cww trip journal: days 1-2

Each year, Graded organizes a trip for all of our students to experience learning beyond the confine of desks, chairs and computers: CWW, aka Classroom Without Walls. I am fortunate enough to be on the 11th grade trip to Belem, Brazil.

Our arrival to Belem took a four hour plan ride. Taking the bus through town I saw: barefoot, sun-browned skin kiddos playing soccer in a field of dirt, wild dogs scratching fleas, countless pairs of people chatting on their “porches” in plastic chairs, shanty towns adorned with graffiti, more bare chests than I see at a typical beach, Bible thumpers carrying their “sword” while walking the streets, trash burning and trash piling, sidewalks ready to swallow any unsuspected flip-flop wearing pedestrian, clotheslines strung creatively on all kinds of makeshift hooks, thin-leaved acai trees, locals sitting on their roofs glued to their smartphones, more barefoot sun-browned skin kiddos playing futsal on sandy concrete, countless churches full with futile fans (of the circulation variety, I think) and relentless reverends, and a tiny local boy’s hand waving back at me from a neighboring bus.

Today we left the hotel at 6am to take a bus to take a boat to take a bus to take a ferry to the islands of Marajo (2000 of them). Let me tell you that my doTERRA peppermint oil and deep breathing exercises have never come in so handy as they did on that boat. The water was choppy and at one point the people next to me were above me :/ Luckily, only a few kiddos upchucked. We arrived to the land of pineapple trees, toured a buffalo tannery, ate at a local restaurant (local fish and buffalo all around; I tried the fish: filhote but not the buffalo), then finished off at a buffalo dairy farm where I ate buffalo cheese, rode a horse (#dailydoseofsouljoy), AND I rode a water buffalo. And by rode I mean I sat on it and petted it. As you can tell, the buffalo are critical to the economy here. After all, the population of people is around 300000 but the water buffalo number around 500000. Today I saw the most beautiful flowers (viuvinha) and felt the best kind of buffalo leather (the ball sack, in case you’re wondering), and saw an actual cashew fruit from the tree (it looks like a pepper)! And, everyone here rides motorcycles without helmets but with flip flops. Safety first!

I sit on Marajo island as I type this. My hair blows in the salt-wind coming from the Amazon-Atlantic-Para hybrid water. Earlier today, I floated in the mouth of the Amazon River beneath a crescent moon rising during sunset.


What is this world I am living in?!

Included is a picture of the mouth of the Amazon; I’ll do more later when I can upload them.

 

 

teacher reflections: strong relationships AND high expectations

I have transitioned, now, into four different schools.

The first school, Adams City High School, I like to think I came in as a wrecking ball. Unfamiliar, new, powerful in a naive way. The second and third school, Bruce Randolph and North, respectively, where I first tiptoed around who I knew I was and who I thought my new kiddos needed. And now, I find myself in my fourth school, Graded. And once again, I am walking the wire of tension between strong relationships and high expectations.

They don’t like it.

Daily, I vacillate between “why don’t they like me?” and “why don’t they understand my high expectations?”

I’ve had that question during interviews:

Do you think students need to like a teacher in order to learn?

And my response to such a trick question, assured in a decade of experience, is a resounding “yes!” Not because I want to be popular. But rather, my desire to be liked comes from an ingrained and tried-and-trued belief that if students like the teacher, they learn better from the teacher.

And so, this week, in some of my classes where there was a clear disconnection floating among the auras in the room, I paused curriculum for some circle time.

What’s going well this year? What’s not?

Tell a story about someone who means a lot to you. Who inspires you? Why?

What is the truest thing about yourself? 

Silver strings wove among our hearts, glistening with laughter, weighted with truth, alight with authenticity, lifted with hope.

It was beautiful and magical. Just like circles can be.

Also this week was a survey. Tell me what I’m doing well. Tell me what I can improve on. I was encouraged that so many talked about how they appreciated my daily mindful moments (new this year, after some training through Mindful Schools). I was not surprised that so many said I needed to improve in clarity: of assessments, of alignment, of feedback, of grading.

After all, I myself am new to a new school, a new grading system, a new paradigm. I AM confused. Oh Hattie, if I am going to achieve your effect size of .75, I need to work on this.

And so I reflect. I adjust. I change the lesson plans. Student feedback IS the driving force of any strong classroom.

Except for in one area.

I will take your feedback and implement it to improve. After all, I ask the same of you. However, one thing I can guarantee: I will NOT lower my expectations. I have never and I never will. You deserve my highest expectations. You are worthy and capable. I will not insult you by lowering my expectations.

And so… daily in my classroom, even after a decade of experience, somethings always are changing. Yet somethings never do.

And so goes the dance of expertise with reflection.

 

 

 

 

buying a car in Sampa

For the past fifty days, we’ve managed to get around Sampa via our feet and a la Uber. And although it’s been sufficient, the thought has lingered in the back of our minds: how do we get out of here?! Traveling beyond the city limits begs for a car of our very own. And so last weekend we found ourselves at a local auto shop recommended to us by several people from school: Auto Handel.

Marcus and Rosa in front of their shop.

There Marcus and his wife, Rosa, guided us through the process of picking, buying and securing insurance for a car (2012 Renault Sandero Stepway). In English! Thankfully, Marcus speaks at least three languages. He also worked us through driving in Brazil (or not driving on some days: Rodizio), managing a flex tank that switches from gas to ethanol, navigating traffic tickets, discerning trustworthy gas stations from those to avoid, and storing the car safely while we’re out of the country. It was a pleasant and efficient experience, which came as a huge relief to Dave and I, who were both nervous about the whole process (we downright avoided it in the beginning).

Now, we can transfer all those nerves to driving in Brazil, where the motorcycles are always just one tiny, minuscule, microscopic, holy crap swerve away. Well, at least this Chicago native can.

Dave has yet to drive.

 

Here’s my first time driving Sampa streets. The face says it all!


Safe at home!

 

flowers and monkeys, oh my!

When Dave and I transitioned down here, one of our biggest worries was the shift to city life. No longer would our yard be filled with deer, elk and bear. Rather the sounds of cars and smells of exhaust and emissions of lights would form our daily backdrop.

While this is true, I have been pleasantly surprised at the connection to nature I have been able to experience in Sampa. Every morning between 5-6, there is the most beautiful bird song outside our window. When it rains, the drops on the roof outside my classroom are musical. As I walk to school, I pass stunning flowering trees caressed by streaming sunlight. My campus is open, airy and sunny, with lots of places where I can work outside.

Here are some pictures of the blooms in our hood.

And then today, Dave and I ventured to the local park in Morumbi: Parque Burle Marx. Wow! It felt so wild–a green haven right in the middle of the city. Food trucks filled our bellies and playing families entertained our sights. The grass was a welcome respite from walking. The best part was the paths that felt more jungle than urban park. There, we encountered a giant green parrot eating high in a tree and the playful presence of marmosets.

Here are some pictures of our adventure there!

For videos, check out my YouTube channel.

 

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