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Showing posts from 2015

Happy rather than dignified..

"I would always rather be happy than dignified."
~Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre)

I've always liked this statement. Having spent my entire adult life with a tenuous grasp on dignity is part of the reason. But the other part is the joy that it invokes. Sometimes in life, you just have to ignore your dignity in favor of joy.

This time of year, it is not difficult to find examples of people willing to choose happiness over dignity. Ugly sweater day, the mail carrier wearing a santa hat, bobbing for candy canes - these are not things that "dignified" people do, and yet they generate so much happiness.

Technology increases our ability to abandon dignity for happiness. Check out my JibJab video as proof. Or go to Twitter for some some entertaining pics under #StarWarsTheForceAwakens. Pretty much everywhere you look, you can find digital examples folks willing to toss their dignity in exchange for a little happiness.

In the next few days, whether you are at school, the s…

Why We Tell The Story

My son left Thursday morning for the 2015 Pennsylvania Thespian Conference. His school was honored to be asked to perform their production of Once On This Island on the Main Stage. It was a big deal.

On Tuesday, the students held an open rehearsal for the hapless parents, as the Conference itself is only for students. I was blown away by the skill, talent and effort of all the students. This was my son's first high school musical production and compared with the middle school shows, it was "next level."

I cried through most of the show - as is my embarrassing custom when students display such passion and commitment. The performance was impressive and reflective of the time and energy they put into learning the songs, accents and steps.

When I dropped my son off on Thursday morning for the bus that would take him to the Conference, I had a feeling that he would not be in touch for the duration - most 14 year old boys aren't into texting their mom and so I pretend to b…

Huh?

I cannot concentrate today.

I have a list in front of me of things I need to do. They are important - pressing even. And yet, I cannot concentrate.

My problem is twofold. Tonight is Opening Night for my son's first high school drama performance. He's a good actor and this is a student directed play - so I am interested as a mom AND as an educator. What will it be like? Will everything go as planned? Or well, even?

The other issue is my niece. She is currently driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to from Pittsburgh to my house outside of Philadelphia. I wonder about weather and road conditions. How soon will she be here? Did I buy enough food?

I can't help but laugh at myself. How many times have I said to a student "Pay attention, will ya"? I've said it to myself at least 50 times in the last hour.

Finally, I gave up to blog.

One of two things could happen next. I could immediately become productive OR I could go home and try again tomorrow.

I am feeling like…

The New Us

One of my heroes, Maya Angelou, wrote, "It is time for parents to teach young children early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength." I'm willing to bet that most people would agree with this sentiment, at least on the surface.

Where things get complex is in the implementation of this. Sure, we can accept that diversity is beautiful. Even mainstream advertising makes sure that we see images of same-sex couples, persons with physical disabilities, racial differences and interracial families. The new "us" as a nation.

When we think about "US" as a school, community or organization, it can be somewhat more difficult to see the diversity which is so positively embodied in advertising campaigns - even, sometimes, our own. Biases and stereotypes creep their way into the ways we talk about others and the expectations we have for them.

I think of phrases I have overheard within the last year which illustrate these prejudices. To be clear, …

Don't Give Up the Ship

I've had a bad week. I will not lie. Things were not going well from the outset. Generally, I am a fairly positive person, but I struggled this week with negative thoughts.

Without going into the painful details of what exactly went wrong, I can tell you that the underlying problems were, well, problems. Things not running smoothly, disruptions to the schedule, set backs in "the plan."

In my more frustrated moments, I did a lot of complaining. My message was clear: "This will never work."

This is not a sentence I utter often. For most of life, I believe in possibilities and work hard to make them realities. This historically has been easier for me, but maintaining this mindset this week has been a challenge.

I was fortunate to be exposed to some forward thinkers this week, who helped me to focus on what could be and what was working. I've taken their thoughts and put them into a handy list to help myself when I have another bout of negative thinking.

Focus o…

Being Understood

My 9th grader called me yesterday after school. "Can you pick me up?," he asked. I had not planned to, but my mommy sense told me I should say yes.

When I arrived at school he was sitting by the tennis courts doing some homework. He looked a little sad.

As parents, we want to make sure our kids our ok. As the parents of teenagers, we know better than to ask, so I waited to be told.

The conversation started with the usual topics. How was your day? What should we have for dinner? Eventually, he opted to drive with me to pick up his brother from cross country. And that is when I got the goods.

No, he was not bullied in school. No one stole his lunch money, he wasn't sick and he didn't lose his Chromebook. What happened was something that has happened to all of us - he wasn't able to explain his thinking.

It was the end of the last class of the day. Many of the kids had left early for a soccer game, so the teacher asked the students a series of questions. For each qu…

A Vision That Drives What We Do

What guides your institution? I've given this a great deal of thought lately. Leaving one institution for another provides a special lens through which to compare and analyze. I've found myself thinking about why - Why is policy in place? Why do we value that thing? Why do we show up every day?

To be clear, I am not saying "we did it better at my old school" or "my new institution is an improvement over my old one." Rather, having been part of a school culture and being faced with the task of navigating a new one has given me the opportunity to evaluate both.

This month I've been reading Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need by Chris Lehman and Zac Chase.I haven't made a great deal of progress with the reading, but the book has enabled me to do a great deal of thinking. One of the chapters is about vision. I read it last week, but have thought about the idea of vision on a fairly consistent basis in the days since.

Lehman and Chase …

An Indelible Mark

My sister died this summer. It was unexpected and awful. She was funny, generous, thoughtful and warm. It was impossible to be around her and not laugh.

Amy was older than me by five years and so, naturally, I worshipped her. Years ago, she had a pair of purple shoes (it was the 80s!) that I coveted. My feet were smaller than hers at the time because I was only 10. She said that she'd give them to me when my feet were big enough.

Besides the shoes, Amy had many gifts that I admired - as a 10 year old, throughout my teens and later as an adult. She knew how to mark an occasion. She threw great parties, paying careful attention to every detail. She remembered milestones.

But it wasn't just the celebratory moments that Amy acknowledged. She knew the importance of marking the more difficult moments in life as well. When my oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Amy sent him balloons. His delight was infectious and he played with them for days until they fell limp…

Why I Love School Sports: Confessions of Non-Sporty Teacher

Yesterday, I went to not one but two school sporting events. The first was a soccer game at my son's small independent school. The Hill Top Hawks were playing the Stratford Friends Phoenix. The Phoenix were victorious, but it was a beautiful day for a game.

From there, we drove to the STHS Stadium where the Spartans played the Trojans in an epic (and very long) football game. Again, a beautiful evening to be outside and the band sounded great.

If you know me at all, you know that I am not sporty. Sure, I attempt to play tennis and street hockey with my kids, but I really don't have the patience to watch others play. While I have dutifully sat through many sporting events out of love, I have rarely paid much attention to the game. In fact, the only reason I knew the Spartans were winning last night was because the pep band played On Wisconsin each time they scored - and I heard that song many times last night.

Not paying attention to the game has enabled me to appreciate the ex…

What is Reflection? 4 Questions to Guide Your Thinking

Today is the last day of summer. I know, summer really ended earlier this month when school opened. Back to waking up early, packing lunches, checking homework, talking to teachers, waiting at the bus stop, band practice, cross country, new adventures, old friends and different expectations.

We have spent the last three weekends starting or resuming all these back to school habits. If we are lucky, we made some goals and are trying to meet them. But how much time in the last three weeks have we reflected on our new experiences with students, colleagues, bus schedules and adventures? It is an interesting question.

I am a mindfulness class drop-out. OK, I didn't actually drop out and the instructor was far too positive and hopeful to kick anyone out of the class. However, I really struggled with the practice of mindfulness.

"Pay attention to your breathing" were the basic directions. "Notice what you are feeling in your body." "Just be." Instead, I plan…

Organizational Learning

Last Spring, my 8th grade son presented to the school board with a group of teachers about their Chromebook experiences. The district had piloted a 1:1 Chromebook program for 8th & 9th grade. I attended the meeting because I was proud of my kid, but also, I was proud of the teachers.

Not to harp too much about Chromebooks, but they are really great. They support engagement, organization, research, effective use of time, efficiency, best-practices, etc., etc., etc. In short, Chromebooks support learning.

So much of my career has been focused on individual learning - for myself or for students. In recent years as an administrator, I have thought more and more about organizational learning. This is a bigger and stickier ball of wax.

I found a paper on Scribd (a new fun tool for me) about Individual Learning. Read it, it was fun. The part that was the most compelling for me was about the differences and the connections between individual and organizational learning.

All of us are &qu…

Idea Explosion!

Last week, I suffered from insecurity and doubt. Trust me, it is not a fun place to dwell. I kept reminding myself that change is uncomfortable. But also, I reminded myself that I LIKE change.

Part of my identity as an educator is someone who works for change. I am reluctant to use the phrase "change agent" here, because while I work for and support change, I don't have a lot of success creating change on a scale bigger than my own realm.

That said, my realm just got a whole lot bigger. Once, I was responsible for working for change in my classroom. Now, I can work for change with a larger group of peers - educators like me who work for change in their own realms. The thing is, if you think about all the realms that we collectively touch, that's a whole lot of change.

I spent the week allowing this idea to sink in. The deeper it sank, the more I liked it. "What if we.." kept creeping into my thinking. I jotted all my "what if wes" down on Post-It …

Change is Uncomfortable

The first pangs of discomfort came as a result of sitting. The old me - teacher/mom/summer school director - rarely had time to sit. Sometimes my feet would hurt, so I'd take a few minutes to sit down with a kid or on the playground, but mostly, I stood.

The new me - director of professional development - sat a lot this week. It was an uncomfortable shift. I don't know if every week will require as much sitting, but it was the change in sitting habits that I think was the most noticeable and the most uncomfortable.

There are other changes that I am finding uncomfortable. My office is really quiet. Again, the teacher/mom/summer school director me is unused to this level of calm. I think more about big ideas and less about what will we do in the now to make our learning productive and meaningful. I have a lot to learn. Sure, teacher/mom/summer school director was always learning, but this level of learning feels extreme - so much information, so quickly, with little room for err…

Learning From an Icky Summer

I'll be honest, my summer was icky. Without going into the specifics, I can safely say this was the worst summer of my life. I wish I were exaggerating, but I am not.

Typically, I read fiction all summer, but this year I never connected with any of the books I tried. I turned instead to professional reading and I read quite a lot. Books, blogs, articles - all of these helped my inner nerdy teacher to heal and feel productive.

As I read, I kept a list of the basics of what I had learned on the back of an old receipt. It served as a bookmark and a way to record my thinking and learning - haphazard, perhaps, but effective. As I read and jotted, I was able to reflect and synthesize. Here are some of the things I learned:

Don't be isolated. As teachers, we like to close our door and do our thing. When things go wrong in life, we like to close the door and be alone. This is the wrong approach. I spent some time with colleagues this summer - at a TEDx event, showing up at summer schoo…

Standing Ovation for Second Place

Like many others in America, I had a Wimbledon breakfast. I will be honest and say that I only did this for my kids. I am not much of a tennis fan and for most of this morning's match between Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza, I was reading the paper and listening with half an ear.

As a mom of two boys, I watch a great deal of sports. As a non-sporty person, I find most of the games boring. This morning, I started paying attention only when the match was over. For me, that was when the drama started.

Garbine Muguruza played well - my kids said so and she must have to make it to the final round. But as you know, she did not "win."

Tennis is a more civilized sport than some of the others I have watched with my kids. Often in a final game of a season, a team wins and celebrates and a team loses and mourns. Today was different.

The game ended and everyone waited. A ceremony began. Garbine Muguruza was given an award for second place. Everyone stood up and clapped. Everyo…

Teachers Unite - at the pool!

Today was an awesome day. In spite of the gross and muggy weather, teachers and students worked hard to make things happen at summer school. Walking around, I bore witness to meaningful lessons and productive interactions. It was great.

After school, I was fortunate to go to my pool. Swimming after summer school is such a treat. I can cool off and reflect on the day as I count my laps of play pool soccer with my kids.

Following today's swim, I made the decision to sit in the shade with some teacher friends of mine. While we have never worked together in a school, we share a great deal in common. Some of my group are retired. Some work in public schools and others independent. Even so, our similarities far outweigh any differences that may exist. All of us are committed to helping students learn and improve our craft.

In some ways, it is the best PD around - not just because of the Vitamin D or the water - but because of the discussion. It centers on positive change and humor. We t…

Learning By Doing

I have spent the last two weeks dwelling in lofty ideas. I attended a TEDx event, read educational books and blogs, had lively conversations about ideas with teacher friends and debriefed with my own children about their academic year. It was great! Relaxing, engaging and really fun.

Tomorrow, I have to go to work. Not the "lofty idea" type of work, either. The "all day, it is really hot, helping kids be successful and supporting other teachers" type of work that is Summer Spark. This is my second year running Summer Spark. I learned a great deal and had a wonderful time last summer. Reflecting on last summer's successes and challenges has been a fun endeavor which was heavily peppered with lofty ideas.

Lofty ideas typically inspire change, and so some of the things we did last summer needed to be altered or removed and replaced with something new. This, of course, meant work - evaluating last year, synthesizing new ideas, adapting them to meet our needs. It w…

Adapt, Migrate or Perish

I had a biology teacher in high school named Ms. Zak. She was tall, strict and austere. I remember being a little afraid of her. If she disapproved of what you said, she would say, "Oh, really?" in a way the conveyed disbelief not only in the answer, but in the thinking behind it.

She knew how to keep a class in line, but she also knew her stuff. I learned a lot from Ms. Zak, most of which I still remember (although, I never was able to locate the heart in the crayfish dissection. "Maybe it didn't have one," I said to Ms. Zak. "Oh, really?," she replied.)

Ms. Zak had a large sign on her wall above the chalkboard that said ADP. And she would often remind us that ADP applied not only in nature, but in her classroom. Adapt. Migrate. Perish. She would point it out in nature all the time. If a student was unprepared for class, she would point to the sign and say, "You must adapt to our guidelines, migrate out of this class or you shall perish."

I…

Making Time for Reflection

The last two months of school have been grueling. There were assessments to be finished, activities to be planned, trips to be taken, graduations to be rehearsed and meetings to be attended. On top of that, there were unexpected crises to be managed - like when the bus driver got lost on the way home from our trip or when the computer we needed for that one project crashed.

Another factor in all the mayhem were all the good-byes. Watching all my students graduate or leave is always hard. This year, I had to add our Head of School (who is also a very dear friend) to the list of "graduates." Both of my children graduated this year and are transitioning to new schools, which means saying good by to all of the teachers, bus drivers, administrators and secretaries we love.

All of the excitement and change happened in the blink of an eye. It seems like just last week we were returning from Spring Break and now, all of a sudden, it is over. How does that happen?

These last two days…

Redemption is Messy

"We forward this generation triumphantly"
Bob Marley wrote many of my favorite songs. At the top of the list is Redemption Song. I learned to love it on a hilarious vacation I spent with my family a few summers ago. There was a fellow staying a few houses away from ours who exuberantly embraced all the beach had to offer - paddle boarding, kite flying and wooing women. After each day's endeavor, he sat on the porch and played the bongos while singing. Hence his nickname, Bongo Boy.

Bongo Boy wasn't a particularly skilled kite flier or paddle boarder, nor was he a great musician. In fact, he mumbled his way through Redemption Song without really knowing the words.

Still, his enthusiasm was impressive and his zest for living unparalleled. He fell off the paddle board often and most of the women said no. He didn't even know the words to the song he loved so much, but he sang it anyway.

Even so, I think Bongo Boy moved forward his generation triumphantly.

I have a B…

"This will take forever.."

I went to a little league baseball game today. In some ways, it was exactly what you are imagining. The sun shone, the players had on matching shirts and the dads were encouraging everyone to "keep your eye on the ball." Except this game was different. This game was a scrimmage for kids who can't play regular little league. Maybe they aren't coordinated enough, maybe they are too shy, maybe they just don't feel like it. These players range in age, size and ability. It doesn't really matter, though, because they all belong.

They cheer, encourage, high-five, heckle and laugh with one another. There is a fair amount of teasing- but not the kind that hurts anyone's feeling. Opportunities are given to try again and no one feels like a loser.

As a non-athletic person and the mom of one of the players, I delight in this model. While my kid is one of the better hitters in the group, I know that he could never play on a more traditional baseball team. He giggles t…

Toward Something

Opportunity comes from the word opportune, a Middle English word from the Latin opportunus. Miss Campbell, my Latin teacher of many years, would be proud that I remembered that much, but ashamed that I had to look up the rest, that ob- means toward and -port means harbor. In a way, I see where the Romans were going with idea, that opportunity can be interpreted as a chance at safety. However, I think the toward part should be emphasized over the harbor. Harbors are nice, and all, and there can be lots going on in them, but they don't offer the non-seafaring folk much in the way of opportunity.

For me, it is the toward part that matters. When I think about the encounters I have had with opportunity, there is typically motion towards something. Put more simply, if you just sit around, you don't get much opportunity.
All of us should be moving toward something. However, this is only part of the opportunity equation. We also need, I think, some other factor(s) to be in our favor. …

Crossing Paths with "Idea People"

I love a good idea. One that really makes you think, wonder, plan and try.

In the summer or on break, I find that my own ideas are abundant. My brain has time to reflect and ruminate. "What if we tried this?" "I wonder what would happen if we...?" "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if we..."

This time of year, things are a little more hectic. As much as I need a new idea for one thing or another, my brain space is occupied with minutiae - the 8th grade trip, getting ready for graduation, a conference with someone's parents, did I unplug the iron?. Not really the stuff of inspiration, I assure you.

This makes it difficult to wind out the school year on a strong footing. This time of year more than ever, students need new and innovative challenges to keep their minds from wandering to summer plans or other things teachers don't want to even contemplate.

The dilemma is clear - the adults are running out of steam and inspiration just when the students need …

#sfsreads: Twitter in the Middle School Literacy Classroom

A year or so ago, I had the idea that I wanted to use Twitter for my classes. It was just an idea and I really wasn't sure where to go with it. My goals were simple: I wanted to build engagement and community.

I tried some different things. First, we tweeted for pretend. It was a good way to get our feet wet. We used tools like Twister to make Twitter handles for characters in a book we were reading and Tweeted as if we were them. It was fun, different and engaging.

Finally, we all made our own Twitter handles and started in earnest. We chose a hashtag and started Tweeting questions and responses to each other. At the time, we were reading a great book called Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. We found him on Twitter and told him about our book discussion. He stopped by a few times and added a lot to our discussion, much to the delight of the students and their nerdy teacher.

As the school year wore on and summer approached, I wanted to keep the momentum going. We invited…

Finding the Fun in Faliure

As educators in the modern age, we recognize the importance of failure. We know it feels bad, but we also know that it is an important step towards growth.

Winston Churchil was on to this idea when he stated "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Sometimes, that is a really hard thing to do.

At times, I am really good at failure and even embrace it. When I play tennis (or basketball, pickle, street hockey, dodge ball, wiffle ball, video games, ghost in the graveyard - you get the idea?) with my kids, I typically fail. This never, ever bothers me and I consistently have a great time. The stakes are low and I can occasionally learn a new thing that makes my failure less extreme the next time around. I know that I will never be able to compete with either of them in any sport I try, and yet, I keep going back for more and find myself laughing in spite of my failure.

When I fail with them, I am part of an accepting team. They encourage me…

Bleary-Eyed, Happy & Riddled With Questions

My report cards are due tomorrow.  I just finished and it is 10:35 pm.  This isn't the latest hour at which I have finished, nor is it the earliest.

For better or for worse, my school relies heavily on a narrative to communicate progress.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I like being able to tell students and parents exactly what I see, rather than simply choosing from a menu of comments, as I've had to do in other schools.  Relating a specific moment or success is powerful.

On the other hand, I walked away from today's writing marathon worried that there was lots of room for bias.  Did I gush more about the one student than another?  Did I allow recent frustrations with a student over-shadow her growth?  Was there appropriate data to support what I wrote?

Don't get me wrong, I am pleased with the outcome of today's report card rally.  I read my comments over and over.  I looked at their scores and samples of student work.  A trusted colleague…

Snow Day!!

In spite of the fact that I would rather have sunshine and rising temperatures, I was so delighted to have a snow day today.  After I received the call, I informed the two teenagers in my house who happily grunted.  Then, I gleefully jumped back into bed.  After a brief doze, I got up and ate waffles.

Let's read the paper!  Do you want to play Wii?  Can we go sledding?

Had today been a normal Tuesday, I would not have had these options.  Part of me felt guilty for saying yes to all of the above.  And for making hot chocolate, taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood and watching TV.  The truth is, I had lots to do.  The reporting cycle ends soon, I am working to tweak the school schedule with a committee and the summer program I run needs some attention.

The guilt eventually gave way to productivity.  I had intermittent fun all day - which allowed my brain to just take off.  I saw new solutions, got new ideas and, in the end, had a productive day.

I spent a lot of time wonde…

I Don't Shine If You Don't Shine

Blogging is a selfish act.  I blog for myself.  While it pleases me when others read and comment on my blog, I write because it helps me make sense of the day, my students, my plans and what really matters in life.

Teaching can be selfish, too, if we are not careful.  Sometimes teachers can get wrapped up in the lesson, the need to be in charge, or a desire to be in control and forget that teaching is really about the student.

My brother is dyslexic, only he never bothered to tell anyone until he was an adult.  He is also creative and hilarious - a combination that can be disruptive to traditional classrooms.  Not that long ago, he told me a story about when he was in 1st or 2nd grade.  It was the first week of school and he was nervous.  He was trying to make sure the pencil fit in the groove at the top of the desk when it fell.  He picked it up, but it fell again.  After about the third drop, the teacher noticed.  She was annoyed and said something like, "I guess we all have t…

How do we measure success?

A student had to take an standardized assessment today.  He ended up with the highest score of the day.  We fought about it off and on.  "Why do we have do do this?," he asked.  "I'm gonna fail," he said.

I wasn't sure how to answer the first question in way that either of us was comfortable with.  But I was certain that he was wrong about the second.

Fortunately for both us, we had lots of flexibility in terms how long he needed to finish.  We stopped and started a few times.  In the end, I had to persuade him that he had done well.

I accept the need for having to take a standardized test every now and then.   I accept that progress matters.  But as the teacher of students who work super hard, but sometimes their effort doesn't translate to a high scores, I wonder.  How do we measure success?   As a hard core perfectionist and the mom of two hard core perfectionists, I wonder.  How do we measure success?

From either perspective, today's exercise …

Engaging Students

A while back, a parent asked me an important question.  "What kind of active learning opportunities do you provide?"  At the time, my instinct was to feel a little defensive.  My class is pretty fun, but we were covering some somewhat dry content that week.  And I was not on my best game.

Once I got over the perceived insult, I thought a lot about that question.  What are the ways I provide active learning that engages each student?  The discussion broadens when you think about work product - what are we asking students to produce that is engaging and meaningful?

These questions are so important that we must never stop asking them.  But it helps to think about some possible options, some tried and true ways to engage learners purposefully and meaningfully.  Here are a few that have been working for me lately:

Pear Deck - Pear Deck has been my go-to source for fun lessons and formative assessments.  My students even ask "Can we please have a Pear Deck today?"  In es…