Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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 wondering if the snow day had a similar impact on my students.  Will they show up tomorrow feeling better rested with the brains filled with new ideas?  Did they pursue some personal learning?  Take a walk?  Eat waffles?  Have fun?

I hope so.

The nerdy teacher in me would once have complained about a snow day.  After all, there are always things to learn and do at school.  But today, that same nerdy teacher learned that learning and productivity can take many forms.  A chat with your mom, a new level attained on the video game, and solution for an old problem can lead to really important learning.  That kind of productivity can really only come from a well-spent snow day.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

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 to wait for Benjamin."

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have all made comments like this.  It usually isn't about the pencil or the even the student.  When we as teachers get annoyed, it is typically because something disrupted our plan for the day.

I'd like to be able to say that Benjamin brushed this off and moved on.  But he told me this in his thirties, so I'm guessing the shame and embarrassment lingered at least long enough for this event to become a story you might tell your sister later on in life.

When we think about how to show students kindness and caring, it is important to remember that little comments can have enormous ramifications.  We need to make teaching about the students and their needs - not our egos or the lesson - no matter how many times the pencil falls off the desk.

There is a Killers song that I love.  Read My Mind has nothing to do with teaching, learning or school.  To be honest, I am really not sure what it is about, but I love it anyway.  The lyrics read:
"Oh well I don't mind if you don't mind
'Cause I don't shine if you don't shine"

It's a little love song that I sing to my class sometimes.  Mostly, I sing it to myself to help me remember that I can be a selfish blogger, but never, ever a selfish teacher. I won't shine, if they don't shine.  Humans can shine, for sure, but we shine the best and brightest when we all shine together.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

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 was difficult.  For my student, as it would have been for me and both of my sons, the highest score was not satisfactory.  He set a high bar for himself, and in his mind, didn't reach it.  Other students in my class went home disappointed as well, but for different reasons.  They had worked really hard, but didn't end up with a high score.

So how can we salvage a day when most of us go home disappointed? As an adult, I have developed the coping strategies necessary to bounce back from most set-backs.  My students aren't quite there.  They need a little more encouragement.  They need to be reminded of how far they have come.  They need to know that all of us have bad days, and sometimes making it until bus dismissal time is, in itself, a measure of success.  They need to be reminded that hard work pays off in unexpected ways, but not always with a great score.

Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."  All humans need this message.  Adults and students alike need to accept that we are not simply defined by our failure or - for all you hard core perfectionists our there - our success.

Do we keep going?  Do we get up and try, even when we'd rather not?  Do we have the courage to face both our success and our failures?  To me, that is the measure of success.  And that is the message that schools need to start sending to students.