Dr. Thomas Wayne looked down at his son, Bruce who had fallen into a cavern and asked, "Why do we fall?" His son did not reply. "So we can learn to pick ourselves up again." Dr. Wayne said. I believe that failure should be an option for all students. I don't mean not passing or learning during their coursework, but students should learn how to fail, and then pick themselves back up again. I have not been successful at everything I've attempted. When failure occurs I take a step back, reassess the situation, and then try again. I learned how to fail from Mr. DeMuth, my high school Biology teacher. His tests were really difficult, and I didn't pass the first few. After each failure he would talk to us about how to look at our mistakes, find the problem, and correct them. If I hadn't had that experience I don't know how I would have coped with the occasional stumbling points life has thrown at me.
My school doesn't have a system to fail. In fact, I had a meeting with a parent this week who was worried about his child's grades. His child's lowest grade is in my class, it is a B. I can't imagine the meetings and emails I would get if we in fact allowed our students to truly fail, at even one assignment.
In EDL 630 we are currently evaluating SBAC data from our schools. While going through my numbers I thought of last weeks habits blog post, think win-win, about competition. These assignments, and the thought processes I experienced, coincide with the idea that it is never too late to learn, for any student. We can't have the focus on competing for grades if we have to sacrifice authentic life skill learning to accomplish the grades.
My friend, Bill Ferriter (co-author of the graphic above), is a writer about education. He has published a few books, and he does a lot of speaking at conferences. What he does most and best is he runs a blog about education, The Tempered Radical. A lot of it is reflection on his day to day experiences in the classroom, he teaches 6th grade science in North Carolina. As I was reading the chapter in Fisher, Frey, and Pumpian, I saw the connection between the section on competencies and a blog post Bill did a few years ago. He asked us, What if our schools created a culture of "DO" instead of "Know?" He then explains further, that the shift wouldn't happen overnight, it would be a process of re-training every stakeholder at the school from the principal who controlled the purchasing and set the culture, to the classroom teachrs to design lessons that, "allow our kids to work independently, and interdependently on meaningful tasks without much trouble." (Ferriter 2012)
I think that by creating authentic lessons in your class, and focusing on mastery based learning you can avoid students falling into a situation where they are so far behind that they can't possibly "catch up" and pass the course. If we truly work to switch our schools to places where we work towards students "doing" instead of worrying about what students "know," we have to change our ideas about grading. We need to create learning opportunities that better reflect real life, complete with failures and setbacks, then our students will be prepared for all the life has to offer.
5 Things to Commit to:
1. I will share my philosophy about a culture of Do v. a culture of Know.
2. I will continue to have the opportunity for students to correct mistakes on assignments.
3. I will focus more on the learning opportunity, than what the student did wrong.
4. I will bring in more collaborative and "creating" assignments.
5. I will continue to push my students to excel and never accept anything but their best effort.
Ferriter, B. (2012, January 29). What If Schools Created a Culture of “Do” INSTEAD of a Culture of “Know?”. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Pumpian, I. (2012). How to create a culture of achievement in your school and classroom. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.
Professor Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it (Rowling 2007)." Dumbledore was more correct than he realized. I've been repeating this line over and over in my head for days while thinking about this post. Teachers sometimes forget the power their individual choice of words can have. What one teacher might think is a slightly sarcastic joke, can affect a student for a long time. I have some personal experience with this in my first year of teaching. I made a sarcastic comment to an eighth grade student on the third day of school. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do vividly remember her getting out of her desk and sitting on the ground crying. We had a long chat in the counselors office after class, and we eventually built a good rapport. Four years later, she invited me to her high school graduation as a special guest. Ever since that rocky introduction to teaching, I have been extremely careful with my words. I tend to err on the side of caution when speaking to students, and use some high academic language. When they don't understand what I am saying, it becomes a teachable moment on linguistics, and how to use a dictionary instead of 'Googling' everything.
A sad truth is that more often schools and teachers are becoming a parental figure for our students. It is not always because the parents don't care about their children, but when parents are struggling financially, working multiple jobs, they don't have the opportunity to spend as much time with their children as they wish. It becomes the responsibility of educators to ensure all children feel welcome, supported, and cherished. Activities in the classroom can be designed to give students a voice, and to learn to use their voices. We have a myriad of tools available for this, blogs, podcasts, video production apps, websites, etc... There is almost no limit to the ability for teachers to guide students to a place my good friend calls, "Achieving Audience." When a student achieves audience, they have a voice, and an identity that they use to empower themselves through that voice.
To my knowledge I have never worked with a teacher who wasn't supportive and student centered in their educational practice. Yes, we do occasionally make mistakes, and as a school leader I would encourage discussions about those verbal missteps. As noted in my platform blog from this week, as a leader I want my teachers to view me as non threatening. I think that if I am truly able to create the type of environment I envision, then teachers will feel free to share their accidents and have conversations with each other, and with me. My favorite painter Bob Ross always said, "We don't make mistakes, we have happy accidents." This is true, we can look at our mistakes as happy accidents to start conversations and continue our improvement as educators. This is easily doable by all educators and staff members.
5 Things to commit myself to:
1. I will speak in a calm voice, even when I am being challenged by an interesting student.
2. I will keep my classroom door open to encourage students to come in for conversations about their work.
3. I will make sure to compliment students on their achievements more often.
4. Winston Churchill said that it "takes courage to speak, it also takes courage to sit down and listen." In that spirit, I will try to listen more to my students, and not just start talking over them.
5. When discussing "happy accidents" in the classroom with other teachers, I will make sure to transform the conversation into a learning experience.
"Bob Ross Quotes." - All Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
Rowling, J. (2007). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.
"Winston Churchill Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
When it comes to the concept of Do No Harm, I believe that students should be safe while at school, both physically and emotionally. This is first established by the school administration in the student handbook that is distributed on the first day. My district takes a proactive approach to doing no harm to the environment. Recycling bins are everywhere, I usually can't find a trash can to save my life. We take the challenge of dimishing our carbon footprint very seriously. With the modeling, effort, and attention we put into the environmental programs, the recycling club is the most popular one on campus. It even has more members than the movie club, who gather in a teachers classroom to watch movies during lunch.
At the begining of each school year I allow the students to create the classroom rules (this years rules are in the image below). They take the assignment seriously and come up with some good ones. Occasionally, their rules are more strict than the ones I would have ordinarily put there. My favorite one this year is, "Respect others, and you should Expect Respect in return." I like letting them come up with the classroom rules because it allows them to see how inappropriate behavior not only effects the perpetrator, but everyone else in the class. As a school leader; it would be interesting to do this on a school wide level and see what the students come up with. I think that many people would be suprised with the maturity even middle schoolers can show when it comes to creating rules. Teachers would be encouraged to do the same in their individual classrooms. I would also continue to emphasize the idea of doing no harm to the environment. We would work hard to move to a paperless school by utilizing the possibilities provided with increased technology. Of course the increased technology resources will require professional development for teachers on how to incorporate the computers into their daily instructional practice and lessen their need for hard copies. Teachers will also need to learn how to teach with the technology. It changes everything in the classroom, especially student behavior. Specific targeted professional development will be needed. This can be done in grade and content level PLC's. I have experience in North Carolina moving an entire school system into the 1:1 environment all at once. It isn't an easy task, but if teachers are well prepared with quality PD under their belts, then it can be a smooth transition.
No student is perfect. Occasionally they make mistakes or just plain and simple do something wrong. At the begining of the school year our PLC sat down and came up with some norms for handling distuptive student behavior, this way we have consistency across the content. We also discussed how to teach students proper behavior. We have a list we created of things to try before we send the student to the office. Each teacher has a jar of pencils and a hanging file of paper for those who occasionally forget their pencil and paper. For my future sphere of influence I want to continue this practice. By giving teachers a voice in how they handle student discipline, we can have consensus.
While I am not the teacher whose first reaction is to send a student to the office; quite the opposite in fact, my principal told me that he needs to have more contact with some of my interesting students. I took that as code for, you don't send disruptive students up enough. I don't see the point of sending a student who is tardy out of the room, they have already missed enough of my class. I have pencils and paper readily available for all my students, some of them put their old pencils into the bin so someone who doesn't have one can use them. However, I do belive that occasional punative consequences can be effective when used properly. If a student cheats on an exam, or is verbaly abusive of another student, then time away from the situation, detention or suspension, can be helpful to allow it to neutralize. In North Carolina schools had to put students through a re-entry re-orientation meeting before they could rejoin their classes after a suspension. This can be a good time to discuss how the behavior was wrong, and possible ways to avoid the behavior in the future.
The five things that I am willing to do this Semester to make my school a more positive restorative place:
1. Continue to enforce the student created classroom rules.
2. Promote the recycling program on a more regular basis.
3. Focus on my plan to be a paperless classroom by the end of the school year and thus providing a model for other teachers to follow.
4. I will celebrate positive behaviors more often.
5. I will work closely with the school behavior specialist to curb inappropriate behavior in the bud before it becomes an issue.
My schools vision (mission) statement:
-We believe school should prepare students for life as productive and responsive citizens
-We believe in success for all students
-Everyone is expected to do his/her best in an atmosphere where they feel safe and are known and appreciated as unique individuals
-We are all lifelong learners
-Our goal is for learning to be meaningful and challenging
-Expectations for quality work and how it will be judged are clear to all
-We are a team
While not explicitly stated, being welcoming for all students is highly implied within our schools vision statement. More heavily in the third point where "students feel safe and are known and appreciated as unique individuals." This is an important part of welcoming. Everyone should feel safe to be their own person. I teach social studies. It is wonderful when I get a myriad of students from different backgrounds and cultures, because they interpret material based on their own life experience. It leads to some good discussions.
I teach in an anomaly of a school district. We have only 6 schools, 3 elementary, one middle, one high, and one virtual extension school. The students are of higher income families, and tend to know each other from social situations, such as sports. If I were to try and find a group that is not feeling extremely welcomed, it would have to be the group that I tend to (affectionately) call "the lump." We all have these students. They come to class; and do nothing. They don't ask to go to the bathroom. They don't come late. They don't disrupt class. They do nothing. Since they don't disrupt class, they tend to get ignored. They don't have helicopter parents that force attention from the teacher. They aren't being sent to the office. They just exist.
Welcoming to school is not only greeting a person as they enter the room. It is making them comfortable in their own skin and also fostering their creativity and interests. Our school (I don't think I'm alone here) needs to do a better job of welcoming these kids. I really feel that I can reach them. I want to commit to the following things in the hopes that it will help them feel and act more welcomed into my room.
1. Greet them by name at the beginning of class each day.
2. Call home with BOTH positive information about their student and areas for improvement.
3. Spend one on one time with them in class to engage student in work.
4. Celebrate the Positive.
5. Sponsor a Club and invite targeted students to join.