The district's internet was down for three days this week.
Here are some paraphrased thoughts we received from administration via email:
How wonderful to re-introduce our students to creativity.
What a great opportunity to write across the curriculum!
Awesome that students can read a good book.
So grateful for the increased opportunities to read, write, sharpen pencils, and talk with kids.
All good things.
At first glance this seemed super strange to me.
"Re-introduce" our students to creativity?
Writing across the curriculum?
Reading a good book?
More opportunities for reading?
More opportunities for writing?
More opportunities for talking?
All good things, indeed!
So good, in fact, that we are already doing those things. It appeared from those statements that the perception is we are not reading, writing, creating, sharpening, and talking as much because of technology. When in reality the potential to doing MORE of those things with technology is exponential.
I had a huge aha develop over those three days: It's not the technology that is holding me back.
These are the things that are holding me back. These are things that have been "thrust" upon me.
And to some extent that is true. But true does not equal truth. My truth. I've adapted so well, that you can't recognize me from another lion in the jungle. I've been praised for my efforts. I have praised myself. But these three days without internet was an eye opener.
Even though I scoffed at the comments sent to us via email, there rang a sad truth to what the writer said.
Our district's "scores" are growing and we are getting "better". "You are all awesome, look what you've done!
It must be because we are doing the right thing!"
I'm here to say: Not true. In so many cases we are NOT doing the right thing. What we may be doing is making good little test takers.
We are expecting students to sit for long lessons.
We are pushing a constant flow of "complex" texts.
We are expecting things that are not developmentally appropriate. And we are afraid.
What will happen if we are not teaching the given standard on a given day?
What will happen if we give children choices and can't grade the end results equitably?
What if we don't have an objective posted?
It is the straight-jacket approach that holds us back. I have talked to so many teachers who have said that they don't feel like they are good teachers anymore, that they can't follow their passion and knowledge of kids, that they are stressed and depressed and worn the hell out. It makes me so sad.
This week I saw the old me and I liked her.
I have a colleague that challenged me to give my students more choices to follow their passions. The new old me is taking up the challenge. I am doing that by giving them the choice of four (student generated) topics for next week. I assigned Flocabulary songs and activities and assigned collections in EPIC. I let them wander around in Wonderopolis and choose articles that intrigued them. They will share their learnings with the rest of us. I loosened the reins. It will be a mess to grade and keep track-of in a traditional manner. No matter. I will figure that out.
We must help one another loosen the straight jacket so we can breathe. We must loosen the straight jackets of our students. And play. And follow our hearts. And find joy in our teaching again.
I have a confession. I love to 3D myself. My Bitmoji, that is. Mostly I do it just because it makes me happy. So this post is not reflective or thoughtful. Just a fun HOW TO post. And that is just what the doctor ordered!
You will need to have a Snapchat account and have your Bitmoji connected to it. The Bitmoji you can create changes every day, so I try to create them as I go along so I can pull them out as needed. Happy 3D-ing!
Have you ever thought of one of your character traits and thought (or said outloud), "It's a blessing and a curse." While curse may be too strong of a word, I've thought it many times about myself.
I love my work and sometimes I willingly drown myself in it.
It's a blessing to love your work, but I am easily lured into working too much.
I am creative and always looking for new ideas.
It's a blessing to want to keep learning and growing and changing, but it can wear me out.
I tend to speak up when things aren't right.
It can feel like the pursuit of justice, but it can also feel like an uphill battle I have no right to be fighting.
When you are a speaker-upper, the conversation in your head may go like this:
"This isn't right. I need to speak up."
"Maybe it's just my ego. Who am I to think I'm right?"
"But I can't stay quiet."
"Maybe I should close my door and forget about it."
"Am I just a trouble maker?"
"It's not just me. Others are concerned too."
And that loop is pretty constant during the period of speakingupedness.
Last year I took a year off of being a speaker-upper. I was tired of my own self-righteous drive. I mostly stayed quiet and just did my own thing in my classroom. In many ways it was a relief. Let other people speak up, Jill. You don't have to "fix" everything or speak the "truth" to the powers that be. I needed that year to reflect. I came into this year knowing that I don't have to set things all the time. I came in with a softer stance. Ready to speak up, but not needing too.
A lot of my inquiries truly come from a curious place. I've talked to the superintendent when I didn't understand parts of the 5 year plan. I've spoken with the curriculum director about initiatives I didn't understand. But to keep it real, I've usually had my own "let me show you where you are wrong" agenda. I feel sheepish when I see that in print. It can be a good thing and an unfortunate thing. Sometimes I feel like the Lorax, who speaks for the trees.
In this current phase of speaking up, there are stressful decisions at every turn. And the devil on my shoulder whispers, "Give it up. You're doing this for the wrong reasons. Who do you think you are."
Last week I asked a colleague, "Should I just shut up and sit down?"
She asked me, "Are you doing this for yourself or for the kids?"
Without a pause, I said, "The students. And the teachers."
That helped put things in perspective. I have a gift. When that gift is at work, I can think through things clearly and I work for change. I talk to the powers that be. I make sure I am not only speaking for myself. I stay as positive as possible. I am grateful when people listen and care. I am downhearted when I am not getting anywhere. But sometimes I just know I can't not speak up. Blessing. Curse.
Forgive me if this post is self-indulgent. I just had to think it through and talk it out.
I needed to breathe and this is my place to do that.
My word of the year is INTENTIONAL. This evening I went out with a searchlight to find ideas for what intentional actually means. I'm happy to say that my word lines up with my intentions. First step towards embracing intentionality: figuring what in the world I mean by that.
I totally forgot to write my Saturday blogpost. I'm going to blame the puzzle. This post is for me and anyone who needs a little encouragement.
We are a learners. We are rivers. Flowing over what we learn, taking some things with us and leaving other things behind. We will slow down at times to soak things up and reflect. Other times we will go at a rapid rate and not have time to ponder. No matter. All of our learning matters, even when we forget.
We must be as forgiving of ourselves as we are of the people in our lives. Every now and again letting things be good enough. Everyday forgiving ourselves for not meeting our incredibly high expectations. Know that all the million of tiny things we do in a DO day matter. Our students may not remember most of their year with us. But we are pouring our hearts, love, energy, knowledge, guidance, and spirit into them. Our students are rivers, too. We are part of the rain that makes them who they are becoming.
Breathing is a literal and figurative word. Taking time to take deep breaths will make us calmer and more focused. Metaphorically breathing means taking things in. Pausing. Being where we are. Telling us to allow ourselves to breathe sounds ridiculous. But we do have permission to breathe. To be. To live in the moments. We must breathe to be alive.
Create: to bring something into existence
To create is to live. Our students need to create and so do we. What are we creating that excites us, drives us, gives us a sense of accomplishment? It may not be what we think...sure we create killer lessons and memorable experiences and loving communities. Yes, we create and share on Twitter. But what about in other realms?
This is not one more thing we must do. It is one more thing we allow ourselves to do. We are all creative souls. We do and something comes of it. Cooking. Reading. Playing. Conversing. Cleaning. Painting. Writing. Walking. Breathing. We are always creating. Our space. Our bodies. Our minds. Our hearts. Sometimes we create quiet by doing nothing at all. We are created to bring things into existence.
Sharing builds a strong web around us. When we share our ideas on Twitter, in the teacher's lounge, or with our administration it feels like a risk. But is it? Hoarding ideas may be way more riskier. We need to have an openness to receiving what others share as well. To allow our pride to stop us from sharing is a small, sad thing. When by put our ideas our there, they either come to life or turn back into dust. Either way, we are better for bringing our ideas to life. Hopefully others are, too. So we must not fear what others will think. We share and we encourage others to share as well. And our web becomes not impenetrable, but stronger.
And most of all, remember that we are in this mess together and there is no perfect way.
I firmly believe that having a grateful stance makes me more positive and happy. If you're not in agreement with me, check out this article, "Giving thanks can make you happier."
Another belief of mine is that reflection strengthens my learning muscles. An article from Harvard Health highlights reflection as a strategy in its article, "4 Ways to Become a Better Learner."
This year I decided to take these beliefs into my classroom in a systematic way. Here's what I did:
1. My students worked collaboratively in Book Creator to create a template. I gave them questions to choose from and they could also create their own questions.
2. I created a Gratitude and Reflection Journal Library in Book Creator. Every student made a copy of the template and made it their own.
3. During a "dead" period right after recess, students write in their journals. They can write, draw, speak, or take a video.
It has become a habit of action, and I hope it is becoming a habit of heart, too.
Here is our template as an ebpub book!
Today I took time for a little morning retreat. I turned off my phone, got cozy in my study and curled up with my journal and a pen. I'm not gonna lie, it gave me great pleasure to just sit there in the sunlight. Insight #1: Let yourself sit with a pen and paper more often. My walking buddy put it this way, "Let yourself just sink in today."
Here are the steps I took to reflect. They just evolved as I listened to myself, but I am going to put them down in this post. Mostly because rewriting things helps me remember and think through the words. But also because my process may support someone else in his or her goal setting journey.
Step 1: What skillset am I using when I am the most inspired/excited/joyful? (taken from Ted Talk by Ashley Stahl)
Step 3: Brainstorm Ideas from What I Love:
Step 4: Who am I?
I am a Jill of all trades.
I create. I learn. I share. I reflect.
My goal is to:
Step 5: Thoughts
Step 6: Organize
Step 7: Possible Action Steps
Step 8: How to focus? Use hashtags to keep myself focused.
Step 9: Tentative plan
It's not perfect and it is not exact, but I feel better having a plan.
To recap in a different sort of way:
I love interacting with other educators who are mavericks in their own rights. One way I do this is by posting things on Twitter and responding to different posts.
I am going to give myself permission to read. I listen to books all the time, but to sit down seems like a luxury I can't afford. Not true.
I love learning and I want to share what I learn with others. Especially those who do not have the time to read, but still want to learn. That's why I am focused right now on #tiny.
Sharing with others has an added benefit---it helps me hold myself accountable. Big thanks to all of you who are encouraging me on my journey, share freely on Twitter, have a heart for teaching, growing, and expanding.
tI was on a #pd4uandme chat this morning and Dave Black asked, "Anybody else have a learning reading or planned learning over break to share?"
I replied, "I hope to work on my website, adding ideas, etc. Also want to dig into Nearpod more."
Dave responded, "What kinds of things do you want to add to your website?"
I was stumped for a second and realized that I don't have any kind of plan plan. Oh, plenty of lottery balls bouncing around in my head, but not an actual plan.
I replied, "Basically it is a time for me to get organized and make a plan for the year."
What do I want to share? What do I want to do? Basically, what are my hopes and dreams for the year? I am taking Monday to think about my Messy Tech journey. I am going to take this post to do some pre-planning. In my heart of hearts, what am I passionate about and what do I want to do?
Wait. I remember seeing a video teaser this morning for a Ted Talk called, "How to Figure Out What you Really Want." I'll be right back. How to Figure Out What You Really Want | Ashley Stahl | TEDxLeidenUniversity
Okay! Wow. That was good. I thought my pre-plan was going to be a list of technicalities, but instead I have a plan for some heart-work.
1. Do a self- audit.
Sounds like a plan! Some serious self-reflecting before specific goals. A colleague of mine said she was going to make specific goals for the different subjects she teaches. This simple gesture of sharing inspired me to think about my specific goals, too. I'll be back next Saturday with a report. Best to you in your end of the year reflecting!
-I doled out a mock quiz on Friday. The purpose was to get my students ready for the end-of-the-unit test. The unit test is hard (based on how students should perform at the end of the year) and contrived (I’m not sure I could pass it). The purpose of the test is to get ready for the high stakes test in the spring. I feel compelled to expose the students to the format ahead of time.
Spoiler alert: They do not do well on the quiz.
I’m not going to lie. I freak out a little. I feel like a lousy teacher. I wonder if they put forth any effort in at all and by the way what the heck is going on here?! Instead of going on a walk like I had hoped to do I react and obsess. I feel desperate to get them up to snuff. I think, “I need to give my kids a boot camp for constructive response.” No, wait. “I’ll cut and paste their answers into a document and “make” them grade the different answers. Then they will see the error of their ways and all will be fine.
Plot twist not-twist: This is not a good place to make decisions from.
And this is why I am blogging. Just two weeks ago I talked about chilling the f**k out and here I am again. I say to myself, “Jill. Are you not even listening to yourself?” But here’s the thing. Muscle memory does not reprogram easily. Brainwashing does not rewire with ease.
It’s a swim upstream. But I am going to keep reminding myself and surrounding myself with people who will remind me, too.
Remind me that I need to free myself to teach the way I know is right.
It’s as simple as that.
Remind me to get my students ready “for the test” life by:
Twisting and contorting myself to teach to the test will kill me.
How am I going to respond instead of react?
Here are some questions I can ask myself when I see this pressure-panic part of me exposed: