Monthly Archives: November 2016

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The trimester is quickly coming to a head. This year my main goal was to get back to building relationships with my students. I felt last year I put too much emphasis on the cognitive and psychomotor domain, neglecting the affective domain. I implemented a hugs, high fives, or handshakes policy for my students. They could choose any of the three. My hope was that the physical touch would help break down barriers between myself and my students. I know for me personally I was in a much better mindset after the triple h’s.

It was time for me to judge just how well I was doing toward my goal. I gave my students a quick 5 question survey. The first survey made me quite upset when I saw the results. 1Three students thought that I disliked them. That is horrible. The interesting part is that the students who think this are not the students who take the bulk of my  time and attention. They are quiet and would have the ability to fall through the cracks if my school wasn’t so tiny. They are not students of color. I only mention this because I wanted to know if I was treating my students of color differently than the other students. I will make sure I actively work to create more positive interactions between myself and those students. 

2The responses to question two were interesting. The previous 3 students who thought I disliked them  (submitted a score of 2) rated my class as a 2, 3, and 4. This means that one of those students thought I disliked them but still enjoyed my class. The other two thought my class was OK and poor. I was pleased that over 90% of my students were enjoying my class. Education has lost its way. They do not value fun and enjoyment of learning as much as they should. When educators are able to create positive associations with learning that is success. 

I finished the survey by giving them the ability to choose a dance and the next unit. This is 3.pngone way how  the journey of shared power and student centered classrooms can continue. How often are we really finding out how our students feel about our class? This year we have been using a game based approach that can loosely be considered Teaching Games for Understanding. The overall feedback from the unit was mostly positive. My biggest problem now is to figure out how to create a dance to Juju on That Beat! 

 

 

 

 

EdcampNJ reflection

“Great job everyone today! Best part for me was seeing everyone get up and check under their chairs for the prizes. Pretty awesome to see 400 people smile all at the same time. Bravo!” This was feedback that we received on Saturday after running EdCampNJ. That person was only referring to how we started the day! It only got better from there.

To give you some quick background, I somehow found my way onto the organizing committee of EdCampNJ. This should surprise you because I am horrible at any organizational task. I jokingly tell people I am a big picture person who doesn’t always worry about the details. Organizing committees are extremely worried about details. West Windsor we have a problem. Luckily I was only given two jobs to do. Get the food and be obnoxious.

Wow! Two things right in my wheelhouse. I went to Caesars Bagels to purchase the greatest bagels on the planet at six thirty in the morning. There is nothing better in the world than his bagels. If you ever come visit we will go and eat there. Done deal. I rolled up to pick up the bagels and he looked at my vehicle and started laughing. He told me there was no way that it was going to fit in my car. Lucky for me, he lent me his minivan so there was plenty of room and time for the bagels to be delivered. 

My second job was handing out prizes on the Prize Patrol. Chrissy Romano and I would bust into rooms swat prize patrol style being as loud and disruptive as possible.  I have to admit I felt like the white Oprah. I was yelling out, “You get a prize and you get a prize” to hundreds of smiling faces. Surprisingly Chrissy was louder and more obnoxious than me!! That was some ridiculous fun. Everyone should get a chance to smile that often. 

Time to get to the education part of the day. I was able to go to one session with Mike Ritzius. As I walked in the door I heard him ask why people were there. I truthfully retorted I was there because of him. I had no idea what his facilitation was about. I didn’t read the title of it. I hold him in such high esteem that if he is talking about anything I will listen. His idea was about what professional development and leadership truly were. It was much too high level for me to begin to fully master in 45 minutes.

He truly did a fantastic job of facilitating. He would explain a concept to us and then we would discuss that concept with our immediate group for 5 minutes. After that time the whole group would talk for 5 minutes.

My first big takeaway from his session was that PD should look up at the system and use the strengths of their teachers to drive professional development instead of looking down on teachers from a deficit mindset. (sketch notes via Adam Schoenbart) adam_1.png

My second takeaway was that in between order and chaos lies leadership. We need norms and routines while also allowing autonomy and self-reflection. His visual of management falling in between order and control was brilliant. We did not discuss this, and I may be off base, but we need both leadership and management in our school. We can discuss this more at length in the future. (sketch notes via Adam Schoenbart) 

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The final idea we didn’t delve into as much as I would have like to. This was called the Art of Hosting. I have found this link that will help explain the idea more. I am going to follow up with Mike and really delve into these ideas much more. If you would like to contact him his twitter is @mritzius. (sketch notes via Adam Schoenbart)

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The sessions that were facilitated were amazing! We had people speaking to our students about the election, the lbgtqia community, sketch noting and so much more. The emphasis was not just about some new tech tools that look cool. Social justice was somewhat represented. I did not see any sessions about culturally responsive classrooms. I would hope in the future someone would be comfortable facilitating a session or want to learn more about that subject. If it was not placed on the board people either didn’t want to speak about it or were uncomfortable in facilitating the discussion. We need our educators in NJ, PA, and NY to step up and tackle the elephant in our society.

The highlight of the day was seeing the teacher I hold in the highest esteem possible. If I had to create my super teacher it would be her. She is not a Twitter superstar or a Facebook Edustar. You do not know her. Her technology skills will not wow you. She just learned how to text within the last year.  You will never catch her presenting on the conference circuit. None of that matters. All that matters is that she cares more about her students than anyone I have ever met.

This teacher goes to her student’s houses, shows up to their extracurriculars, and buys them Christmas and birthday presents. There is a real possibility that her students will curse at her, throw things at her, and possibly attack her. They have done those things before and will do them again. I have watched her yell at a student in one second and comfort them in the next. She never holds their words or actions against them. She understands the need for rewards and punishments. Her class is the epitome of fairness and consistency.

Her students and their guardians love her in a way that I will never know. They understand that she cares about them on a deeper level than anyone outside of their families can possibly do. You will not find one child or parent who walks away from her class without being changed for the better. If someone told me I was half the teacher she is I would beam with pride for days. If you think I am exaggerating in even the slightest about her go ask Jay Billy.

This powerhouse of a teacher has taught for over 45 years. She showed up on a Saturday morning to attend an Edcamp. This amazes me. A teacher who is the master, the chief, the greatest educator I have ever crossed paths with bar none is willing to come out on a Saturday to better herself. I am not ashamed to say that when I saw her walking across the parking lot I ran to her and hugged her with a ferocity that may have scared her. I held her hand and walked her inside all the while chatting away like a bubbly teenager.

This EdCamp was wonderful for a variety of reasons. I grew way closer to a group of educators that are walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. I learned a lot during Mike Ritzius’s session. I really felt like I facilitated a session about movement where I learned as much or more from the crowd than they learned from me. All that pales in comparison to seeing the teacher that I want to be like coming out on a Saturday to get better. If she can come out why can’t you?

I am extremely grateful and proud to be associated with this group of individuals below. They were a blast to work with and help plan EdCampNJ. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with. Thank you all.

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Critical of TED

I just finished listening to a TED Talk interview with Jonathan Haidt who is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University‘s Stern School of Business. He was interviewed by the owner of TED Talk Chris Anderson. It came out after the election and it was entitled Can a divided America heal? I was hoping to hear something that would give me hope. 

I was skeptical about this interview because they were two white middle-aged gentlemen discussing the state of the country after our election. My critical consumer eyes went into this wide open. How can anyone talk about the state of the country and not be a person of color who was directly affected by the election? I did recognize that could be a member of the LGBTQ Community though which has many worries themselves about the President-elect. Professor Haidt starts early in the interview reciting an old Bedouin saying.

“Me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; me and my brother and cousins against the stranger.”

So far so good. I agree with his statement. We have to start off making sure we are on solid ground before helping others. I would feel more of a moral obligation to help my brother before my cousin, as well as my cousin before a stranger. Some may be more evolved than I am. Others may agree with me.  Either way, I believe that our country is in a struggle right now with idea of who the stranger actually is. What do the strangers look and act like? Are the strangers anyone who doesn’t look and act like the majority of white America?

The argument put forth in the talk was people are more likely to share resources with other people whom they accept as part of their tribe.

The line in the TED Talk that provoked me is, “…what the globalists, I think, don’t see, what they don’t want to see, is that ethnic diversity cuts social capital and trust.”

What exactly does that mean? He goes on to explain.

“And basically, the more people feel that they are the same, the more they trust each other, the more they can have a redistributionist welfare state.”

How exactly do people allow themselves to see others as like themselves? Is it race, class, gender, religion? I would imagine it would be a combination of all four. This is a problem.

Mr. Haidt next helps us understand why Scandinavian countries are doing so well. (He doesn’t mention how he determines their wellness.) 

“Scandinavian countries are so wonderful because they have this legacy of being small, homogenous countries.”

So they have a world where everyone has the same culture, language, and religion. Once they start letting in people who don’t share these same features he states:

“That’s going to cut social capital, it makes it hard to have a welfare state and they might end up, as we have in America, with a racially divided, visibly racially divided, society.”

So what he is saying is that people get mad when others who don’t look and act like them come into their country so they stop wanting to share and work together. This is what humanity looks like. This interview was really starting to bug me.

The interview continues with Chris Anderson asking Jonathan Haidt to confirm,

“…that people of reason, people who would consider themselves not racists, but moral, upstanding people, have a rationale that says humans are just too different; that we’re in danger of overloading our sense of what humans are capable of, by mixing in people who are too different.”

People believe that humans are too different? We are having our senses overloaded because people who did not look and act like us were coming into the country? That is an incredulous statement to make right there. How is this possible in 2016? What are the major differences between people? At our core, we are all humans. Push culture, language, and religion on top of that and we appear different. We see culture, hear language, and fear religion. They are blinding our senses, blocking the fact that we are human beings. It is disheartening to believe that we are only willing to accept a set amount of difference. After that we “just can’t handle it”. 

The interview really started getting wild when Chris Anderson made it more “palatable for us (his words) by quoting a study showing that race isn’t the problem; its people’s culture that is the problem!  How can you separate race from culture so easily? Are you telling me that religion, food, and language were the cause of people’s hatred and not because of skin color? How is that justifiable even if it was true? If people only hated others due to their culture, the harshest word in the English language wouldn’t be about the color of their skin.

The next statement was more mind boggling than the previous one. He tells us that immigrants should assimilate. They have to adopt the same language and culture. It’s a simple idea to him.

“…an assimilationist approach to immigration removes a lot of these problems. And if you value having a generous welfare state, you’ve got to emphasize that we’re all the same.”

This makes perfect sense! If we all worship the same god, eat the same food, and speak the same language I will accept you. However, if you do not worship the same god, eat the same food, and speak the same language I will reject you. Assimilation is not the problem. The problem is people who won’t accept others that are different from them. The goal is not for everyone to be the same. It’s to accept and take the best of everything that everyone brings to the table. 

This interview doesn’t bode well for people who aren’t the dominant culture. This is a theory that bothers my PLN. The great news is that these are only theories being brought to us. We do not have to make this theory a permanent law. I am part of the human race. My actions affect others. I will use my actions to make sure that this country continues to believe in the idea that you can succeed in this country regardless of their cultural identity. Malcolm Gladwell speaks about human capitalization rate. That is, “…the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential… what percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it.” This doesn’t mean giving people everything without requiring them to earn it. It means that if someone wants to work hard and succeed, and possesses some sort of skill they can succeed. That is the ideal that this country has set for itself. We are not even close to there yet.

My class will be a place where I allow students to succeed. This means understanding their cultures which make them who they are. My class will be a place where students feel comfortable to learn. This will happen regardless of their culture or the dominant culture surrounding it. 

 

 

Reaction to Election

Last night I went to sleep confident that America’s future was much brighter than its past. When I woke up there was a feeling of despair and hopelessness in the pit of my stomach. I feel this for everyone who doesn’t look and acts like me.

How must a woman feel when she realizes that the man who holds the highest office in the free world speaks about walking around and grabbing a woman’s crotch?

How must a Hispanic feel that the President of the United States believes that Mexicans who are trying to better their lives by coming to America are rapists?

How must a black person feel that someone who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times destroying the lives of 5 black young men, accusing them of rape without any actual knowledge of what really happened is now able to pardon anyone he pleases? (DNA evidence proved him and the court system wrong.)

How must a person of Muslim faith be feeling right now? The leader of the free world has publicly stated, on record, that he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country.

How must a person of the LGBT community feel when the person with the most power in America says he hasn’t even thought about equal rights for their community? It hadn’t even been a thought in his mind in 2016!

America has always been a corrupt country. It has always been a racist country. The United States has always been a misogynistic country. Our country was built on the backs of brown and black people. That has been our history, though. That was not our future. Our future was one built of hope and acceptance. Intolerance and discrimination were at the very least socially unacceptable.

That is my issue with this election. Americans have now formally told our citizens and the world that racism, misogyny, and bigotry is socially acceptable. This is not about politics. This is about the message that we as Americans have sent to our children and the people of the world. This isn’t a message I am comfortable with.

 

 

School of Soft Knocks

Today I took my personal children, as in the children that I am in charge of outside school, to the park with my father. It was a bit windy and cool, but the sun shone bright and soon the jackets lay on the plastic bench thrust aside while the kids opted for ease of movement over the warmth afforded by the attire. My six-year-old and four-year-old took off and went exploring the playground. My two year old apprehensively stayed by my side overwhelmed by the chaos of running kids whirring by.

At one point my son (the six-year-old) was attempting to climb onto a piece of equipment that funneled acorns down the middle back onto the ground. My son lacks overall muscular strength as well as core strength. He asked me to assist him in getting onto the equipment. I had watched him struggle a couple of more times before his request and had made the decision that he could achieve this goal on his own. I kindly responded to him that he would have to succeed on his own if he was going to climb onto the piece. He tried a couple of more times and started to become slightly agitated. He pleaded for help again with a tinge of whining thrown in. My heart wanted to walk over and lift him up. It would have been so easy. I could have taken away his angst with little effort.

Instead, I replied to him that he was going to have to accomplish the task on his own again. I also informed him that if he wanted to he could choose another piece of equipment to play with. The reason for this seemingly callous decision was that my brain knew he could do it on his own. My job as a parent was not to swoop in and make everything easier for him simply because I could. During this time there was another child modeling how to get up. Their choice of entry was quite different from how I would have done it but the task was accomplished. My son instead chose to continue attempting entry his way and finally was able to succeed.

I told him I had faith that he would have figured it out and he smiled at me with a goofy grin and obvious delight that he had accomplished his goal. This story is probably the most common story a parent can tell you about. They let their child struggle because they knew he or she would be able to succeed as long as the child put in the effort. I am not looking for parental accolades here. What I am asking is how many times do we do this with our students? How often do we let them struggle on their own before we step in to save the day? It is so easy to take the reigns and solve the problem whether it be a cognitive issue, a social squabble between classmates, or a psychomotor difficulty.

Our empathy as teachers can hinder us at times. We have been inundated over and over again that conflict is bad. Two students shouldn’t be yelling at each other. A student shouldn’t have to struggle with finding an answer. Kids shouldn’t be falling down or running into each other. Yet if we don’t allow students to figure out how to solve conflicts on their own how will they ever learn? Brian Costello says you learn empathy by being around other people. When people are around each other conflicts arise. This is natural. Dealing with conflict in sometimes unproductive ways may actually be productive sometimes. How can we truly understand how it feels like to be yelled at and have our feelings trampled on if we have never been in that position? I am not advocating for allowing students to yell at and abuse each other; however, I am advocating that the best way for students to figure things out is by allowing them to figure them out. Too often we step in and discipline when we should redirect the offended student to address the situation with the child they had the issue to before taking it to the teacher level.

It is hard to watch a student struggle while thinking. If we don’t allow that student to struggle where will they get the self-confidence that they will figure it out? There are always caveats to everything. We wouldn’t do this without first having provided the resources or allow this to happen in front of the class for an inordinate amount of time. We are encouraged to allow at least a five second wait time before expecting an answer from a student. That may seem like an eternity for a teacher who is ready to get into the next part of their lesson. What we do by eliminating the struggle is that students never get to feel the accomplishment of thinking and achieving. The right answer is not always the easy answer that pops into our head. Sometimes there is no answer at all until… ding the lightbulb goes off.

As a physical education teacher watching a student struggle with a physical skill is difficult. I can help them complete their task with my feedback or carefully layered questions that elicit the correct response. Am I doing them a favor in the long run? Am I making their learning easier right now but taking away some of their self-dependence in the process? Optimally we would like for them to figure things out on their own. If not, a carefully crafted question can do wonders in helping them to arrive at an answer that helps them.

So what is the point of all this? It goes back to the phrase “school of hard knocks”. Most people don’t think of that as being positive. They had to struggle and no one was around to assist them. I would like to start a “school of soft knocks”. The gray area found between floundering and breezing through. I want my class to be just challenging enough that a student has to work hard to achieve their goal but not so hard that they won’t be able to succeed without my help. Anything we value in life we have to work for. Let’s make sure our students value our class. 

If this sounds like rigor to you it may be but you would have to use the third definition to arrive at this conclusion.

Rigor
1. (a) Harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment: severity. (b) The quality of being unyielding or inflexible. (c) An act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.
2. A tremor caused by a chill.
3. A condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.
4. Strict precision or exactness.