An Open or Closed Porch?

My husband and I recently updated the front of our house.  We’d had a closed in porch that I loved from the inside.  It gave us shelter from the winter winds, kept us dry from the summer thunder storms, and gave us some spare ‘kid’ space whenever we needed an extra play room.

But from the outside, it was uninviting. We knew 25 years ago when we married and moved into this house that the porch needed… redoing.

Over those 25 years, my husband and I often discussed what we’d like to do when we changed and updated the porch.  I, of course, wanted a closed in porch. Not because an open porch was a bad idea, I just thought that giving up the extra 150 square feet wasn’t a good idea.  Our family is still growing and when we need it, it’s a great play space.  Add on the fact that I liked the shelter it provided from our southern exposure during bad weather, and I thought it was a no brainer.

He, of course, wanted the porch open.  As many times as we had discussed it over those years, I didn’t find out until the porch was actually finished why his heart was so set on an open porch.  As it turns out, he wanted to be able to see outside without screens or windows.  He wanted to be immersed in the peacefulness of the street on which we live.

Ultimately, we  decided on an open porch with two rocking chairs. While I begrudgingly acquiesced to the open concept, once I truly heard his heart, I was glad I had caved.   As it turns out, we really love it.

The Open Porch

I have made a surprising discovery.  The porch has given us the opportunity to have wonderful conversations.  We drink our morning and evening coffee there.  Together. We talk about stuff. And it makes me feel more connected to him.

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Are people like porches?

As I thought about how our conversations made me feel more connected to my husband, I wondered about how great it would be if I could have those kind of conversations with my students. You know, conversations about ‘stuff’. I wondered what kind of things I would learn about them.  What kind of stuff is happening that really makes them smile? What keeps them from doing their very best?  How can I help them do better?  As a teacher, I wondered about my most challenging students.  The ones that I like despite their determination to sit inside a closed porch. The ones who work hardest to make themselves unapproachable.  I wondered if my students knew I was an open porch with an empty rocker just waiting for them to sit down so I could listen and connect to their heart.

Leaders should be like an open porch.

Leadership means modeling the behaviors that will bring your staff to the best they can be.  In “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” John Maxwell lists listening at number eleven.  Maxwell says, “leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. That’s the Law of Connection. But before a leader can touch a person’s heart, he has to know what’s in it. He learns that by listening” (p.41). Many school administrators wall themselves into their office, accessible to only those in the the golden circle. They are missing so much.

According to My Future, people work because they like to be productive and to contribute to society.  People also work to feel a sense of well being and accomplishment and to meet and interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. Work provides a social life and makes us feel good about ourselves.

Administrators who do not freely flow among their personnel miss making the connections that bring meaning to the staff’s work as well as, quite frankly, their own. The people in his/her building have many great ideas swirling around it.  Making time to chat to all members of the staff opens this administrator to the lives of the staff.  Perhaps someone is dealing with a dying husband. Perhaps another has had her son hospitalized.  Perhaps others have heard news of a new baby or a new house. They call this relationship building.

As I continue my journey toward leading a school, I reflect back on graduate school where we discussed that one of the first qualities that distinguishes a leader is his/her ability to move people toward a joint vision.

John Maxwell says that before you can ask for a hand, leaders need to touch people’s  heart.

I’m thinking that have a rocking chair mentality just might be the first step a new administrator should bring with them.

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.

Musings on Co-Teaching Assignments

As we tend to do in education, my first thoughts as I assembled this post were to find out what the research community’s thoughts were about teacher assignments and teacher efficacy related to teaching assignments. As educators,  I think this is where we go for corroboration (or not) of our thoughts.

I went first, of course, to Google Scholar where I found an article by Rori Ross-Hill (Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol 9-3 2009 188-198), who examined the exceptional student services of East Baton Rouge Parish system, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Although some of us would not agree with her opening remarks about the good fortune we had when then Secretary of Education T.H. Bell (1981) recognized, with the help of President Ronald Reagan, that the US education system was at risk, we may ultimately agree that one of the benefits of an outcome directly related to this event was the 2001 NCLB (NCLB United States Department of Education, 2001) policy that required students with disabilities to be granted access to the regular education curriculum.  Ross-Hill (2009, p1) says that it is “evident that the legislature align both acts, the NCLB (2001) and the IDEIA (2004) to ensure the success of the laws’ requirements”. Ross-Hill’s (2009, p1) article examines the idea that the ultimate success of the laws lies on the knowledge and attitude that teachers portray in the inclusive classroom.

Not willing to pay $35 to read the entire text, I drilled into the databases at Rutgers’, The State University of New Jersey Library, where I was able to read the entire text. Ross-Hill (2009) says that regular education teachers’ attitudes towards the implementation of inclusion in elementary and secondary classrooms is being studied. (Good to know, except her article was the only one that turned up in my scholarly searches related to teacher attitudes toward coteaching and teacher efficacy….hmm…this is 2015…) Further, researchers Bender, Vail & Scott (Ross-Hill, 2009) say that inclusion students cannot be successful without the proper attitude of the general education teacher. (Any inclusion teacher learns that week #1 on the job.)  As educators, administrators, and supervisors, we know that there are many possible factors that could contribute to the challenges faced by the general education teacher and the inclusion teacher: curriculum deficiencies, legal implications, social implications, and of course, standardized testing.  But, additionally, the attitudes toward the inclusion student and the presence of an inclusion teacher set forth additional burdens which can weigh heavily on the inclusion teacher. In many cases, the inclusion teacher works around the general education teacher, particularly in the lecture based, teacher-centered classrooms, where power struggles and teaching styles may conflict. ( A topic for another day….)   IDEA (2004)  required school systems to complete an individualized educational plan, detailing the extent to which the student will/will not participate in the inclusive classroom including which types of services the student will receive. (Ross-Hill, 2009).  IDEIA (2004) raised the degree of regulation and compliance from the inclusion practices being the sole responsibility of the inclusion teacher to now include the general education teacher, too, as a responsible party.  (This is not lost on the inclusion teacher; this can also create an unspoken blame-game between the two teachers.  More stress…)

Ross-Hill (2009) was clearly written a few years ago and the work of inclusion has moved, to some degree, forward.  However, I am here today to say that having been placed in a particular inclusion class assignment for the last 5 months and, this week, being given a new assignment for reasons unrelated to my work, has given me a new lease on life.

I write this on a beautiful Saturday morning.  I woke up (thank goodness!) and met my husband in the kitchen with dancing and singing. The real Chris Duane is back in the universe! As my husband would readily attest, this assignment weighed on me 24/7.  No longer in the assignment,  I feel as if a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  For many reasons that I cannot speak to here, this assignment was, without doubt, the most stressful assignment I’ve had in my 20 years of teaching. (Yikes! 20 years! And I’m still trying to change the world…)  But my experience is a testament to the importance that lies at the foot of individuals when making inclusion placements and pairings.  It would be naive of me to say that there aren’t times we just have to take the assignment and do the very best we can.  It is also a testament to the stress some of those assignments put on us as individuals who absolutely go to work every day to do what’s best for kids… even when it’s just not what’s good for us.