Project Learning Tree Workshop

I talk a big game when it comes to being environmentally conscious, but to be honest, there’s a lot of things I can do better. I could drive less (some of the places I drive to are an easy bus ride…or even walk…away), I could be more careful about buying locally grown produce, I could buy less STUFF (read: SHOES AND CLOTHES). But then I tell myself, ” It’s cool. I recycle. I compost. I take my reusable bag to the grocery store. At least I recognize climate change is a reality.”

This comes to a head when I think about how to incorporate environmental education into a classroom’s science curriculum, and nothing was more powerful today during our Project Learning Tree workshop than the following idea: The basis, or “bottom of the pyramid” of environmental education should be in nurturing children’s emotional connections to the environment. This is what leads to the action part of environmental stewardship, not haranguing them about what they and their families are doing wrong and hoping the guilt will change behavior.

What makes the above statement so powerful is the universal truth of it; when have people ever changed their behavior simply out of guilt? Simply because someone told them it was the right thing to do? I wonder what future generations’ treatment of our natural world and the life that surrounds us could look like, if we started with the bottom of the pyramid, nurtured and stoked children’s curiosity about the environment, if we showed them how it can be appreciated, if we exposed them to the beauty of that part of our world.

I’m excited that the rest of the workshop was then centered around explicit objectives and lessons that we could use with our future students, and I already know I’ll be using the Activities book this year in my work with urban youth in an after-school program.

First Week Back

The first week back at my main placement since the break was just…perfect. Perfectly chaotic, perfectly loud (I don’t know that the kindergarteners understand the difference between a Level 1 voice and a Level 4 voice), perfectly hug-filled, and perfectly educational–for me.

I didn’t do a lot in the instruction way, but I did get to do a lot of the day-to-day task stuff like picking up the kids from recess and specialists leading some of the daily routines. I observed a lot of writing and math and even some science, with the kids studying the three main different types of clouds integrated with art (pictures to come!) My favorite writing activity was definitely the shared writing of a letter to the Seahawks. The Morning Meeting almost always involves some kind of shared writing, most recently with letters. My CT models what a letter looks like with the date and the salutation, then the students dictate what will be in the letter, offering up ideas about what should be said. When one of the students said, “We liked the game against the 49ers,” another child said, “No, they’re not the 49ers, they’re the forty-WHINERS.” My blue and green heart just about exploded with love…and laughter. After finishing the letter, they all signed and my CT mailed it off the Seahawks. It would be exciting if they responded, but we aren’t expecting it.

It was cool to see this kind of shared writing activity, especially after reading so much of Routman, and what she says about modeling writing and having shared writing activities that allow for modeling and make writing engaging and for an authentic purpose.

It’s likely that my future students will be writing lots of letters to the Seahawks…

I’m the Meanest Lady You Know

It had been a long, tiring day, and I was finally cleaning up, getting ready to head home to do…homework. The kids had been exceptionally loud, ignoring me and all the other tutors (who, to be honest, usually leave it to me to be “bad cop,” and who can blame them) and directions to settle down, stop hitting each other, stop with the paper airplanes, don’t leave until your parents have signed you out, we don’t use those words, etc. etc. I was at the end of my wits, asking myself “Why won’t they listen to me? What am I doing wrong?!” as I’m hurriedly putting materials away, nudging children out the door, reminding them they need to be signed in and out by a parent or guardians. And then this kid, this kid who has left me physically and mentally exhausted every session, this kid who tells me I make too many rules, says to me:

“You’re the meanest lady I know.”

There was no venom, no hatred or angry tone behind the words…just a cool, observable fact. As soon as he’d said it, though, I could see in his face that he knew he’d crossed an invisible line, that maybe it was mean. But it was said and he couldn’t take it back.

I didn’t really know what to say in response, but my pride took over and I simply said, “Well, thank you, Raymond,” (not his real name) and went about finishing my job.

I didn’t know, and I honestly still don’t know, what the best response would have been. Should I have been stern and firmly told him that was rude and he shouldn’t speak to people that way? Should I have told him it hurt my feelings (which it did)? Should I have scolded him and reminded him that I’m the adult and he just can’t talk to me that way? I just don’t know that any of those responses would have been better than mine.

But I’ve been thinking about this event a lot, about how I could have reacted and turned into a teaching/learning moment (for both of us), about how this will affect the way I interact this child from here on out. And it was this event that sprung into my mind immediately when reading about “gritty love” and the role love plays in the teaching profession in John Spencer’s A Sustainable Start.

Grit means to keep on keepin’ on, it means having tenacity and the refusal to let barriers ruin you. So to me, Spencer’s idea of “gritty love” means loving when it’s easier not to, loving even when there’s no reward, loving even when your love is handed back to you, loving especially those who make it hard for you to love them.

Raymond makes it hard for me to love him. He still doesn’t follow my directions, he still actively ignores me when I try to redirect him towards a more productive task than using the straws I’d intended for a bride-building activity as spitball weapons. I still tell him to follow directions, to listen to his tutors, to not stand on the furniture, to read to himself  or read a book to one of the younger kids, to put the candy away because it’s a distraction. I’m pretty sure all this still makes me the meanest lady he knows.

My dad tells me this is “a compliment.” My readings and my peers tell me it’s good to have structure and high expectations and to keep them consistent and that after a while he’ll appreciate these things and he only said what he said because he knows it’s safe for him to do so. I think it’s that last part I want him to know the most. That I’m the meanest lady he knows because I care about his mind and his safety and it’s more important for him to succeed than to like me. Little does he know that he’s giving me a lot of practice in gritty love.

Have you ever worked with a student who seems to make every attempt to test your patience? How have you responded, and did it ever change?

New Year, New Blogs

Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I think it’s time that I really make this a place (blog) I can settle down in, somewhere I see myself living (blogging) in the future. And I’ve thought of some ways that I can do that this quarter:

1. Make connections with other bloggers. One of the things I reflected on last quarter with my blogging was that it’s a lot like networking. You’re trying to reach an audience with your thoughts and ideas, and you in turn be an audience for others. I’ve been reading A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown and it’s brought up for me exciting new ways to think about blogging–it’s a collective enterprise, where my words can be pushed back on, pulled apart by, or held up, by other bloggers, and I in turn do the same to their words. And these blogs are constantly changing, being affected by the bloggers who confront us with new or different or exciting ideas and question us, forcing us to answer. This quarter, I want to make a more concerted effort to be a vocal part of this collective by commenting on blogs and inviting them to answer my questions, or read something I may have written that addresses a similar idea they have brought up. In this way, I can build a readership that will, hopefully, push me to diversity my repertoire of writing topics.

2. Reference learning that broadens ideas of schooling and education. The blog I’ve enjoyed reading most these last couple of months comes from Jose Vilson, who I think does this really, really well. He, like myself, is a huge fan of hip-hop and I love seeing the references he makes to artists and songs, as well as the full-out posts he makes in regards to the ways hip-hop music can be connected to schooling and education, like this post about Kendrick Lamar, generational differences, the dilemma that exists between listening to “positive” or “negative” hip-hop, and how this dilemma does and could play out between a younger generation and the adults in their lives (ie, teachers). I find it refreshing that he takes a genre of music that is pervasive, a huge part of my life and certainly a huge part of our students’ lives, and connects the two cultures of hip-hop and education, making clear that education can come from hip-hop. Although maybe not with hip-hop, I would like to try doing something similar. We tell ourselves and our students that we are all always learning; I want that to show in my weekly reflections via this blog so that I give myself a chance to make those connections between what I see in the world and culture I live in, and the schooling and education I take part in.

3. Be more selfish. Write for me. I recently watched a documentary that followed several wounded combat veterans who wanted to be stand-up comedians. Each was being “mentored” by established comics. One of them, in an interview, said something along the lines of, “Write what you think is funny. Tell the jokes you think are funny, that you like. If you like them, if you think they’re funny, then the audience probably will to.” I think he said it much more eloquently and convincing than that, but as I sat down to write this post, it rose up in my memory as something I should bring to my blogging. Not my jokes, of course (maybe a little bit), but my voice, my true interests and passions within education, and what’s really on my mind as a future educator. I think the point the comedian was trying to make was that if you are proud of your material, it’s likely for good reason and the audience will enjoy it. So instead of trying too hard to be worth reading, I want to focus more on writing what is worth spending my time writing. Which sounds kind of like a selfish endeavor, but I do think that if it’s interesting to me, then it’ll be interesting to my audience.

Am I a Blogger Yet?

I suppose the quick answer to this question is, “Yes, I blog, therefore I am a blogger.” But I feel like there is something still lacking that keeps me from becoming a full-on Blogger. And I think I know what it is: an audience. To be fair, I have a wonderfully supportive audience in the cohort. However, it feels more like a…forced audience. Once this program is done, and I am in the real world of being an educator, there is no guarantee my forced audience will still be reading. I won’t be guaranteed an audience at all! But I have learned through this ongoing project that I have to be an audience to earn one. It’s kind of like networking, I suppose, making connections with bloggers and being a part of their learning network so that they will be a part of mine. It is something that I have found invaluable in reading the cohort’s blogs and other educators’ blogs: being part of and growing my own learning network, reading others’ viewpoints, picking up curriculum ideas here and there, finding out what’s on the minds of experienced teachers and ed reformers. I think my growth as a blogger has been and will continue to be contingent on this idea of a learning network.

Being in a learning network means I have to work to be an audience, but a little more than that. In the context of our program, we have been pushed to question and push each other in the cohort to consider alternative ideas. This is apparent in many of the comments we leave for each other. A little while ago I read a cohortmate’s blog post about her experience calling a student’s family. In my comment, I wanted to applaud her efforts to be sensitive to the family and encourage her to think about the positive, and hopefully lasting effects of her phone call: “Even though you only see yourself as an observer, it could help improve the relationship between the school and the family. Hopefully your call will make the family less apprehensive about talking to teachers!”

This person was then kind enough to reply to my thoughts, saying, “I do like your last thought about creating a safer place for conversation between parents and teachers. Language does seem to be a great barrier, one that I thought might not be the biggest problem but it is. Thank you futureteachergetsschooled.”

In another cohortmate’s blog post, where she discusses her ideas for incorporating technology in the classroom, I was pushed to think more deeply about this topic in the comment thread that came after my initial comment: “What would be lost from “traditional” teaching if we did more of that in the classroom? What more “real world” learning might be bought into the classroom?” (Blogger professorjvg). And in one of my own posts, a comment made by The Veritably Clean blog pushed me to ask myself if I agreed with his thoughts, and if not, why? My growth as a blogger has been pushed a little further by the comments and nudging of the cohort here in blog-land.

Looking at the past few months’ worth of blogs, the one I think shows my growth as a blogging educator was when I wrote about my ideas for what it means to a leader in education, and the development of my professional identity. Those ideas in that post had been ruminating in my head throughout this program and after that post, I was encouraged by the comments to write a follow-up post continuing the thoughts I had first addressed.

With this reflection, I am more aware of the ways in which having a web presence in this blog (and on Twitter) have had some bearing on my growth as an educator and how I want them to be a part of and help portray my professional voice and identity.

Nearing the End

Next week, our dyad school’s students will be off for Thanksgiving, meaning I have only one week left there. I’ve written about this school before, my initial discomfort at being at such a well-off private school and my goal to learn as much as possible, especially about the things I can take with me to my work in public education.

I feel like I’ve done just that; specifically, I think my pedagogy has been and will continue to be greatly influenced by the hands-on, democratic learning I saw my CT engage the students in. I know that students are capable of meeting high standards with the right support, and that students need to be heard, not just acknowledged. But I’m also walking away with something else:

I like autonomy.

I get the feeling that the adults in the school feel obligated to the students, their families, and the community and less to some faceless government entity that passes down rules and expectations. They spend more time concerned with creating the best learning environment for students and establishing meaningful relationships with families and trust that sound teaching practices coupled with high expectations will result in student learning, and far less time worried about passing standardized tests or fighting for equal funding or trying to justify experiential learning as opposed to the traditional mode of direct instruction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly excited to take up the work of a public school teacher. I’m just saying that there are some parts I’m not looking forward to. Buy I am thankful to be in a cohort model program that pushes me to think about alternative visions for our education system and this gives me hope that public schools and independent schools will not be so immensely different. Every student deserves a challenging, innovative education.

I Need a Niche

First, I want to thank the people who took the time to comment on my last blog and shared their thoughts and ideas. They extended my thinking about what I wrote of last week, and I appreciated the push-back on my thoughts.

Mostly I’ve been considering what niche within education I see myself being comfortable in. And as I wrote that sentence, I realized “comfortable” is not what I really mean. What I really mean is what niche do I care most about? What niche excites me, pushes me to speak up or further ignites my passion for teaching and learning? And what niche would benefit from my voice? I don’t want to add to a din of voices; I want to complement, challenge, modify, change existing leaders and the leaders that would come after me. I think if I am to be of value to any smaller community within the profession, then I need to be passionate as well as knowledgable. And while I am not lacking in the passion, I am still learning about all of the different forums that exist and the kinds of arguments being made. What I know about the niches of education is a mile wide but only an inch deep. It will only be as a teacher that I can really speak with any authority. But as Jose Vilson advises us to “not kiss rings,” I am learning to be more confident in what I do know and have experienced at this point.

I’m finding out that it angers me when outsiders don’t appreciate the thoughtfulness and intent that goes (or should go) into instruction. It’s dynamic, but a lot of people are so stuck on their own negative experiences of worksheets and so-called “busy work” assigned by their teachers that they haven’t stopped to examine the ways teaching has changed and is constantly changing. It is dynamic, not static. And I am continually excited by the challenges presented by teaching diverse learners, the ways teachers think of and share or modify curriculum to reflect their students while pushing them (both the teacher and students) to new heights. So I think that is where my interests lie…in the area of teacher advocacy where it meets innovative and effective pedagogy.

YIKES. But in a good way.

Teacher Voice, Professional Identity, and Being a Warrior

The other day we had a conversation in our profession seminar about what it means to be a leader, but I feel like the conversation could have gone on through the entire session…we could have talked more about teachers as leaders. What does that look like? What do teachers as leaders do? Sound like? And how can we as preservice teachers prepare for this leadership?

Through this program, we have been introduced to so many voices who have authority on education and work hard to be leaders in the field. And getting to read and hear all of these voices, I’m noticing the ways they make themselves heard (most notably, via Twitter and the blogosphere) and how they have found a niche within education, and can be recognized as really knowing that niche inside, out and having valuable opinions and insights.

I am constantly thinking about how I want to use my teacher voice, what niche I want to find for myself, how I want those things to be a part of my professional identity. In my now almost constant browsing of teacher-leaders via Twitter (there are so many! They say amazing things!) I ran across this piece by Lori Nazareno about being a warrior within education. It’s about not being aggressive, but a true leader in a way that is productive:

“We can re-create what it means to be educated in the US. We can reinvent the ways in which schools and schooling are done. And we can imaginer a profession that is respected and empowering. We don’t, however, have to do it by responding to current aggression with additional aggression. We can stand in contrast to what is and create a new way.”

Sometimes we think of leadership as being the first into the charge (thanks, Craig!), but what if it’s about creating productive dialogue, being a connector of people, ideas, and resources?

This, for me, is a heavy topic for me to blog about because it weighs on my mind heavily. I want to be an excellent educator, and I know this means developing (and always developing) a professional identity and teacher voice. It also means being a warrior. At a later time, when I have more time (when?!), I know I want to get deeper into this topic, incorporate the thoughts and ideas of teacher-leader-warriors I admire into my own thoughts, and write about the niches I see within education, and where I feel my voice is needed.

The Joy and Wonder of Math

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When I was a kid, math held zero joy or wonder for me. It was just another subject I had to get an ‘A’ in, a means to an end, really. I knew I needed it to go to college and therefore do well in life. My first memory of learning math is from 1st grade, my mom bringing home a large poster (very colorful, attractive) of the 2-12 times tables and tasking me with memorizing the damn thing. I started by staring at it. That didn’t work too well so Mom gave me sheets of paper and I started copying them. Pretty soon, I could recite the tables! One problem: I didn’t have one stinkin’ clue what any of it meant.

I don’t harbor any resentment towards my mom for this. Quite the opposite. She was just trying to make sure her kid knew basic math and would do well in school. But it is this story that reminds me of the importance of teaching math for understanding and inquiry, not just rote memorization. My math experiences in school were not far removed from how my mom asked me to learn math so it should come as no surprise that I thought math was lame. But as we learn more about teaching it, I am learning to love the content area I once loathed.

Last week, we saw ways to teach math that made clear the communicative nature of math and encouraged students to have fun, be creative, but also prove what they were saying, show and tell the thinking behind a mathematical statement. There was mathematizing a read aloud, and then there was finding math in an illustration. Even for me, an adult, both were engaging and lively. Now, I am seeing more concretely that math does not have to be a solitary activity based on pure memorization. We can teach the content for deep understanding, encourage inquiry, and still see the joy math can bring as a part of life and learning, not just another thing you have to do to get through school.