Be – Do – Have

To make a true change, you have to BE the thing you are trying to become right now in the present moment.  Then you will automatically DO the things necessary to HAVE what you desire…..BE DO HAVE

10 Tips for Change, Metabolic Effect

It seems like such a simple idea, doesn’t it? But the reality of making change is much different.

Doing for the sake of doing is not motivation. Don’t you just despise having to do something “just because”.

For my students, changing self-image or mindsets are such important ideas to build. Getting kids to believe in themselves is probably one of the most important, yet most challenging things a teacher can do.

Testing is not motivation enough for students to DO what they need to do to HAVE or achieve their life goals. Possibilities are. What possibilities do we introduce to our students so they know WHAT they want to BE?

A Common Thread

If you don’t subscribe to the weekly Tip of the Week newsletter from the Sisters – Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, you are missing out on something really special.

This week’s front page essay was written by Joan and it really struck a chord with me. Teachers in current education practice are often stuck between a rock and a hard place: we often are charged with a mandate that we, as teachers, as professionals, know is not in the best interest of our students. What do we do – beside the obvious choice of continually attempting to change thinking? Joan – and Gail – raise an issue that, in my opinion, makes education a different kind of career.

Or does it? When an employee in the private sector – an employee at a large corporation – encounters a mandate that just doesn’t make sense is there ever any pushback? When the directive is one that impedes or prevents the employee from accomplishing a goal, do employees abandon their own thought and analysis to blindly follow a directive “just because”?

My sense, which is anecdotal of course,  is that they do not. Maybe educators need to be more forceful advocates for what benefits our students when we get a mandate that clearly won’t be helpful.

Which brings up another blog entry that was recommended to me this week: The Real Mr. Fitz. In his “Letter to Mr. Obama”, David Lee Finkle points out the irony of some of the more head-scratching initiatives that have impacted education in recent memory. Need I mention it is statistically improbable – if not impossible – that 100% of all students will read on grade level by 2015.

As David Lee Finkle says

…reformers are saying we should put students first. That is what I try to do every single day in my classroom. But I feel the reformers are putting everything but students first: test scores, data, common standards and assessments, value-added models, and standardized curricula are all coming first. Real, flesh and blood students with real problems, hopes and dreams are the last thing on the reformer’s agenda.

Two blog postings connecting with a common theme: teachers DO know what they are doing, we are here for the kids.

Divide and conquer?

When I hear people pit new teachers against experienced ones it makes me crazy.

I cringe every time I hear that catch-all “burnt out” attached to experienced practitioners.  Yes, I’m sure you can find teachers who are marking time until they can get to the retirement board, but that’s the exception, not the rule. And yes, new teachers bring a fresh viewpoint to education. Don’t we have room for both?

If you believe the half-truths of newspaper editors, you’d think a person like me – a teacher who has dedicated the last 25 years to elementary education – is just an ass in a chair taking up space and keeping a newly licensed teacher from solving all the problems of public education.

What education needs are inquiring professionals regardless of the number of years spent in a classroom. Teachers who are experienced, but willing to research, consult, and learn from colleagues. Teachers who may have just entered a classroom for the first time, who reflect on what worked and what didn’t and are unafraid to ask for help.

What is the purpose behind the continual barrage from those who continually pit experienced (i.e. tenured) vs. new teacher? Is it economic? Is it ignorant? Is it some disgruntled adult now reliving a memory?

Whatever it is, it is divisive. What teachers need is time and opportunity to share, to collaborate. And a bit of respect for the important work that needs to be done regardless of how long a person has practiced it.

Teacher as Learner

I have long gotten past being the “sage on the stage”. If educational gurus hadn’t already convinced me that students learn best from peers and self-exploration – constructing the meaning of something themselves from experience – anecdotal evidence from the classroom would have.

This week I arranged with our school’s Literacy specialist/coach, Pat Sweeney, to have her model peer writing conferences.  Knowing how much language we need to build into any speech-based activity with English Language Learners, help in supporting my students is always welcome.

Pat started by engaging my students in thinking about why an author may want to ask a peer  for advice. First Pat laid down the ground rules for the author (read your work and listen to peer input), the peer group (listen and then offer 1 compliment and 1 suggestion).  The rule of compliments (always start the sentence with “you or your”) and suggestions (“I think…..”) was next.

Then kids then looked over and clarified a list of compliments and suggestions that Pat had placed on anchor charts. Having previewed some independently written narratives my students were working on, Pat selected two students to be the first to try out peer conferences in a whole group.

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of constructive criticism my students had. They offered compliments and useful suggestions about the plot of a story, the beginnings, the endings, descriptive languages. Pat wrote down up to 3 suggestions for each author – fitting them on a 3×3 stick-on note – and then instructed the author to keep the note with their original work so when they later conference with me, we can both see which suggestions were incorporated into their pieces. Self accountability – brilliant!

Several days later, when Pat led our peer conferences a second time, she gradually released the conversation to the students. And the students were much more willing to sit in the author’s chair or offer suggestions and compliments. As we continue this process, my hope is that students will move eventually to arranging with a smaller peer group of 2-3 students or even with a critical friend.

As for me, I’ve learned that I have a habit of offering a compliment but linking to the suggestion with the conjunction “but” – which negates the power of the compliment. I’m also going to need to do some work to remember beginning compliments with “you” and not “I think”. I also was delighted to see the authors who had been through the peer conference check in with me (“Do you think I should rewrite this or just write this part on my draft?”) — how many times have teachers given students a writing suggestion and then notice it never makes its way in to the final copy?

Having a valuable critical friend for my own teaching is not a luxury, it is a necessity. We learn from each other – just as the students do.


The Places We Write

When we returned to school this week, I knew I would need to revisit some of our routines. The first week in January always seems like a good time to do such things. One thing I knew I wanted to clarify was where to put writing.

In my third grade classroom, there seem to be 4 categories of writing activities – Reading Responses, Writers’ Notebook captures, Genre/project based writing, and Free Writing.  So this week I set out to redefine these 4 with my students through the creation of anchor charts and practice. As we work to refine the kinds of writing we do in  the four places, we created an anchor chart for each.

Our Writers’ Notebooks in particular had become a mash of full-blown stories – not simply observations, ideas, snippets of conversation that might later turn in to something more substantial. We’ve started with a new notebook this week, a notebook that students are expected to keep on their desks during the day just in case a new writing idea comes to mind. While that spontaneity has not yet been achieved, I hope my message is clear: writers need to be ready to jot down ideas at any time.

Organization, as any teacher can tell you, is where we succeed or stumble. If the structure for keeping track of materials and tasks doesn’t make sense to me personally, it probably won’t be helpful for the students. For me, and hopefully for my students, this past week’s activities has helped us to clarify and to organize tasks more logically.

New Traditions

As the parent of an adult, the holidays are kind of odd for us. The old and comfortable ways we used to celebrate have morphed and changed to be less child-centered. We have never been big party people – Adrien used to play gigs on New Year’s Eve. Once you have had to work a New Year’s party, they kind of lose their luster I think. Most New Year’s Eves we share a glass of wine, cook something together – and continue the family tradition of watching the Three Stooges marathon. Not that exciting, and this “tradition” is definitely is starting to feel tired.

I don’t know if it’s the light deprivation, the glum overcast that seems to be our normal weather, the cold (and anticipation of the utility bills), whatever… winter just gets to both of us.

On a whim yesterday – before we even ate breakfast – I suggested we drive in to Boston to see the ice sculptures left from First Night.  And so we did.


Trinity reflected in John Hancock Building

New Year’s morning, as it turns out, is the perfect time to drive in to Boston. First of all, there was barely any traffic – even at 9 am. We found on street parking at Clarendon and Comm and could even be picky about where to put the car. And (bonus), no feeding the meters on Sundays and Holidays – both applied to this day.

Yesterday was one of those anomalies of New England winter: it was 40 in the city and sunny. Hardly a person was out and about yet – just a few runners – it felt good to be walking around Back Bay.

Copley Square, Jan 1, 2012

Starting at Copley, where Trinity Church services were just getting underway, we strolled around the Square, down Boylston – stopping for coffee of course – through the Public Garden and on to the Common.

By the time we reached the Public Garden, families were beginning to come out to enjoy the morning. The Frog Pond wasn’t open for skaters – yet – but the Zamboni was making the final sweep to clean up the ice, Children were enjoying the playground nearby.


Tadpole Playground, January 1, 2012

Boston is definitely a city for walking. And on this first day of 2012, I think we’ve discovered a new way to celebrate the advent of a new year.

Assumptions that aren’t always bad

I subscribe to Responsive Classroom’s newsletters and blogs. They usually help to ground me, help me to see and understand my students better.  This week’s entry was about Questioning Assumptions. And as a teacher, I know there are too many times when I’ve jumped to a conclusion about a student’s behavior or motivation. And then been surprised by the wrongness of my assumptions.

But I’m here to say that making assumptions in an educational setting is not always a bad thing.

I assume my students are smart – brilliant mostly. And given the chance, I know they can achieve everything in life that any other student can achieve. I assume they want to do this. Of course, my third graders come with lots less baggage than middle- or high-schoolers and a fraction of the peer pressure to not look too nerdy. That makes this assumption a lot more easy to keep.

I assume that when I believe in my students, the expectation that they can and will succeed becomes a cornerstone for learning – one that both of us are responsible for.

Angela Maiers tells us that two words – you matter – make a world of difference. I believe that. Through my thoughts and actions toward my students I believe that they will also believe it and come to find their inner strength, their core.

And I assume that when students believe they matter, they can achieve whatever they want in spite of or because of things that happen outside of school.

I assume, that given a chance to become involved in their child’s learning life, a parent will do just that. Each September, I ask parents to tell me what their goals are for their child. Those goals are not that different from more affluent families. Just sometimes there are unique challenges that need a little work.

I agree that stereotypical assumptions block us from helping our students to be all that they are destined to become. But the next time someone tells you to re-examine your assumptions about students, don’t throw it all away. Keep on assuming those things that make expectations high.