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!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where does the time go?

Summer is in full swing. I've spent much time at home, in Maine, and even took a week-long trip to Montana. As I travel around collecting experiences, I am constantly trying to keep up with all the information my social networks feed to me. I am experimenting with Google+ as the place to center all my updates, both the ones I receive and the ones I send. I hope to become familiar enough with Google+'s ins and outs so I can use it in the classroom this fall.

My students already have a gmail account and are familiar with Google docs. We use Edmodo as a way to share links, assignments, pictures, and ideas. I often hear from them that they tire of having to login to too many different locations. Will Google+ help to cut down on the number of logins or screens they need? Perhaps. Google circles are an interesting way to share information and already I have a circle labeled 'Students'. I envision using circles for different classes and project groups. A number of educators are brainstorming ways to use Google+ in the classroom and as we become more familiar with the network I feel confident it will become a regular tool in my toolbox.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The end is near...

I'm glad all my friends made it safely through last night's tornadoes.  It was pretty wild out there for a while.  It's been pretty wild in here too, lately.  The end of the school year is always a difficult time for my group.  They know the stability of school will give way to the freedom of summer and there are many reasons why this may not be exciting for them.  During the time leading up to the last day, my students tend to be more easily aggravated, quicker to explode, faster to judge, whine, and insult.  Tempers run high and patience is worn thin!  It's a yearly phenomenon but it never gets any easier. 

Besides trying to wrap up all my end of the year responsibilities, I start making lists of things that need to be done over the summer, for next year.  I reflect on my progress and start planning for improvement come fall.  Behavior plans and minute sheets are adjusted, schedules are worked out, and lessons are tweaked yet again.  One challenge that comes with teaching the same group for several years in a row is developing new units.  I can't teach the same lessons every year, it's more like every 4-5 years.  I start planning for the fall in the spring!

I am really set on making lessons dynamic and engaging.  I find that my boys are especially engaged on a deeper level when they can move around, solve problems, and create new ways of doing things.  I'd like to find ways of combining active lessons with technology  to build problem solving skills.  I need to find resources for these kinds of things.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gardening 101

It makes perfect sense that we would schedule our gardening day on the chilliest one we've had lately.  The kids are never dressed for the weather and quickly began to complain about the tortures I was deliberately inflicting on them. In the end, they did go outside and complete the task at hand.

We enlisted the assistance of a local community member when we began planning.  She recruited a few local landscaping companies to donate loam to our efforts.  The companies were more than willing and two dumptruck loads of loam soon appeared outside our room.  We have enough dirt to fill a swimming pool!  We're hoping that the Going Green Committee will continue with their plans to create a garden and use what's left over. 

Our maintenance worker, Walter, offered up an idea to continue our lesson once the veggies are grown.  He's an avid gardener himself and cans his tomatoes if he can't use all the fresh ones.  He'll use the canned tomatoes for homemade sauce and other meals.  I'm hoping we can have cans donated as well, and do that at the end of the growing season.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's been one of those days

My students tend to complain no matter what the task at hand.  Most days I just shrug it off, because it comes with the territory.  To them, the grass is always greener, until they get there, and realize the OTHER grass was greener, and it's my fault they're not there.  It's fairly comical, until you see similar conversations take place between adults.  What has to happen in order for a school culture to become one of mistrust, doubt, and even nastiness?  I see more bashing and breaking down than I do building up, and this refers to adults as well as students.  Both groups complain about the "way things are" yet their own actions are what continue the cycle.
What do other schools do to assist their faculty to become self-reflective?  What are administrators doing to be sure their staff are able to step outside of the moment to see a bigger picture?  We are working so hard to pass on our 21st century skills to our students, but I wonder if perhaps we the educators should be briefed in them first.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Growing Gardens

I had been trying to think of an outdoor project I could do with my class that would be low cost, fairly simiple, yet keep my active group engaged.  I read an article about raised square plot gardening and decided to give it a go.  My students tend to complain about any and every idea, activity, and field trip we have so when the only comments I received were "Ugh, I wore white today," I knew I had a winner.
I posted an Edmodo poll to see what plants interested the students the most, then picked the seeds up at the local hardware store.  The girls directed me to the local lumber store, Butler Lumber, where we bought the plywood and 2x12s needed for our garden box. 
This past Monday afternoon, we took the time to plan our steps then build the box.  Mr. Matt Buma, my co-worker, has experience in carpentry and took the lead with the students.  One student was incredibly put off by the idea of using any sort of power tool, but the rest took turns drilling pilot holes, drain holes, and screwing the pieces together. 
A local bus driver and parent, Gwen, heard we needed gardening supplies and arranged for a couple local landscaping companies to donate loam.  We're waiting for that to be delivered this week so we can get to planting.  So far, this has been a fun project.  It gets the kids working outdoors and discussing things like what their plant needs to be healthy, and exposes them to a new process.  Maybe they'll even think twice about where their produce and flowers come from the next time they're in the grocery store.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SCORE Program Adventures

Friday was a gorgeous day, so we decided to work on our essays outside.  Shaniqua made a new friend while we were out there.  She named him Charlie.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Burlington HS Principal Pat Larkin posted his Superintendent's past and current evaluations from the community on his BHS blog today. He's asking for community feedback on his performance again. How common is this practice, I wonder? I would love for the principals in my district to do this. It shows a true desire to listen, reflect, and grow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And then there was one...

I thank the universe on a daily basis for my co-worker Matt.  He was a late addition to our program, beginning his time with us just after February vacation.  Matt transitioned seamlessly into our little world and it is never more apparent how much I depend on him than when he isn't here!  He's been taken down with an illness today, and is currently being "quarantined" in the nurse's sick room.  I find myself a bit lost with out his presence.  It leads me to a constant conversation I have about the need for paraprofessionals and their importance in the classroom.
I do not like the term "para" professional.  To me, it implies that an employee is less-than.  The majority of para's, or aids, that I work with are extremely professional, sometimes more so than the teachers!  Many of our aids are as educated as the teaching staff, and do just as much 1-1 and small group instruction.  In our program, Matt's authority carries as much weight as mine, and he has his own responsibilities as well.  He handles as many behavioral issues as I do, and the paperwork he manages can be overwhelming.  I feel strongly that he is not paid nearly enough, given his day-to-day responsibilities.  I also feel teachers deserve much more than we get, but that's a whole other topic!
There has been much discussion in my district lately surrounding paraprofessionals and their roles.  Our collaborative has conducted focus groups in order to survey our perceptions of the paras and the responsibilities they have. I am interested to see what the outcomes will be.  Will my district realize how necessary the aids are to our effective teaching?  Will they decide they are under-utilized and remove more positions?  With the state and federal budgets the way they are, I worry that the district will see aids as an easy cut.  I hope this isn't the way, as I know how ineffective my program would be without a reliable, responsible aid along side me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blogging from my phone!

Edmodo & More

My program uses Edmodo every day to stay connected, organized, and engaged!  It's a sort of "educational Facebook" and very user friendly.

I often post pictures about my weekend and vacation adventures to keep my students in the loop.  Here's a controlled fire I was able to watch near my home in Maine. 

I like to hunt (using only a camera) and upload photos and video of what I find. 

Post 1

I haven't blogged regularly since college, but it's a great way to keep in touch with the educational community.