Mount Teachmore?

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Recently my family and I took a vacation to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore.  I absolutely love the Black Hills!  This trip got me thinking about who I would put on a monument for teachers.  Four of my past teachers immediately came to mind. I would place Mrs. Virginia Lindblad, Mrs. Joann Phillips-Walters, Mr. Ken Clark, and Mrs. Chris Wood.

I’ll begin with my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Lindblad. She taught at Sinai Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas. While I have always loved to read, she furthered that passion by getting me hooked on The Little House on the Prairie series. Mrs. Lindblad also showed me the human side of teaching. When she shut that classroom door we knew we’d crossed the line and were in for a good chewing out. However, we knew we were loved and that she always had our best interests at heart. She was also the teacher who was trying new strategies. I remember learning new vocabulary words by acting them out for our classmates. I still remember learning parcel as we read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Next would be my Bonner Springs Junior High (later renamed Pioneer Junior High by my freshmen year) English teacher, Mrs. Phillips. I remember her trying to get me into another English class because she felt I would be more challenged there. However, due to scheduling it wouldn’t work. That didn’t stop her, though. She just differentiated, and that was long before it was a buzz word. I later went on during my freshmen year (we were in the junior high still at that time) to grade papers for her after school. I remember the day the wrestling coach came in to see if she would change a grade so that one of the wrestlers would be eligible for the upcoming meet. She adamantly refused. She offered to tutor, not to fix grades. I learned my resolve from her. I even went on to babysit for her grandchildren when I was in high school. Then, as a high school senior I had to choose a sponsor when I was inducted into the National Honor Society. I could only think of two people, and one of them was Mrs. Phillips (she did become my sponsor). She modeled the academic responsibility of a teacher as well as the even more important nurturing side of teaching.

Up next is my Bonner Springs High School geometry teacher, computers teacher, and debate coach, Mr. Clark. What can I say about him? One word. Amazing. You see I was a very shy and horrible math and computers student. He knew it, and rather than make my life more difficult, worked with me to somewhat understand math and draw me out of my shell through debate. Man, I still do love to argue. As I said, I was terrible in geometry. All those theorems and proofs were more than I could handle. So, I made up my own when I couldn’t figure it out. Again, rather than call me to the board to solve them as we all had to do, he never made me do it.  Rather he worked with me, but never embarrassed me. As my debate coach he took the time to pull me out of my shell, and even gave me leadership opportunities. He spent his own time preparing us for debates and taking us to a nearby college library to do research. In fact, he even helped my friends and I plan our Spring Break trip. He was my other choice for National Honor Society sponsor but another friend asked him first. Mr. Clark is another example of a teacher who did more than teach a subject, he helped shape me into the person I am today.

My last candidate for Mount Teachmore is Mrs. Wood, my Bonner Springs High School junior and senior English teacher. While I did not always agree with her, I’ve never met anyone else like her. She refused to let a student fail. It didn’t matter if it was because the student had a truancy issue, lack of motivation, or was just not getting the material. Mrs. Wood did everything she could to make sure they were caught up and passing. I loved to read and just couldn’t stop reading just because those chapters weren’t assigned yet. However, being chapters ahead made it difficult to do well on detailed quizzes. She never penalized me though, rather she graded the notes we were required to keep. When she realized how detailed they were, she knew I had read and understood the material. She even used my notes to help those who were absent. Mrs. Wood had a family of her own to take care of, papers to grade, and lessons to plan. Yet, at every home basketball game, I remember looking up in the stands and there she was. She was supporting her students and grading papers at the same time. There have been many times I’ve taken my grading with me to do as I waited on an event to start and my mom would comment that I was becoming Mrs. Wood. I’ll take that compliment any day! And wouldn’t you know, when I began my first teaching job it was Mrs. Wood who sent a card congratulating me.

These are just four of the teachers who helped shape me not only into the person, but the teacher I am today. If you could create your own Mount Teachmore, who would you choose?

Twitter, I Think I Love You!

Never thought I’d say something like that.  I resisted social media for so long.  What did I care what other  people were doing or what celebrities were saying?  I didn’t see any value in any of it.  Then, I was introduced to ProTeacher and then to Pinterest, or what I refer to as the gateway drugs to social media.  This opened up a whole new world to me.  I could feed my addiction to ABC’s Once Upon a Time and to all things teaching.  I was hooked!

In order to join Pinterest at the time I signed up for Twitter and thought I’d never use it.  Then, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and decided to follow Once Upon a Time and it just snowballed from there.  Now, I follow people, am being followed, and participate in chats.  My most recent chats have been #readingjoy and #tlap.  It’s one thing to follow a hashtag, but it’s much more powerful to join in on a live chat.  The first one I joined in on was quite daunting as I had no idea what I was really doing and the chats go so fast.  I have to admit it took me a while to figure out the moderators post the questions in advance so you have an idea what the live chat will be about and then it helps you prepare better answers.  For me, that enabled me to better be able to respond to other posters.  That’s where the real magic occurs.  Getting to interact with teachers from across the country and sometimes the world.  My PLN (personal learning network) has increased dramatically.  I now have one more place to go for ideas and advice.  Plus, everyone I’ve met so far has been incredibly nice and supportive. Because of #10summerblogs people have actually been reading these posts! In addition, I never imagined being able to chat with the authors of books I’ve read or am reading.  I love checking in to see what Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) or Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers) have posted.  Dave is the author of Teach Like a PIRATE and Kylene is the co-author of Notice and Note.  These are two great books!

Now I’ll leave you with two quotes.  One from each of the authors I follow.

“One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the personal and professional relationships we develop on our voyage”-Dave Burgess

“Isn’t it amazing how quickly a group can become a community.”-Kylene Beers

I’m Setting Sail and Becoming a PIRATE

First of all, let me be honest.  I resisted reading TEACH LIKE A PIRATE Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess for quite some time. I’ll be honest here, it was the title. I don’t like pirates. Well, except for Captain Hook on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but that’s an entirely different post. However, Dave Burgess hooked me with his definition of pirates. It looks like I’ve been a pirate all along and just didn’t realize it.

“Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence.”-Dave Burgess

This quote sums up the Teach Like a PIRATE philosophy and sets the tone for the book. If you’ve never read the book or it’s been awhile, set sail with me for a short voyage through the book.  I’ll briefly explain what each letter of the PIRATE acronym means and share my favorite quotes from the book.  (In case you don’t stay with me for the entire voyage, here’s the short version.  Read the book!  It will get you motivated to teach or it will help you reconnect with a passion that you thought you had lost.  It’s not just a feel good book, it has solid strategies for engaging your students and yourself.  You will find many strategies to hook your students into your lessons.  There’s bound to be one that you can feel comfortable with trying and then find one that takes you out of your comfort zone.)

One idea that really resonated with me from the book is when Dave (and since I’ve tweeted with him I feel I can call him Dave) speaks the hidden truth. We are not always passionate about what we teach. I think that’s why I’m always trying projects or trying new things. I don’t always enjoy every subject I teach and therefore am constantly finding ways to make those subjects more interesting to me, thereby making it engaging for my students.

So, before I share anymore quotes from the book and my thoughts about them, I’ll briefly explain what the PIRATE acronym means.

Passion-Feel passionate about what you’re teaching, even if you’re not passionate about it.
Immersion-Be immersed in the moment to engage your students.
Rapport-Getting to know your students and showing them that they are more than just a grade.
Ask and Analyze-Ask the right questions and be open to feedback.
Transformation-Reframe your subject to overcome barriers.
Enthusiasm-This is your most powerful tool. Use it freely.

A few more quotes that I identify with concerns the “cookie cutter” approach to teaching and collaboration.  It seems like more and more that either an administrator or a team conveys that idea that collaborative planning means we all do the same thing, on the same day, in the same way.  And, if you don’t, you are not a team player.  As good as the ideas in this book are, Dave cautions that what gets him excited will not necessarily work for someone else.  Again, the key is to find your personal and professional passion and bring those into your teaching.

“Resist any movement that attempts to clone teachers and lessons and instead rejoice in the fact that it is your individuality and uniqueness that will  always lead you to become the most effective teacher that you can be.”-Dave Burgess

“I strongly believe in the power of collaboration, but I don’t believe the final goal of such work should be to come to a single “right” way of teaching.”-Dave Burgess

“Let’s just be sure that the “definite purpose” of collaboration is improving education, not simply standardizing it.”-Dave Burgess

This post is getting incredibly long, but I hope it gives you an idea of what it means to be a teaching pirate and nudges you into the direction of reading it.  As I said, I resisted reading it and then couldn’t put it down. It renewed in me my passion for teaching and gave me that added reassurance that I am not alone in pursuing my passion for teaching.  Now, read the book and then join in the weekly Twitter chats at #tlap.  The Twitter chat is a great way to connect with other teachers finding their passions and engaging their students.  I’ve already met a lot of great pirates there!  As I end this post I’ll leave you with three more quotes to think about and then feel free to leave me a comment if any of these quotes have  resonated with you.

“You have to have a vision of what your ideal classroom experience looks like if you want to have any hope of creating it.”-Dave Burgess

“Don’t allow misguided and ill-informed critics to steal your enthusiasm for innovation.”-Dave Burgess

“One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the personal and professional relationships we develop on our voyage”-Dave Burgess

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Growing a Great Generation

Today’s 70th Anniversary of D-Day got me thinking about these soldiers and what they accomplished. They’ve been called The Greatest Generation, as rightly they should. It’s hard to imagine the sacrifices they made and the grace in which they not only served, but then continued to serve the country upon return. That goes for those who served overseas or who contributed to the war effort here at home. However, this led me to wonder. What am I doing to help grow the next generation?

This past year I used the poem, “In Flander’s Field” to teach my students not only about poetry, but about Veteran’s Day as well. We then used the song “Some Gave All” by Billy Ray Cyrus and “More Than a Name on a Wall” by The Statler Brothers to again discuss veterans. Although this part of history was not part of my curriculum, I felt that my students needed to understand the sacrifices of those who came before them. They were hungry to learn and really connected with both the poem and the songs.

Still, what am I doing to help grow the next generation, let alone one like those who fought on the beaches of Normandy? I’ll begin by bringing history to life and teaching in a manner that will ignite interest and excitement, not boredom bread from countless worksheets and dry reports. I will help them see the connection between the present and the past. So, I must create lessons that spark a sense of curiosity, mystery, and purpose. Ones that draw them in. When we studied Veteran’s Day I found excellent resources on TPT (the poetry activity from Rundee’s Room is excellent) in addition to the songs previously mentioned. Next year I plan to include more simulations in my social studies lessons to again draw my students into the past, yet make them think about the future.

Another plan, one in which I will need my entire school’s help, is to foster a sense of community service. Many of our students do amazing things as community service. They clean up parks, volunteer in nursing homes, work at county fairs, volunteer at food banks, and the list goes on. However, I’d like to see my entire class participate in some sort of community service. It’s not always easy for them to find opportunities or even find transportation to those opportunities. Therefore, I’d like them to be involved in service to the school. My vision is for this to be a school wide event where each grade level would be responsible for a service to the school. Then, either weekly or monthly, the whole school would perform their service on the same day, thereby it being a true school wide event. Some thoughts would be grade levels picking up trash in our hallways, picking up litter around the school, maintaining our small garden, taking care of our recycling, maintaining our courtyard pond, or even creating lessons on building character and then teaching those lessons to the younger students. As the students grow each year, the level of responsibility in their community service would grow as well.

If we want our students to aspire to greatness, we must first teach them humility, responsibility, and a sense of service. These gestures do not need to be grand, they just need to be meaningful. So to all of you who made the greatest gesture of community service, I thank you on this 70th anniversary of your sacrifice on D-Day.

Don’t Wait for Professional Development, Do It Yourself!

How often have you heard teachers lament that their districts don’t train them on anything? Or venting that they’re expected to implement a new initiative without any additional training. I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of that myself. However, complaining doesn’t solve anything. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for venting. I could probably teach a graduate level course on it. But, we need to move past the complaining and the venting if we want to see real change.

So what do you do if you feel you’re not getting the training you need? The answer is quite simple. Train yourself. It’s not necessary to shell out the big bucks for an expensive conference. Although, I’ve loved everyone I’ve ever attended. You just need to tap into the expertise of colleagues, join a professional organization or two, take a class, and dare I say it, READ A PROFESSIONAL BOOK. Yes, I realize I was shouting on that last one. It just surprises me (quite frankly it irritates the heck out of me) how many teachers don’t seem to want to read a book in order to improve their craft. Over the next couple of posts I will share with you how I’m creating my own professional development. I’ll share my online resources, professional readings, professional organizations, and favorite ways to learn and get college credit. I’ll share in no particular order, so you’ll just have to relax and enjoy the ride right along with me.

As I begin my summer professional development I will be reading and reviewing for you Teach Like a Pirate, PBL in the Elementary Grades, The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core, Less Stress for Teachers More Time & An Organized Classroom, and Math Sense The Look, Sound, and Feel of Effective Instruction. This reading list will encompass the bulk of my summer PD. Though, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll share the other forms of my professional development as well.

So, for now I’ll leave you with this quote I found on edutopia.org by Kristen Swanson, teacher and Edcamper.

When professional development is created ‘for teachers by teachers,’ everyone wins.