Swimming Against The Conformity Current

I started my Saturday morning off as I start many of my Saturday mornings.  I typically wake up (always a good start…) grab some coffee and work my way to my spare bedroom/office and jump into #SATCHAT with my other buddies who share a passion for sharing and learning.

After concluding my chat time and regrouping for my work for the day today (aka, refilling my coffee cup), I went back and reread the posts from the morning’s chat.  A post from Pernille Ripp caught my eye:

@pernilleripp
Thanks go to @PernilleRipp and #SATCHAT (2/7/15)

Of course I had to click on the link (goo.gl/lBKJqk) and I invite you to do the same.  Her words spoke to me as if she were “Killing Me Softly With (Her) Song” .  I don’t often add comments to a post; I’m not much for the Redundancy Chamber.  But given that I’d had the following experience just the previous afternoon, I was compelled to respond.

I wrote on Pernille’s Blog:

(A brief recap: My co-teacher and I designed a unit length project using ExplainEverything using all the electronic materials the students are given (aka handed) on their classroom wiki, in their iBook, and possibly some Internet research (beyond minimal). Their assignment: create an ExplainEverything project using 3-4 slides per unit from their learning goal rubric where they identify and synthesize their understanding of the topics presented. Their first unit had 17 learning goals. Upon presentation of the project to them, they immediately did the math and said…51 to 68 slides!!!??? and under their breath… are they crazy????)

If you went to Pernille’s blog and read my response, which I hope you will take the time to do, you will read a bit more about the question my Gen-Ed HS Biology co-teacher and I were asked:

If doing this kind of work is so important, then why is this class, our class the only one doing it?  Why isn’t every teacher making us do this kind of work, to work so hard, in all of our classes?

The truth is that I ask myself this kind of question every day.  Why aren’t teachers in our high school asking the students perform creative knowledge constructing projects every single day? Why do we ask so very little of our students? 

To be fair, which is a code I live by every day (and some days better than others), some of the teachers in my building are doing incredible work.  But it still begs the question asked to us by our student:  Why isn’t every teacher asking us to work this hard?

As I said in my post to Pernille, I had to hold my tongue.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student what I’ve experienced in my co-teaching classes.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student of the multiple or even many conversations I’ve had with my building colleagues about changing their craft to include projects like the one I created and (to her credit) my co-teacher has supported. (This has been a bumpy journey; bringing a project like this into a classroom for the first time is filled with unforeseen bumps in the road, despite my months of planning. And she has been a terrific co-pilot, pointing out how we can tweak the implementation here and there to make the process less stressful for the students. God bless her…) But I couldn’t possibly tell my student the words I’ve been told In conversation after conversation; the words that strike frustration and disbelief to my heart:

“I don’t have time. I’m too busy with (insert your excuse of choice here) and (insert your other excuse of choice here) to put all that time and energy into changing what I do.”

During this morning’s #SATCHAT as with many other Twitter Chats I follow, someone inevitably goes down the road of ‘providing teachers with professional development…..”.

Which brings me to my question of the day:

What does it take to have/inspire/cause a teacher to swim against the Conformity Current?

I wish I was writing because I knew the answer.  I wish I could say that the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars my district has spent on iPad training for our staff was the answer. I wish I could say that getting teachers (yes, even new teachers) to swim against the conformity current had an answer I could provide.  But the sad truth is that I don’t.

Before I close, I will share with you where I find the inspiration and courage to fight the good fight, as my friend Courtney Pepe would say (@iPadQueen2012), everyday.

For health reasons, I was home last spring, away from my classroom, and missing my work.  I was using Twitter to stay current on my political addictions and I decided to see what was going on in the educational arena.  Of course, you know the ending to this part of the story; I found my courage and inspiration from the millions of you out there who support and encourage us to do what’s best for kids everyday; to fight the good fight.  And if needed, to swim hard against the Conformity Current.

In swimming against the Conformity Current with the support of my Twitter friends and colleagues, I was no longer alone in the fight but supported by hundreds of others with a greater vision like mine: that kids won’t have to just do worksheets and multiple choice tests, but will have to put their minds to work and create new understandings and possibly change the world in the process.  Now… How Cool Is That?

P.S.  Thank you for choosing to Swim Against The Conformity Current and inspiring me every day.

Surviving The First Month of School by Putting Kids First

first-day-of-schoolTip #1:

Use your organizational skills to ensure that your classroom time is dedicated to student engagement. Sometimes this means over-planning; it’s the tip to making sure that you have lessons and activities in your hip pocket and ready to go. One way I’ve accomplished this is by using a technique called the Anchor Activity. Whether you’re a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher, having Anchor Activities ready and sitting on the sideline can be the difference between chaos and organized enrichment activities. It’s important that you weave the expectation of this activity into your opening year procedures. It prevents idle hands and can be a constructive activity for those students who complete an assignment early. Anchor Activities are part of a Differentiated Classroom. You can read more about Differentiated Instruction from KDP here:

http://www.kdp.org/resources/pdf/ProPointers.pdf

http://www.kdp.org/resources/tr/differentiatedinstruction.php

Other Anchor Activities Links:

http://www.rec4.com/filestore/REC4_AnchorActivityPacket_080513.pdf

http://www.caroltomlinson.com/2010SpringASCD/Rex_LowPrep.pdf

http://www.pinterest.com/kelleygg/anchor-activities/

classroom-management

Tip #2:

Think about Classroom Management. KDP(Kappa Delta Pi) offers many webinars on the ins and outs of classroom management. If you’ve missed these, they are available for review. Here’s the link: http://www.kdp.org/events/webinars.php#classroom .

Classroom management issues are best managed by developing engaging lessons with embedded classroom norms; what are the students expected to do every day when they arrive in your classroom? Elementary teachers may want coats and backpacks stowed before retrieving their morning folder of work. High school teachers may want students to follow a routine of completing a Do Now /Warm Up activity while you take attendance. Routines and procedures make for a smoothly running classroom. In fact, establishing routines and procedures are core evaluation points for teachers in each of the New Teacher Evaluation Models like Marzano or Danielson.

I think it’s also important to note that a smoothly running classroom is not necessarily one where all students are quietly working at their desk. In fact, classroom procedures are the cornerstone of effective group activities and collaborative assignments. Each student, understanding your expectations, knows their job and what to do if they have a question, problem, or finish early. Here’s a link to an article that may also help you out. http://goo.gl/5T0cq0

communication-for-designers

Tip #3:

Identify your communication methods. What does that mean?

• Bulletin Boards are used to communicate to the students and classroom visitors. Plan out how you intend to use this space to prevent clutter.

• Draft a Letter To Parents. As a new teacher, I’d run it past your supervisor or administrator. There’s nothing worse that misstating information, regardless of your positive intention, and having to retract it. For example, you may want to give parents with a clear choice of their preferred method of communication: text, email, newsletter, website or phone. However, you may be working in a district that prohibits the use of Twitter or Facebook pages. This is something you want to know ahead of time. Your school may use a standard form which could save you a lot of headaches.

• Set up your classroom and do a practice run through of how you see your average day unfolding. This will give you an opportunity to determine if you have your resources ( and the student resources) in the best locations. Logistical malfunctions can be the downfall of any lesson thought to be well planned.

For more on best practices:

Join NJASCD where  new NJ Educators stay current !

Read more about The Whole Child Philosophy at ASCD Whole Child Initiative.

kidsfirstwholechild