Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “Reflective”

What Am I Thinking?

I am such an Introvert–yes, with a capital I. I truly renew my energy when I am alone or with a small group. It takes a lot for me to enter a convivial group, but I do it because I know it stretches me and helps me learn–and I love the friends I have made on the Internet and at conferences and in so many learning places–and I want to see and connect with them all.  So I am here at ISTE15, but I am in my room, skipping #HackEd, because I have to sort out some thoughts about the momentous Supreme Court decision made yesterday–to allow marriage between any two consenting adults.

“The decision is a reminder that “change is possible, shifts in hearts and minds [are] possible,” he [President Obama] said.

“This nation was founded on the principle that all people are created equal,” he said. “People should be treated equally no matter who they are or who they love.”

I am an Introvert, yes, and I am also gay. Early in my career, I almost lost my job over being accused of it. I had to deny who I was, and I had to deny who I loved to keep my job. So I’ve been there–in a spot of being discriminated against because of who I am. I’ve been there–surrounded by judgmental people who wanted to do something mean to me just because of who I am. And, I’ve been there–thinking there was something wrong with me because of who I am.

I sit here and write on WordPress, and look at the rainbow header–their doing, not mine. I think of the picture of the White House–the White House, for goodness sake, bathed in rainbow colors!


I think of all of the amazing responses we have gotten from folks when my partner of 22 years and I announced we had decided to get married this summer. I think of a post I saw on FB by my partner, Becky, about all of the bible thumping folks and hope it is read…This is an interesting read for folks who are thumping the Bible over today’s SCOTUS ruling –  I think of all of the rainbows I have seen all over Facebook in the last 24 hours, and I think of the kids I teach.

Because despite all of my past fear, hurt and anger, (at times), over the discrimination I have been shown, what I mostly think about today is the children. They will grow up in a different world than I did. They will hopefully not be threatened with losing their job over who they are. And they will hopefully be in a school system that will support them and encourage them to be who they are, as they figure that out. Not all of us know right away who we are, and even more importantly who we want to become and what we can do to get  there.

I watched a boy in one of my schools, who at 7 years old in 2nd grade, wanted to be a girl, and was pretty vocal about it. He wanted to play with dolls, to play with the girls at recess, and to wear girl clothes. The school’s reaction, when the parents asked for advice, was to counsel them to get him psychological help. The school counselor put him in a social skills group with other boys to help him develop friendships. He was seated at a table of boys to help him have role models. He was encouraged to play in the “boy games” at recess. No one dealt with his very real feelings that he was different. No one talked with the other kids about what he verbalized to them. The very caring classroom teacher sought advice from other teachers, but she, too, didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t speak up at the time, because I was still afraid I would be branded and ousted as the gay teacher if I spoke up. I hate that I let my own fear keep me from offering support and help to those parents, and that child. He moved at the end of that year, so I don’t know what happened, but I often think of him (or maybe her, now.)

I think of all of the people who, for one reason or another, judge others and treat them differently because of that. I think of the bible teachings I learned as a youngster–“Judge not, lest ye be judged” and think of all of the hypocrites I have known–that claim to be Christian, but judge anyway–and treat others according to that judgment. And I think of how that treatment changes folks–kids or adults–in how they think about themselves, how they perceive their interactions with others, and how that affects who they are and who they become.

And I want teachers, everywhere to realize there is a LOT of literature out there right now with gay characters, with transgender characters, with characters who are struggling with eating disorders, or mental or physical disabilities–and with many, many other issues kids deal with, often without help. Developing empathy in kids supports kids who need it getting help. Reading and talking about books like this change kids.

When we read Out Of My Mind

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 3.15.10 PM

as a group of third graders, I had a kid say she didn’t want a child like Melody in her room because it would take too much of the teacher’s time and she wouldn’t learn as much. I kept pushing books on her that dealt with kids with issues and two years later, in fifth grade, she said it was one of her favorite books of all times.

We can make a difference…

…with all kids–whether they be introverts, extroverts, gay, transgender, biracial, questioning, incredibly smart, incredibly needy (for whatever reason), disabled (however that may be), “normal” (whatever that means) and/or any other way kids are. We can make a difference no matter who or how they are.

So as we sit in our sessions at ISTE15, (or any conference, or any professional development, or any meeting, or any classroom, for that matter)  and talk with the folks we see rarely, at conferences, I am thinking we need to always think about what we are helping the children learn–what are we inadvertently teaching them by NOT talking about issues important to them?

What are we saying when we have no books about gay kids or parents, when we don’t talk about the social issues they are engaged in, when we ignore the pain we see in their eyes or faces as they walk in our rooms? We, as educators, need to be open to all sorts of learners, to all sorts of people, and, more importantly, we need to help them empathize, to care, and think deeply about who and what they are and want to become.

We need to help everyone in our lives understand we are all people–mostly with the same insides, and mostly with the same goals in life–to survive (and thrive), to be happy (have fun), to be loved, to be safe, to belong, to have control over our lives, and be free to be ourselves.

I’m thinking we need to be familiar with lists of books that help kids understand other kids.

Here are some to get you started:

Top 13 YA Books for Talking to Teens about Tough Stuff

Popular Teen Issues Books

Best Teen Books About Real Problems

And I’m also thinking we need to get some serious conversations going among educators about how to shift hearts and minds, as President Obama said.

What are you thinking?

Why I Don’t Give Grades

My 4th grade math group is a bunch of geeky math kids.  They love puzzles, trying to figure out problems by themselves, and they do math just for the fun of it.  It’s really an amazing hour three times a week.

Our fourth grade is where kids in our county encounter report card grades for the first time.  Up to this point, they’ve gotten behavioral and work habit scoring and a satisfactory (or not) ranking on subject areas–but no A, B, C, D, F to this point.  Here, though, they begin to encounter that grading system we all know and love.

I have nothing to do with their grade–the classroom teachers do that. I also don’t have the same kids all the time.  Our 4th grade teachers pre-assess at the beginning of a unit and I work with the kids who need extension.  Kids stay in their math class Monday and Fridays so the teachers can make sure they get exposed to and work on all pieces of the curriculum. I work with them the other three days of the week.

My current 4th grade math group is working on analogies and patterns in math right now as an extension to their place value work. For the past week, they’ve been working independently on a series of worksheets and problems that stretch them in all kinds of ways, and they’ve been loving it.

They love feedback, so when they finish a page, they find a buddy who has finished the same page and compare answers–when answers are different, they work the problem together to find the correct one. As they discuss and solve problems and question each other, I glance over their work, but I don’t ever sit down and go through their papers problem by problem, to score it in any way.  Our work is collaborative enough and we talk enough about  the work that I know who’s still a little iffy on certain things, who has it solid and who needs lots of support. We end class lots of times by going over the problems someone found hard that day.

Today was hilarious–I was teasing some kid–I honestly don’t even remember about what, but I said something stupid like “if you do so and so, it’ll be an “F”.”  The kid I was talking to looked at me and her eyes starting widening, getting round as saucers.  I looked at her and was thinking–but not saying– “Really?  You really think I’ll give you an F?” She hesitated, and then she said,

“Do you actually  grade our papers?”

I laughed.

It was such a foreign notion to her–she had no clue what that might look like.  Me judging her? Me putting red marks on her paper?  Me crossing out ones she missed and counting them up? (This is the same kid who earlier today had looked at me and said, “I don’t see how you do it–so many kids are asking for help and you help all of us.  Any other teacher would be yelling at us, telling us not to call her name anymore!” )

(I have to say I don’t think that’s really true in my school, but I know we’ve probably all had days we wished we could change our names–even if just for a little while!)

So, why don’t I grade their papers?

Because I think kids learn more from reflective feedback and deep questions and studying and finding and talking through their own mistakes.

Because what we learn from grades is to compare ourselves to others around us–and I’d rather set them up to look for their own growth in relation to themselves, instead of their performance in relation to someone else.

Because I know them–from our class discussions and our quiet one-on-one talks and the questions they ask, and the comments they make and the strategies they share– I feel no need to give them a letter grade to tell them what I think.

Because I get to know their thinking every day as I challenge their sharing, ask them hard questions and honor their responses as a learner–right or wrong.

Because we share strategies and thoughts every day–and they trust themselves to ask questions about stuff they don’t understand–and their questions help me know what to teach and help them learn.

Because I expect them to be learners–and people who care about their own learning don’t much care about outside evaluations of their learning–they know when they know it and when they don’t. They don’t need a grade to tell them that.

So, yeah, when I was asked if I actually grade papers, I laughed…and we do that a lot in my class.

So, Reagan, this blog’s for you–keep asking those hard questions, thinking, looking to make meaning and sense of your world  and most of all, keep laughing with those sparkly blue eyes!

I Write To Make Meaning

A while back, I wrote a post called “I Write For Myself.” I’ve been thinking about whether that was completely true or not, and I’ve come to realize that writing is incredibly important to me.  I started a blog years ago because I was beginning to connect online and it seemed like the thing to do.  As people read and responded to me, though, I realized the connections were important , but my figuring out what I had to say was even more so. I do write for myself, and I write to make meaning. But without an audience, an authentic audience of people who choose to read my writing, I wouldn’t grow nearly as much as I have since I began that blog.

Ruth Ayres, in Celebrating Writers, said, “We write to communicate clearly, to come to new understandings and to connect to others.” I think that pretty much sums it up for me as well. Writers–real writers who understand the craft of writing–know that it is, as Ms. Ayres also says, not about writing for publication but writing for meaning. I write to understand my own thoughts, and when others respond to them, it helps me learn, ponder, think and grow.

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing. I’ll have 6 hours to (potentially have to) undo the idea of what writing is that they have learned in school.  For many kids, there is school writing–the 5 paragraph essay, the writing on command, the writing for the teacher, the writing just to be writing– and then there is


W*r*i*t*i*n*g* tugs at our hearts, it is hard work, it connects us to other people. 

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* exhilarates us, it makes us cry, it makes us laugh, it makes us feel human–big and powerful. It also makes us feel small and alone.

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* touches us in ways other things can’t–but only if it is good…and we have to help kids find that thread within themselves that allows them to share those thoughts and feelings–through words– with the world.

We can’t set kids up to think writing happens for the teacher–or for the grade.  or worse yet, for the test. Writing comes from within, from a need to get it out–and yes, from a need to be heard. 

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing.

I won’t be using a red pen–we’ll confer to talk about how to change their writing.

I won’t be having them write for me–they’ll have a real audience, and I hope you might be part of it.

I won’t be asking them to write to prompts of my choosing, but I will help them find ideas– theirs, not mine.

I won’t even mention the 5 paragraph essay (except to maybe say ignore that structure as they write), but we will be talking about beginnings and middle and endings.

I will be working to touch their hearts and tug at their empathy strings and  help them feel their emotions and learn their thoughts through what they write.

I will be asking them to get to know themselves better and make meaning of themselves and their world.

I will be asking them to respond to each other, to reflect on what they are doing, and to rejoice in what they are learning.

I wil be asking them to write for meaning.

Priorities–we all have to make them.

So, in late August, I committed to some folks over Twitter (through Shawn White,  @swpax) to writing a blog post every day–or trying to–for the month of September. I had ups and downs, but I did it, and a few days I even wrote two posts.

BUT, it wasn’t the most fun I ever had writing.  I thought about what was I going to write about when I wasn’t ready to write.  I worried about it, even.

When I knew I had a post due and I had no inspiration, I found myself thinking, “What can I do to get’r done?”

I hated those days.

BUT I found out some things, both about blogging and myself:

  1. I can do it–write a blog post every day. The question is, do I want to?
  2. Some days are more inspirational than others.
  3. I have had some incredible administrators in my tenure as a teacher in my county. They rock in so many ways and often gave me encouragement in September. (My former principal is an amazing friend.  She needs to tell her stories!)
  4. My colleagues in Albemarle County Public Schools are incredibly supportive and kind. (I knew that already, but I was reinforced in that belief this past month.)
  5. Many of  the people on my staff were reading my blog!  One even commented here, many over email or to my face. Thanks to all of you–your encouragement means a lot.
  6. I found myself looking at the stats and the retweets, and I found myself looking for patterns in the posts I wrote.
  7. While I started this blog to share what I was doing in my classroom and describe that (how I was working to amplify my students’ minds), those seemed to be the least read posts, looking at the stats.  They were definitely the least retweeted and commented on.
  8. While people didn’t often comment on here, the things I was saying were starting conversations face to face and other places.
  9. I received several DMs, or had conversations that people felt uncomfortable posting to the web. While I wanted conversation, I understand sometimes a reaction just isn’t appropriate to post online.
  10. I hate feeling forced to write on someone else’s schedule.  And, while I KNOW I was the one who decided to do this, there were times I wanted to blame someone else for feeling irritated I had a blog “due”–even if it was just due to myself.
  11. The days I felt like “Get ‘r done.” weren’t worth it to me. I love writing and want to continue to love writing.  I don’t want to feel like writing is a chore.
  12. The commitment kept me going and writing, even when it was hard… and that’s got me thinking about making a commitment-any commitment.

So, as I think about doing this every day of the year, for 365 days, I’m just not sure  I want to do that. I tried the photo 365 one year, where you take a picture every day for one year.  I lasted until April or May before I quit, I think… and while the project was amazing for getting me to look at the world around me differently, I began to see it as a chore. Writing a blog post a day for one month seemed really doable to me back in August.  Looking at 365 days seemed unsurmountable. I’m now pondering long term and short term goals (365 days versus 30 days, in my case.).

I guess I really want to think about what we do to kids when we set their goals for them.  That’s what the state standards do, don’t they?  The standards define their minimum learning for the entire year…and we all know kids who could–and should–go WAY beyond those bare minimum requirements. So when we begin a unit in Social studies, or science, or even math or literacy, do we tell the kids from the get-go all we’re planning to teach them?  Do we ask them what they want to learn? Do we gather their thoughts and consider them in our planning?

Part of why I’m asking these kinds of questions is because Stenhouse just publicized a book called, “Celebrating Writers” which has a preview of the entire book you can read online.  I began it last night, and read through part of the first chapter–a story about a kid named Mason. You see, Mason looked like he was doing nothing during writing workshop–but the teacher gave him space, and was able to then use his behaviors to motivate others and help them learn…

The whole book seems really worth reading, says she who has begun the first chapter.  Go check it out.

Well, I took some space this past week, after September 30,  because I was out of town, at two different summits and incredibly busy.  I had no time to write, I had no inclination to write, and I had no brainpower to write after having been in some pretty heavy conversations each day, all day.

Having taken that space, and doing the reflecting I’m doing today, I’m not even going to think about doing 365 posts. I like writing and don’t want to look at it as a chore.  I want to model good habits of writers for my students and I don’t think this is one. Writing on a regular basis, yes. Writing even daily, probably.  But writing just to post a post each day?  No.

And, here’s a funny–I was going to point you readers to the list of people who had joined the 365 blog-a-day group.  I knew Shawn had created a Twitter list, so I went to his twitter feed to find it, I went to his blog  to find it, and I found this instead.
Priorities–we all have to make them.


So I am an invited member of an international summit on ICT in Education. You can click on the logo below to join the discussions through google groups, and I hope you do!


I am so excited for the next few days –it is such an honor to be here, and I really have been nervous about what I can contribute.  There are some amazing thinkers here (including some of my Apple Distinguished Educator buddies), but my introversive tendencies and also my belief that others could contribute so much more make me wonder how I’ll share.

However, my friends come to my side to shore me up without even knowing they do…Monday evening, my Superintendent wrote a great blog–How Twitter Tore Down My District’s Walls. Pam gave me great credit in her story (or great blame… I guess it’s all in how you look at it, LOL). My librarian and I did a workshop Monday and we made an impact on our teachers….nothing feels better than that in the moment! And, then, Monday night was the reception for the Summit–at the Library of Congress, no less, the day before the U.S. government might shut down! And, the coolest thing happened.

I really am not good in receptions.  I really am not good in large groups.  I mean, I can be, but I really prefer small groups or individual conversations over being in a large room of people and being expected to mingle…but I pushed myself to go to this reception. I ended up at a table talking with two guys from Europe–Hans from the Netherlands and Balfour from Italy.  After we had all finished our small plates of food, Hans from the Netherlands asked if we were on Twitter.  I said I was and he pulled out his phone to look me up. The first name that came up was not me, but I saw a tweet in his search that had @pammoran in it along with other names–and I pointed and said “I bet I’m the @paulawhite mentioned in that tweet.”  Sure enough, I was–but then Hans from the Netherlands (that’s how he named himself multiple times while we were standing there, which is why I call him that) turned his phone around and, showing me the little “following bird” said, “See, I’m already following you–I thought I recognized you. You have a great profile!”

That was a confidence booster…once again a friend came through without even knowing they did. Just knowing her knew something about me from Twitter made me feel more like I was chatting with a friend than standing in a room full of people I didn’t know. I’ll have to point Hans to this post tomorrow as a thank you!

But this makes me wonder–how many of our kids–our introverts-our insecure ones–our kids who are not confident–go through each school day wondering who will notice them, who will get into their space, who will ask them to talk when they don’t want to, who will ask them a question when they want to be left alone?

How much do we pay attention to the cues they send us?  How much do we honor their request (silent, maybe, but there none-the-less) to be left alone? How much do we accept them (without commenting on the different behavior) when they do choose to interact?  How much do we afford them opportunities to work alone or not require the collaboration we ask of others?  Is that fair? How often do we set them up to be seen as competent by their peers?

How do we, as teachers, read each kid, meet each kid, and help each and every kid? How do we support the learning of all kinds of learners?

Well, the answer is simple.

We don’t.

We rely on the networks we establish–the community of learners in the classroom, our online friends, our friends in the building. We realize no one person can do it all and we work to set up the best situations for all learners–or any learner. It’s not about looking at one of us or ourselves or any individual as the one who can do it all. We work together and grow together and share what we know about kids to help all of us grow and learn and be better…

It’s not about us in isolation–it’s truly about us as an “us.”

Because the “culture of participation” Pam describes truly does help all of us.  As Maya Angelou is given credit for saying (and @beckyfisher73 always quotes), “None of us is as smart as all of us.”  And, as Pam says in the post I mention at the beginning of this,”No one of us is more powerful or important than all of us together.”

So we need to work together to do the best we can for our kids, and build everyone’s capacity to work together and be sensitive to one another.  I need to rely on the network of people in our Summit, and in the room, and out of the room to help us all think deeply about the issues brought to the Summit.

Won’t you join us in the Google groups and help us all get smarter?


Some More Book Reviews

I haven’t had much time or inclination to read lately–been WAY too busy–but I don’t want to forget thee ones I have read, so am trying to keep up with sharing at least something about the books I preview for my kids.

First, You’ll Like It Here (Everybody Does)  seems like it’s the first book in what could easily turn into a series.  The characters are okay, but everything that happens is just too predictable and beyond that, a bit too to-be-expected.  It was okay, kids might like it, but if I hadn’t already spent my money to buy it, I wouldn’t.

Secondly, I think  Hound Dog True is a book about introverts. Many of the characters are people who prefer their own company or to be in a small group rather than a large one.  Mattie Breen tells the story, through her words, and her stories.  Again, the ending is pretty predictable, but the process of getting there is interesting, full of quirky characters, and roundabout enough to keep one involved. I laughed, I felt sad and I was curious and intrigued as I read it–that’s a good book in my opinion.

Thirdly,  Hope Was Here is a book about old timey towns–or an old timey town– where corruption has taken over–until teenagers, a man dying of leukemia and a transplanted lady cop take back over the town. Hope came to life for me as a character in this book, and I’d like to read more about her. I was sad when this book came to an end.

And, lastly for now, The Summer I Learned to Fly is a book about family, about growing up and about taking ownership of your behaviors and decisions. It’s about first “like” and trust and being in a household with a single parent. It’s about small towns and understanding the difference between a want and a need because you live with having to make those decisions to have your needs met. It’s a great story, that allows one to easily talk about empathy.

I’m finding my book taste runs to family stories…and especially intergenerational ones as I read. I guess recognizing that is crucial to deciding which books to read and which to share.  More books at a later date….



When and Where?

Several days ago, I found this (what I’d consider to be fairly old now)  YouTube video called “What Does It Mean To Teach In The 21st Century?” In it, the authors listed the following skills and asked, “Where do we expect them to learn the skills they need to be successful on the Internet?”

The skills were: paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading

The list made sense to me.

They further added these as work kids need to be engaged in as part of their learning:

gather and use data, talk about reliable sources, publish and evaluate work, collaborate, store work and reflect on their progress

Yep, again, made sense to me–although I could add a few.

This morning on Twitter while participating in a tweetchat, #rechat, @ehvickery, as a connected teacher getting her kids to be connected learners, listed these as some of her expectations for learners: Curation – Verify/Trust Info – Various Perspectives – Determine Value to Meet Need – Share & Filter

And my first thought, looking at these lists, was the question from that video…where do we expect students to learn these skills?

Emily’s list was very similar to the ones on the video, and ones I value. But I don’t see kids in my school using these skills much in contexts that matter to them…and I think all schools, including mine, should have conversations around where and when these skills should be taught and learned–by both adults and students.

As I look at those lists, I can’t imagine how some teachers can teach those things to kids–they don’t do them themselves online, so how can they teach them? Heck, I’m not even comfortable teaching all of them and I am considered to be a pretty connected educator, tech-savvy and experienced online.

Too often we rely on others to teach these skills–the library teacher, a computer teacher, a technology integrator–and we assume the kids have them.

But, let’s look at them in the context of our educational past, and think about going to workshops I’m sure many of us have attended–‘Writing Across The Curriculum,’ ‘Integrated Units,’ ‘Reading to Learn in Science‘ (or SS), ‘Writing in Math Class,’ etc. We haven’t done a good job of integrating those topics–Math teachers still teach math. English teachers still teach reading and writing.  Our 3 R’s are still, in most places, isolated skills, taught as distinctly separate subjects, despite the habits of mind that go across the disciplines.

And so, how can we expect these skills–“the ones kids will need to be successful on the Internet”–to be integrated into various lessons?  Don’t we need a separate place and time for them to be taught (by a separate person trained to teach all of them), so we can hold kids accountable for using them?

Well, I don’t think so.  Thursday in our 5th grade math class, Betsy (@bagee1) and I had kids share their various ways of solving an elapsed time problem and then we held a discussion about which ones worked, which were efficient, which took more time, which were clearer to understand, etc.

In doing so, weren’t we “determining value to meet needs” and looking at “various perspectives,” as Emily was quoted above? And, weren’t we, when we finished and asked kids to decide which was best for them, asking them to “filter” out the less effective ways?

The point here, is that these skills aren’t necessarily limited to technology or the Internet. They go across disciplines in many ways and are  ones we need in math, or writing, or reading, or science, or….the list could go on and on. But do we? Do we teach them in ways that allow kids to see them across disciplines–or think about and use them in context of the Internet and what they do there?

Do we teach in ways that allow kids to learn about themselves as learners and become better at learning?  Have we become so attuned to teaching our subjects for the test score that we don’t teach learning any more? Isn’t school where kids come to learn?

So should our conversations as teachers, our faculty discussions, be about these trans-discipline skills? Shouldn’t we talk about how we can teach paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading not just in the subject they fit most logically and traditionally, or only in the context of the Internet, but across disciplines?  And shouldn’t we be explicit in naming them when we use them in various subjects, especially if our subjects remain silos?

Aren’t those the conversations we should be having as we think about when and where these “skills we need to be successful on the Internet” should be taught? Shouldn’t we be talking about how to get out of our silo-ed classrooms, and how to use and recognize and talk about skills and habits of mind across disciplines? Shouldn’t we be teaching compliance less and thinking more? Shouldn’t we do less teaching kids how to play school and please the teacher and give them more opportunities to learn like real learners learn?

After all, we can’t teach what we don’t think about and we can’t collaboratively think about what we don’t talk about. So when and where do those conversations occur?

I’m an Idea Person–You’re the Writer

Some of us are better at some things than others…and if we’re lucky, we know it.  I’ve had teacher friends over the years that I would go to with specific questions, and I’ve had others who come to me for help in certain areas. What’s wonderful is when we both know those strengths and share openly, honestly and in ways that help the other person grow. You see, I believe we should help each other just as much as we try to help our students. The people we work with are there to do the same thing we are–so when we work together towards common goals, the whole community benefits.

I’ve worked with folks before who act like a crab from the crab pot theory. (I think that came from Larry Lezotte.)  But when I get stuck in that position, I work to get out of it as soon as I can.  Life is simply too short to spend time with people who only think of bringing others down.

So, I enjoy finding folks who have strengths I don’t, so I can learn from and grow with them. That’s an awesome reason to join the Twitterverse, and to be online in a variety of venues. It was through Twitter I first really felt the isolation of the classroom diminish…It was from Twitter that I met so many new friends way back in 2009 at ISTE, (which was then NECC).

But at some point, I distanced myself a bit from Twitter to go into my school system to bring others online. I know there are people on Twitter because of me. There are people now working in our county that wouldn’t be working here if not for me. But that’s not what’s important to me.

I have watched a ton of folks, both within and outside of my county learn to use social media of all kinds to grow and learn–some much better than I have. But, I continue to learn, grow, try new things and interact with others to get better for my kids. That’s what’s important.

I often run blog posts by others for an opinion.  I’m blessed in that I have a bunch of critical friends I can call upon to do that for me. Recently, as I was listening to feedback from a specific friend, she was waxing eloquent about the topic.  I told her she needed to write about the topic, not me, and her response was, “I’m the idea person, you’re the writer.”

What?  Why would anyone say something like that?

But as I thought about what she had said,  I realized it’s partially true….she provokes me to think and reflect and put things together in unique ways. She builds up my knowledge base and challenges me to think differently. She IS an idea person–but she is also a writer, a thinker, a scaffold and a support beam for many people.  She’s humble, asks amazing questions and has integrity…a true educator.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could surround ourselves with people who are such catalysts?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be that kind of an educator?

So now my question is, how do we build confidence in our children (or our friends) when they classify themselves as only a writer, or a mathematician, or a reader, or worse yet, NOT a writer, or NOT a “math person”, or NOT a reader? How do we structure our classes, and more importantly, our learning experiences, to be inclusive and allow everyone to stretch themselves, wherever they are?

I’m wondering how to help make learning accessible in all classrooms and why it’s taken us so long to realize just how bad we are at that much of the time? What’s our commitment to changing and getting rid of the sorting and selecting? What are our next steps to support learning–of all kinds and about all topics and in depth and for personal reasons and to share passions?  What’s our dedication to opening our processes of learning to allow for personal leadership, inner wonder, dedicated questioning and resilient searching and building and making?

I’m looking for ideas as I write to learn…

Why Can’t Kids Be Responsible For Their Own Learning?

“Wow, young lady, you’ve really put me in a hard place!”  I told one of my kids this morning in math class.  You see, we’re trying hard to get kids to do their homework (and all work) in their math journals, so we asked them to practice a few factor trees in their journals for homework last night.  That, of course, meant they had to remember to take them home, do it, then bring them back.  And, up to this point, we’ve been very forgiving of kids who haven’t come to class quite prepared, so today was our day of “cracking down”–we had made a big deal of how important it was to be ready so we could all move on and that we were giving points for procedures as well as work today.

So, I asked them to open their journals to their factor trees from last night and show it to a buddy and get some feedback.  (This is a strategy my collab teacher and I often use for checking to make sure something was done and each kid getting quick feedback. We watch as kids share with one another and listen for big discussions where disagreement may be occurring or a long explanation may be needed, so we can step in if necessary.)  But,  this morning K turned to me immediately and said, “I don’t have a factor tree–I was too busy last night working on my multiplication tables.”  I said, “What?  Why were you working on those instead of doing the homework?”  (I figured maybe someone at home had given her a different task.)  Her response? “Well, I knew I needed to work on my facts, so I thought I should probably spend some time doing that so I’d be better at factor trees today.”

That’s when I told her she’d put me in a hard place. The kids heard me and it got pretty quiet as everyone watched to see what would happen. This was an amazing opportunity to both give a life lesson and teach them we were not ogre teachers.

I told the kids that most educators’ basic goal in working with them was to help them to be lifelong learners, because we–teachers or parents–wouldn’t always be there and our hope was that they would be independent learners, taking responsibility for their own learning.  My collab teacher added that we wanted to see self-directed learning, questioning and sharing, and that personal decisions had to be based on one’s own knowledge of themselves as learners. “So”, I said, “Let’s talk about what K did last night.”  Was she an independent learner? Yes!  Did she take responsibility for her own learning? Yes! Was it self-directed learning?  Yes!  Was it based on her own knowledge of herself and what she needed as a learner?  Yes!

So how can I be upset she didn’t do what I had given her to do?  She’s meeting the goals I said educators have for her.

I ask again, in a slightly different way, with you, the reader, looking through a slightly different lens perhaps–

Why can’t we allow students to be responsible for their own learning?

Well, we did, for K today.  She absolutely got that check for homework!

Why do we have to be the ones dictating homework?  Why do we set the tasks?  Why don’t kids get a chance to say what they think they need to practice or reinforce?

Well, they will in our class.  How about yours?



Sharing Books

Just finished Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt.  I’m trying to remember back to my middle school years and what in the heck I read beyond science fiction.

NOT books like this one…where the main character has what could be considered to be an awful life.  I don’t remember reading books where parents wouldn’t let their hard of hearing kids learn sign language (Hurt Go Happy) or kids killed other kids (Hunger Games) or kids committed suicide (13 Reasons Why).

But I remember losing myself in books for hours and hours…I still do, which is why it’s midnight and I’m still up–I just finished reading a book I began around 9 PM.

I’m a mystery nut–always have liked them, and it may have begun with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. But, crime shows, police shows, medical shows–those are what I’ve always liked watching on TV….until recently.  I recently have lost all interest in crime shows…in  CSI shows, in Criminal Minds, in anything with bloody guts and gore…I think maybe I’ve become saturated with horrible things.

Would I have turned out as a sensitive human being if I had read books like I mentioned when I was a kid?  If I had watched the horrible crimes one sees on TV these days?  If my reading and TV watching had been dark and criminally based? Is the world changing partially because of what we allow our children to read/write/play on the computer?

I played outside.  I used my imagination, not having a huge tub of toys.  I climbed trees, rode my bike, ran around (literally) and ate fruit from the trees in our backyard.  I walked outside after dark without being afraid.  I hung out in my neighborhood after dark without being afraid. I went to the library weekly to get a huge stack of books to last me til the next visit….and I shared good books with friends.

My librarian and I are talking about these books we’re both reading….and it’s fun to share about them with each other. She read Okay for Now 1st and I chose to read it next in my lineup because of her sharing. But this is another one I won’t push with elementary kids. Middle school?  In a heartbeat…and to be fair, it’s on the VA Young Reader’s Choice list as a middle school book. And, many of our older kids are reading at that level…but I want kids to be kids as long as they can, and I think I’ll go for Hound Dog True next–so I can talk to kids about a book. How do you pick what to share and what not to share?

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