Thinking Deeper

12 03 2016

I saw a “bumper sticker thinking” post recently on Twitter that said, “Teach from your feet, not your seat.” And at first, I nodded and agreed. It seemed to make sense. And it rhymed.

But then I thought about it for just a moment longer. And I’m not sure I can agree.

You see, I like to create student centered, democratic classrooms where the teacher isn’tScreen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.46.36 AM.png the focus but that the work the students are doing is. That means that I may not be
standing and pontificating at the students hardly ever. It might mean that I’m sitting right next to them, talking closely and individually, based on what that child needs. It might mean that I’m an embedded participant in my own classroom. It might mean that because my students are truly engaged, I don’t have to walk and stand next to them at regular intervals to keep them on task. It might mean that our furniture is something other than desks in rows and I can pull a chair up next to almost any child in the classroom.

Do I wholly disagree with the bumper sticker quote? Not necessarily…and truth be told,  my ear likes that it rhymes. It’s catchy. And I’m sure there are situations where it is accurate. Who knows…I’m not even sure it’s meant to be taken literally…but I can only take it by the words that were used.

And that’s the problem with bumper sticker thinking: it’s not always accurate if you think a little longer beyond your first reaction. It feels good in the moment and we feel we’re actually doing something good. Woo! But where does that leave us?

So today when we see education quotes that come across our social media feeds, I encourage us all to think a little longer and to consider the words a little deeper. Let’s truly ponder the types of classrooms we want to have with the kids we currently serve. And let’s consider the educators we want to be for those kids.


The Time I Lived In a Residential Boys’ Home

22 12 2015

Filed under, I’m not sure you knew this about me:

In the mid-90’s and directly out of the Teacher’s College, I worked as a Teaching Parent at The Farm, Inc. This means I worked in a Level 5 group home setting with both boys and girls, aged 11-18 who were either designated as Children In Need of Care, or as Juvenile Offenders going into, or coming out of lockup. These kids were the best wake-up call to education I could have ever asked for. I worked as day school teacher (out of our dining room), public school liaison (IEP advocate), doctor liaison (and there were many), and social services liaison, making sure the boys met all their appointments and had their needs met there. I also helped cook meals, clean the house (with the boys), and basically tried to nurture and teach them life lessons and coping skills in the time we were living together in the group home.shadows

Meanwhile, at every single turn, the kids were teaching me patience, love, passion, caring, and tenderness, forgiveness, tolerance, and culture. There are kids there whose faces, names, and stories are permanently etched upon my heart. Some for their gentleness. Some for their troubles. Some for their growth. Some for their struggle to simply survive in a world that kept demonstrating to them that they didn’t matter. All these kids were brilliant, in their own ways. Most just were bad at making decisions. And some were there because they had parents who made bad decisions.

My Farm kids are now aged 31 to 40 years old — those who’ve survived. If I had a magic super-power, I’d peek into who they are now. Heck, I’d have been peeking all along, helping each I could at each moment I could. I know there are laws, but I also regret not being able to keep in touch with so many of them.

With Blue, who was a red-headed kid whose real name was blue and not a gang-related name, as we first assumed. With Phillip who tried mightily one day to get me to break. But I knew he was and just let it slide off me as I loved him more. With Andre who lashed out at me in pain, momentarily breaking me, and to the boys who rallied around me getting me water and a paper bag to breathe into. With the giant 14 year old who had size 14 shoes and the kindest heart who we sent to Alma with a watermelon under his arm. With Bruce who was struggling minute-by-minute to get back to his grandmother. With Ray who, at age 16 had 4 year old gang tattoos across his knuckles who worked so hard for his GED and a job so he could afford the laser tattoo removal process. Robert who worked hard doing whatever it took to keep others out of his personal space. With the 17 year old who had huffed enough inhalants to effectively melt his frontal lobe and so between bouts of extreme anger, we’d have to help him tie his shoes. And 50 other faces and names that flash by.

Funny. Right now I am 43 years old. Thinking back on the boys and girls, now come full-grown women and men, it turns out I was helping kids who were not much younger than myself at the time, but the gulf back then seemed so far apart. I’d finished my Bachelor’s degree and had experienced college life. They’d barely had a childhood at that point. It’s not that they were older. It’s as if they were frozen beyond being children and yet so very far away from adulthood. And I now realize that during all my own childhood, I was one phone call away from being one of these kids in a residential home.

Working here was the best 2 year training I ever received in being both a teacher and a real human being. When I left that job, I knew the “bad” kids were still just scared and confused kids trying to create some control and stability in their lives and that I could handle whatever a classroom teacher might see in her lifetime. And I thank these kids for more than they would ever know.

Kids Arguing in Groups? QuickTip Idea

8 01 2015
Just a super-quick tip today about helping kids learn to figure out how to get themselves out of grouping gridlock and get moving forward! 

students, grouping, happyWhen kids are learning to work in Project Based Learning groups (or any groupings), it’s inevitable that two will get into a strong-headed disagreement. Neither side will budge and soon the argument starts to be more about pride and personality and less about the idea at hand.

So what do we do? What can be done that helps kids over the argument hump and role models a better way?

Why not start by asking each kid to share 2 ways that the other kid’s idea will work. They are able to see the situation from the other’s point of view and add their own small improvement, while keeping the spirit of the original idea alive.

Suddenly, the group has several ideas that all parties can buy into because they all had a hand in developing it. And progress starts to happen.

Try this the next time a stalwart situation begins in your classroom and tell us how it worked!

…now I wonder if we ought to have kids share this tip with Congress?

15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake 6: treat all kids the same

2 12 2014

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Fair: a place where you ride rides

quote from Vicki Schweinler, graphic by Brian Housand

Mistake #6:
Continue to treat all kids as if they’re the same and need to be treated the same.

Problem: Currently, we feel that in order to be “fair,” all students need to be treated the same, when in actuality, there are very few students who have the same ability, experiences, or skills as others in the class. Everyone is traveling their own journey many of us know nothing about and children and teens are no different.

Solution: To be truly fair, or equitable, with students, we must look at them as individuals. Each will move faster or slower, according to her abilities and interests. We might consider grouping students based not on their “date of manufacture,” but instead upon something much more appropriate. Some students might make a mistake and need one type of consequence while another student is better served through other consequences. On a broader, school-wide system, this might lead to a slippery slope to favoritism within a time-based, “everyone’s the same” school. But in a school that focuses on services and support for individual students as humans, this is a readily understood concept. But how to go about re-visioning our own environments is a challenge for local communities to solve. Many schools will choose to implement the flexibility on a classroom-level scale first before re-visioning their entire building or district. Regardless, personalized learning must trump the one-size-fits-all curriculum of today. 

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning?

In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  

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