Beginnings and Endings
My father-in-law is known for his one-liners. Most of them just make us laugh or raise an eyebrow. For example, when he used to show up to his son’s soccer games, he would say, “So, do you all go kick or something?” Or when I had dinner with their family for the first time in college he asked me, “Are you here because you like my son or because you like food?” He’s a real charmer, believe me. However, he has one line that always makes me stop and reflect. He says, “Everything has a beginning, and everything has an ending.” I have been thinking about that quite a bit as we have wrapped up the last crazy few weeks of the school year.
There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and depending on where you are in your life at this exact moment, that statement is either comforting or disturbing. Think on this past school year. It has an ending, and it is upon us. But how does that feel? If this has been a rough year for you, that may be comforting. If this was a year where you had dynamic students who made you smile, this ending may make you gloomy. But no matter how you feel, we can’t stop this 17-18 school year from ending. And we can’t stop the new beginnings we will have when our students walk in our doors in August.
While I hate to think about it, there will be an ending to many things in my life. But that’s what makes those beginnings so beautiful. If we know our time with our current students will end, our time in our classrooms or buildings will end, our time with our favorite co-worker will end, then it’s the time in between that we have to make count. We have to cherish the present and create new beginnings for our students.
This summer, cherish the new beginning you have of time. Time for you, family, friends, vacations, sunshine, whatever it is that makes you happy. Heck, it may just be the new beginning of not having to set a morning alarm. Cherish it. Rest up, relax, and refocus. Because, and I hate to break it to you, this summer will end. And we will be lucky enough to start a new beginning with our students in the fall.
FOMO- Fear of Missing Out
I don’t know how many times I have watched the students in our building walk around glued to their laptops, phones, headphones, etc. and wondered, “Why can’t they put it down? What is so important that they can’t look away?” It was when I was reading a technology blog post (linked below) that the simple answer hit me. FOMO. They have a fear of missing out. Of missing out on a selfie, comment, text, like, post, message, etc. They are afraid they will miss out on something “important” if they disconnect from their devices even for a few minutes.
I thought this was a powerful point. Our students today find so much of their interactions, friends, updates, and news online or on social media. They aren’t as worried about what their friends talked about while hanging out last night; they are more worried about what their “friends” said on social media. What a change that is from when I was growing up. I never felt I was missing out on anything if I didn’t have a cell phone with me. The only time I ever felt I was missing out was if I didn’t get to hangout with someone face-to-face. Those were the social interactions I craved, not social media interactions. (Yes Mr. House, I am old enough that social media didn’t become a “thing” until I was in college.)
I know we all preach about responsible technology use, but are we modeling that? The blog post gave some excellent suggestions of ways to unplug from time to time. It’s important that we do this and then speak to it when talking to our kids. Here’s a quick re-cap of the 7 steps for a digital detox:
1. Alarm Yourself- Buy an old-school alarm clock. This will eliminate the excuse to cuddle your phone because you “have” to have it to sleep.
2. App Attack- If you haven’t used an app in the last month or two, delete it!
3. Push Back and Follow Less- Go into your settings and turn all push notifications off. Other than maybe a text or missed phone call, you don’t need to be notified every time something happens. Go into your social media accounts and check who all you are following. If it isn’t someone you care about or who has positively effected your life in the last few months, unfollow them.
4. Digital Free Dining- It makes me so sad when I see friends or families out to dinner and everyone is on their own device. Make all dinners a digital free zone. Teach kids how to sit and interact and discuss their day. Assure them the FOMO isn’t real. There’s nothing THAT important they will miss on their phone during the span of one dinner.
5. Airplane Works- If you are working out or just working, put your phone on airplane mode. This will keep you from getting interrupted and save your battery life. Plus, you can still listen to music if that’s a deal breaker while working out.
6. Tech Free Time- Schedule some tech free time once a week. It could be just a few minutes to sit and decompress from your day, a walk outside, or (my personal pick) a family visit to the zoo.
7. Mapping Mindfulness- If you find yourself in a moment you want to remember, then BE IN THE MOMENT. You don’t have to record it or take a picture of it to be present in the moment and cherish it forever. I personally get in trouble with this all the time with my family and friends. I don’t take a ton of Daphne pictures. I tend to just be in the moment with her and I don’t always think about it. I know that makes it difficult to share with others on social media, but I am collecting these moments in my heart. A social media post isn’t the end goal for me.
I appreciated these 7 tips because they aren’t ways to just ditch technology all together; but instead ways to cut back a bit and take a self-assessment of just how reliant we are on our technology. I think if we focus on balance in all things, it will help us create new habits. We will find ourselves modeling a healthy connection to technology that our students need to see. And that by modeling and talking about healthy connections to technology, we will better equip our students for their “real” and digital futures.
I read a Washington Post article years ago about a violinist who played during D.C.’s morning rush hour (article link below). They wanted to see if anyone would stop to listen to him in the rush of their day. Of course there was a catch. As the article states, “No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.”
So what happens? People have to stop and appreciate that kind of talent, right? Wrong. “In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run—for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.” I often think of this story and wonder if I would have stopped. Would I have recognized the beauty in that moment?
This article brings up some important questions. Ones that I mulled over during my spring break. In a common environment, at an inconvenient time, do we perceive beauty? If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
My daughter, Daphne, loves slides. We have a park in our neighborhood that we drive by everyday on the way home from daycare. We were coming home after school the week before break and Daphne saw the park and started saying, “Slide! Mama, slide!” My immediate reaction was to think about how I needed to get home to cook some dinner and let the dogs out and blah, blah, blah. All the things I thought I needed to do. But my baby girl wanted to slide. And it was a beautiful day.
I parked the car and we went down the big slide too many times to count. Daphne got a kick out of her mama in her work clothes huffing and puffing up to the top, pushing her up the whole way. We held hands on the way down the slide and yelled, “Weeeee!” It was beautiful. And I almost said no. I almost missed this moment of beauty. The kicker? I know I’ve missed other moments of beauty with her, with my husband, my friends, our students. I’m guilty of that, and I want to be better.
Since then, I’ve tried to find moments of beauty each day. Let’s be honest. It hasn’t been hard because it’s spring break! But I want to continue this thought process as we get back into the routine of things. It’s easy to get beat down and grouchy and just ready for summer break. But there are moments of beauty each day with our students. Are we missing them? If we do see these moments, do we stop and recognize them? No matter what kind of a day it’s been, there’s always beauty. There is always something that makes me smile, laugh, and reflect. I need to be better about recognizing those moments.
I’ve included a picture I snapped of Daphne running to the car after our park adventure. Beautiful, isn’t it?
A former co-worker of mine sent me an article. She knows I write a monthly blog, and she thought I would be able to reflect on an article titled “Master of Mastery” (I only have a paper copy, but I’m willing to share it with anyone who cares to read it). It’s from the April 1987 edition of Psychology Today. You heard me right. This article is 31 years old. I wondered what on earth she thought I could learn from an educational article so dated, but I think I know what she wanted me to take away from it. (She reads all of my blog posts, so I’m sure I will hear soon enough if I passed her test. :) )
This article is about Benjamin Bloom and his work in educational research. He is the man who claimed higher-level skills, skills that many people had assumed were inherited, were actually traits that could be taught. He looked at the current educational system, decided it wasn’t good enough and wanted to figure out how to make it better.
Here was his solution:
1. Prerequisite Training
a. At the beginning of each new class, the teacher should create a test that would cover all of the skills or standards a student would need before starting the first unit.
b. Bloom knew if a student didn’t have the prerequisite skills they needed, then they would only fall more behind and experience even more failure by the end of each new unit.
c. All lacking skills were taught and retaught before the first unit began.
2. Mastery learning
a. Teachers should teach mastery learning, not just recall. This should be done through active student involvement in the lessons, formative tests to see what skills have been missed, and then corrective instruction to reteach those missed skills in a new way.
b. After corrective instruction, students should work in small groups to review the skills taught. This should be a peer-led activity with the teacher only being called upon to help if the other students could not.
c. For students still struggling after the small group time, one-on-one tutoring with the teacher was put into place. This occurred outside of the normal class time.
d. A final evaluative test was given, with each student earning a grade that reflected the extent to which they mastered the unit. In other words, there was no grading curve and every student had the opportunity to earn an A.
3. Parent training
a. When it came to student success, Bloom believed it didn’t matter who your parents were, what they did for a living, where they were born, or how much money they had. What did matter was how invested they were in their child’s education.
b. According to Bloom, parent training should begin before kids were even in Kindergarten. If parents encouraged their child to do well in school, modeled what it looked like to value learning and work hard, helped with homework, and supported the teacher’s efforts at home, it was proven to improve their student’s success in school.
4. Teach higher level skills
a. Blooms Taxonomy- If teachers don’t teach higher-level skills, how can they ever expect students to become problem solvers?
b. Bloom was aware that some of the most important things students learned in school weren’t academic subjects. Teachers had to be equipped to teach values, reinforce positive attitudes, and give the opportunity for kids to develop appropriate social skills.
We all know about Benjamin Bloom and Bloom’s Taxonomy. For goodness sake, we track it on our walkthrough document each week in every building in our district. His studies were published as early as 1950, almost 70 years ago. And yet how much of this still resonates with us as educators? His ideas on mastery, higher-level thinking, parent involvement, they are still relevant today.
Perhaps sometimes we focus on the verb choice that Bloom would have approved without thinking about the focus of his research: the planning and front-loading of expectations to build the foundation for student success. The article reminds us that expecting students to perform high-order thinking functions without providing scaffolding to make those thought processes possible is counter-productive. It reminds us that no amount of time spent on preparing students for success is “wasted.”
How many of us could use pieces of this in our classroom tomorrow? How many of us already do some of this in our classrooms? What parts of this have we abandoned because it’s no longer a new fad?
It is my sincere hope that we are all using Bloom’s ideas and not just his “taxonomy,” but I also remember being so bogged down in testing, planning, and “getting everything covered” that it was difficult to remember that my ultimate job was to produce life-long learners who could think critically and work effectively in ever-changing world environments. As much as I wanted them to find a love of literature, it was ultimately more important that they be able to think independently and critically about the world around them, and this 31-year-old article reminded me of that importance in my current administrative role. We are here to support the students and teach our expectations, not assess or punish them for not having met them.
What are you doing in your classroom that may have a lasting impression on your students? I’m sure that every one of you is doing things that make an impact on who your students will become. Things that push their creative and analytic boundaries; things that inspire them to become a little more than they previously thought they could be. I’m also sure that all of us are working to help lay the foundation for learning for those students whose families were not able, for whatever reason, to provide them with that essential learning element. As much time as pre-teaching can take, it is still vital for some of our struggling students.
What can we do today that will still have educators talking in 70 years? I hope that we are all doing something that will still be relevant that far into the future, because our students are worth it.
I saw this on social media the other day. It said:
If I put a 2-by-4 on the ground
and asked you to walk across it, how
many of you could do that?
You could all do it
because you’d focus on the board.
But what if I took the same 2-by-4
and put it 10 stories up,
stretched between two buildings?
Then it’s hard to focus on the board
because you’re focused
on your fear of falling.
Focus on your goals.
Don’t be distracted
by your fears.
Concentrate on the 2-by-4
and you will get it done.
While it is always good advice to focus on goals over fears, this made me think about focus in general. Where do I have my focus most days? If I have too many irons in the fire, that lack of focus can put a dent in my productivity and effectiveness. Do I remember to bring my focus back to the students? To what will positively affect them? Do I let the list of needed improvements take my focus away from the positive?
In education, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and focus on the negatives. But we have good things going on in our classrooms, our buildings, and our districts. We have kids who are growing, teachers who are making connections and making a difference, and parents who are supportive of what we are trying to achieve. Are we focused on our fears and negativity or on the gains we have made and the things we have in place that make kids’ lives better?
When it is time to buckle down and make positive changes, are we keeping our focus on how to accomplish these changes? Sometimes it feels a problem is so big, we are all doomed to continue down a path that ends in chaos and that spirals around systems that currently exist, but do not help students. Can we start with a first step towards making a positive change? Focus on that and then move onto the next goal? We may fail along the way, but we may not. Trying for improvement has to be better than complacency when things aren’t working.
It’s very easy to complain or point out a problem. But do we then focus on how we can make it better? There are so many things that are out of our hands in education. Many things, including our funding, is made at a level way above our heads. So maybe our focus should be, how can we focus and make changes in our own districts, buildings, and classrooms that will give our students the best possible education and support while we have them in our care. What can you focus on to make tomorrow better for students, even if it’s just in your office or your classroom?
Spend Time Being
The video linked above is geared toward women, but I think there are many messages that could apply to everyone, especially as we head into winter break. In case you don’t want to watch it, I’ll let you know now the video features wise women reflecting on their past and how the world is today. They offer advice for young women and the way they live their lives today.
The first part of the video states that with all of the opportunities and technology we have today, one would think we would live in a world filled with pleasure. But instead we seem to live in a world of pressure. Pressure to be perfect and have it all and smile every step of the way. How many of us put too much pressure on ourselves? Too much pressure to be a perfect parent, perfect employee, perfect spouse… (My hand is in the air.) When do we really give ourselves a break? I plan to try over this break.
These women offer the simple advice to indulge in what is important and be a human being. They are right that being is the key word there. These women send out the wish that we all find ourselves being lost in the moment, being kinder to ourselves and others, and being able to let go.
For once, I’m going to take the advice of random strangers on a viral video. During the break, I plan to “spend more time being and not doing.” I hope the same for all of you!
My dad sent me a forwarded email. I usually hate forwarded emails because I feel I’ll never know the original source or author. So I tend to roll my eyes and move on. However, this one made me pause. This email stated that some kids treat the world like they are walking into Wal-Mart. They walk up to the doors and expect them to automatically open. They rarely smile and they expect people to move out of the way just as easily as the doors moved.
This led me to think about the analogy and whether or not it applies to the children I have encountered throughout my educational career, and I have to agree and disagree. I do think kids today often feel that if they just show up, things will happen. Doors will open. Opportunities will present themselves and big things will occur without much effort at all simply because they show up. They sometimes think that they are entitled to opportunities just because both they and the opportunities exist. To prevent this sense of entitlement, as educators, we have to make sure we don’t make things too easy for children. Allowing student to believe that simply showing up will open the doors of opportunity for them can convey a false sense of power and authority. But do we have much control over this? It seems that as a society we often want to ensure that people (especially children) have a good self-esteem but ignore the need for us to have an accurate self-perception.
I also disagree with this analogy because I do think there are many kids who wouldn’t even take the time to walk into Wal-Mart. They don’t show up because they don’t believe those automatic doors will open for them. They feel so defeated they believe if they show up and put in the effort, the doors won’t open anyway. It is wasted time and energy. Unfortunately, some of them have past experiences that support these feelings. How, as educators, do we get them to push past that? How do we make them believe that showing up with a smile and putting in hard work will open doors?
Kids need to learn that the doors of opportunity are not self-opening; they are old-fashioned doors that require us to actually turn the knob and push to get in, and that these doors open to them only if they are willing to exert the effort required. This makes education a difficult, but essential profession that challenges students to put in the effort required to open the doors of opportunity while also providing the tools that help them find success. It’s the key to our students’ futures.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. Winn and I were discussing what 18-year-olds should be capable of doing. We mentioned many things like doing their own laundry, managing money, advocating for themselves, and knowing how to register to vote. She then shared with me an article by Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.
While I haven’t read the book, I found one point from her excerpt intriguing. Lythcott-Haims states all 18-year-olds must be unafraid to take risks. And not just a couple small risks, but they have to be willing to do it often enough to understand what failure feels like. After all, it’s only with failure that one can really understand and appreciate success. She claims that without those failures, kids won’t have the grit and thick skin they need to make it through life.
I found this intriguing for two reasons. One is because I think most of us in education strive for this. We want students to take risks. We want them to learn and to apply that knowledge to the real world. We want them to experience some “safe fails” before they are out in the real world experiencing defeat for the first time and not knowing how to bounce back. But (and here’s the catch in my mind) we want those risks to be combined with some common sense and an ability to help them learn from their venture. For example, we don’t want them driving 120 miles per hour risking a speeding ticket, or much worse. We want them to apply for their dream college or dream job risking the rejection that may come in the end. We want them to reach outside of their comfort zone to try a new project or class that might broaden their horizons. We want them to take some sort of risk that will help prepare them for what the world has in store.
I also found this intriguing because I think the fear of risk never leaves us. I took a risk (that failed by the way) when I left education to get into media sales. But I met people all over the nation with whom I’m still friends with today. And that failure gave me clarity. It showed me that my passion and talents lie in education. That fail is also what pushed me to get my master’s degree and become an administrator. I’m where I am today because I took that risk and I failed.
Taking a risk makes us vulnerable. It puts us in a situation where we have to explore and rely on new pieces within us that we maybe didn’t trust were there. I understand why 18-year-olds are afraid to try and fail, and I understand why parents are afraid to watch their children fail and suffer as a result of those failures. But I also understand that if we as educators don’t push students to take those risks, we are doing them a disservice by denying them life lessons that they will undoubtedly face in the future, often without a safety net to help them land on their feet.
Mark Twain said it best, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
I came across this quote recently while reading a graduation speech, and I can’t help but think about how guilty I am of over worrying. I’ve always worried about things that never came to fruition. I’ve always tried to mentally and physically prepare for worst case scenarios.
I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I had my daughter. I’m the mom who takes her daughter to a splash pad and secretly holds her breath waiting for her to get knocked down by the water and somehow end up with life-threatening injuries. Yes, I’m that crazy mom. Luckily, I know I’m crazy and I haven’t put her in bubble wrap before leaving the house…yet.
I think I’ve always been guilty of worry when it comes to my job too. There are so many things to worry about in education. You worry about each student and what they deal with both in and out of the classroom. You worry about whether or not you are making a difference. You worry about preparing students for standardized tests, or more importantly, life after high school.
So I started thinking about what we educators can do about worry, and I think the key is to take action. If you are worried about a student failing your class, you have to take action. Start the discussion with the student, call the parents, setup seminar times to help, etc.
I was really worried about a student of mine a couple years ago. I knew something toxic was going on at home. I finally decided to take action. My administrator and I did house visits, we setup counseling sessions for the student, and we got her to graduate as semester so she could escape her home life. In no way did I solve all of her problems. But I did use my worry to take action.
I challenge everyone (and myself daily) to recognize what you worry about and ask yourself if there’s something you can do to take action. Can you eliminate some of that worry and do something to remedy the situation? If so, act on it. Chances are you’ll positively affect a student’s life in the process.
Marigolds and Walnut Trees
I recently read a blog post (linked below) that was geared toward new teachers. However, I found it to be a jumping point for reflection for all people in education, new or not.
The full post is definitely worth the read. For those of you who don’t like to read full texts (ahem, Mr. House), I’ll summarize it here. In short, the post explains that when you are trying to grow vegetables, it’s smart to plant marigolds nearby. Marigolds will protect and support the vegetables so they can grow and thrive. In contrast, any experienced gardener would know to keep vegetables away from walnut trees. These trees can give off a toxic substance that can wilt or even kill the vegetables. The advice was for first year teachers to find their marigolds and avoid the walnut trees.
I’m not a first year teacher, and I assure you I am not a gardener. The green thumb in my family did not pass on to me, so I stick with those low-maintenance fake plants when I need a little greenery. However, I am a first year administrator with a lot to learn, and I do believe that self-reflection at all stages of a career is imperative.
After reading this blog, I was tempted to divide everyone I know into a list of marigolds and walnut trees. But I didn’t. Instead, I reflected on my attitude. Am I a marigold? Or more of a walnut tree? Would a first year teacher seek my advice and counsel because they feel comfortable, enlightened, and supported enough to try new things, even if they fail? Or would they avoid me and only come to ask something when I’m the last resort?
I decided most days I do make a conscious effort to be more of a marigold. I try to remain calm, keep an upbeat attitude, own my mistakes, and start fresh each day. But I know I have my moments as a walnut tree. In the past, I’ve seen certain names on my roster and immediately went to a negative place, “Why do they have to put that student in my class AGAIN?” I’ve heard about a decision made at a level or two above me and wondered, “When is the last time THAT person stepped foot in a classroom? What do they know?” While those thoughts may be common and possibly even justified, what would it sound like to a new teacher? Sounds to me like I would be spreading a toxic substance that could curb growth.
I also realized that in many schools, it’s the norm to transform from a marigold into a walnut tree. I’d bet we all know one veteran teacher who has looked at the optimism of a new teacher and said, “Oh sweetie, you’ll learn soon enough.” That sure sounds like a toxic walnut tree sucking the life out of that new teacher. What if we listened to that naïve idea? What if we actually benefited from it? Maybe we should break the cycle that takes marigolds and beats the positivity out of them until they are the grouchy walnut tree.
What would a department, or even a whole building, look like if people tried to be a marigold when faced with a situation where you could easily take a turn to the negative? I understand. It’s tough to avoid being a big old stinking walnut tree these days in education. But I have found that many many decisions in education tend to be out of our hands. So what if we controlled our reaction to them? And in turn we just may create a field of marigolds that would attract any new vegetable plant.
So this year, I am making it a personal goal to try and have a marigold mentality. If you see me standing around acting like a walnut tree, call me on it. I would hate to be a source of toxicity to anyone around me, new or not. Challenge yourself to be a marigold for others and find your own group of marigolds as well. I think it’s realistic to have a couple walnuts in your pockets for those crazy days, but don’t let them grow into trees.