where does your light shine?

do you light dark corners?
does your light add clarity and outline?
does it illuminate the overlooked or forgotten?
does your light have adjustable brightness for when shade is needed?
does your light warm, brighten and invite?
does your light move in an unencumbered line out from you?
does your light shine through fog and callous?
does your light create a reflective surface for others to see and feel their light?

***

does your light shine to illuminate the streaks and missed spots?
does your light suck dry the surrounding soil, leaving it desiccated and infertile?
does it shine only at light shows?
does your light scorch and burn delicate new growth?
does your light bounce back to shine just on you?
does your light blind, blur and fatigue?
is your light operated by an invisible and unknowable switch?
does your light only shine into well lit areas?

***

where do you shine your light?

master or masterpiece?

It’s late August, you are back at school setting up your classroom. Your neighboring teacher pokes her head in to say hi and catch up: “Have you seen your class lists yet? Who do you have?” You hand her the printed lists lying on your desk. As she glances over the lists she shares: “Oh him, he is great! Oh no, not her, she struggles with everything!”

So innocent and so human, to want to know a bit about the students you will work with over the course of the next several months.

***

I promised myself I would try to avoid preconceived ideas about students. I wanted to let them be blank canvases as they entered the class and paint their own story, fresh for the first time. I even went as far to make a poster in big bold letters and post it up at the back of the classroom as a daily reminder to myself of this very thing:

Expectation becomes the realization

While my intentions were good it turned out my practice was not.

A couple of years into teaching I had the chance to work with students I worked with in Science 8 again in Chemistry 11. I was thrilled to have already established relationships in place! As such we had richer conversations, less ground work to cover to create mutual understanding. But with that prior knowledge of each other guess what else crept in?

I learned in talking with students how I had broken my own rule of thumb. In conversation one day, a student said: “Yeah I even got “name of student who always gets A’s” to do my lab for me and you still gave me…”
In that moment I was caught; I had fallen for the name on the page and not the words on the page. I was judging students on what I knew of them rather than the evidence of their learning they were sharing with me. I was marking everything students put a pen on and evaluating nothing. Oh I had so much to learn!

My take away that day (beyond the burning shame of being blatantly wrong and floored by how much I had to learn) was…
I needed to look at the evidence and not the person presenting it, regardless of what I knew of them, felt about them or had heard about them. I wanted to look for the potential masterpiece…and sometimes it would be crumpled, the spelling atrocious, and handed in late…but it could be a masterpiece! Would I see it?

Today I continue to ask myself when:

  • I read a tweet or a blog…
  • I evaluate or assess…
  • I listen to a student’s idea or suggestion…
  • I choose to retweet or share a blog…
  • I sit in a meeting…
  • I read student work on the crumpled or torn paper…

What am I reacting to? What am I really evaluating? What am I connecting to? What do I base my opinions on?

What do you react and connect to?

The master or the masterpiece?

Dear #PLN, you changed me

Dear #PLN,

We have been hanging out together for over 3 years now. There are some things I thought you should know.
At first you overwhelmed me and it was awkward. I was not sure what to say and you had so much to say. I watched and listened to figure you out.
I remember thinking: “How do you express yourself like that?! WOW!”
I remember thinking: “I am going to have to get up pretty early to read ALL THOSE important ideas!”
And for a time I did.
I was amazed and bewitched…there was so much going on…all this time elapsed and I hadn’t know about you! #sadness
I was overwhelmed and amazed by how much you knew, how much you thought…how intensely and deeply you cared.
I fell for your range of interests, your openness to the unknown, and your drive to keep moving.
OK. I more than fell for you.

Beyond infatuation, your presence impacted my learning, my heart, and my perspective on life. I don’t mean in a trite and superficial way. I mean in a deep profound way. You changed me. 

Tweet by tweet, you invited me to trade in my cynicism for hope. Like poker chips in a game you’ve invested way too much in, I didn’t want to give my chips up. “They are all I have!” I thought, but somehow you convinced me. So all in I went, gave away every last chip and traded in on bold, loud and glorious hope.

You shared your learning, your thoughts, and your dreams out in the open. You made me understand through example how I could be strong and vulnerable, at the same time. You helped me discover that when I put myself out there, no matter how scary or uncomfortable it feels, real connection happens. Regardless of distance, nationality or subject matter, we are all in “this” together.

You made me ravenous to learn, to keep up, and to know what you knew. But not in a competitive or measurable way. Not in a way to be like just like you. You let me know I could find my way, on my own, in my own time. You said: “you are capable and sure, don’t doubt yourself, just go.” You left tracks of your thinking for me to use as clues so I didn’t get lost. You left space beside your tracks for me to make my own way, my own path. You expanded my thought horizons beyond my imagination; you showed me glimpses of what was out there and beyond. You made me want to make my own path there. You let me want it for myself.

You allowed me the space and time to discover I love to write, to think, and to create. You said: “go ahead take a risk, try something new, I’ll wait for you, I’ll encourage you, I’ll celebrate with you.”

But the biggest gift you gave me, which simultaneously breaks my heart and glues the pieces back together, is you made me want to start all over again.  You made me wish more than anything, that I could start my career, my learning journey, all over again…but with you.

Love,

me

Can you be held accountable for something you own?

“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
Pasi Salberg

 

Last year my daughter told us she wanted a new iPhone. “Ok” we said “you will just have to pay for it yourself.” So off she went to get a part-time job, saved over several months and finally had the funds to purchase her iPhone.
Fast forward to this fall when she was getting out of my husband’s truck with the beloved in hand. You can probably guess what happened!  As she was exiting the truck the phone slipped out of her hand and clattered onto the driveway. Before you could say “I love iPhones,” crack and shatter…the screen was toast. She was devastated, her beloved ruined. She felt bad, so badly, that she had in a 2 second window let her iPhone slick out of her grasp. Back to saving she went to get the screen repaired. I am not going to claim this event totally changed her phone carrying behavior, but she did get a different case and she did assume complete responsibility.  But the thing of it was she owned the phone. We couldn’t be “mad at her” or disappointed with her for dropping it, as she was mad and disappointed with herself. We didn’t jump need to assume responsibility for the phone, it was hers, 100%.

***

While I get that phones and learning and very different this story helps to make a point.

We say we want students to own their learning, right? We say we want students to become independent learners, right? Can anyone own something when held accountable externally for it? When we, with our best intentions, say we need to hold our students accountable for their learning, is this is not an oxymoron? Can someone be held accountable for something that is theirs? And the very second we do hold students accountable do we not extinguish, in that very moment, all hope that students will in fact ever own their learning, because in that very well-meaning moment, haven’t we owned the learning for them?

Do we think we have to hold students accountable as they not capable? If learning is to be authentic to them and for them are they not capable of that?  Is it that they don’t care? Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the learning was never theirs in the first place. It is hard to be forced to care about something that is not and will never be yours.

***
How do you feel when you are held accountable? Do you feel empowered or dis-empowered?
When you are engaged fully in a project you love and are passionate about do you need to be held accountable for it? At all?

 

When I grow up

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder. In this new world, not only must we behave more like children, we also must teach the next generation to retain those attributes that will allow them to be world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Joi Ito

 

When I grow up I’ll invent make a big mess day, where you don’t have to clean up your project till you are all done and making a mess is expected.

When I grow up I’ll let curiosity be my trusty guide. I’ll remember how it feels to have your own burning questions and not even want an answer; just want a way to discover.

When I grow up I’ll remember how not to worry about making mistakes and how I did everything I loved without self-judgment. I’ll remember how I could be a ballerina, an artist and a scientist all in the same day.

When I grow up, I’ll remember how to be kooky and silly. I’ll remember after being silly it is a piece of cake to settle down.

When I grow up, I’ll remember the black journal I saved my money to buy and how excited I was to fill it with my learning when I got to “real” school.

When I grow up I am going to remember to never take myself or my job too seriously. I’ll remember how it is possible to move on when something does not work out my way.

When I grow up I’ll remember the things I love to do are the things I need to do, everyday. I’ll remember those things are the things that make life delicious, delectable and possible.

When I grow up I’ll remember how my enthusiasm and curiosity sometimes made me loud, rambunctious and full of energy. I’ll remember how enthusiasm looks and feels and embrace it on the spot with open arms.

When I grow up I’ll remember to daydream, imagine and create. I’ll remember how big my dreams were and are. I’ll remember how vivid my imagination was and is. I’ll remember how easy it was to create.

When I grow up, I’ll remember.
What will you remember when you grow up?

)

Because #poetry

poems

Shared on Flickr by Kariann Blank

“A poet is a verb that blossoms light in gardens of dawn, or sometimes midnight.”
Aberjhani

Before you say but “I am not an English teacher” or “I am an administrator” consider: are you looking for ways to infuse creativity and divergent thinking into to your class or staff? And before you say: “sure but I just can’t imagine it!” check out these examples of poetry “out-of-bounds.” Have you talked about or thought about creativity and playfulness as vital to igniting and sustaining learning? Poetry invites both! Wouldn’t poetry be a great way to invite students (and teachers) to make sense of content and themselves? What if poetry was seen as a way to make sense of the world…not just in English class but in all classes and for adults as well!

Before you say “well I just don’t have time!” No worries! Start small and consider trying a #sixwordstory to summarize part of a lesson or staff meeting.  And if that sounds overwhelming start with “just one word” and then create a collective found poem (see description below). Sounds fun right?!

Some reasons you might consider poetry:

1. Invites fun and playfulness.
Students often see “school learning” as a series of rules to be followed exactly. Poetry invites playfulness and fun into the process. Learning is fun and playful, playing with words is a great way to show case this.

2. Showcases and normalizes divergent thinking.
When students see learning as an answer on a worksheet they become uncomfortable and intolerant of divergent thinking. Writing a poem showcases that there be many legitimate ways to understand and explain a topic. It also models to students that there is more than one way of knowing and explaining.

3. Opportunity to make meaning and make it public.
Learning is all about making meaning for ourselves and sharing this meaning with others. What better way than through a poem or performance!

4. Invites and encourages creativity as a viable way to operate in school.
When we only do creative acts in certain subjects it signals creativity as only useful for certain topics, but don’t we want students to think creativity is important for all subjects?

5. Develops a sense of identity.
When all answers are identical it is challenging to develop a sense of ownership and personal connection. Poetry allows for personal flair and perspective to shine through.

Poetry Resources and Examples Round Up

1. Poetry in the classroom pinterest board 

2. Just One Word
Not feeling the poetry thing? Ok how about “just one word”? At the end of a unit, day, class, meeting or movie clip, ask students to think of one word that captures their thoughts. After they all have their word have students say their word aloud in rapid succession to create a “found poem.”  It is always interesting to hear the similarities and patterns that emerge. Want to dial this activity up a notch? Collect the words and use as the raw materials to create a #sixwordstory.

3. Biopoem
Unsure about using poetry in your classroom? Get started with a formulaic type poem. I have used biopoems at the start of semester to get to know my students and then used it over the course of the semester for the different organisms we study in Biology. You could use it to explore a character in history or a type of equation in math.

A biopoem is a poem that describes a person/character/animal/etc  in 11 lines. There is a specific formula to use when writing a bio poem. Bipoem form to use here and outlined below:

First name…
Four adjectives that describe the person/character/organism…
Relative of…
Lover of (three different things that the person loves)…
Who feels (three different feelings and when or where they are felt)…
Who gives (three different things the person gives)…
Who fears (three different fears the person has)…
Who would like to see (three different things the person would like to see)…
Who lives (a brief description of where the person lives)
Last name…

4. #sixwordstory
Students choose (or are provided with) an object, picture, event, sentence…then are invited to write a story using only six words. These stories can be shared verbally or posted into a doc, a slide show, on a sticky or tweeted out. An example from my Biology class is provided below (students wrote on stickies and I posted to our Facebook group). Six words do not intimidate anyone!

 

6 word story
Template to use here
Some great examples are here and hereMore examples (as more is always more!).

5. Blackout Poem
A couple of weeks ago @davidtedu wrote this awesome post in which he highlighted blackout poems. His post was the catalyst and inspiration for my poetry craze of late (thanks David!).

Students could create one individually or in groups and could use a newspaper, magazine or old paper back. I thought this would be a great way to “churn up” a professional article with teachers and the blackout poem they created would summarize what the article meant to them. Black out poems are great for students who hesitate to write as this format allows them to express themselves without making the commitment to writing themselves.
Blackout poems are poems, sentences, phrases created from words of an existing novel (article, newspaper, chapter). Have students underline, first in pencil, words they might like to use in the poem. Now have students use pen circle the words they want to use in the poem. Finally have them black out everything else.

More ideas in presentation below:

7. Found poem
A found poem can be created in a multitude of ways but basically it is a hobbled together set of phrases or sentences. A collection of #sixwordstories could be a found poem. Students could select one phrase or sentence from a text your read aloud to them. Have students each read their catch phrase aloud..ta da instant found poem. Want something more formal? Open up a google doc and have students each add their phrase their. Add images and turn into a presentation (use Animoto and add music). Students love to hear other student’s poems and I am always amazed at how much information gets kicked up!

Found poem template here.

8. Slam poetry
For a larger project or presentation how about a slam poetry event? Students could write poems from the perspective of a character or react to a controversial topic in science (for example Should GMO Crops Be Banned? or Should Designer Babies Be Legal?).

Slam poetry form to use.

Watch these inspiring performances as examples:

 

Infidelity and intentional vagueness

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

                                                                                                                Antoine de Saint-Exupery

                                                                                                                                 

I have to confess I have never been faithful. Ever. Over 25 years and I never adopted one planning, teaching schema or framework with 100% fidelity. Moreover I have never taught a course or unit again, in the same order, in the same way. Lastly, I am vague with instructions. Intentionally.

It didn’t start this way. As I began teaching, I saw senior teachers with course binders which they would open and say: “here is today’s lesson.”  I thought: when I have binders like that I will be a great teacher! I also saw examples of elaborately detailed unit plans (many prepared by teachers I never met in person). I thought: when I get going, I am going to make units plans like those and then I will be the teacher I need to be! Lastly, I made sure I knew how to give clear and detailed instructions. I knew exactly when to say “Get your microscopes out!” to avoid confusion. I knew how to organize the bodies of 30 teenage bodies with military precision.

The closer I got to each of these goals, the more uncertain I became they would get me where I wanted to go with my teaching practice. For a long while, I felt guilty about all of this! I thought I was somehow deficient as a teacher in my unwillingness to give in to one planning model or teaching philosophy, in being “unable” to follow the same plan twice and in choosing to give ambiguous instructions.

Making Something My Own is the Making Sense Part

UBD? POGIL? Inquiry? PBL? UDL? So many frameworks and so little time. I wish I could say I had a form to end all others, I wish I could say I had THE recipe. Over time, I realized it wasn’t the form I did or did not use or the framework, I did or did not use.
What mattered was the schema I built, in my brain. And please don’t get me wrong, I thinking planning frameworks and teaching paradigms are both valuable and useful. Planning frameworks (such as UBD) and paradigms have informed me. The act of following someone else’s instructions to the letter on how to design a unit or course did inform and me; it was in the time and effort of churning through to make sense of it in my own brain in conjunction with observations and reflections. The work, the thoughts, the mental lifting which happened within the neurons helped to guide my teaching practice. Over time I have become comfortable with my “always hybrid” approach and the continuous development of my practice.

Planning is Important but Adapting the Plan is More Important

I used to think plans were a script to create in advance to ensure my lessons would be perfect. Now I know plans are not as important as what they become and what they allow for. The act of planning was not to create a script to follow, like actors do on a stage, but to create conditions in which students could write their own lines. The plan is important and valuable but how the plan is liberated and given a life of its own is more meaningful than the plan itself. Lastly, I came to understand that plans would look different each and every time they came to life. I came to understand that responding and adapting to students at a particular time was about teaching students instead of a teaching a course.

Vague Instructions Leave Something to the Imagination: Ambiguity is Good

I used to think good instructions were those when students did exactly what my words said. Now I know good instructions are those enabling students to figure out what they need to do to address their learning.  When I got good at giving detailed instructions, students became really good at following the details but this did not necessarily impact what was going on in their brains. Just because I could get students to do what I instructed them to do did not mean learning was going on.
When I was filling in all the details, students were unused to ambiguity and reading between the lines for themselves. My so called “good instructions” made students rely on me more and propagated the “let’s play school” mindset. Instructions are not about getting kids to do what I say (compliance), instructions are about inviting, invoking and awakening.  I would much rather a student sit an activity out and then later decide for themselves to take part. I realized I wanted structures and strategies to help students move to the deep end of their learning (and did not want strategies that relied on highly prescriptive instructions) rather than strategies and structures that kept them in the shallow end where it was easy for me to “watch them.”

***

How about you? What are you faithful to? How do your plans come to life? How do you see and use instructions?