As a special education teacher there are many moments that I can draw upon where I can feel proud of the experiences I take part in with my students. Although the students I teach are young, I watch how over time they develop some very grown-up characteristics. I have seen my students develop independence, self-awareness, empathy, and responsibility in a very short time that year after year amazes me. These memories are incredibly rewarding because I know that I am a big part of how they develop in the time I spend as their teacher, coach, mentor, and most importantly someone they know they can talk to.
I just viewed the sensational TED talk titled “Bring On The Learning Revolution!” by Sir Ken Robinson. I have viewed it before and probably by now I have watched it or referenced the transcript about a dozen times. If you haven’t yet seen it, please do. You will not be disappointed! Each time I watch Sir Ken Robinson speak I am uplifted about the possibilities that exist in education. Although there are many challenges in schools today faced by educators I think that holding onto the notion that positive change can occur is so incredibly powerful.
In this talk Sir Ken says,”At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence”. Too often the focus in our public school classrooms is the ability to produce results within the academic areas of literacy and math. While I find these content areas extremely important I know that some of my students excel in other areas too. Many of my special education students are right-brain dominant learners. They prefer group activities, drawing, role-playing, and active learning strategies. The traditional classroom setting can be a difficult one for them to navigate in but I intend to always provide opportunities for them to succeed by supporting them as they develop in my classroom. Kids need to feel that they are important to succeed and I want each of my students to feel that their strengths are purposeful, important, and worthy.
I first heard the adage “Raise the praise, minimize the criticize” while in an undergraduate class. It has stayed with me since I first heard it six years ago. While the saying was meant to frame the way in which we interact with students, it is also an effective way to live your life.
When we focus on what is positive we can grow in tremendous ways. We allow ourselves to be freed from restrictions we can put in our own way. Thoughts of “I can’t” can quickly become transformed to be “I can” if a positive attitude is adopted into all arenas of our life. The same is also true about how we think about and speak to our students. Rather than focusing on the gaps we have yet to meet with our students, we can reframe our thinking to consider all that they know so far.
One of my favorite TED talks features teacher and motivational speaker Rita Pierson who exemplifies an admirable model of someone who roots for all of her students despite potential shortcomings. Her TED talk can be featured here. During her talk she presents a truly poignant question, one that I am sure I share with many educators which is, ‘How do I raise my student’s level of self esteem while at the same time raise their level of achievement?’ Interestingly enough I believe that these two elements are directly related.
When students receive praise for all that they are and feel good about themselves, their level of motivation to become more will follow the same positive trajectory. Now wouldn’t this be an amazing thing for all of us to believe in leading our own lives? So here’s to a little more praise, and a little less criticize.
I recently finished up a great year-long professional development opportunity that was offered to me by my school district. Towards the end of the last November I was nominated along with several other colleagues in my district to participate in the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (STLE-D) Grant funded by NYSED. The STLE-D Grant funded projects to principals, teacher leaders, and aspiring principals to provide schools with the resources that are necessary to focus on improving curriculum and expanding instructional strategies. Each participant was encouraged to create a signature practice that would enhance not only the entire school community, but also refine personal leadership skills. Learn more about the grant here.
I focused my efforts on improving pedagogical practices and creating a shared vision around literacy practices. I wanted to take a space in our school that was dedicated to housing our guided reading materials and re-envision the space to become more organized, accessible, and more effective to teachers. Over the next year I plan to take our school’s “Book Room” and transform it to become the “Guided Reading Lab” where teachers can access guided reading materials and students can have access to digital tools to further their learning about different topics they are reading about. My goal is to create a space for teachers that is more inviting than our current space that stores our books. I want teachers to openly dialogue about their own best practices and to share their ideas about literacy lessons that have proven effective in their own classrooms. Books are such a valuable resource in the lives of our young students and to strengthen their importance is something I feel very strongly about. Over the next year I’ll share the progress that our Guided Reading Lab is making and how my grant project has taken shape in my school.
Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a teacher, blogger, and author, shared some great thoughts on classroom libraries and their value in teachers’ and students’ lives. She says, “I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.” If this is Heather’s thoughts on a classroom library, imagine the power that a school book room can unlock for teachers and students; this is what I hope to do for my own school.
Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.
There is always a reason why certain people cross our paths and enter our lives. It may not be for long but the reason is always unique to where you or they are on their journey. Being able to understand and navigate people is an extremely complex skill, albeit an important one. As humans we are all flawed and have areas of ourselves that need some improvement. Some of us are fighting harder battles than others. To bring understanding to relationships it is important that we remember to be open to others. Being open requires an embrace to your self, your thoughts, your actions, your words, and your heart. The practice of being open is especially important in schools where emotions typically drive people’s motivations. Schools are places where trust and understanding should be the foundation for all relationships. It takes time to cultivate these environmental qualities, but with patience, love, and care a school most definitely can be a place where relationships are fostered and cared for.
My professor showed our class a Jelaluddin Rumi poem yesterday. We spoke about the importance of communication and understanding people’s motivations. In learning your own motivations and that of other people and being ok with potential differences that arise, we can learn to function from a place of understanding.I hope this poem brings you peace as it has for me.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Today marks what would have been the 111th birthday of Theodore Geisel, or better known to most as author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss. In celebration of his life and famous works of children’s books today begins the week-long celebration of Read Across America in schools across the country. Read Across America is a program started by National Education Association and is in its 18th year of creating life-long readers by finding innovative ways to inspire a love of reading and learning.
As I walked around my school building today I witnessed so many wonderful activities that celebrated the clever drawings and catchy rhymes that are so characteristic of Dr. Seuss’ work. An ESL teacher conducted a read-aloud of my all-time favorite Green Eggs and Ham followed by a mini-lesson to teach rhyming words. Another teacher used the Cat in the Hat Camera app to take photographs of her students dressed in the costumes of iconic Seuss characters. Later in the week teachers and students will take part in “Character Day” to bring literary characters to life by getting dressed up in their favorite book’s characters. My first grade team members couldn’t help but to dress up as characters from The Cat in the Hat.
One of my first reading memories I have is of me sitting proudly in a small wooden chair in a public library in the Bronx. I held Green Eggs and Ham in my arms and asked my father and sister to sit across for me to act as my audience. I remember holding the book eagerly just as I had seen my teacher do. I opened the book and out flew the zany, wild, laughable rhymes. I can recall how easily I had read the book just as fluent readers should, and just the way I ask my students to read now – with expression and ease.
I remember this reading memory so fondly just I am sure so many others can identify with his books. This moment is such an important part of what helped to build my reading life and for my love of reading. Thanks to Dr. Seuss for helping me to continue to foster a love of reading and learning in my students today.
Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book?
Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms
It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The critical time has come for a much-needed overhaul of the education system to take place. The education reform movement has created a period of disillusionment for parents, students, and educators. Rather than praise, the education system has taken some very hard hits from all arenas in an attempt to figure out what works best for students. Ironically, we are not reforming education, instead we are moving towards a more standardized view of what learning means. Rather than reform we conform.
Educators are being reduced to a label in regards to yearly evaluation practices and as a result our teaching practices are being watered down. The expectation to be excellent is defined by results on yearly student exams in only reading, writing, and mathematics. There is so much more to school than these three academic areas, albeit important ones. I find all of this so puzzling. Within the existing paradigm of education, is there a way to change the culture of the learning organization to value creativity without functioning exclusively away from learning standards? It may seem unlikely to foster creativity and innovation in a world surrounded by assessments and standardization but I like to think that anything is possible.
I have recently been exposed to many conversations regarding the well-being of teachers who feel de-professionalized in their careers due to the new reform movement in education. Unfortunately, many teachers express that that their profession, that more often than not chooses them as a calling, has left them. A huge sense of fear has infiltrated our classrooms. Instead of trusting their own judgment I have witnessed many teachers second-guess themselves in their classroom practices. How can we restore the trust and faith in ourselves as teachers and in our practice of education?
Just as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath before formally entering the profession to uphold ethical standards of treating patients, maybe teachers should also make a promise to act ethically and be true to ourselves when in the classroom. Both professions directly impact the lives of those they serve by the moral decisions made by the professional. Physicians are revered in not just our society, but many others. Why is it that teaching is not held in the same regard?
Perhaps Harvard scholar Jal Mehta has unearthed the answer in his studies on the need for the professionalization of teaching. Mehta’s analysis proposes that the current movement toward educational accountability is a manufactured crisis that has plagued the educational field over the course of the 20th century. “The implication of this analysis is that while we often analyze school reform in terms of the effectiveness of particular programs, in a broader view it may be that the organization of the entire sector is problematic” (Mehta, 2013). Rather than managing top-down mandates from business and government agencies who have low regard for public education the teaching profession needs to be re-established as the pillars upon which our society is built.
In an article from The Atlantic – The Wisdom Deficit in Schools – Michael Godsey, a high school English teacher explains his internal dilemma with the restraints posed by the Common Core State Standards in his classroom. Godsey’s experiences in the most recent years of his teaching career summarize common complaints made by many teachers. It is as if the education field has been taken hostage and the need for a restoration of faith and trust is paramount to the welfare of the profession. Godsey explains the moral responsibility he feels to raise the bar for thinking practices of his students through the exposure to rich classical texts and experiences. Godsey identifies that the current pressures on teachers affects the educational practices that he has refined over the years of his career. The reform movement that has promoted standardization of teaching has caused harm to the field of education through the disempowerment and de-skilling of teachers. Throughout various examples provided in the article, I couldn’t help but feel similarly to Godsey.