Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Slice of Life: The Man on the Plane

If you would like to participate in Slice of Life, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog each Tuesday.

     I was in one of the first boarding groups and boarded the plane easily. There was plenty of space for my carry-on in the overhead bin. I sat down in my window seat and got as comfortable as is possible on a plane. As I sat looking out the window, I listened to the din from other passengers boarding, but did not pay attention to that. Then, a tap on my shoulder. Who does that? I turned to see a man holding out his ticket, which clearly stated that he was in seat 8c, aisle. I kindly explained to him that I was in seat 8a and his seat was the one on the aisle. His response gave me a clue to how this flight would go. "Oh, I thought I ordered a window seat," he said. Weird response, but whatever. I started reading my book. There was constant noise from two seats away. Then, he said, "how do you buckle these things anyway?" Whoa, I didn't think there was anyone left who didn't know how to use an airplane seatbelt. I guess those safety demonstrations are not a waste of time. I stopped what I was doing and did a quick demonstration of the seat belt. Then, I picked up my book again. This person did not pick up on this clear social cue. He kept talking. My one word responses seemed to be enough encouragement to keep him talking. Please let there be someone coming to fill this seat between us. It was the first time in my life that I was hoping not to have the seat next to me be empty. As the passengers finished boarding and it became clear that we were going to have more space between us, the man celebrated the fact that we wouldn't be crammed in like sardines. And I cringed and tried to put on my patient face. Just keep reading. He has to shut up sometime. He'll see that you don't want to talk. Each time, I read about two sentences before he started talking again. I don't know how to be rude so I continued minimal participation in the conversation. Then, right before we took off, we started talking about where we were going. Since this flight was going to Phoenix, I said something about going there for the actual summer weather since it has not been very warm in Milwaukee. He said, "my wife of twenty-four years just left me and I had to get out of Dodge." Oh. In that moment, my annoyance shifted. It wasn't that he was less annoying, it was that I now had a reason to be a little more compassionate. We spent the whole flight in that way. I learned way more about this stranger's life than I wanted to learn. He craned his neck over my shoulder to look at the mountains. He had never been to this part of the country. This was only his second time ever on a plane. The first time in more than fifteen years. No wonder the anxiety was palpable around him. He just kept moving and making noise. 

     I found myself thinking about how I am so much more patient with kids than I am with adults. This man needed my attention and the distraction of conversation. He was like that kid in your classroom that needs every ounce of your patience and every bit of attention you can give. In my classroom, I would absolutely give it. I wouldn't think twice about it. But out in the real world, I expect adults to be able to fend for themselves and follow social cues. I had to dig deep in my stores of patience to continue to be friendly to this man. I had to remind myself that it is better to be kind than to be rude. I had to keep myself from freaking out when he entered my personal space because he was leaning over me to get a better view. (I have claustrophobia issues with this and was imagining punching him at this point) I reminded myself that the small inconvenience to me would be a great comfort to him. I actively worked the whole flight to remember that I wanted to be compassionate and kind. It was really hard.  I teach students to be kind to one another. I teach them to try to empathize. But I forget that sometimes it is really difficult to do. I need to remember this lesson when I am working with my new group of students in the fall. I need to share with them that being kind and compassionate is not always the easiest path to take, but it is the right one. My actions on that plane helped a man who is going through a terrible time in his life have a more pleasant experience with flying. A little bit of inconvenience to me seems like a small price to pay for helping someone else have a better day. Maybe I can help my students to understand this. 

   Next time I am starting to get annoyed with another adult, I will remember this man. He made it easy for me to see that he needed my compassion. Most people do not wear their hearts on their sleeves. If he had not told me about his recent separation, it would not have been less true that he was in need of some compassion. I will remember to be patient and kind no matter how annoying the person. And I will work hard to do so because in the end it is worth it. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Slice of Life: Pirate's Treasure 6/30

If you would like to participate in Slice of Life, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog each Tuesday.

      A few summers ago, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I was blown away with the level of enthusiasm this educator has for teaching and learning. I loved his ideas and was inspired to make a few changes in the way I thought about my classroom and the way I planned and taught. I put the book on my shelf and determined to continue to come back to the book. Then, life happened. I really didn't get back to the book again even though I knew there were excellent, not to be missed, ideas there that could help me transform my teaching.

     Then, in January, I saw a flyer that immediately caught my eye. Right here in Milwaukee there was going to be a conference that they were calling an "innovation symposium." There were all kinds of great people who were going to present about ideas like genius hour, global connections, gamification, flipping the classroom, etc. Already, I was quite interested. Then I saw that Dave Burgess, the pirate himself, was the keynote speaker. I knew immediately that I HAD to get there. Even though attending this conference would mean missing record day and giving up the precious time in my classroom to clean and pack things up, I just had to get there.

    Summer Spark at University School of Milwaukee (#usmspark)was every bit as cool as it sounded. It was like an edCamp on steroids. There were so many forward thinking people there! We all were pirates in the making.  The best part of the conference, of course, was hearing Dave Burgess speak. What a way to start the summer! His presentation was dynamic and filled with nuggets of wisdom. He gave us ways for "unlocking" engagement. The truth is that "an engaged student is rarely a behavior problem." I was reminded of the amazing ideas that this teacher has for bringing his classroom to life for students. The reality is that we teachers do need to make sure we are bringing presentations to students that will bring them in. He reminded us of the mistake a lot of us make of transitioning instead of delivering content at that peak moment of engagement. I love the idea of having "engaging presentations with handles on them for students to pick up." One of the best parts of his presentation was when he talked about asking questions and analyzing results. Three nuggets of wisdom made it into my notebook during this part of the talk:

  • "It's not supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be worth it." 
  • "Safe lessons are a recipe for mediocrity"
  • Failure = Feedback for Teachers
     What an honest reflection of the kind of work risk-taking teachers do. It is such a reminder for me of what I want for my students. I need to be working hard to engage them and I need to be able to take risks to do so. The work that I do needs to be worth the time that I spend doing it. Making my lessons engaging is worth that time. I love the level of detail involved in asking the questions to make good ideas for lessons into awesome experiences for students. 

     "Students will forget lessons, but they will never forget experiences." Another piece of wisdom from Dave Burgess is that teachers should work to provide an uncommon experience for students. Since students are bombarded with things that compete for their attention, we need to make our lessons remarkable in order to gain their engagement. 

     Listening to this educator speak about lessons and engagement made me realize that I have become somewhat complacent. I have not taken the time to create amazing experiences for my students. Although I have spent hours writing plans, I have not taken the time to ask the questions that will bring out the creative ideas. I have not been working to engage my students to the full extent of what is possible. I want to change that. 

Here are the two big questions that every teacher should ask himself according to Dave Burgess:

  • If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
  • Do you have any lessons that you could sell tickets for? 
Both of these questions make me cringe a little. I don't think I have good answers for either one. I think that I have worked to create relationships with my students and they might want to come to school if they missed me, but I don't necessarily think they would be there for the learning. At least, not the last group of students. I want to change that. Next year at this time I want to be able to give resounding and positive answers to those two questions. I want to be confident that my students would come even if they were not required to be there. I want to have lessons that are so amazing people would pay money to be there. 

This summer as I work on outlining my units, I will get out Teach Like a Pirate and I will think creatively. I will brainstorm hooks and think about how to provide experiences for my students in all content areas. Most of all, I will remember that in order to improve, I need to keep trying. I will fall flat on my face at least once and probably several times trying out some new ideas. If I expect my students to have grit and to persevere through failures and challenges, I need to be willing to do so myself.  

So there you have it, I am raising the pirate flag and setting sail. Time to find some buried treasure, mateys!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Slice of Life: Where Did The Confidence Go? 6/23

Every Tuesday, a group of bloggers share a Slice of Life. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information. 

     When I was younger, I think I was much more adventurous. It may be just my imagination, but I remember being able to let go of thinking about how I looked or sounded and being able to just be me. This was especially true in classes. I was the student who always had her hand in the air. I love learning and I had an insatiable drive for learning more and discussing that learning with my classmates.

     I still have that innate drive to learn more. I still love to attend conferences and professional development opportunities. I still sit relatively close to the front. I still raise my hand and participate in discussions. However, it seems to cost me more now. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-talk to convince myself to get to the session in the first place. I get anxious about it before I am even dressed for the event. I feel this ridiculous amount of pressure (from myself) to not appear pushy or like a know-it-all. I sometimes refrain from introducing myself to people because I am afraid that they won't know who I am or that they will think me annoying. This isn't at all about the other people in the room. I am pretty sure that the other people at the conferences won't actually find me annoying and might actually like some of my ideas. However, I seem to be almost cripplingly unsure of myself. My confidence seems to have vanished.

     I wonder why that has happened. I don't think there have been any ridiculously awful experiences that I have had with other people reacting to me in a weird way. I do not experience this lack of confidence when working with my students. In fact, I think they would be shocked that I even know what it is like to be doubting oneself. How can I have such confidence in the classroom and so little confidence when faced with a social situation?

     The introvert in me cringes at the mention of a new experience with a new set of people. That is why I am proud of myself for attending not only one, but two new conferences last week. At both conferences, there were people who I "knew" online from blogging communities and from Twitter, but it was nerve-wracking to go into these new experiences. I found some people to learn with and enjoyed meeting some of my online friends. However, I never got up the guts to approach some of the other people who I "know" but have never met face to face. Maybe next year I will ditch the self-doubt and branch out to meeting new people.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Slice of Life: Celebration! 3/31

I am participating again this year in the Slice of Life challenge in which we write a slice every day in March. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

I am so excited that I made it all the way through this month! I wasn't sure about taking on the challenge again this year, but here it is, the last day of March, and I made it! I wrote every day! 

Since it is a day in which I feel like celebrating, I thought I would take a minute to celebrate a few things here: (I missed the Celebration link-up on Saturday and I am definitely feeling it)

1. My students begged me to read Rump today. They are loving this read aloud and the time I spend reading is this excellent, quiet time in which we all enjoy reading and books. 

2. Two more days until Spring Break! 

3. My students are really understanding the fractions unit on which we are working. It is great to see their mathematical thinking. 

4. They are loving the Genius Hour time that we have in class. More than half of my class is learning to code and doing a great job at it. It is a great time of learning. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Slice of Life: Author Visit with Jennifer Holland 3/29

I am participating again this year in the Slice of Life challenge in which we write a slice every day in March. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

This week, I was lucky enough to have another author visit at my school. Jennifer Holland came to speak to my students about her new book Unlikely Heroes as well as her other books and her magazine articles. Ms. Holland is a staff writer for National Geographic magazine and she travels the world learning about animals.  

I was so excited to have her visit our school and share all about her work.  The students were enthralled with the stories about the animal friendships and the animal heroes that she wrote about. When we had a chance for questions, the students all clamored for her attention and were super excited for her to answer their questions. 

I loved having Jennifer Holland visit our school. I am still so incredibly moved that I am able to have such great authors visit our school and give my students these experiences with great writers. 

Find out more about Jennifer Holland on her website here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Slice of Life: Clean-up 3/28

I am participating again this year in the Slice of Life challenge in which we write a slice every day in March. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

Today at school, we had a clean sweep. Our principal arranged to have volunteers come in and help us clean out our school. There were piles and piles of things stored in coat rooms and closets. As many of you know, we teachers are packrats. It is hard to get rid of things that might be useful someday. However, the reality is that most of us forget about what we have stored and then the next teacher inherits that old junk. 

I was so happy to be able to go in today and organize things. There was a metal cabinet in my coat room that was full of "science" supplies going back at least 20 years. It was so nice to be able to have volunteers work in my classroom and clear out that cabinet. I was able to quickly sort through the junk that was in there and then throw away tons of stuff. A quick wipe down later and now I have a bunch more storage space and will be able to organize better. 

The best thing about today was that I learned about two great organizations in my community that I hadn't heard of before. The volunteer effort was organized by Blackboard Volunteer Corps. This group is a service group that is organizing volunteers to come into schools and help out. Our school was their second project. It was really amazing to see so many people from the community turn out to give us their time. The other group is an organization called NEWaukee. They are a group that is working to try to keep young talent in Milwaukee by helping young professionals with many things. One branch of their organization is a service branch. They like to set up projects with different organizations each month so that their members can try out different volunteer efforts and possibly find a group they want to help on a more regular basis. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were at school today and volunteering their Saturday mornings to give us a hand. They were all so happy to be helping out and they were willing to do anything I needed them to do. My classroom is cleaner than it was and I got to learn about some great groups in my community.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Slice of Life: Perplexed

I am participating again this year in the Slice of Life challenge in which we write a slice every day in March. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

Why is it so hard for some people to be nice? There is one particular person in my life that always seems to find the most unpleasant and confrontational way to deal with everything that rubs her the wrong way. I don't get it. I just don't understand why this person feels that she will be able to get things from people by having a rude and uncompromising tone with everything she does. I wonder if it gets her things with other people. How can it be a good life if everything you react to has points and sharp edges. The funny thing is that it is always small stuff that this person reacts to. Who cares if something cheap got lost? Is your family so saintly that they never do wrong? I think not. It is interesting that this same person who has this confrontational and rude way of interacting with people will then turn around and make excuses for everything. I wonder what her life would be like if she just took an honest look at herself and her family and realized that sometimes their s*** stinks too. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just follow the rules and play fair. Why is that so hard for some people?

Okay, rant over. Moral of the story: Choose to be kind to others and others will be kind to you.