Keeping the Faith

A few weeks ago, I decided to join the Get One Word movement. I was intrigued by the idea of choosing just one word to keep at the core of my focus for the year. For several reasons, both personal and professional, I decided that Faith would be my one word for this year. Professionally, I find it difficult to have or to keep faith – in the system, in my colleagues, in the effort that is required of me. Lately, I have found it difficult to remain positive. So, I committed to this word and to having faith – in the system, in my colleagues and in the effort that is required of me.

Right now I feel like so much of what surrounds education is negative, and that everyone else (meaning those who aren’t directly involved in public education) think they know that we aren’t doing our jobs effectively, that we don’t care, and that they know better. Some days it’s tough to keep the faith.

Today wasn’t one of those days. Today I was privileged to be present as third grade teachers came together to learn more about their craft. They allowed an outside coach into their conversations and into their classrooms to help them stretch and grow.  I was so impressed as I listened to them push each other’s thinking – questioning what they can do to make their instruction better – the very best that it can be for students. It was awesome.

It’s times like this, or like on S

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Reflections on METC (Part 2 – How many are there??)

I have to admit, that when I was working through my undergrad program, striving to become a high school English teacher, I was really just focused on the literature. Becoming a teacher for me, at that time, was all about trying to get kids to love literature like I do – and that was it. I wasn’t concerned about “making a difference” or “touching lives.” I have a continuous love affair with the written word, and I wanted my students to feel that, too. 

My K-12 Catholic school upbringing did little to prepare me for the classroom I would encounter in public education – and my undergrad program probably did even less. I entered the high school English classroom ready to connect my students to the literature I loved, but I wasn’t ready for the fact that many of them brought with them the troubles from the night before (or even the morning of!). No one prepared me to teach students who came to my class without opportunities to eat meals, or who didn’t sleep the night before due to domestic turmoil, or who came to class late because they were smoking pot before coming to school. Now, these aren’t the only students who came to my classroom – but these were the students I didn’t understand. 

Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt) has a message that all educators should hear. While he addresses the critical need for creativity, he graciously shares his childhood experiences and how those impacted his education. I was struck by his stories of diving into the Goodwill clothing bin (because his family was too poor to shop at Goodwill) late at night, and how that affected his learning experiences on the following day. Kevin shared very personal (and gut-wrenching) stories about his father and the ways in which he was mistreated on a daily basis by the man who should have been taking care of him. 

“Emotion cements learning.” It is imperative that we keep this in mind every time we interact with students. We have to remember that disengagement is not synonymous with laziness. That the quiet students in the back need us to help create positive classroom experiences so the learning that is “cemented” is positive. We also need to remember that we have to hold the bar just as high for those students who sit in the back, and that we need to find alternative, creative methods to help them reach the bar. 

This is one of those presentations that I’m so glad that METC has archived – I need to sit through it a few more times as I’m sure there are several invaluable nuggets that I missed. 


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Reflections on METC14 (Part 1)

Don’t you love that “just came back from an awesome conference” feeling? I do – and I wish I could find a way to bottle that enthusiasm and positive energy so I could tap into it months down the road.

Over the past few days, I had opportunity to participate in two fantastic PD events. I was fortunate to be able to spend my entire day Saturday at EdCampSTL and Tuesday and Wednesday at METC (Midwest Education Technology Conference). At each I was so excited to connect face to face with educators I follow on Twitter and with whom I’ve connected via tweets.

One such educator really helped push some of my thinking and challenged me to return to blogging. Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher) reminded us in a session that it is incredibly important to not only connect, but to share. I would consider myself a pretty avid Twitter user; however, I tend to be much more of a consumer of information rather than a creator or sharer.

To be honest – I typically do not feel that I have anything that is inspirational enough, smart enough, insightful enough, innovative enough or worthy enough to share. I sometimes even find myself second guessing or questioning what I am considering sending out in a tweet. And don’t get me started on the blog. I’ve had this thing up for a year now, and I rarely take the time to draft a post. I think about it plenty, but when it comes to committing to the words, I back out. No, I talk myself out. I convince myself that what I have to say is not worth reading and that others won’t care what I have to say. I dwell on the thought that what I am thinking and sharing has been thought about and shared by many others many times before.

I have to thank Josh for challenging those thoughts and feelings in the course of his presentation at METC. He reminded me that my ideas and thoughts are worth sharing with others. Just because they may seem not so incredible to me does not mean that others will not find value in them.

So, I’m going to commit myself to blogging and tweeting even when that voice inside tries to convince me that what I want to share is unworthy. Thank you, Josh, for the excellent reminder and for the challenge to press on.

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Read the CCSS Like an English Teacher

For the past several days I have been fortunate to attend the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference in Boston. Set in this amazing venue of a historically rich city such as Boston, I have been blessed to learn from and alongside many like-minded English colleagues. My life, both professionally and personally, has been enriched over the course of these past few days.

However, in my time here, I have become increasingly aware of an overall attitude toward the CCSS that I am hearing from my brilliant and hard-working colleagues. It as become clear to me, that many of us are not reading the standards as English teachers would – by inferring, analyzing, interpreting the words on the page. It seems to me that we are not reading between the lines to see what the text is telling us, not only explicitly but also implicitly. It is what is implied through the standards, and not directly stated, that I believe is so exciting about the standards. The standards do not tell us how many books students must read annually, nor do they break down the types of text that we should be having students read. Instead, the standards tell us to have students read fiction and informational text and leaves the how many, what kind, and in what way up to us – the teachers. The writing standards are similar. They tell us that students need to write narratives about real and imagined (to me that means creative!) events, informative pieces as well as pieces that allow students to practice effective argument. The standards do not tell us how many pieces, or if the informative writing should be essays or books or articles. No, those decisions are left up to us. I am so grateful that those decisions are not made for me, and that I have the opportunity to work through those decisions with my teachers in my district.

But, as I listen to the frustration of my colleagues here at this conference, I wonder who is making those decisions for them. My suspicion is that state departments and legislators, not local educators, are making the important decisions about what and when students should read and write. What else could suck the joy out of planning the curriculum and instruction that will be delivered in our classrooms? It seems to me that it is not the CCSS that is the problem. The problem is those who are doing the reading, adopting and mandating the implementation of the standards. Perhaps the real problem is that we are allowing those decisions to impact our attitudes and feelings. 

To me, the CCSS is not a cold, heartless mandate that requires teachers to give up all autonomy to do right by kids. They are not asking us to abandon all that is good for kids in reading and in writing. Rather, the standards are a set of common end goals that I can have for my students. The path to get there is still up to me and to all teachers who are willing to engage students in meaningful learning opportunities. 

I think we all need to read the CCSS like English teachers. We need to infer that the standards want us to create avid readers and informed citizens who write with passion about topics that matter to them. Because this is what I want for my students (and for all students), this is how I choose to approach the CCSS. It is my hope that as we continue to learn more about and become accountable for implementing these standards, we will choose to read the standards as English teachers – to read between the lines to find the opportunities that are there for teachers and for students. 

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Personal Responsibility

This morning I heard on the news that the injured spectators at the Daytona 500 have hired lawyers and are considering filing suit. My immediate reaction to this was extreme frustration – almost to the point of anger. I wondered why people, who chose to attend a race (where crashes are not uncommon) and chose to sit near the track, would think that they should have the right to sue NASCAR for the injuries they sustained.

I empathize; I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a car come flying at me and to sustain injury from the debris. But I can’t help but wonder – where is the personal responsibility in all of this? If you make the decision to attend a race and you  make the decision to sit near the track, should you not be the one to accept responsibility for those decisions?

This is not an isolated incident – there is a lack of personal responsibility all over the place. You can place a cup of hot coffee between your legs while driving, and if it spills and burns you – no problem! You can sue the company from whom you bought it and win. Nevermind that it was your decision to first buy the piping hot cup of coffee and second to place that piping cup of coffee between your legs. You do not have to accept responsibility for those decisions! How pathetic is a society where this can happen?

The news about the Daytona 500 got me thinking about our students. Learning personal responsibility is critical and our students deserve to learn personal responsibility in the safe environment of school. When I think about personal responsibility, I think about students taking ownership of their learning. This does not mean that we teach and it’s up to students to “get it,” or that we assign late grades or zeroes when work isn’t submitted on time. Rather, it means that we teach students how and when to ask for help, how and when to use their resources and how to make good decisions.

If we are to help our students grow into contributing members of society, we have to do more than teach them the content and skills of the various disciplines. We have to provide them with opportunities to practice personal responsibility, and we have to be there to help guide them through those opportunities.

As educators, do we think about this as we plan our daily lessons? Do we think about our students who need us to provide them with opportunities to practice personal responsibility and then give them what they need? When we see students who clearly do not take personal responsibility for their actions or decisions, do we throw up our hands and complain to our colleagues about “students these days” or do we seek out those students and talk through what they could have done differently?

As educators, we have an amazing opportunity to leave the world better than we found it – because we are truly shaping the future. I want to leave the world a place in which people are good to each other and take personal responsibility for their decisions and actions.

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Second attempt

I’m back at it. It’s been almost a week since I started this blog and I haven’t been back again to write until now. It feels funny writing in this blank space, knowing that if someone would happen upon it they could read it and criticize – most certainly wondering why in the heck I would bother to have a blog in the first place.

I’m struggling to get into the writing habit. I want so much to model regular writing for my teachers, but it is difficult for me to get started. At the same time, I know that regular reflection is critical in education. I would really like for this blog to be a sort of marriage of those two ideas – reflection and writing routinely. We’ll see how that goes.

Today is one of those days where by the end I felt almost deflated. I have no good or valid reason for this – except that when I look into the remaining months of the school year I am instantly overwhelmed by what needs to be accomplished. My calendar has very little white space left on it, and I know that there will be even more to fill it. I don’t feel like I’m encouraging or inspiring today. I need a pick-me-up. So, I thought I’d try this blog again.

Too many irons in the fire is likely what the issue is. So many things demanding my time as an educator, wife and mother that right now I’m trying to find that perfect balance. Often I feel like I have pretty good balance; today isn’t one of those times.

So I reflect on the good of the day: Today I had the privilege of participating in a Google Hangout with two of my high school English teachers (each from separate schools) and my Technology Coach to talk about a Challenge Based Learning project that they are doing in their classrooms. These teachers have accepted the challenge from the Technology Coach and myself to bring CBL into their English Literature classrooms and see how it goes. They are excited and dedicate to the authentic learning experiences that this will provide for their students. The four of us are learning alongside one another, and I’m looking forward to this experience, as I know I it will be a great learning opportunity for me (as well as the students and their teachers).

I can feel good about the fact that these teachers are inspired and inspiring due to their willingness to listen to an idea brought to them by the Technology Coach and myself. We’re going to see this thing through to the end and I know it will be a terrific learning experience.

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First Post

Great leaders model what they expect from those they lead. I believe that teachers of writing should be writers. Although I am no longer a teacher of writers (not K-12 students, anyway), I am a teacher of teachers of writers.

As I worked with teachers today, we spent much time in reflection and discussion over the NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing,  we discussed the idea that teachers of writing must be writers. This is a really nice idea, but how do teachers have time? 

I don’t really have an answer for that – but I know that if I want my teachers to write, I need to  write. So here I am….

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