the spot, not even graded, but a way for students to explore ideas, as well as for teachers to check in on their students’ understanding. It can be shared with peers or simply live in a journal. It’s low stress for students and creates fluency in writing. Non English teachers often think that they are not qualified or do not have the time to “teach” writing, but every subject requires writing. What is missing is the constant practice of writing in those classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a science or social studies teacher complain about student writing. But would we expect an athlete to win a game without hours of practice? Plus, writing is thinking, right? Then let’s get students thinking and writing in all subject areas. Every. Day.

As I move into administration this coming school year, I am hoping the reminders of the importance of writing across the curriculum will stay with me. I know the lessons I have learned from the Writing Project will never leave me. Because of that, I will end this post with my favorite proverb from our writing retreats: If you are reading everything (or grading everything) your students are writing, then your students are not writing enough. I am now amending this to include all content areas.

Students in front of White House

A Letter to my Successor

Now that I am officially recovered from my final trip as a tour leader for the 8th grade East Coast trip (Washington DC, New York and Boston), I wanted to write a letter to my colleague who has chosen to take on this adventure. Cheers to Lauren who will be making lasting memories for many years to come!

Dear Lauren,

I am so elated you chose to take over the rewarding job of heading the East Coast trip for the 8th graders. I wanted to leave you with a few bits of advice from my years of experience.

  • Logistics: All of the logistics are taken care of by the company with whom you are travelling. Ask questions, make suggestions, but don’t worry. The representatives will do their job. This is a business, and you are the customer. They will do what it takes to make sure every moment is planned out well, laws are followed and every student eats well. (The last alone can be a feat, considering 8th grade boys’ appetites). Believe me, the company wants you, the tour leader, to be happy.
  • Roommates: Besides fielding emails from parents, your biggest job before the end of the school year is making sure students are placed in roommate groups. This can be a bit tricky. It is best that students choose, but you might need to do some adjustments. Often you will have one who has no idea with whom to room. I often do a lunchtime meeting to try and sort it out.
  • Pre-Departure Parent Contact: A couple of days before departure day, email all the parents. This gives parents a sense of security and ease, after all they are sending their precious child across the continent with you. Plus it gives you the opportunity to share a few things. I will often have students join a Remind class or simply just give everyone my cell phone number. I also take the opportunity to let them know that I will be collecting about $10-$15 per student (not mandatory) as an extra tip for the driver and tour guide on the trip. I collect this the first night (while the students still have money). The extra money is a nice gesture that the ones leading the trip appreciate. I pick up a card on tour and have students sign towards the end of the trip.
  • Night Before: Before you go to bed to get just a few hours of sleep, get all the name tags ready. I don’t put last names on the tags, but do write them large enough to see from across the street. This will be a great way to “check in” students at the airport, but it is also vital for the adults on the trip who do not know all of the students’ names.
  • Airport Necessity: Bring a pair of cheap scissors to the airport with you. The wristbands always have that extra bit that will be incredibly annoying after a few days. Cut it off right away. I usually have time to stick the scissors in my suitcase before I check my bag. If not, I can just toss them.
  • Relax: My advice for you during the trip is really the most vital for the students’ and your sake. It can be narrowed down to one sentiment: relax. The students are fine. Sure there are moments of students not getting along, a few that are not at the meeting spot on time, and someone inevitably throws up, but for the most part, the kids are fine.
  • Don’t Worry: The students are given a lot of freedom, that may seem stressful for a new leader. They are told in the middle of a busy Times Square in New York City that they may venture off with a group (no chaperone) and simply return in an hour. It’s okay. They can do it. Don’t worry.
  • Accounting: Before you move on to a new destination, you will need to make sure all the students have returned. I have found the best way is to have each of them stand in roommate groups. Chaperones can be in charge of certain rooms. This is quick and efficient. Do not spend your time constantly counting bodies. This delays tour time and is often very unnecessary. These kids are 13-14 years old and heading to high school. They do not want to be left behind in a large city. They might forget the time, or think they have enough of it to run back to buy a magnet, but students do not want to lose you.
  • Just Keep them Safe: Taking a large group definitely has its challenges, but just remember, it’s the students’ vacation. Your job is not to discipline them for every little thing they might do in a classroom. They are going to be goofy. They are going to talk too much. They are going to knock off each other’s hats and step on each other’s toes. They WILL be loud. Just remind them to be respectful and above all, be sure to keep them safe. That is your real job.
  • Pools Save Lives: Oh and one more thing– if there’s a pool at any of the hotels, give the students at least 20 minutes to act like fools in the pool. This accomplishes two things: they get out some energy, and they get a “pool bath.” It’s almost as good as a shower.

Enjoy every moment! It’s exhausting, rewarding and worth every grey hair sprouting from your scalp.

Best wishes,

Kristina

5 “Dangerous” Things Teachers Should Do

Every kid should have the opportunity to use power tools, drive a car, climb trees, burn things with a magnifying glass and even play with fire, according to Gever Tulley. Of course, he doesn’t mean my children, right? As a parent, I find myself cringing and visibly shaking at the thought of my kids getting hurt. The first time each of them learned to ride a bike, I could be seen running along side them, lecturing instructions. As a teacher, I know this is ridiculous. I know taking risks is exactly what kids need. So why are teachers still in this overprotective mindset, not allowing their students to try two wheels on their own? Breaking away from this attitude is exactly what educators should be doing. It’s time for the training wheels to come off.

In his book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) and in his 2007 TED Talk, Tulley emphasizes ways parents can encourage their children to be more independent and foster critical thinking. He believes by allowing kids to do things we might consider dangerous, it gives them the opportunity to recognize and mitigate risk. If you allow your kid to drive, (on your lap he advises), your child will understand better the seriousness of navigating traffic, as well as the concentration a driver must have to maneuver a 4,000 pound machine. Wouldn’t kids be more likely to pipe down in the back seat in stressful traffic conditions? He argues that with these real life experiences, children will better understand safety and the world around them. Moving this idea to the classroom, we also want our students to be independent and critical thinkers who can make real world decisions. Perhaps pushing them to take risks is just the way to do it.

I began teaching in 1995 at a middle school in Southern California. Being wet behind the ears, I was eager to implement any new strategy that was thrown at me. I said yes to every workshop and even tried some pretty horrible programs in those inaugural years. Soon, I was working with a highly motivated team and running a project based language arts and social studies classroom. Then the new standards came out (now the old California Content Standards) along with No Child Left Behind. Things were about to shift.  My life changed, too. Becoming a mom, I decided to take some time off and focus on that role. It was really perfect timing.

Eight years later I returned to a classroom where my students were expected to read passages and simply answer multiple choice questions. I was baffled. Where was the writing? Where was the critical thinking and problem solving? Well, if you wait long enough, education policy always shifts. Enter the Common Core Standards. The problem is that the rigor required to implement these new standards hasn’t been present in so many classrooms for years. It’s time to remember how to ride that old bike. Let’s dust off that old banana seat, shine those spokes and show our students how to pedal down the path of learning. It’s time to be a little “dangerous.” Here’s a few things we can let students do:

Steer: We live in a new age. Yes, I mean the digital age. Information is at students’ fingertips. They can find the answer to just about any question in a matter of moments, assuming the wifi connection is cooperating. Then why are we giving our students the answers? I was once in a workshop conducted by a dear friend who asked the question: “Why are you standing at the front of the class giving students information, when they can look it up themselves?” This blew my mind. Game changer. Mind shift. Time to rethink my classroom. Instead of lecturing, I should be posing questions and having students try and find their own answers.

Remember Project Based Learning? That was good stuff. A huge part of that requires inquiry. It is organized around an open-ended driving question.  How does climate affect the way we eat? How could the Civil War been avoided? A great idea is to show a video of an experiment/concept. Before the end, stop the video. Instead of just giving the answer, ask students to predict what would happen and why. You’ll be amazed at the outcome. I rarely answer questions in my classroom anymore. I just ask them. I’m learning to let go of the handlebars.

Choose the Path: I am a HUGE proponent for choice in the classroom. Heck, I’m a huge proponent of choice in life. I want to pick my car, my movies and even my ice cream flavor. Why should students be any different? In fact, studies show that it’s not just choice but the perception of choice that makes humans buy in. Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows this. When I want my husband to do something, I hint at it until he thinks it’s his idea. Since it’s his choice, he’s happy to do it! Choice is an extrinsic motivator that, in turn, can create intrinsic motivation.  In the classroom this means that if a student believes he has a say in his own learning, he will be far more motivated.

I have seen this first-hand by implementing Genius Hour in my classroom, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the individual’s choosing.  Ask any of my 8th graders and they’ll tell you, it was the project on which they worked the hardest, and the one they loved the most. Stop telling your students what you want them to learn. Let them tell you what they want to learn. And it’s okay to trick them, like a good wife. Students will be motivated to choose their own path to pedal.

Fall and Get Back Up: John Dewey, that pedagogical rock star, once wrote, “All learning begins when our comfortables ideas turn out to be inadequate.” We learn when our status quo is no longer working. We have to change something. Try something new. This often means failure allowing for mistakes. (Failure implies we are setting students up not to succeed, when it is exactly the opposite). As teachers, we need to give our students opportunities to make mistakes, but in a safe environment. Creating a culture of safe risk taking should be a priority of instruction. Students should feel comfortable sharing ideas and work with the entire class. And if something is done incorrectly, that is simply a growing moment.

Creating an inquiry based environment allows students to find their own answers. Often, they find incorrect ones. This is just as valuable as getting the answer right the first time. One of my students once did a “How to” demonstration on cookies.  She had researched and practiced many different ways to bake cookies, finding what she deemed the “perfect” one through her experiments. She messed up her presentation terribly, but was able to tell us why. (She even explained the science of her mistake). Being able to communicate to the class her mistake made it still a success! Human beings learn best when they fall short. As teachers, we need to foster this, pushing our students to take risks, but still scaffolding in layers of support. They fall off the bike sometimes, but we can help them back up.

Ride with Others: Students now have access to infinite possibilities outside of the four walls of the classroom. Why not let them? We know that collaboration only makes our students better, and through technology we can introduce them to a world where they can learn and share with real, authentic audiences, beyond just the teacher. Students also have easy ways to share what they’ve learned with each other in the classroom in effective and efficient ways. Allow students to find their own answers and showcase their expertise and educate their peers. Let them teach each other.

Through Google Hangouts and Skype, it is now possible to connect with experts all over the world. Why not arrange a video call with an author? My favorite way to connect is through blogging. Getting students’ words out on the internet gives their writing an authentic audience. My students have connected with other 8th graders in two different states simply through their writing. In the classroom, students can share their own ideas through sites such as Padlet, a virtual bulletin board. Here members of the class can research their own topics, find critical thinking solutions, make videos, then share with the entire class. Give your students an audience in and out of the classroom. Let them pedal together.

Ride for a Reason: Teachers have always prided themselves on student projects. We’ve had our students build missions, make book floats and even make animal reports in Google Slides. But this isn’t real creating. These are not authentic. Who is the audience? What is the purpose? Simply to have something up at Open House for parents is not a real audience. Checking a box that you used technology is not a real purpose.  

Instead, imagine your students creating real world projects. Maybe the local park needs to be cleaned up. Students could design a commercial asking for volunteers. Perhaps the cafeteria needs a menu reboot. Students could conduct surveys and prepare a report for the administration. Maybe a student feels his parents are being unfair. He can create a convincing proposal to change their minds. The possibilities are endless. The key is, get students to buy in with choice, keep it open-ended, and allow students to create something that has an authentic purpose and audience. Simple, right? Students need teachers to provide the hills to ride, so they can pedal to the top.

The point of all this is that it’s time to be a rebel. Get dangerous. Break some rules. It’s time to step out of the front of the classroom and teach from your students’ side. Our role as educators is to guide, motivate and support our students to be better thinkers and better producers. They can do it. They want to ride. Give them a push and get out of their way.

 

More than Monuments: What 8th Graders Learn on the East Coast Trip

Parents are always super nervous dropping their 14-year-old off at the airport and sending him flying across the country. Of course, I will be nervous, too, when I send my own children, but I wanted to take a moment to commend those parents who do. They spend six days watching their phones for text messages and worrying if their kid is getting enough to eat, sleeping well, getting along with roommates, and I’m sure far worse scenarios. To those parents, know you’ve given them far more in those six days than you could ever imagine.

What 8th Graders Learn

1. How to get up on time. If (and when) he sleeps through his alarm, the entire group will be waiting on him. He will hear about it all day.

2. How to be on time. Like when he slept through his alarm, when he doesn’t arrive back at the bus at precisely 3:45, he will hear about it from his peers. Repeatedly.

3. How to Read Street Signs. When she is told to be at 42nd and Broadway and she is at 50th and 7th, her group needs to figure out how to get back.

4. How to live in tight spaces with other people. She needs to figure out how to share a bathroom and two beds with three other girls. Not taking 45 minutes in the bathroom is often a viable solution.

5. Why his parents tell him to get some sleep. He learns that only getting a couple of hours of sleep can be painful the next day. Of course, he might still do it the next night, however, he understands why.

6. Why his parents tell him to eat right. Binging on junk food always seems like a good idea at this age. Inevitably, one of those kids throws up.

7. Good shoes trump fashion. Those cute sandals she brought on the trip that match her new shirt are thrown to the bottom of her suitcase after the blisters of the first day.

8. Sometimes you can’t be goofy, even with your friends. TSA and the Capitol police have little room for horse-play or 8th-grade humor.

9. How to ask for help. Whether from a teacher, a tour guide or even a security guard, sometimes it’s necessary to ask when something is needed. He has to take care of his own needs.

10. How to pay attention. Well, at least the ramifications of not paying attention. When he didn’t hear what time to be back at the bus, he will be late. Again, he will hear about it. Repeatedly.

The best part about these lessons is that they come with a safety net. That kid might be the last one on the bus, but there are many adults making sure he gets on the bus. As a chaperone, my job is to not only to give the kids an educational experience, but also grant them that little bit of freedom. It’s the freedom that teaches them the most. A dear friend of mine commented to me once that after this trip, her daughter came back different. Older. More mature. That’s the bonus of this trip. So, to the parents that choose to send their kid, I tip my glass. You’ve given them far more than a trip of a lifetime. 🙂

I interviewed the kids at the airport. Someday I will learn to turn my phone to landscape when recording.

Navigating the Waves of the Backchannel

I’m a huge fan of the Socratic Seminar, but the drawback is always getting kids involved who don’t like to speak in a large group setting. I’ve tried many different configurations with moderate results. One of my PLN colleagues, Travis Phelps wrote about using Chromebooks to create a backchannel during the discussion. (Read his blog here.)

Like Travis, I used TodaysMeet to create my chat room, projecting it on the board, so all could see. I organized my room: chairs in the inner circle, desks with Chromebooks on the outer. As students came in, I let them choose their spot, but gave them a heads up that we would be switching halfway through the period.

What I learned

  • Assign seats, at least inner or outer circle. Letting students choose which circle they participated in first wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The discussions were sometimes unbalanced. Too many strong personalities in one group, not enough in the other.
  • Give guidelines on the nickname students choose for the chat. I basically told them I couldn’t grade them, (I grade for participating with useful evidence or insight), if I didn’t know who they were. “Farting Burrito” had to fess up to his handle.
  • Talk to them about spamming and set rules. I teach 8th graders. Writing “poop,” 14 times always seems like a good idea. I let them be silly when they first logged in, just to try it out. However, once the discussion started, the chat needed to be on task. The stream moves so quickly, if someone is typing, “Johnny is Bae,” or even, “LOL,” the other stuff is lost. Just talking about it made all the difference.
  • Change the chat room for each period. This is something I did not anticipate. I had students on Chromebooks in other classes, spamming our conversation. It was done in good fun, but became rather annoying.

The Good, the Bad, and the Silly

I asked the kids at the end of each period what they thought of this different Socratic technique. Most really liked it. They liked that the inner circle was smaller, so it was easier to talk. They also mentioned that they could check the chat on the board if they were stuck for something to say. Mostly they liked that in the outer circle, they could look stuff up on the internet to add to the conversation. The biggest drawback was that the board was sometimes distracting. In some classes, the inner circle would stop talking and take to just reading the board. Plus, there was always that one kid who had to try to make everyone laugh.  But I guess, that’s just what makes it an 8th grade classroom.

I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Hoping Farting Burrito is too.

The Mosh Pit in Petaluma

If you’ve ever been to a punk rock show, you know the front is reserved for the few passionate individuals who are so into the music they feel the need to share it with others: hard and with full force, slamming into you, pummeling you into the next person. Sometimes it leaves you with bruises, but mostly it’s the craziest thing you’ll ever experience. You leave the show giggling, exhausted and yearning for more. This is how I feel about CUE Rockstar Teacher Camps (minus the bruises). I walked away from Petaluma this weekend so inspired, so enthusiastic, and counting the days until the next one: (141 days until CUE Rockstar Tahoe).

Why every educator should go to a CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp:

1. Start Time: The morning starts at 9:30. That alone should make you happy, not to be up at the crack of dawn on your days off. This also allows for a few “late night” sessions the night before. For some reason Rockstars are always held in close proximity to places to get delicious libations. Crazy.

2. The Format: There are only two sessions a day and normally the same sessions are taught in the morning and afternoon. This eases FOMO (fear of missing out), although I still suffered this weekend. I need Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. The sessions are also two hours long which allows you time to learn, play and actually figure out how to implement when you return to real life.

3. Lunch: Although the food is usually amazing, this is not the reason to give up your free time, beg for the money, (or shell out the fee yourself), and attend. Lunch is two hours, which seems long, but it is a magical experience. There is usually a session on something relevant in the cafeteria as you’re eating, (like using Twitter to grow as an educator and tell your story), but mostly you talk. A lot. To other educators. I learn so much just being in the room with fellow teachers and administrators who are fervent about student learning. So often we forget how powerful that can be.

4. The Faculty:  Although they will claim they are no experts, don’t let them fool you. They are incredible educators and presenters. Their passion for teaching students, as well as sharing their knowledge with others makes them the most inspiring individuals you’ll meet. They are all volunteers that give up their time and WANT to be there. They believe in sharing tools and innovation to create student achievement. They are pure punk rock. Just being in the room with them, makes me want to be more. That’s how I want to spend a weekend.

5. The Attitude: This is the punk rock mosh pit. The philosophy of Rockstar is that learning is messy. It is sweaty, and it isn’t choreographed.* Things might go wrong. They probably will. But you take the ideas, the tools, the inspiration back to your site the next week and you try. You ignore the bruises because in the end, teaching doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be passionate. And that will reach kids. That’s punk rock. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

I’m putting on my steel-toed Doc Martens and entering the pit. You with me?

*Fun Fact: We tried “choreographed” by following a Youtube video at lunch and dancing to “Uptown Funk”. It was truly more passionate than perfection.