Saturday, September 17, 2011


   I recently read two pieces concerning educators, parents, and school systems.  Both pieces disturbed me for a variety of reasons.  Both, Ron Clark's piece "What teacher really want to tell parents" and a guest post on The Innovative Educator blog "What Parent Really Want to Tell Teachers:  What You Do Hurts Our Children", deliver harsh, stinging words that contain moderates amount of reflection and a great deal of attacking sentiment.  While I agree with a minority of the sentiments in both pieces, I am disturbed that these posts represent what many people dislike, even hate, about the Internet:  attack bombs thrown at a group of people.  The best that the offended party can do is to comment on the article or blog in response.  I plan to blog.
     Ron Clark highlights the often frequent tension between parents and teachers.  At times, this may be inevitable when two people have different points of view, but I believe that it is necessary that teachers and parents make an effort to know each other and their viewpoints.  Not only is this in the best interest of the child and student, but hopefully this behavior would be considered vital in any relationship in a civil society.  I realize listening and responding without rancor seems to be in short supply currently in our society, but that's a topic for a different post.
    Laurie Couture's guest post on the Innovative Educator blog directly responds to Ron Clark's piece.  While there are details that I agree with, concerning lack of recess and rigid classrooms, this post comes off, to me, as a frustrated rant.  I have many of the same concerns about this post as I have for Ron Clark's piece.  In a time when educators and teachers need to work together more than ever for each child's betterment, attack messages such as these do little to advance much needed reform of the United States educational system. 
     Josh Stumpenhorst has an excellent post on these two articles as well.  I can only hope that educators and parents can work together, not attack each other, for their students' and children's best interests.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stop Talking

     The first day of the next chapter in my journey to becoming a changed teacher was a definite revelation for me.  My learning can be stated in two words: STOP TALKING.  I'm referring to my own internal monologue during our first half-day of school together.
     Instead of me droning on and laying out all the rules, I asked my students a series of questions.  What I noticed even in this process is that I can't seem to shut up.  I always felt the need to comment or parrot back what the student had already stated as another student recorded the answer.  I knew that this change process would be difficult, but I am quickly realizing that I have challenged myself in a significant way.
     As I listened to the students respond with possibilities about how our class could be organized, I hoped that they would give me some honest responses.  I believe that the students were honest, though most certainly they are used to the "teacher-in-control" that is so common and that I had previously practiced for the past dozen year. Today's interaction was a tiny, but small step in creating an "nontraditional" classroom. 
      I'll return eagerly tomorrow for another day.  I'm definitely aware that this year will be a challenge for me and the habits that I want to change.  This should be an interesting year in our classroom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 28 - Creating a Classroom that Values Each Individual

Q:  How do I create a classroom that values and includes each and every individual student?
A:  This area has been one of my greatest weaknesses over the years of my teaching career.  I often made an effort to not single out any students for negative attention.  But with my previous efforts in the classroom being focused on me doing the vast majority of guiding, planning, and "controlling" all the learning, instruction, and interaction that happened in my classroom, I struggled to truly value each individual student like they should be.  I'm looking forward with anticipation and some fright to this upcoming year.  While I am leaving behind many of my previous methods of "running" my classroom, I am looking forward to working WITH my students, not DOING things to them. (I'm borrowing an Alfie Kohn phrase there.)  My anticipation for this year focuses on my desire to discover each student's strengths, areas for growth, and ways that we can together learn from each other and improve together throughout this year.  Will everything flow smoothly with no problems?  Highly unlikely...  But I'm sure that giving each student a voice in how they learn and how they treat each other will be more productive than my previously controlling efforts.  So stay tuned to updates on how this new school year proceeds.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 27 - Accomplish Before I'm Done Teaching

Q:  What is one thing I would like to accomplish before I'm done teaching?
A:  I don't think that I can narrow my thoughts done to one particular thing, so I'll go with a mindset change.  If I can change my formerly teacher-centric style to one in which I consider the students and their viewpoint in each decision that I make, I would consider that my greatest accomplishment.  This drastic personal change will not be a single accomplishment, but much more of a process type of change.  Considering a change like this might be out of the ordinary but I have been doing a great deal of reflection throughout this summer.  I have thought about how I have typically taught my students and whether I would want to be a student in my classroom.  I have also been reflecting on whether I would want my principal to regard me in the same fashion that I have often regarded my students.  The answer to both questions has been a resounding NO.  So, due to these considerations, I have embarked and will be continuing on a long journey to alter how I go about guiding my students' learning.  From an increase in my use of technology to offering students the option to direct our learning, I am trying to rewire my thinking of how I go about each aspect of my teaching.

Day 26 - Most Important Professional Development Tools

Q:  What do I think are my most important professional development tools?
A:  This question is probably the easiest for me in this whole challenge.  The answer: Twitter.  This probably won't seem like a strange answer to anyone who uses Twitter a regular basis.  The change in my thinking and the books that I read this earlier this summer can all be attributed to the connections that I made on Twitter.  In connecting with numerous educators from around the world, I have learned and will be applying several concepts in my classroom that I had no previous contact with before this March when I joined Twitter.  I have made contact with many educators willing to help and encourage me.  I have to give special thanks to one in particular.  Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) has exhibited a tremendous willingness to communicate and share not only her experiences, but informational letters that I will be using to communicate with my students' families this year.  She is just one example of how Twitter can benefit an educator.  Due to my Twitter connections, I will be attending my first TeachMeet, an informal day-long professional development experience, in a nearby city in October.  I used to ignore Twitter, mostly because I didn't understand its usefulness.  So, if anyone reading this doesn't take part in Twitter at all or only rarely, I would encourage you to consider taking part in this social media environment. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 25 - Taught in School?

Q:  How was I taught in school?
A:  I was taught in the traditional, teacher-centric model.  Teacher imparts knowledge, students practice, and then students demonstrate "learning".  This was pretty much how I was taught throughout the 80's and early 90's.  I can't remember a single instructor who departed from this form of education.  With this description I don't mean to imply that my teachers didn't care about me or my learning.  On the contrary, I remember several with affection and true joy for their desire to help me and others become the best students and individuals possible.  Each of these instructors may have had no knowledge of different approaches to encourage student learning, just as I hadn't during my first 12 years of teaching.  My lack of knowledge regarding different methods of instructing has been wiped away through my interactions with other educators on Twitter.  So as I began my thirteenth year as an educator next week, I will encouraging my students to learn in vastly different ways than I was ever guided.  I believe this is an excellent situation.  For the past several years, I have felt a vague unease with how I have been teaching, but couldn't ever find a personally workable solution.  The new direction our classroom will be taking is the beginning of  a journey that will hopefully lead to greater student learning and satisfaction with their school experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Faculty Retreat

I'm off this morning to an overnight retreat with my teaching colleagues.  These yearly retreats have huge amounts of pros and only one or two cons.  First of all, as a staff, we are rarely altogether in one space at the same point in time.  Due to varying schedules and family demands, there are some colleagues that I rarely get the chance to talk with.  Another positive is that all the beginning of the year plans and preparations are dealt with in a concentrated amount of time.  The biggest personal advantage for me is that I get to spend time with my fellow educators just to have fun.  In the one evening we are away from home, we have the opportunity to talk, laugh, play games, in short, just relax with each other.  A rare chance indeed.  Sure, there is the downside of my wife and I having to find someone (usually her parents) to come and stay with our sons while I am away and my wife is working.  I don't like being gone overnight from my family.  I personally wouldn't do well in a job that required me to travel a lot.  But the overall benefit to me, especially as an educator and member of our teaching staff, is tremendously positive.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 24 - Easiest Part of Teaching

Q:  What is the easiest part of teaching for me?
A:  For me, the easiest part is coming to school each day.  I've had conversations with other family members and friends who don't really like their jobs.  That thought really has never come into my mind.  Certainly, there are moments in my job as a teacher that I haven't enjoyed.  The difficult conversation with a parent about their child's progress in learning.  Speaking with a student who is hurting another classmate.  Those moments are not some of my fondest, and yet even in those difficult moments I wouldn't want to give up my role as a guider and facilitator of learning for my students.  In some of those stressful moments, I have seen growth, in myself or other people, take place.  So each day I come to school, not with the sense that I MUST come because I have a job to do, but because I KNOW that I can learn from the students even when I am challenged by them or their parents.  Upon reflection, I have learned my most valuable lessons from difficult moments when I haven't met the needs of my students or parents.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 23 - Excited About?

Q:  What aspects of education am I excited about?
A:  The biggest area of education that I am excited about revolves around giving my students choices in their learning.  Whether these choices come in the form of deciding what novels we will study or how each student will demonstrate their learning, I shiver with enthusiasm as I picture this year.  I know that there will be challenges for the students and me as we chart a new course on how to go about learning.  There are so many aspects of my new plans for teaching that I am still considering, but evaluating how I have taught in the past and what methods haven't seemed to work has been a valuable tool in my preparation for this upcoming school year.
      These preparations have provided a huge challenge to me.  In my past summers, I might tweak a few ideas here or there, but I never made any significant changes.  This year I have embarked on a complete overhaul of how I go about encouraging my students to learn.  I'll have to admit that committing to changing my teaching framework from the "traditional" teacher-on-stage mode to a facilitator of student choice in their learning made me confront some of my long-held practices and beliefs about learning.  A lurking uncertainty and discomfort often existed in my thinking about whether my teaching methods were sufficient.  I frequently found myself blaming others for difficulties within our classroom, but doing so often seemed like I was making excuses.  The one question I have been asking myself throughout this summer is:  Would I like to have a certain method or action used on me as a teacher?  If the answer is no (which has occurred the majority of the time in my pondering), then I feel compelled to design a different manner for encouraging the learning to go forward.  While these considerations have created a great deal of work for me this summer that will surely continue throughout the year, I have been convinced by other people's experience through my reading books and blogs that this type of meaningful change will lead to greater learning for the students and myself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meeting My New Students and Families

     At my school, I am required to meet individually with each student and their family.  Sometimes we meet at school and sometimes in their home.  I anticipate all those meetings with a tiny bit of dread each year.  But as I get on a roll of sharing what fourth grade will be like and how we will be learning together, I become excited about our new journey together. This year in particular, I am excited to share the changes that I am making to my approach to guiding students' learning.  I have been able to share my research into homework and grading policies and the knowledge that I have gained during this summer.  Not surprisingly, most families have responded enthusiastically to reduced homework loads, more narrative information about their student's learning, and increased skill in technological tool use.  As I make each visit I become a little more excited about this upcoming year and the new opportunities that the students and I will have to learn with and from each other.  So as I complete these visits in the next week, I look forward to partnering with parents and their students as we embark on another year of learning.

Day 22 - Unexpected Encounters

Q:  What did I encounter in my teaching career that I did not expect?
A:  I was the most surprised during my first year of teaching and  what still occasionally surprises me is how strongly two people can disagree about what is best in a child's learning.  This aspect of my career probably had to do with my background and personality.  I grew up in a family that for the most part didn't have huge, loud disagreements.  We were by no means perfect, but strong, passionate arguments just weren't in my experience.  As a child and young adult, I also hated conflict and would avoid it as much as possible.
       When I entered my first year of teaching, I encountered some of the strongest and most frequent criticism of my entire 12 years of teaching.  My lack of comfort with conflict as well as communication mistakes contributed to this situation.  I would still attribute most of my serious conflicts with students or parents with a lack of communication.  When I didn't consider and communicate all aspects of a situation or I didn't ask for frequent feedback, these small problems or annoyances gradually grew into large, sometimes irreparable, conflicts within my relationship with a parent or student. 
         Thankfully, I have learned the lesson, a few times the hard way, that dealing with a problem immediately often helps a relationship grow stronger not weaker.  While not all conflicts have a positive resolution, my experience shows that the majority of conflicts are resolved with helpful results when I clearly explain the situation to the involved parties and collaborate on a solution.  This plan is by no means the fastest or seemingly "easiest", but often produces the greatest long-term gains in the relationship.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 21 - Most Enjoyable Moment In Teaching

Q: What is my most enjoyable moment in teaching?

A: I can't say that I have one particular moment. For me the most enjoyable times are when I witness growth in a person. Whether this person is mastering an academic concept or demonstrating increased confidence in a social relationship, I am pleased to see this change in action. Often times, my actual contribution to this change in a student or family is small or negligible. But the fact that I have the opportunity each and every day of a school year to observe the effort, struggle, and growth emerge in another human being is an aspect of being a teacher that I truly treasure. These seemingly small moments in time offer me the ability to watch change occur. I hope that I never lose sight of these changes' importance for each student and their family.

Day 20 - First Year Teaching and Beyond

Q: Describe myself during my first year of teaching and how I have changed.
A: My only response to this query is that I was completely clueless. I often felt unsure of how to proceed within the classroom, especially in the area of "classroom management" (even though I hate that term). My teacher training did basically nothing to prepare me for this aspect of teaching. Let's face it, if my students and I can't come to an agreement on how to proceed through each day of school, then none of us will learn much throughout the year. Over the years, I'm now beginning my 13th year of teaching, I became far too good at the traditional model of teacher in control, students following the teacher's cues. Those days are ending. My first day of school plans are so radically different from the past that it hardly seems like I will be teaching the same grade. While I'm a little nervous about how the students and I will collaborate in this new environment, I haven't been this excited about a new school in quite awhile. I feel fresher and more ready to learn with and from my students and help to direct their learning than in many years. So I will continue to share and reflect on my journey. In my ways, I feel like I am beginning my teaching career all over again. I am more comfortable with children and their parents than my first year of teaching. I also know how I have been teaching in the classroom is not how I want my teaching to continue.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 19 - Described By My Coworkers

Q: How would my coworkers describe me?

A: I would think that my coworkers would describe me as calm and interested in what is best for my students. I try to find ways that I can best help my students, especially where technology use can help their learning. My coworkers would also comment on my desire to integrate technology within the classroom. Rarely does a week go by without one of my colleagues asking for help or guidance on some type of tech issue. I figure that I get asked these questions because I am one of a few on my staff who are consistently using technology, but that I'm also willing to use my knowledge to assist or at least attempt to assist in finding a solution to the difficulty. I'm glad that my coworkers feel comfortable asking me for help. This year I am also planning on being even more available to my coworkers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 18 - Education Frustration

Q: What about education frustrates me the most?

A: I have an easy answer for that: testing. I absolutely cannot think of time that I spend more poorly in an entire school other than the week that where my students take standardized achievement tests. What frustrates me even more than the amount of time involved is how the tests are used. I teach at a private school so these test results are used as a yard stick to compare my school against other private schools in the area. In the past couple of years, I have often wondered whether this is truly a desirable path to go down. I know that test scores provide an "easy" measurement of student knowledge. I'm fearful and frustrated about certain leaders' in education desire to boil all student learning down to a quantifiable number.
As I have reflected over my work in education as an adult, I have come to realize that I am rarely tested or evaluated. Yet, why does the traditional education model continually test and grade student learning. Teachers absolutely need data that students are learning, but why can't this learning be demonstrated with informal types of lessons and assessments. Constant grading of work does little, and often nothing, to encourage student learning. I have come to see how I focus too much on grading not only as a teacher, but as a parent, and I don't focus on what my students and own children are learning.
I have made the decision to focus my evaluation of my students' learning towards mastery not perfection, or 100%. Yes, mastery and other levels of assessment criteria will be part of my thinking, but perfection and ranking will not. I know that these alterations in my thinking will require communication with my students and their families. I am excited and hopeful that the changes that I am making will result in greater student interest in their own learning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 17 - Most Important Thing You Learned In School

Q: What is the most important thing you learned in school?

A: One idea leaps immediately to mind: the value of relationships between a teacher and a student. In most of my school years, I was a decent to good academic, compliant (read: goody-to-shoes...) student. There were teachers that I didn't like though because they seemed to disrespect the students, learning, the school, etc. My favorite teacher of all time though was my middle school social studies teacher who was also my athletic coach for those three years. I went to a small private Christian school at the time. Multiple aspects of his character showed me then, and still today, how important respect for others and integrity are to any relationship. During this time, I also babysat his son occasionally, so I witnessed him in a variety of roles. He was and is a fascinating, passionate person and educator. Due to relatively low wages in private school teaching, he has had to work only part time in the classroom while he pursues his other, more lucrative passion of golf club making. Still, whenever a discussion of the impact of an educator in a person's life, he immediately leaps to my mind. Whenever I return to California for a visit, he is on my short list of people to visit. I was privileged in my first seven years of teaching to work as a colleague with him. Those years were excellent as well because he was still the incredibly funny, dedicated educator and man that I had known as a child. So this is a rather rambling comment on how much I value the lessons of character that this man taught me. My hope is that I can touch even one student in the way that he impacted my life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 16 - Biggest Regret as an Educator

Q: What is your biggest regret as an educator?

A: Unfortunately, I know that answer right away. I have often been unwilling to think outside the box and deal with potential conflicts, even when I know that my current situation isn't what is best for the students or me. My most vivid memory of a situation like this came early in my teaching career. In my first teaching assignment, I was paired with the other fourth grade teacher at my school. We divided up the curriculum and taught both sections of fourth grade each day. We made an effort to be as similar to one another as possible. The main difficulty in this situation is that my personality and temperament were nothing like my teaching partner. She was strict, in a traditional school way, while I was more laid back and easy-going. Often times, I was dissatisfied with the tone of our classroom environment, but I allowed the situation to continue because I was too fearful of dealing with the seemingly inevitable fallout of our conflict. Since those early years of teaching career, I have learned that most of the time my fears about conflict have been overblown. Even if my concerns were accurate, as they were in some cases, dealing with the effects of the conflict was more beneficial in the long run than allowing the status quo to remain in place. As I embark on a new path in my classroom, I'm expecting some bumps along the way, but I am excited to see where my new direction for my classroom takes my students, their learning, and myself.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 15 - Describing Yourself

Q: How would you describe yourself as a person and a teacher?

A: As a person, I would use the word multifaceted. I often choose to remain close to my family and home. Enjoying the simple pleasure of a board game with my sons or the allure of a fantastical plot in a thriller provides me with a sense of contentment. On the other hand, I appreciate the times to go out with friends and enjoy moments to relax and reenergize. Although my passions of teaching and gardening can get the better of me at times.
As a teacher, I would use the word reflective. In the years that I have been a teacher, I have learned the greatest lessons when I stop to think about how my actions affect other people. There have been some plainly uncomfortable reflections over the years. But without these reflections and subsequent changes, I probably wouldn't be teaching any more. I'm in the midst of making some radical changes in my teaching methods and I'm excited but a little nervous about how these alterations will proceed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 14 - Turn To For Advice?

Q: Who do I turn to for teaching advice and why?

A: In the last couple of years, my answer to this has expanded a little. My sources for advice are:

  • Fellow colleagues

I teach with enthusiastic, friendly people. Depending on the type of situation I am involved in, I ask a couple of different people for advice. I teach with people who have been educators longer than I have lived as well as been at my current school for two decades. These individuals give me a sense of long term trends in education and learning. If the subject is technology related, I speak with other individuals who are comfortable in that arena.

  • Twitter colleagues

A year ago, I didn't know what a rich source of advice and information my fellow educators on Twitter could be. I have reached out to a few of them in the past several months that I have been on Twitter and received valuable information and reflection that I couldn't have found at my local school. The willingness of many educators to take part in chats dedicated to a particular educational topic also enhances my learning and provides possible connections with other educators around the world.

  • My wife

My wife is not an educator, but she is my confidante and a parent. These two roles provide me with a perspective that I can easily lose sight of. Her outsider viewpoint assists me in the decisions that I make. I reflect better on my choices as a teacher when we discuss how my day in the classroom has been going. It's easy as educators to have our comments, support, and criticism of education and schools become an echo chamber. I greatly value having access to thoughts from outside the education world.

  • My mom

I know that this might sound hokey, but my mom is also a teacher. We teach vastly different grades (I'm in 4th, she's in kindergarten). But we share a common language of teaching and learning. She's also been a teacher for over twenty years and I value her experience as reaches the end of her career.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 13 - Helpful Advice For Working With Parents

Q: What helpful advice have you heard about working with parents?

A: First of all, I have to state that I rephrased this question to begin with. The original form of the question used the words "dealing with parents". First of all, I'm not trying to assign motives to the person who created this blog challenge by any means. I simply think that "dealing with parents" can have a connotation that creates difficulties between parents and teachers. So a few pieces of advice that have been given to me and that I would give out as a teacher and a parent myself:

  • Communicate

This point may seem like a no brainer, but I've gotten myself into trouble before when I don't make the effort. So whether you're making that initial contact before the school year begins or keeping a parent updated on their child's progress, some form of communication is a must. Multiple forms of communication are also welcome. As a parent and a teacher, I appreciate the ease of electronic communication. But I don't yet live on the computer, so more immediate forms of communication, phone calls, notes, or face-to-face talks, also work quite well for me.

  • Partners

I have had moments where I viewed a parent as an adversary instead of a partner. For me, I have had only a few rare occasions where a parent seemed to not have the child's best interest at heart. Sometimes, I became frustrated when I couldn't work out a problem with a parent. While attempting to resolve the situation in the best possible way, I have to remind myself that each person views the world in different ways. My thoughts or ideas may not be what will work best for a particular student. As parent, I want my child's teacher to respect my role in my child's life and not diminish my point of view. On the other hand, I hope that the teacher will be honest about how my child is learning and interacting with others and won't be tempted to make a situation sound better or worse than it truly is.

When I keep even these two concepts in the forefront of my relationships with the parents of my students, my relationships and opportunities with my students' parents are much more useful and beneficial. These benefits are not only mine, but assist each student as well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 12 - Keeping Up With Grading

Q: What strategies do you use to keep up with grading?

A: The biggest strategy that I learned to deal with assessing and evaluating student work began in my very first year of teaching. My teaching team at my first school work sent home evaluated work on a weekly basis, and I was expected to do the same. In following this basic policy, I ensured that I rarely fell behind in my assessing. I usually try to return an evaluated assignment within a week of the work being handed in. The only area where I struggle with this is with writing assignments. Needing to evaluate multiple, lengthy written assignments is my greatest challenge in assessment. No matter what I method of evaluation I use, writing evaluation feels quite subjective and time consuming. This is my one area where I feel the greatest need to improve upon regarding student assessment.
I will be interested to see how larger changes that I am planning for the upcoming school year will affect my evaluation processes. My assessment strategies will focus more on standards and I will need to spend larger amounts of time with narrative reporting. In the end, I believe this system will be more valuable to the students, their families, and me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 11 - Teaching Like You'll Be Observed

Q: What do you think about the phrase: "Always teach like you are going to be observed"?

A: For me, this phrase cuts both ways across my philosophy about learning and instruction.

  • I think that this phrase can have a positive value. If I am going to be observed, I would most likely heighten my focus on what and how I am guiding my students towards learning with that particular lesson. My focus on student attention and interaction might be more detailed than usual. I would most likely be more involved in all the aspects of how that lesson will be taught and possible pitfalls along the way.

  • On the other hand, this phrase could also carry some negative connotations. If I feel the pressure to teach like I am always under observation, I might decide to not attempt any new or original methods of learning. Depending on my relationship with my administrator, I could easily shy away from guiding my students in methods that deviate from "traditional" instruction.

Overall, I can imagine that depending on the people involved and the culture in which the learning takes place, the above phrase could have vastly different effects on an educator's actions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 10 - The Ideal Administrator

Q: Describe the ideal administrator.

A: I've been blessed to work with two excellent administrators during the past 12 years that I have been teaching. Many of the qualities that I will mention I have seen at work in the schools that I have taught in.

  • Desire for all to learn

While this is easy to write, the opportunity to work with an individual who encourages all members of a school body, students, teachers, and parents, is truly a fulfilling opportunity

  • Awareness

Whether this quality shows itself in how a particular student or teacher is fairing at the moment or the status of building maintenance, I feel it is vital that an administrator have an accurate pulse on the what is happening in all aspects of a school campus.

  • Trust

This quality can be tricky to exhibit. I certainly appreciate my current administrator's willingness to allow me to significantly change policies regarding assessment and homework in my classroom. I, as an educator, also have to be willing to extend the trust that my administrator has given to me with my fellow colleagues. This can be challenging for me, especially when another colleague's classroom is run quite differently from my own. For me, the vitality of knowing that my principal will back me publicly in a confrontational situation is essential. If I have made mistakes, I will be admonished, which to me is appropriate, but I know that this will be dealt with privately between the principal and myself, as well as the family of the student, if necessary.

There are surely other qualities or qualifications that another individual would value. These are my most valued at this moment.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 9 - Staff Room?

Q: What do I want out of a "Staff Room"?

A: I guess that is a hard one for me to say. I have never really used the staff room at either school I have taught at. At my previous school, my class' lunch time was much earlier than most other classes' times so I wouldn't go there to eat. At my current school, I eat lunch in the cafeteria with my own students. I've never really valued a staff room as an important place for me, as an educator, to have or use. If I want to talk with my colleagues, I find them in their classroom, the hallway, or school office. For me, a staff room is not a priority.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 8 - Connecting with Students

Q: How do I connect with my students?

A: For me, listening is key. In the midst of a constantly harried world, moving my focus from what I feel that I "need" to be doing to a student and their "needs" is one of the most important things that I can do. I am by no means saying that shifting my focus is easy or always what I want to do. But if I am going to claim that I teach because I want to help my students, I must give them my focus and attention. If I can't do that, then my priorities are out of order. I certainly don't achieve this all the time. I'm looking forward to observe how my releasing more autonomy to my students will affect my relationship with them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 7 - Promoting Responsibility

Q: How can you best promote responsibility to your students?

A: This year I am taking my thinking about responsibility in a whole new direction. I will be stepping out of the teacher "limelight" and giving the students many more responsibilities on how they learn and how the each student will demonstrate their learning. I believe that dictating a great deal of what takes place in the classroom presents a great deal of difficulties. Unfortunately, I have often taught like this. I want the students to have a much greater voice in what takes place each and every day of their learning in fourth grade. Yes, I, as the teacher, have responsibilities to ensure that the students are learning. I am hoping that allowing each student greater autonomy in their learning will help to increase their responsibility for their own learning. I know that I would detest a teaching environment where everything had to be "just so" and I had no choice in how I helped my students to learn. Yet, this is exactly what I have been doing in my classroom for far too long. So I am giving my students the gift of responsibility. The choice to decide how each student will learn and how I can best help each student. I'm excited to see how the students and families will react.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 6 - Borrowing From Other Educators

Q: What have I observed of other teachers that might work in my classroom?

A: Since I teach in a small private school, there aren't any other fourth grade teachers. But I am frequently inspired by the first grade teacher at my school. She has created many instances where her Smartboard truly is interactive. Her integration of language and math skills throughout all aspects of learning encourages me to think of different ways that I can do the same. My observations of other educators doesn't end at my school doors. Through connections made from Twitter, I have been observing what has and hasn't worked for other educators. I am specifically altering my teaching style this year due to the conviction that what I have been doing isn't working and isn't what is best for the students I have been entrusted with. I'm looking forward to this upcoming challenge and sharing my learning with other educators.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 5 - Organizing Our Classroom

Q: How do you keep our classroom organized?

A: I try to find areas within our room, such as shelves in closets, filing cabinets, and plastic drawers, to store and organize the many tools that I use during a year in our room. Whether balloons for a static electricity experiment or air-dry clay for a pottery making session, it can be a challenge for me to store all the items that the students need during the year. I'd have to say that in general I'm a fairly organized individual, but I'll have to admit in the middle of a school year, the demands of teaching can lead me to leaving supplies sitting around on counter shelves and not being put away in a timely manner. During most of my teaching years, I don't let myself leave without having straightened and organized my desk each day. I try to leave at least half the surface area clear so I can use my desk in a way that is helpful to me. I can't say that I always enjoy doing this, but I don't function well as a teacher when the "stuff" laying around becomes a distraction to me and my focus on the students in our room.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 4 - Worried On First Day?

Q: What were you most worried most worried about as you approached your first day as a teacher?

A: Well, my first day as a teacher was 12 years ago. I'll have to reach back into my memory banks a bit. What I remember the most is worrying about how I would accomplish all the work that I knew would have to take place throughout each day. I'll have to admit that I learned a powerful lesson in the very first week of my teaching career. I had spent about 20 minutes wondering how I would get all my work done when I realized that I could be accomplishing things instead of worrying. I have learned a lot in the past dozen years of teaching. I'm excited to discover new directions and the pitfalls along the way to new strategies in my teaching.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 3 - How Can I Improve?

Q:  In which area do I think I can improve the most?

A:  Moving away from punishment/rewards issues is my biggest challenge.  This whole cycle appears in my room far too much.  Whether the cycle expresses itself in my interactions with students, peer-to-peer interactions, or the students' academic work, grading, I have become more and more frustrated with how this punishment/reward culture has permeated my thinking and actions with my students.  Since this is the summer time, I have resolved to eliminate as much as humanly possible these kind of punishment/reward situations.  I expect that I will have a challenge implementing this for a variety of reasons.  Altering my habits and the mindsets of students, parents, and administration will most definitely be a tall order.  But nothing that is truly worth doing is easy.  I'm excited about the plans I have been making for next year and I'm looking forward to observing how these plans play out in my work with students and their families in just a few short weeks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 2 - Greatest Strength as a Teacher

Q:  What do you believe is your greatest strength as a teacher?

A:  I absolutely revel in spending my day with children and guiding them in their learning process.  This is my greatest joy as a teacher.  I'm excited about changes that I am making for this upcoming school and how these changes will impact my pleasure as an educator. As students open up each year and share their lives with me, I am humbled and thrilled that each child chooses to share what is occurring in their lives with me.  So as I recharge my batteries during this summer and make plans for a new school year, each day brings me closer to beginning this year with my new students.  I couldn't be more excited!

Friday, July 1, 2011

30 Day Reflection Challenge - Day 1 (Becoming a Teacher)

A big thanks to Julie Colque and her 30 Day Reflection Challenge for inspiring this and the next month's upcoming posts!

Q:  How did I decide to become a teacher?

A:  A few reasons exist:
  • Throughout my childhood I always enjoyed spending time with children younger than I was.  As a high school senior, I spent each day working 2-3 hours at an after school program at a local elementary school.  Although there were many challenges in this environment, I enjoyed playing, talking, and being with these children. 
  • I had been positively impacted by teachers in my life, my middle school coach and history teacher in particular.  Being able to interact with him in a variety of activities, I sensed that he truly loved guiding and directing young teenagers in many aspects of their lives.  His influence in my life made me want to have that type of impact with children as well.
  • Finally, most opportunities I had throughout my teacher preparation program to interact students was positive and confirmed my desire to lead and guide students in their learning. 
I'm excited about changes I'm making for this upcoming school year and how they will positively impact my original desires to guide and encourage my students' learning.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Motivating Thoughts

As I have been reading my way to a makeover in my teaching methods, I have been struck by how three concepts keep turning up in most of my reading, whether books, tweets, or blogs.  They are as follows:
  • Autonomy
Human beings, students included, desire the ability to make decisions about how we live our lives.  I've come to the harsh realization that my teaching style has revolved around my decisions about what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn.  While there are certain standards I am held to by my administration, I resolve to endow the students with the right to decide how we will learn, how the students will demonstrate the learning, and whether in some cases the content has already been learned and no further instruction is needed.

  • Relatedness
We, as humans, have the desire to connect with each other.  So many times I have been too busy "covering" the content that I lose sight of the human element.  No more!  I am already planning ways to encourage community not only among classmates and with me, but children with their parents especially in relation to what and how the students are learning.

  • Competence
Finally, people desire the opportunity to show their ability to complete a task or demonstrate a skill.  When I remove the opportunities to show competence by high-pressure situations involving grades and evaluations, I have done my students a disservice.  The foundation of my new system of assessment, highlighting mastery as opposed to one and done evaluations, is already well on its way to completion.

These ideas are most certainly not my own.  These concepts have been distilled through research done by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.  Their research is mentioned briefly in Alfie Kohn's book Beyond Discipline. If you are interested in a greater examination of Deci and Ryan's research and motivation in general, check out Drive by Daniel Pink.  Pink's book along with several by Kohn are guiding me on my path to reexamining my method of learning with my students.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why Tweet?

I'm not going to try and reinvent the wheel on this one.   I'll include two links at the end of this post that I believe give coherent and eloquent reasons for using Twitter as a professional development tool for educators.  For now let me offer a few changes that have come about in my own professional life as an educator since I joined Twitter in March:
  • Significantly altering my teaching style to be more student focused - giving students the power to make a multitude of decisions regarding how they will demonstrate their learning
  • Moving away from grades based on averages and towards standards based assessment and evaluation
  • Interacting with educators from all over the world through various education themed chats
  • Gaining a deep awareness of the challenges for guiding children through a learning environment that is often not structured to encourage the greatest amount or highest quality of learning
Two posts that I think nail the reason to use Twitter for professional development and ways to begin using Twitter:
A Not So Delusional Guide to Twitter - Pernille Ripp (@4thGrdTch) - loads of insight on many areas
Twitter Tutorial (video) - Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher)

Give Twitter a try!  I know that my thinking won't ever be the same.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I have spent the past month reconsidering who I am as a teacher and what I have been doing as teacher during the past dozen years.  These musings have come about as a result of my participation in Twitter.  More on the use of Twitter as a professional development tool will come in the future.  The realization that the way I was taught as a child and have been teaching doesn't have to be the only way education can occur has left me with many sleepless nights.  Using hindsight, I have come to the difficult conclusion that many of the frustrations I have had with classroom teaching are a result of my own actions.  The requirement that students do what I, the teacher, want when I want it seems absurd to me upon reflection.  Many teachers chafe under similar demands imposed from afar by administrators, district officials, state and national governments.  I lay down a challenge to myself and anyone else who stumbles upon this entry.  Is what I am doing or have done with my students truly to their ultimate benefit?  If you believe so, does your approach and methodology have any research that backs up your claim?  My own reflections have left me wanting, and I will be striving to include my students in the decision making of what happens in OUR classroom.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mixed Emotions

     The end of a school year always brings mixed feelings for me.  No matter what the year has been like, I often consider that I won't spend another moment with this same group of people again.  Many will remain at the school where I teach and I will talk with them again in the fall.  Others will move or attend another school next year and I may never see them again. 
      I reflect on my year in our classroom.  Did I provide the best learning environment that I could?  Did the students feel free to express their opinions and trust that I would consider them thoughtfully?  Did we grow together as a group or was this school year filled with the status quo?  I haven't always taken the time to be this reflective.  My personal learning network (PLN) is challenging me to grow in ways that I had never considered before the last few months.  I am considering how I conduct myself and my classroom.  I'll have to admit that I'm not satisfied with my answers.  So this summer I will be continuing a journey that I began a few months ago.  The students have become the center of my thinking, not the curriculum, the cool tech tools or anything else.  How can I give the students options to learn and demonstrate their learning that is fulfilling to them and not BORING?  This is my challenge to myself and to my PLN.  Are you doing everything that you can to engage your students so they can learn in ways that are meaningful to them?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Here Begins a Journey

This post begins a new journey for me as an educator.  My Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Twitter have prompted me to record the beginning of what I hope will be a journey that will reshape my role as an educator.  Since joining Twitter 2 months ago, at the urging of Kevin Creutz (@kevcreutz), I have become immersed in a conversation where many people are expressing their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and frustrations about education and the students educators serve. This journey will hopefully involve a significant reimagining of my role as a teacher in relation to my students.  This reimagining could not have begun without the enthusiastic sharing of Joe Bower (@joe_bower) and Pernille Ripp (@4thGrdTeach) through their blogs and Tweets.  Thank you to my PLN who encourages me to be the best guide to my students that I can be.