30 August 2013

Complacency Makes Me Cringe

 Complacency has been on my mind this week because of the number of times I have interacted with complacent people or heard mention of it by others, and it makes me cringe. As any English teacher would do,  I looked up the word in the dictionary for more careful consideration of what I would write about it.  Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines complacency as "a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder."

When I started this post several hours ago, it started as a rant about complacency in the workplace, but as I continued to muse on the topic, I realized I had to discuss the more serious issues of complacency we heard this week at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.  (a speech I always enjoyed reading and analyzing with my students)

All across twitter on Wednesday we saw people share their own #Ihaveadream ideas, and many people in education shared dreams of learning opportunities for all, learning opportunities based on more innovative ideas, opportunities to never stop learning.  So, when I also encountered numerous statements indicative of an attidude of complacency, I cringed.

"That innovation stuff just isn't me; I'm more of a traditional gal."
 So, listen, I have nothing against tradition.  In fact, there are many traditions I respect and some for which I feel nostalgic, especially in relation to classic literature, art, and music.  Believe me, I enjoy my share of the classics.  However,  I cringe when I encounter people who refuse to consider a new approach anything--learning, teaching, creating presentations.  I've even heard--"I've been teaching over a decade; I know how to lecture and teach writing" or "I earned a degree in this field years ago, so I know how to plan for a presentation."  As if presentation styles haven't changed in twenty years?  Seriously?

Consider the person who says--"I can't work too hard because I'm a single parent, and my child requires my attention."  To not even try harder is unacceptable to me; it makes the rest of us have to work even harder, and even if we enjoy what we do, it's cringe worthy to be associated (by default) with a lack of effort.  I work in the field of education, so all adults should be modeling for students the diligence, determination, persistence, and hard work we expect of children and teens.

Forever glued in my mind is a statement of a former co-worker who rarely did any work outside work hours.   "I don't have much work to do at home, but I do carry the problems of students home in my heart."  To be sure, complacency or perceived laziness or lack of interest is a downer at work, and it even hinders the organization for which you work.

Nonetheless, there are other even more serious reasons to avoid complacency.  Consider what we heard this week from President Obama at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.  "They did not die in vain, Their victory was great.  But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.  The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn't bend on its own.  To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency."

at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial April 2013

Indeed, there is much work to be accomplished in this world--in our lifetime.  For the sake of equality for all people, for the sake of children who deserve an opportunity to learn, for the sake of those who have gone before us.  We must not be complacent in efforts to make a difference.

24 August 2013

Seeing The Leader in Me in Action

Last week I was invited to visit with two elementary schools in our district.  Anytime I have the opportunity to visit a school, I think my job is the best.  What was unique about this particular visit was the focus on seeing how "The Leader in Me" schools operate. 

We visited classrooms where students greeted us by standing, holding their arms out wide and announcing "Welcome to Ms. _____'s class.  We are the class of 2024."  What an incredible way to start from their earliest years believing and acting on the fact that all students will graduate from high school.

As a former high school teacher, I can imagine the students I taught over the years who could have benefited from instilling in their heads the idea that they would indeed graduate. Helping them believe and act upon this important fact throughout their K-12 schooling, instead of focusing on trying to survive the last four years of high school would have been a much more positive approach for those who struggled.

We saw The Leader in Me curriculum being taught in several different ways.  In one classroom, the students were echo reading from The Leader in Me student booklets for second grade.  The lesson on the day we visited was about Habit 1--Be Proactive.  Students echo read with the teacher and talked with their partner about their circles of control.  Seeing these young students discuss what they could and could not control in their lives was impressive because it's easy to see how learning the 7 habits can benefit them throughout their entire lives.

As a mom I am always using similar language with my sons when we discuss appropriate attitudes and behavior.  Even though my ten year old's elementary school is not a Leader in Me school, I was impressed when he brought home a note from his teacher to him and she commented on his leadership abilities.  He was so proud of that simple handwritten note--he displayed it in a card stand.  Imagine how much more powerful his leadership abilities might be if his school also utilized The Leader in Me curriculum.

In another classroom, we saw The Leader in Me curriculum embedded within literacy instruction to ensure students were still mastering the Common Core Standards as required in our state. 

In addition to visiting classrooms, we had an opportunity to talk with parents of students in the two schools.  They shared with us their satisfaction with the program, and they talked to us about how they use the same language the students are learning about leadership at school at home as part of the schools' family involvement approach.  It's always great to hear from fellow parents who are not working in schools themselves because sometimes I feel my perspective might be skewed because I work in education.

By far my favorite part of the day was the panel discussion with students.  They shared their leadership notebooks and talked with us about personal and academic goal setting, and they told us what they liked about The Leader in Me.  They also responded very articulately to a series of questions from all the adults in the room.  Their confidence and poise was amazing!  The students see the benefit of what they are learning and the way The Leader in Me is transforming their school and the way adults in their schools interact with them.  A fourth grader shared--"Kids have a lot to offer and until The Leader in Me, people never really cared to ask us."

 Cheers to my two sons on their first day of school 2013-2014 with great hopes that their leardership skills continue to shine.

 Lexington Kentucky USA

First day of 5th grade

First day of 7th grade

10 August 2013

10 for 10: Picture Books an English Teacher Enjoys with Her Sons

This morning while browsing twitter within minutes of waking (according to #twitterrevolution I am not alone in this behavior), I noticed in my feed #pb10for10 and decided to take a look.  Here's what I learned:  Mandy @ Enjoy-EmbraceLearning and Cathy @ Reflect & Refine sponsor a Picture Book 10 for 10 book jog each August.

I couldn't resist.  So here I am on Saturday morning posting my own 10for10 post.  Theme:  10 pictures books an English/Arts & Humanities Teacher enjoys sharing with her sons.  I like these books for a myriad of reasons—for the exposure to authors, music, artists, beautiful words and language, and most importantly because they became not only my favorites, but between my two sons (now ages 10 & 12) these became their favorites as well.

1.   Henry Builds a Cabin  by D. B. Johnson

My English teacher self couldn’t resist sharing this book with my sons.  Thanks to D.B. Johnson, my sons have a full awareness of who Henry David Thoreau is and why I think his work is important.  There is also available--Henry Climbs a Mountain and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg.  We've read them all, but the boys like the dimensions of Thoreau's cabin in this one.

2.  Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

As library mouse hides away in a school library writing his own books for each genre, this is an excellent tale reminding us that we are all writers.  This is another message I wanted my sons to hear to encourage them to enjoy writing and know that they are capable.  (Right now neither of them prefer writing because most of their writing experiences at school have been spent practicing for the state writing test)

3.  John Coltrane’s Giant Steps remixed by Chris Raschka

Illustrations, words, and style all portray improv—this book is a great way to learn about jazz improvisation.

4.  Slowly, Slowly, Slowly said the Sloth by Eric Carle

From an early age, my oldest child has enjoyed science and nature, and since we enjoyed other Eric Carle books, this one became a delight to us because of the beautiful language and vocabulary.  At the end of the book, the sloth finally replies to the onslaught of attacks from other animals who accuse him of being lazy.  “It is true that I am slow, quiet, and boring.  I am lackadaisical, I dawdle, and I dillydally.  I am also unflappable, languid, stoic, impassive, sluggish, lethargic, placid, calm, mellow…”

5.  Old Cricket by Lisa Wheeler

"Old Cricket woke up feeling, cranky, crotchety, and cantankerous, so when his missus asked him to ready the roof for winter, he came up with a clever plan."  We loved the opening lines as well words the old cricket uses instead of curse words of today.  Plus, it’s a great tale about how the cricket tried many excuses to get out of work but really just needed to dig-in and prepare the roof for winter.

6.  Lego Star Wars The Visual Dictionary

This one became a favorite for my youngest son because of his interest in building and creating with Legos, and his love of all things Star Wars.  I have to admit, it took a while for me to enjoy this book, but after reading it again and again with my son, I couldn’t help myself.  Plus, this book became a great example to me of why we can’t base all our reading decisions for students on Lexile level.  This Lexile level for this book is much higher than my son’s Level, yet he can read the book because it’s a perfect match for him as a reader.

7.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

We definitely have this one memorized and can recite it in its entirety.  Who doesn’t love this one?

8.  Masterpieces Up Close:  Western Painting from the 14th to 20th Centuries

With flip open tabs and close-up shots of sections of each painting, this book became a great one for teaching my boys about masterpieces of Western visual art.

9.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

What I love about this one?  My ten and twelve year old will still let me read it to them periodically and they love the story.

10.  Hush Little Baby by Sylvia Long

I end with this one because my ten year old still asks me to sing this version of the song to him at night when he goes to sleep.  This natural and beautiful adaptation of the old lullaby has been part of our nighttime routine for twelve years (My oldest is twelve).  Once the boys heard the original version of the song and commented that it was incorrect.  Though my twelve year old no longer asks me to sing him to sleep on a nightly basis, my ten year old is still cool with it and asks me to sing this song to him right before he nods off.  (Sshh:  He would be embarrassed if he knew I’m telling you—if I’ve been out of town for work or if he’s sick—the twelve year old has asked for the song within the last year).

04 August 2013

Six Tips for Facilitating Workgroups

People assume educators know how to facilitate teacher teams or workgroups with other adults, but my experience tells me we all have something to learn about facilitating work with our adult peers.

1)  Listen.  Just like students tell us when we are not reaching them, our adult peers let us know when a workgroup or team is not functioning effectively.  If we listen and respond to the needs of the group, we are more likely to accomplish our goals.  This might mean we have to adjust our own style and approach to meet the needs of the team/work group we are facilitating.  This doesn't mean we are losing track of who we are as an individual, but it does mean we are creating an environment conducive to learning and achieving our common goals.

2)  Set Goals.  We establish objectives and goals in classrooms, right?  We should also establish goals for how teams working together.  The goals should be established as a team and posted with the norms for the group.

3)  Establish Norms.  This one was hard for me to understand when I first started facilitating groups because I'm of the mind that everyone should just be nice and play fair!  Experience has shown me norms help ensure a team functions effectively toward
Mount St. Helen's 2013
achieving the stated goals.  (Sports teams have rules and procedures for a similar reason, right?  And, what about emergency teams who deal with volcanoes erupting?  They have protocols, too.  Side Note:  In 1980 when Mount St. Helen's erupted, protocols and procedures were what ensured rescue workers could save lives)  When groups are learning to work together, some even need to have the norms posted on the wall with protocols for what to do if someone in the group is not adhering to a norm.

4)  Use Protocols.  Speaking of emergency management teams, in education--we could learn from protocols that provide step-by-step approaches to a particular aspect of the work.  For example, teachers have become accustomed to using protocols for examining
student work.  Protocols can also be used for designing units of study or for sharing ideas.  Depending upon a particular group, more formal or less formal protocols might be needed.  It's a good idea to have a few protocols ready when facilitating a group anyway (e.g., a tuning protocol is almost essential).

5)  Reflect.  Educators who facilitate PD or other workgroup events are usually pretty good about distributing evaluations at the end of the day or end of the session, but how often do we debrief and reflect together following those individual reflection minutes?  Reflecting in a debriefing sort of format allows the good, the bad, and the ugly to be addressed immediately with decisions made as a group about how to change the working session for the next time. 

6)  Revise.  Educators are queens and kings of revision.  It's what we do in our quest to ensure learning meets the needs of students.  As a facilitator we must also think about learning from the reflection and debriefing time and revising.  Sometimes we can't wait until the end of a session--(just like we can't always wait until the end of a class period) some situations call for immediate revision.  This will be facilitated more naturally if we are following the first tip on this list--listening.

What do you think?  What am I missing from this list of tips for facilitation?  Do you have any resources to add to my list of favorites below?

Some of my favorite resources on facilitation and/or protocols.

Coalition of Essential Schools.

All Things PLC