Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Where's My Lightsaber?

"Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."
―Obi-Wan Kenobi 
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
I'm not truly a fan of Star Wars, but I feel that Obi-Wan makes a great point.  I like the use of the word cling.  Educators, being human, are known for being stubborn and resisting change.  Our building worked on NEASC reports today and that required us to collect evidence from our coworkers.  During the many conversations I had surrounding parent engagement and outreach, I began thinking about point-of-view.  From one perspective, there is no effort being made to reach out to disengaged parents simply because one time an email bounced back and there was no return call from the parent.  Another perspective was that parents are actively engaged and will reach out on their own, without initial effort by the teacher.  My personal experience has been that the more a family struggles to maintain a household, the less engaged they are in their child's schooling; that does not mean the family doesn't wish to be more engaged. Is any point-of-view less valid than any other?  How do we help each other understand things from another perspective without having to give up what we know to be true?

Friday, October 7, 2011

My View Has a Backhoe

The MSBA and MHS are working together to build a new town high school.  The site is behind the existing building, and right outside my classrooms.  We have a never ending view of the deforestation, digging, and blasting.  Due to the nature of my students, I was concerned that the construction would be a continuous distraction.  They were unhappy to see all the trees go down, but have since dismissed all the commotion as par for the course. 

Having the opportunity to sit with the architects and administration to design the physical setup of our new program area was one of the most exciting opportunities I've had here at MHS.  After years of running alternative education programs in less-than rooms and areas, I was thrilled to have the chance to communicate where the walls needed to be, how the time-out space should be structured, and what appliances went where. 

It is easy to underestimate the importance of physical space in the classroom. My program can only have at most 10 students, but we have double the space of most 25 pupil classes.  Due to the volatile nature of my students, having space to spread out is a necessary safety component.  Restraints are not common, in fact, in my two years at MHS they have not been necessary, but allowing a student to de-escalate away from her peers helps to keep things safe.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time slips through my fingers like fine grains of sand...

I never have enough time.  As an educator, we are all asked to do a million and one things each day.  I know that somewhere, buried in my contract, it states I am entitled to one prep period a day, and one liaison period.  Special educators have more than one role in the building.  We teach, and we are responsible for the IEP management of our students.  This means meetings, letters, legal paperwork, progress reports, communication with teachers, parents, and care providers.  As the teacher and coordinator of a substantially separate classroom, I have a number of roles and responsibilities.  Until this year, I had zero scheduled prep time.  This year, I have 30 minutes four times a week.  30 minutes of time to plan for ELA, geometry, writing, history, MCAS math prep, copying, writing lessons, all the while being asked to solve problems, intervene in crises, keep up to date with the behavior plans and data, distribute reports, grade papers, and the list goes on.  When I express my need for prep time to my supervisor, I am told 30 minutes is 30 more than she gets.  I feel she should advocate for herself more strongly if she wished to have more prep time.  That is what I did in order to get these 30 minutes.  And contractually, I'm allotted two 45 minute periods.  I get guilt trips when I request what has been written into our contracts, and I don't like feeling that way.  Why should it be that our building culture is one of self-sacrifice?  Having a set prep time should not be a luxury or a silly thing to ask for.  I was also told that special educators often don't receive prep at all, despite having more roles than the regular education teachers.  Why is that?  It seems counter-intuitive. 

What ways do other administrators make sure their staff has the time they need?

Monday, September 19, 2011

In Response to What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers: What You Do Hurts Our Children

I have read Ron Clark's article What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents as well as Laurie A. Couture's article What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers.  While Clark's article has a number of points I could disagree with, Couture's left me physically upset. 

Couture wants us to believe that teachers, excuse me, pawns are responsible for things such as You deny our children their right to use the toilet when needed, causing them intense pain and desperation and putting them at risk for urinary and gastrointestinal dysfunction and damage. You deny them hydration, causing them to dehydrate and putting them at risk for headaches, mental fog, lethargy and medical problems. 

She goes on to say educators are responsible for medicating children rather than deal with their normal childhood behaviors.  Educators take the joy out of everything we give them to do.  Educators also are blamed for stealing children from their families during the best years of their lives.  Couture states that " You treat our children without respect, empathy, compassion or love unless they behave according to your rules and expectations. You seem oblivious to their pain, vulnerability and distress." Also, "Children processed by your system have no time to make up all of the living they missed from preschool through high school graduation. From there on, unless they find themselves, they will have a life of perpetual work and consumption until they die."

Now, I feel strongly about the need for systemic change in education.  Strongly enough to live each day making all the changes in my power.  I have it tattooed on my arm! Be the change you want to see in the world!  I teach my students how to be powerful individuals, and use their voices so they are heard, just as I hope to be heard when I feel something needs to be different.  I teach my students that generalizations, bashing, and all-emotion-no-data rants are useless if one wants to send an idea home. 

I read a number of blogs to stay current, and I find it interesting to see how others think and feel.  If I read something I disagree with, I try to see it from their perspective and reflect on how it makes me feel. Sometimes what I read changes my views, other times it only strengthens my resolve.  I know something is well put when it makes me really challenge my beliefs.

Couture's article evoked strong feelings in me.  I felt disrespected. I did not feel inspired or motivated, I felt angered.  I saw many readers claim the need to unsubscribe due to the emotions they felt after reading.  I can relate, but I feel the need to read and understand even those I strongly disagree with.  In case there becomes a movement as extreme as this post, I want to be well prepared for what I'd be up against.  Keep your enemies closer!

I enjoy reading the thoughts of others and will continue to do so, even when the material is hard for me to swallow.  I want my students to be able to read a challenging text, form their opinions, then share them in such a way that they'll be heard. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Asking Questions

“When students know how to ask their own questions,” say Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana of the Right Question Institute in this Harvard Education Letter article, “they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own.” Questioning is usually seen as the teacher’s province, but Rothstein and Santana believe that students can be taught how to do it themselves, in the process fine-tuning their divergent, convergent, and metacognitive skills.
Here are the six steps of the Question Formulation Technique, which takes 45 minutes the first time students use it but can be cut down to 10-15 minutes with practice:
            • The teacher suggests a focus. For example, a class studying the 1804 Haitian revolution was provoked into formulating questions by the statement, “Once we were slaves; now we are free.”
            • Students brainstorm questions. They begin after learning four rules: (a) Ask as many questions as you can; (b) Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions;
(c) Write down every question exactly as it is stated; and (d) Change any statements into questions.
            • Students fine-tune their questions. The teacher helps students see the difference between an open-ended and single-answer question and gives them time to edit theirs so as to elicit the maximum depth, quality, and information.
            • Students prioritize their questions. The teacher suggests criteria for picking the most important questions – for example, “Choose the three questions you most want to explore further.”
            • Students and teacher decide on how to use the questions. For example, one class decided that their Socratic Seminar question would be, “How do poverty and injustice lead to violence in A Tale of Two Cities?”
            • Students reflect on what they have learned.
            Rothstein and Santana say this process improves group participation, classroom management, and equity of outcomes. Using this process, teachers realize that just asking, “Do you have any questions?” elicits very little, but teaching students how to generate and use their own questions is a powerful spur to high-level learning.

“Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions” by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana in Harvard Education Letter, September/October 2011 (Vol. 27, #5, p. 1-2, 5-6),

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome Back Students! School's Cancelled Tomorrow!

So after a busy professional development day, we had a building inspection and the building failed.  Apparently there's a problem with the emergency lighting, and until it's fixed, school has to be cancelled.  It looks like our start date will be Wednesday, August 31.  I wonder why this wasn't investigated the week before school started, rather than the day before?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Does it quack? Of course it quacks!

My Montana Trip was amazing.  I saw so many different landscapes in such a short period of time.  Viewing much of it on a Harley only added to the excitement!  

Many of you are aware I had been rehabilitating a Pekin duck that was attacked back in May.  She was in rough shape when I got her.  
I named her J, and after cleaning the maggots out of her wounds, worked a lot on her duck physical therapy.  
She walked and swam several times each day, and ate a high protein diet.  I admit, she was rather spoiled during the time she spent with me.  It's not often a duck gets to tube, kayak, or ride IN a motor boat, but J was able to do all those things.  In the end, J recovered nicely.  She may always have a bit of a limp, and be a tad smaller than her siblings,  but she's healthy.  
Her sisters were very excited to see her.  They bobbed heads and greeted each other noisily!