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Posted by on in General

It seems these days, families live so far apart. I’m sure that’s the way it is for most of us. Keeping connected takes a lot more effort than it used to.  I don’t think it is just me and my loved ones.

Screen sharing is not the same as being together in real time, although it somewhat fills the gaps.

I feel like a slacker. Lately I’ve been losing things, including house keys and my wallet, twice. Moving much too fast. Not exactly self-care. I finished helping at the preschool until September and the preschool was the first graduation. We had seven of the littles graduating and what a fun, imaginative production for all the children.

It seems like I’ve been on a treadmill lately, such a busy time of year. I looked forward to going up to Beaverton to take a much needed family-filled break.

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

Hike

While visiting a high school in Michigan, I talked to students about their learning experiences. Understanding what they saw as valuable could have an important impact on how the teachers may strive to further elevate student voice in the school. One senior shared a perspective that I repeatedly heard from others. “I want more times when I get to say how I make products for projects. Not just do papers. Maybe videos or some other way to do the work.” Students want opportunities to forge their way for learning. How can we as educators share the reigns of instructional learning experiences?

 

A common practice used to engage students is to give them choices for how they can create products to demonstrate their learning. This is a good practice as some learners struggle when not given options. From a management perspective, choices jumpstart students into the tasks at hand. Yet choices do not equate to student voice.

 

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

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Being Foolish Is Okay

It takes time to learn how to approach people. All people are different in the way they see, experience, and interpret life, and students are people.

I’ve failed at understanding and applying this many times before in life and in the classroom. Hell, I’ll probably fail a few (dozen, hundred?) times again.

But as I fail, I know that it is because I am “foolish” – meaning well, trying new things, but perhaps missing the mark. I reflect and learn, so I can live with it. I can live with it, because I know that I will always have the opportunity to apologize and become better, and this time, and every time thereafter, I will seize it.

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Posted by on in ShiftParadigm

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It’s no secret that countless students eagerly wait for the final bell to ring—not to go home, but to play a team sport. Why is that, and how could we get students to show similar enthusiasm for learning during the actual school day?

Great coaches have an edge when it comes to inspiring today’s youth to greatness, and parents, classroom teachers, administrators, and reformers should take notice of the following traits of effective coaches:

  1. Encourage Failure: The best coaches encourage failure, and they don’t harshly penalize students for making mistakes. Instead, they review with an athlete what he or she did wrong and move on with the next play. In the classroom, the permanent nature of grades and high-stakes testing damages moral and reinforces futility and despair. Too often, well-meaning teachers do too much to ensure that students never fail. But if kids never encounter adversity in the classroom, it’s doubtful they will successfully manage it in real life. Like coaches, teachers should encourage students to try daring new things, and rethink how failure can turn into even greater, more meaningful success. 

  2. Acknowledge Individual Progress: On the field, coaches praise athletes for reaching their fullest potential—whatever that may be. In September, I spoke with legendary cross-country coach Joe Newton who over 50 years has led York Community High School in Elmhurst, Illinois, to 28 state titles. “I’ve got three guys on my team that are like 250 pounds,” Newton says. “They’re out there in front of the whole team at the team meeting. I said to two guys, I said, ‘Look at their bodies. They’re not made for running and they’re out here every day busting their butt.’ I said, ‘I just love guys like that. That’s what our program is all about.’ Then I gave them the old shot: ‘You choose to be average. You choose to be good. You choose to be great.’ Those guys don’t ever score a point for us, but in my eyes they’re great because they come out and they give me what they’ve got.’” How many teachers would say as much of a math or history student, trying equally hard, but only managing to earn a D?

  3. Affirm the Power of Hard Work: Great coaches help players see real improvement. I coach varsity cross-country, and at the start of the season, I discuss fitness goals with my athletes. It’s not long before many of them are sporting six-pack abs, along with impressive race times. Even my slowest runners revel in achieving new personal records, in turn motivating them to continue working just as hard—or harder. In the classroom, teachers should provide students with analogous goals and measurements for progress to encourage (rather than discourage) continued growth.

  4. Affirm the Power of Teamwork: On the playing field, no matter how talented an athlete, victory is impossible without teamwork. The best coaches cultivate productive relationships, and their athletes revel in accomplishing something they couldn’t do alone. More still, the entire team is only as strong as its weakest player, and it’s the job of that team to help that individual improve. In the classroom as well, pursuing individual academic competence must remain paramount, but teachers should encourage students to support each other. Too often, students compete against each other for high grades and standardized test scores. Just think of what happens when all of the players on the same team compete against each other for possession of the ball—they all suffer.

  5. Teach the Value of Struggle: During training, my varsity cross-country runners follow a strict diet. They aren’t allowed to have sweets or soda, except on special occasions. If they show repeated signs of struggle or a lack of progress, I know they haven’t kept to my workout plan and nutritional regimen. To ensure future compliance, I work them even harder. Eventually, those that stick with it quickly show signs of improvement, not just in their race times, but also in their overall health and appearance. With academic dishonesty reaching ever-greater heights, in the classroom we need to do a much better job of showing students the value of learning through struggle. Just as on the field, by taking shortcuts, they only cheat themselves.


If you’re a coach, what other lessons could teachers learn from your practices? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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Posted by on in Project-Based Learning
Originally presented as my project for MJE certification, this article about starting a newspaper ran in Adviser Update, The Dow Jones News Funds' newspaper in the Fall 2009.
Originally presented as my project for MJE certification, this article about starting a newspaper ran in Adviser Update, The Dow Jones News Funds' newspaper in the Fall 2009.

Daunting. Overwhelming. Hectic. Crazy. These are perhaps the first words that come to mind when asked to advise or teach newspaper, the seemingly dying branch of scholastic journalism, to budding high school reporters.  It’s time consuming and sometimes demotivating but completely worthwhile despite the growing discussion of convergence and the expiration of many major professional newspapers.

Despite this grim reality, there is something completely gratifying about teaching students how to write well, design eye catching pages, work as a team and then the pride involved with sharing a newspaper (regardless of the ink latent fingertips) for an authentic audience.

When I arrived at World Journalism Preparatory School, it was evident that this school was not like other schools I had taught at before.  It had only been open for one year prior to my arrival and already it had a reputation for greatness that was unsurpassed by other places.  The teachers enjoyed working there and the administration was remarkably supportive. It was the best case scenario for starting a newspaper: open press, no prior review and complete student responsibility and ownership.  I was told right away that I was there to help them grow as journalists, not to do it for them.  (Honestly it was a relief because the last school I had taught in was literally the complete opposite… principal had to see every issue before it went out and the kids couldn’t say anything that was even slightly off putting about the school.  It was stifling to say the least.) Where to begin, though? I spun my wheels for a little bit taking what I know about writing for and running a paper and trying to translate it into a class that would produce a paper.

The First Try – our biggest failures are often the impetus for our greatest successes

Things didn’t start off as well as I had hoped they would.  Getting the students to write was a challenge despite the fact that they attended a school that centers itself around writing.  Breaking them out of the mold they were accustomed to writing in was the next challenge and then teaching them InDesign was surely going to lead me to early retirement.  My first year was a bit of a learning experience for everyone.  We were able to get out three issues, none longer than eight pages and although there was improvement, there was still much work to be done.

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