Category Archives: educator

For Teachers, Everywhere

April might be the official Poetry month, but this poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye seems “just right” for back to work/back to school after any type of holiday: 

Famous

 

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.


Teaching tends to feel like this – from one Educator to another..best wishes for 2017! …to learning, and not forgetting this is what we do…  #teaching

 

Classroom reflections

Blended Learning as a Tool, not a Crutch

Best feeling for an educator? hearing actual excitement in the student’s voice about anything they are pleased to be accomplishing!

Blended learning in the classroom may make this possible, even if not every student has a personal learning device. But only recently have educators begun to share how much planning must actually go into a classroom activity that properly uses technology as an asset to the lesson, as an opportunity for self paced review, as a chance to challenge oneself in any of the core curriculum areas or strands, and as a tool for the teacher to instigate personal lesson plans. And like the dreaded accountable lesson plans of yesteryear, blended learning requires a skill, and most definitely time to prepare. 

When students recognize that “watch this video then do the exercises” is not an option but part of the course material, teachers offering material at the correct level and pace for the majority of students in the classroom are teachers who have first watched the video, practiced the accompanying exercises, and been able to evaluate their potential effectiveness in his or her particular learning environment, and then been willing to observe the variety of reactions to the self paced learning established.  This requires being a reflective practitioner, not simply supplying websites akin to the multiple printed pages of extra sheet-work which used to be (and may still be) in stacks for the access of the one’s who finished regular assigned exercises quickly.  The benefits of being a “seasoned educator” and currently working one to one means having time to hear the complaints which students from k-12 feel comfortable voicing in a safe and  non-school environment.  And indeed students may love technology, and for the younger set, the elementary students who are offered the bonus use of an open computer once all regular work is completed, they do enjoy that “freedom to play” though they tend to “play” on prescribed websites.  Older students though actually want to feel that any time spent on an educational pursuit translates into marks- and even with all the vocal squawking from educators that marks do not make the person, students actually enjoy some form of visible recognition for their hard work and some form of noting their own achievements!

Tests, quizzes, levels of accomplishment, challenges, problems to be solved, badges- formal academics, and Minecraft basics? Yes. Gaming and personal goals to get to the next level are the challenges set by anyone determined to practice and improve, and then practice some more, regardless of whether an athlete, an artist, a business owner or an academic! And when any type of advice is requested, the hope is that once applied, such advice will enable the asker to make it to the next level- else why bother asking if trial and error is sufficient? Because as Humans our society improves when we share knowledge; teachers have a value in the classroom and on the street. And students quickly learn that they can learn from their peers, from their parents, and from the formal and informal lesson plans that everyday life offers.  Not everyone is gearing directly toward higher academics, but the skills sets of focused activity, group and individual participation, personal motivation, and ability to inquire, to request information and to then personally evaluate the responses received- these are skills for Life. And Educators’ work load is only appearing to have been made easier with the concept of “blended learning” or the idea of students becoming “self-paced” for learners of all levels, and all ages, require solid challenges and a chance to also become “the instructor” sharing their personal understanding of any activity, being peer to peer guides, and whenever possible, even teaching their elders for in such a fluid learning environment the conversation may actually be “spontaneous” rather than contrived (look at a student teacher’s notes and one may find actual hoped for dialogue appearing in the lesson plans!) with the surprising by-product once removed from the goal, of increased marks and scores on those tests which are still the basic means to evaluate any learning endeavor.  

 

 

For 2016: Schooling and Positively Purposeful

One activity a day please –that is to FOCUS on;

YOGA

Yes

Open

Gesture stretch move repose

Actions to allow learning to settle

As an actual person from the 70s (1970s) I do recall the wave of books and fringe groups discussing TMR and meditation along with green tea and incense burning- but I was more into other things. Today in looking at Curriculum and asking why and where school wide learning balances The Arts and Phys Ed with core Academic subjects, and questions about exam preparation, student worries ( anxiety is too much a buzzword to truly apply to all students ) and what simple additions could have lasting effect on a schools atmosphere, two things continuously surface. Basic nutrition for all, and peaceful meditative practice.

 

Settle isn’t a bad word, in fact it is a word with multiple meanings- we despairingly suggest one shouldn’t settle for something that doesn’t automatically appear to be the perfect fit, yet we applaud those people who appear to be “settled” as in having found some stability from which to grow. And now that winter storms may soon engulf a city in snow, little is more pleasant than to look outside and see a streetscape where after the wind and blowing pellets, the snow has actually settled. Consider then how we discuss the feeling of ideas swirling around and refer to this as a “brainstorm.” And how one field of thought exhorts: create mind maps, another, put it in a list, and ever others, just begin and let the writing flow. But still there will be the students who can’t begin, some who can’t sit still, others who appear glued to their seats but whose pencils rarely make a mark on a page, and between these extremes are the students who simply need to understand what the term calm actually means. Enter “YOGA.”

 

In 2016 YOGA is not “fringe” but decidedly mainstream. And the beauty of it is that it is portable; certainly trained professional teachers will manage classes and here a person may learn exact techniques and increase, level by level, until able to move the body into near magical poses; however back to basics when it comes to a school wide system, and the goal of simply encouraging students to “be.” And doesn’t each of us benefit from having the ability to allow for inner calm even when under stressful situations? So let’s start with the youngest students and increase the practice throughout the grades and remove any discomfort in allowing students to “zone out” for a brief period – active daydreaming if you will, instead of just pushing the call for “makers,” let’s recall that thinking requires quiet time, too.

 

And as we as Educators continue to push for “Healthy Schools” let’s nourish the body too! If full time lunch programs are not doable in a district could healthful snack breaks fit into the budget? Having participated where schools offered something as simple as a ½ orange or ½ banana to students twice a day and recognized that the break also allowed for light conversation, then valued the renewed vigor when students tackled coursework, can vouch that sometimes even the simplest of gestures have lasting benefits. Makers and doers, thinkers and tinkerers, schools owe it to their staff and students to create and encourage learning awareness; one of the better ways is to help increase school wide non-analytical action. The reflections can occur during the relaxed periods; instead of being imposed upon students may begin to find reflection a natural occurrence. And then, when asked to consider various options, recognize that in addition to brainstorming, allowing ideas to settle is worthwhile too.

A shift into “Learning” (September)

A Shift image for Disruptive learning

But why is this disruptive? It used to be the “taken for granted!”-

I wrote that question with trepidation, I know that suggesting info- graphics are less powerful than they have been given credit for is almost educational blasphemy. I like the picture; I only wish that as educators we could see these images for the categories they have always been: core curriculum in a k-12 school*. Once again I am tempted to change a portion and suggest that it read – if we teachers are going to pay attention to it – “Are you ready to notice what may be going on in your room?” And if yes, then the poster is referring to us, calling educators “learners” – reminding us, that we too are learning in the room; we had better pay attention…

*it is story telling/ newspaper articles/ headlines/ humour/ organization skills (list making only 1 of many ways to organize) math, drama, motor skills, social media, science etc. etc…

on a limb…

It is everywhere! The statement that ” the only way to do a good job is to love what you do”.  UM- not necessarily, and not really what we need to be proclaiming on classroom walls- as students rarely love drills- rarely love rewrites, rarely love the extra practice that must be undertaken to improve in any form of craft- or academic work.

How could we change it up then? This has been a constant desire of mine- to create a learning environment where all students receive the respect and opportunity to grow regardless of how much “hard work” both the educator and the student must apply before changes appear evident- and hard work isn’t always fun, nor is it always something one loves to do.

When we constantly toss about ideals that suggest “Passion” is all that is needed the craft behind the making may get lost in the dream that suggested “love is all you need”.  I love the Beatles and all that they stood for, but would hazard a guess that not one of them really meant the statement literally.  We need to get back to the core sense of practice, refining a skill and /or set of skills that will become, if not actually automatic, as close to automatic that an individual may muster and be able to call upon these skills as needed.

I cook, and when asked the secret ingredient have been known to answer “love” so indeed we all employ the suggestion that adding CARE will make a difference.  And I am for caring classrooms everywhere- but not to the detriment of students being giving only the promise of learning without the practical tools.  To truly empower students we need to offer guidelines; students whether in a regular or a flipped classroom, whether home-schooled or one of 50 in a classroom, benefit when the rules are clearly laid out, when the rubric is explained, and when the student is shown how to do something.

Practice may not make “perfect” but it will promote understanding; if the reasoning behind the practice is questioned, then dear teachers, do please have an explanation ready.  Or depending on the age group of your students, think about sharing something that will spark discussion regarding why some types of practical actions do not always appear to be on target but indeed get the results- a classic film comes to mind- the original Karate Kid– hard to forget “wash on, wash off” as a muscle builder…

Sports and the Arts both offer a form of apprenticeship during which time participants improve their practice under the guidance of “master coaches”.  The two words were juxtaposed on purpose, for mastery is what in the end produces that amazing result- the one that moves beyond rote and adapts or is applied to a specific situation, creating grace in action, be it a line on a page, a puck spinning towards a goal, or a new computer application.  We all improve through practice if and when the areas where improvement is suggested are clearly defined, and clearly demonstrated with /through examples where these practical changes made a difference to the finished product.

It is about product in addition to process, and if/when we forget this we short change a student.  Students are very self aware, and to be up lifted do not need simple pats on the back; they too want to recognize results and be proud of their own accomplishments.  When a student is able to say “I worked hard on this and believe it says what I wanted it to say” the student is taking ownership of his/her learning- isn’t that really what as teachers we wish to produce?

 

For home, school, in the car…

Preparing for September?  Now I teach year round, (private lessons are open at the student’s request) but still get a soft spot for the month of September.  And I love the combination of poetry and song to get me in the mood for fuller classes.  Super favorites with children of all ages include all the books by Shel Silverstein, but I have a special space for the poems he wrote, or shared, which have a musical component.

Did you know that The Unicorn“* began as a song first recorded by the Irish Rovers in 1962?  The beauty of folk songs was that they became “singable” for everyone (Bob Dylan didn’t create the genre) 🙂

And what folk songs offer is the initiation into the importance of rhythm and cadence to help move both a song and a story along. We sing lullabies to our children regardless of what language we are speaking in the home; we coo, and murmur, and if someone has a set of words to go with these coos- then so much the better.  With these interactions we are starting the process of literacy.  So please, coo, murmur and hum to your children, plus if you can find them, put on the music and let the children ( join in too; they won’t mind if you are off key!) belt it out.

Here is a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EPsuOEH1fY

–  “those green alligators and long necked beasts” will have the kids jumping up and down- and you can be sure and find others that offer the same tongue challenges while giving everyone a chance to PLAY!

To add to the process grab some chalk and see if the children can draw the images -( one of the better uses of sidewalks- but be aware, children often enjoy hearing something again, and again, and again….

https://mytutoringspace.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/faa6a-wherethe.jpg  Shel Silverstein: collection of poetry for children – Full lyrics to the Unicorn may be found in his book

 

weaving words into feelings

Maya Angelou had an amazing ability to affect people of all backgrounds and all ages, in the way she wove words into feelings. Regardless of background or experience the idea that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” resonates.

For me it also brings home what we were trying to create when I joined others as a Museum Educator, and wanted to share a space that had the reputation for being stuffy and “hands off”; to challenge that reputation, and share the space for what it really was, a treasure trove of memorabilia, and history. So taking to heart the idea within the saying, we went to work to make the Museum visit a positive experience. This meant that while creating interactive exhibits to appeal to a variety of ages was essential, so too, was being open to changing direction within a museum framework, and being open to taking direction from the visitors themselves. As a museum educator has to make use of the exhibit space, the objects themselves, and the visitors, then, even when the visitors are kindergarten age, their opinions count. A favorite memory is the Oohs and Ahhhhs the children uttered when entering the oversized elevator. How funny, but how important to recognize that this initial welcome to the centre would be central to their desire to share the experience with parents, to encourage others to visit- even if others entered an exhibition space in the more formal manner: up the stairs and past the ticket taker.

Visualize please a wall covered with larger than life Audubon paintings, and a group of grade five students creating the movement and sounds these very static images might have produced. Or enter with me into a hall filled with flat paintings of America’s founding fathers, and hear the group of grade ten and eleven students laughingly comparing the fashions then and (well it was the early 90s)- “now”. Pull out a dollar bill and match the image to the portrait, – you get the picture.

Only recently though did I connect Ms. Angelou’s words to the Gettysburg address, and only because of a chance reading in an obscure book- the following words rang out, and immediately brought to mind: Maya Angelou’s vision. From the Address: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…” Lincoln.
– and the way in which art constantly alludes to earlier art, and manages somehow to reflect back while looking forward.

Poetry by its very nature remains open ended. As do many of the objects we find in different gallery spaces. These objects were created by someone, appreciated by others, and, I have to believe, meant to be shared.

It is the first Monday in August, and teachers are preparing to welcome a new school year. May 2014-2015 be filled with positive experiences. 🙂