who am I?

I am fortunate enough to be participating in a pilot program at my school that looks at how we can use metacognition, belonging, and conceptual approaches to foster deep, enduring & transferrable learning. It is an intensive & immersive experience that began today, with the easy task of writing an identity statement.

You know, no big deal… she said facetiously.

But, here I it is.

Here I Am.

I am Light. I am humble enough not to dare to define God, but also faithful enough to believe in All. Because of this, I recognize my life is not physical alone; it is Spiritual. Because of this, I honor what is beneath the surface and behind the projection. This means I operate from a place of discovery with students, rather than assumptions. This also means I treat them as people, not just students.

I am Love. I recognize that all we want as people is to be in community, to be seen, to be known, to be safe…to be loved. In the end, to say I received Love & I gave Love… what more could there be. May my classZoom or classRoom reflect this.

I am a Space-maker. Next to being Light & being Love, my ultimate identity is to create the space for those. Designing the vibe, planning the sequence, facilitating the moments, welcoming the wild, inviting the participants: this is who I am as a teacher, yes, but also as I woman. Also as a human.

I am a Storyteller. I got this from my Mom, but I also got this from my high school English teacher, from other teachers, and from the worlds of words where I have dwelled since I was little. We are our stories. But we also are not. And this is the best story of all. This is why I teach English…to story.

I am a Comedian. Deep belly laughs & inappropriate that’s what she saids & giggling snorts. Humor buoys the depths of this thing we call life. If I can make a student laugh… that. is. just. gold.

I am Woman. Though, straight up, I’m still figuring that out. However, I use the stories in my classroom to dismantle all of the systems of oppression.

I am a Question Mark. I have leapt out of false security & easy answers. I am dancing into Mystery & Wonder. If I can teach a student to ask a meaningful question, I have succeeded.

I am Earth. Grounded & rooted in Creation, I respect the healing gifted by the yellowing trees & the singing birds & the glittering sunlight & the drumming rain & the tickling grass. This is why I teach students mindfulness. This is why I teach them to look & to listen.

this I believe (my teacher-why creed)

I have been reading two books in pursuit of some professional growth lately: Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall as well as Teach Like Yourself: How Authentic Teaching Transforms Our Students and Ourselves by Gravity Goldberg. And when they both, as if in some conspiratorial cahoots, albeit for different reasons, encourage the writing of a teacher mission statement… well, then, ok! I give!

And it’s a good thing. I do feel I’ve lost my teacher way a bit lately.

Not only that, but the knowledge that we will be starting the school year digitally has me all up in arms about all the nots and can’ts and the things that aren’t the same or right or best or normal or in my wheelhouse.

I’m already starting the year in a deficit model.

Which means, consequently, my students will be, too.

Ugh.

And, so, to get up out of the murky pit of deficit and into the expansive field of assets, here is my WHY. In some of these, I’ve been doing well. To some of these, I proclaim a renewed dedication. But all of them will ground and guide the manner in which I begin this new and scary school year.

And beyond.

This I Believe (My Teacher-Why Creed)

I teach students. Not statistics or data points or standards. I teach beating hearts who have their own pains and pleasures, drives and demons, growth spurts and gallant missteps.

This I believe.

I teach humans. People, who at their core, just like me, crave love. People who, though it looks differently for each, crave meaningful relationship. People who both want the chance to be authentic as well as the authentic presence of others around them.

This I believe.

I teach stories. Words woven together as threads that have sustained man since man has been. Explorations and declarations of our own hiSTORIES. Themes that, unlike our polished updates and filtered selfies and perfect feeds, unlock something true and deep… nourish something true and deep.

This I believe.

I teach power. Power through literacy. Power through knowledge. Early in my career, that was the power to rebel against the constant knock of oppressive systems. Now, it is the power to be humble enough and brave enough to see that system within and dismantle it for others.

This I believe.

I teach mystery. An approach that honors the question above the answer. A path that celebrates the process more than the product. A philosophy that is critical but not bitter, deconstructive but not destructive. A confession that I, myself, though the teacher, am not the expert.

This I believe.

I teach reflection. A pursuit of life’s most important questions: who I am? how do I live a meaningful life? how do I be whole? how do I respond when I am down and salute when I am standing? what does it even mean for me to be down versus standing?

This I believe.

I teach community. The realization that life’s most important questions cannot be untied from other: who are we? what is your story? how do I give you space to be and feel and struggle and blossom?

This I believe.

I teach mindfulness. The constant, kind mental work of returning to this present moment. The intentional bowing of the heart to this moment as the only moment. The freedom and courage and strength that this moment spawns.

This I believe.

I teach joy. Light hearts and belly laughs. Nonacademic moments of connection. Insightful tangents. Familial chaos.

This I believe.

book reflection: “Teach Like Yourself” preface & ch 1

As you know from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity these days.

With a bit of serendipity in the ether, a group I’ve been a part of for a while resurged on my Facebook feed with an invitation to a book club (thank you Kathie for the inspiration) about Teach Like Yourself by Gravity Goldberg. Yes, please!

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be responding and reflecting to this book. Here is what’s on my mind after the preface and chapter 1.

Relationships.

“It took some time for me to realize that being my true self as a teacher was exactly what my students needed…We know that students learn more from teachers they trust and with whom they have a strong relationship. And students can’t form strong relationships with teachers if they are not showing up as their true selves.

I always have focused on relationships in my classroom; however, as of late, in reflection on recent discouragements, I am renewed in my dedication to this approach. Knowing our school will be starting the next school year digitally, my mind is already creating lists of ideas and activities to get to know my students. And to introduce them to my true self as well.

One approach I am really excited to resurrect in my classroom is getting to know my students through their writing. To do this, I will offer more invitations for non-academic writing and conferences. I remember my first year of teaching, I had my students journal daily and I responded weekly. The amount of time required was unsustainable, but those were some of the richest moments I’ve had with students. I need to modify that in order to reintroduce it to my practice.

Standards vs strengths.

These two pages hit me h.a.r.d. from chapter 1:

In many ways, while the narrowing of targets due to standards-based teaching is a good thing, it also has led me to a deficit-based approach: what standards are they not meeting and how do I get them there? This reduces students to checklists and prevents me from celebrating and building on their strengths. One of Goldberg’s points in the book is that this deficit-based model arises from our self-help approach: what’s broken and how can I fix it? Not only do I see my students through this lens, but myself. And it results in anxiety and stress and heavy burdens that do not inspire anyone. Especially in a cutthroat, high-stakes environment where the name of the college means everything… I have to create a refuge in my classroom.

Comparison.

I feed on perfection. I like to be the best. Because of this, I often look around to see who is on point and how I can emulate them. This is not a bad thing! However, when I try to replace myself with them… it is. I need to do a better job seeing mentors as role models, not instructional manuals. This will take courage, and yes, sometimes even confrontation. But my students deserve ME as MY best self for them, not an impostor of someone else.

For the first time in a long time, I am bursting with excitement to go back to school. The ideas and plans are keeping me up at night–but in a good way. Creativity is flowing; writing calls to me like a long-lost lover. I feel inspired and reinvigorated. I know this is because I am returning to myself as a teacher.

authenticiKEY

Wanted: the OG Mrs. Davenport.

Have you seen her?

Sadly, I don’t think I have in a while either.

I knew moving away from urban education would have reverberations. Some I predicted; some were unpredictable yet unsurprising.

But I fear in some ways I’ve lost myself in the transition.

A question I am holding at the center of everything lately is:

What does it mean for me to be authentic as a teacher?

It is different from this chameleonizing.

It is different from this acquiescing.

It is different from this flatlining.

It is different from this.

At the end of the year, I administered a survey to my students. While the results were overwhelmingly positive, I of course do that thing where I focus on the not so positive. And one of the results that sticks in my gut the most is in response to the prompt I feel connected to Mrs. Davenport. This was one of my lowest scores! This used to be my forte! This used to be my everything!

Oh my teacher heart hurts.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on that data point lately. (I’m grateful for some soulfull colleagues who helped me through this process: thank you Nikki & Andrew!) Both of them brought me to authenticity. What that means? For me? How have I held true to who I really am as a teacher? And where have I compromised? What is the state of my teacher heart?

So far, I’ve come up with the following authenticikeys (see what I did there?!):

  1. Play to my strengths & successes. I know I can move students academically with Socratic seminars. I know the value of a shared reading experience. I know how to engage students with a course rooted in the content and not just the skills. I know stories matter. I know a class is much more about energy than anything else. I need to believe in and do what I know works.
  2. Honor growth over regime, process over product. I have been a little duped by the standards movement, I admit it. I have bought in line and sinker. But in some ways, I fear the more I’ve adhered to that philosophy, the less I’ve seen students actually grow. When it becomes about one finish line, no differentiated paths are celebrated. A student’s comment on a survey echoes in my mind as I type this: “I didn’t grow in my writing. I grew in her version of writing.” Ouch. I need to honor the process, the little victories. I need to be creative and innovative so that each student feels shiney. I need to be more holistic in my approach. I need to reclaim what “assessment” means to me and my students.
  3. Channel my fierce mother & believe in myself. I don’t like conflict, so I give in. I have used alignment as a security blanket. I worry about being questioned, being doubted, being challenged. I need to practice what I preach: the trite feedback I too often give my students of “take risks.”
  4. Let go. Be playful. I have a drastically different relationship with my upperclassmen than my underclassmen. And in some ways, this is intentional. But, in some ways, it is damaging. I don’t feel like myself in my grade 9 classroom. I don’t think they know me. I don’t really know them deeply. And as the survey said, they don’t feel connected. So… it’s not working. I need to soften with them, with my approach.

I recognize there a lot of ways this post could be misconstrued. I recognize that I am riding a swinging pendulum back from the following-sheep side. I do not think the other side of rogue-independence is healthy either. There has to be growth; there has to be balance–always.

But I have to be me. I need to be me. For my efficacy. For my teacher heart.

For my students. For whom I want the freedom to be themselves.

Authenticity permits authenticity.

Authenticity inspires authenticity.

landscape-1843128_1280

 

 

 

 

to the class of 2020

 

unnamed (1)I first knew you as 10th graders.

And I loved you then.

Some of you were artsy. Some of you were authors. Some of you were athletes. Some of you were leaders. Some of you were gamers. Some of you were musicians. Some of you rarely spoke. Some of you made me laugh.

But you were all teachers.

My teachers.

You taught me how to approach teaching in an international school. You taught me how offer more clarity. You taught me about talent.

You taught me about the appreciation for education. I’ll never forget the first week, how so many of you stopped on your way out the door to say “Thanks Miss!” I have been blessed with so many great moments throughout my teaching career, but the regularity of students thanking me on their way out the door was completely new. Completely foreign.

“Thanks Miss!”

Wow.

Well, now, I thank you.

I thank you for your gratitude, for those pauses at the door. I thank you for welcoming me into your hearts. I thank you for your brutal honesty that pushed me as an educator. I thank you for your gifts that made my experience at Graded so rich.

I thank you for our discussions about what we were reading. I thank you for your questions.

But most of all, I thank you for how you have handled this pandemic.

You have been mature in the midst of grief. Loving in the losses. Reflective in this unreal reality. Present in the pain. Authentic in the awfulness. Brave in the brutality.

And you have been grateful, even now, even with all this, against all the odds.

And the odds are not in your favor.

2020 sucks.

It is a thief that has stolen your special moments. It is a sickness that has choked the final breaths of your high school experience. It is a train that has derailed your carefully constructed tracks. It is a closed door that has separated you from your precious peers. It is the party pooper that crashed your graduation ceremony. It is a sledgehammer that has smashed normal.

And now those bits, those pieces, those fragments are scattered all over with no broom in sight.

The questions overwhelm, don’t they? The normal questions that all seniors have had through the course of history: who am I? will I belong? what do I even want? will I make it? will I make friends? will my family be ok? how will I pay for it? what if I fail? how will I manage my time?

Now those old, historical questions are confounded with new, historic questions of a pandemic: will my grandparents be safe? how will I stay healthy? what will online college look like? can I travel? what about the borders closing? will the economy collapse? how do I say goodbye to my teachers & friends & teammates? how do I find closure?

I am sorry the weight of the unknown has been doubled.

I am sorry you don’t get a proper goodbye.

I am sorry you were robbed of so many memories.

I am sorry I can’t give you a big, congratulatory, bear hug.

I am sorry.

But, also, I am not sorry. Because I believe in you.

In this unprecedented moment that is a crossroad, an AHA, a pivot, an influencer…I believe in you, class of 2020.

I believe in your soul to feel all the feels and create space for the complex and contradictory emotions of the human experience–and to be better for it.

I believe in your ability to pause and evaluate what is most important, what “normal” should be–and to live from that conviction.

I believe in your potential to create policy and systems that save the world–and to save your children’s world.

I believe in your privilege, in your right to use the distinguished education you have EARNED (thank God you’re done with IB–Iamright?!) to affect positive change in society–and to lift up the least.

I believe in your hearts, in the hope that you will slow down the pace of our world so we can breath and be, instead of just rushing and doing.

I believe in your voice to garner and inspire changemakers–and to defy the odds.

So no, in this year of a global pandemic that has shut down the world as we know it, the odds are not in your favor.

But you are powerful rebels and can give them a big “so what, odds, so what?”

You are what we need right now.

I believe in you, class of 2020.

And now, as you walk out that door, albeit virtually, allow me to say:

Thank YOU!

I love you.

Congratulations class of 2020!!!

Old Way vs New Way

I believe in you class of 2020!

 

 

 

 

The Right Foot: How to Create a Solid Foundation at the Beginning of the Year

The post that appears below is the original, unedited draft I submitted to Edutopia, an amazing website of all things education! (To all my readers working in schools, it is highly valuable and worth following.) 

In my twelve years of teaching, I have come to realize that how the end of the year goes has everything to do with how I start the year with my students. I have lived it, and I have seen it: a strong start to the year makes everything else easier, but a weak start to the year is, well, nearly impossible to amend. 

With this in mind, there are some foundational approaches that have served me–and my students–well. 

Let’s start with those pesky first impressions. Lots of research indicates that people need just seconds to form ideas about someone they are just meeting. How can we as teachers maximize those first seconds? First, presence

As much as I am annoyed at the weight of Haim Ginott’s comments that the teacher is “the deciding element” of the climate in the classroom, I have witnessed its veracity over and over. Here are some suggestions to be meaningfully present the first day of school: Welcome students at the door with a warm greeting. Make it clear where they need to sit. Dress professionally. Be intentional with your body placement and posture, eye movements as well as vocal approach, because at every moment students are reading you, consciously and unconsciously responding to (what I’ve always called) your vibe (but psychologists call “emotional contagion”). 

Next, space and place

Though teachers don’t need to be experts in Marie Kondo or feng shui, I have found it helpful to be mindful of the physical space my students are entering on the first day as it is ultimately an extension of how I feel about them. This includes having a tidy and aromatic room prepared with resources (tissues go a long way), a thoughtful desk arrangement with smart traffic flow, objectives/agendas posted in spaces clearly marked for specific classes, personal touches that reveal I am also a human while also generating conversation, background music, and a balance of posted content and free wall space for future student contributions. In addition to the space, a good way to make a positive first impression is making sure everything has a place. Disheveled paperwork, inaccessible resources or haphazard chaos not only communicate to students a lack of organization, it also comes back to haunt me (and them) later in the year.

Though presence, space and place are important, in some ways they are also just the window dressing. The real work of the start of the school year is about intention. As a teacher, what is true north that will guide everything you do all year long? For me, this is two-fold: relationships and clarity. 

Everything that happens during the first week or two of school is designed to build relationships. This starts with a proper introduction. One of my first day activities is always a get-to-know-you survey. Some of the best questions are: Who is a teacher who had a positive impact on you and what did they do specifically? What are your pet peeves as a learner? Are there any conflicts (with people or arrangement) in this room I need to be aware of?

While students are completing this survey, I make a point to walk around the room, introduce myself with a firm handshake and eye contact, request the names they want to be called and then make sure I can correctly pronounce it. 

Next comes those activities everyone loves to hate: icebreakers. 

As a language arts teacher who values storytelling and relationships, I tend toward writing and sharing activities as ice breakers. Here are some ideas:

  • Find and share about a _____(children’s book, quote, song, poem, cartoon, found object) that tells us something important about who you are.
  • Students imitate a mentor text and share theirs. Some good ideas are “I Am From” by George Ella Lyon and “My Name” and “Those Who Don’t” from The House on Mango Street. 
  • Write and share a piece like “If You Really Knew Me” (from Challenge Day) or “This I Believe” from NPR. 
  • Write and share a 6 word memoir

One caveat here: it is important for the teacher to engage in this process just as the students do.

In addition to a storytelling icebreaker of some sort, I also start the year with circles. This is a great way to share the work students have written, build connections, establish norms, as well as identify and address individual or community needs. 

Another important element of relationship building is modeling for students authentic reflection. I do this in a couple of ways. One, I read the surveys they completed and compile lists of their needs/pet peeves. Then I publicly share a bit about how I will leverage my strengths and improve my weaknesses to honor student preferences. I also share survey data from last year’s students to let them know what I do well and what I’ll be working on this year. 

Of course, all of this relationship building takes vulnerability, which leads to my second priority: clarity. 

Before any student ever shares, establish non-negotiable actionables that elicit respectful attention. And then constantly revisit them. This is pivotal not only for a strong community, but also for the risk that rigorous learning will later require. 

I establish other norms through student collaboration as well. A great prompt thread that I often use in circles is: What is your goal for this class this year? In order to reach that goal, what do you need from yourself? From me? From your peers? Without them even knowing it, they are generating classroom dos and don’ts that I can then post to reinforce. 

Day two or three of the first week, I will share the syllabus. Sharing the syllabus after we’ve built some connections demonstrates two important principles: that relationships are most important and second, that clarity matters in this class. Through previewing the syllabus, they are exposed to the regulations required by school, the class’s content and objectives, and an overview of what they can expect from my discipline and pedagogical style.

It may seem odd that there is no direct content instruction the first few days. But ultimately, the more solid of a foundation I can build at the beginning of the year, the more deeper learning with fewer management issues can thrive throughout the year. And that is a trade I am willing to make.

simplicity and significance: a reflection from the AASSA conference

It’s been a good semester of professional learning and reflection.

First, the Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco which I wrote about here. Then the week before last I attended the 2019 AASSA Conference in Santiago, Chile. This year’s theme was all about transforming partnership, but really, the whole thing kinda of blew up what I thought of education and my role in education.

Ya know, no biggie.

I learned lots of stuff about visible thinking and co-teaching and international mindedness and how exciting it is to find a PF Changs and Chilis in a foreign land.

I really learned a lot from Diane Sweeney. She was both a keynote and a workshop leader. Her sessions inspired me to incorporate more choice and DEEP learning in my classrooms. On a philosophic level that I haven’t quite figured out yet, I came away from her session with the deep (and painful) conviction that I overscaffold for my students and rob them of important opportunities to wrestle with the discomfort and messiness of not knowing. She addressed the idea of The Learning Pit…but, ouch, I am so. good. at. building. bridges. over that pit. Still chewing on that…

On a practical level, her sessions also helped to crystallize something I always struggle with… objectives and success criteria in the English classroom. I always feel like reducing the ART of language–which is what I teach, right?–into success criteria is… well…just that: reduction. I mean, come on, that’s easy for math and science, but humanities??? But her session helped me to approach it from a different way: where are concrete gaps my students struggle with, and how can I use those gaps as an entry point into this new approach? One of those gaps I see over and over is vague and generalized “analysis” of the effects of features in text. English teachers knowwwhat-I’mmm-saying: “It gets the reader’s attention..” or “It paints an image in the reader’s mind.” Ugh.

But honestly, my teaching world was rocked with two sessions. I still can’t stop thinking about them.

The first was a preconference I attended with Kevin Bartlett: From Cultures of Compliance to Cultures of Cocreation. I knew I was in the right session when he started with “culture work is identity work” and a deep focus on authenticity and storytelling. If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m all about culture: in my classroom and among adults where I work. It is the. everything.

Two echoes from his session still resonate with me: simplicity and significance. Reduce what we’re doing to focus only on what matters most.

At one point, he asked us in table groups to discuss: “what would you fight to teach?”

Not once did English, or Science, or Math, or History come up.

Instead we talked about wellness, sustainability, communication, patterns.

Yes please. Although, admittedly, this feels much larger than me in terms of systemic application, I can move to concept-based teaching within my class.

This session paired really well with the highlight of the conference for me: Mike Johnston’s sessions about design systems for sustainable education. What’s system thinking? That was my question exactly when walking into the session. It’s all the rage these days, isn’t it? Design thinking. Systems thinking.

But man, I now get it.

And honestly, what made it click for me was this opening question:

What do you want the world to be like in 50 years?

Of course, everyone joked, nervously, by saying: existing. But we also said peaceful, loving, and all those other pipe dream responses. And at once, almost like all of our collective cynicism embodiment spoke, someone commented that we’ve always wanted that, but it’s not happened yet.

His response: we don’t design schools for that.

Mike (Johnston) drop. Ha (insert snort-smirk here).

I’m guilty. When I prepare my lessons, I am mostly thinking about two things: IB and college. And yes, while that is future-thinking, it is so. very. narrow. And ultimately, in 50 years, I don’t care if my students remember what a simile is or if they finished Othello. I care that they know how to manage their time. That they know how to read texts the world as a reflection or criticism of themselves…and respond appropriately. That they see patterns and capitalize on them accordingly. I care that they are good people. That they see beyond themselves to a larger community. That they make a difference in the world. That they love wholly and forgive fiercely and laugh beautifully and breath fully.

I care that they have meaningful strategies to protect their hearts and the hearts of those they love from a sucky world.

How do I teach like that.

Which takes me back to systems thinking. Teaching like that is more than just fixing a problem. First, I have to see the problems fully. I need to examine the causes and effects of the issue with a nature, economic, societal AND well-being lens.

Whoa. That’s a lot.

True statement. But…I am excited at the serendipity in the universe though. Just this week, unrelated to AASSA, the school I serve participated in a Think Tank to reflect on what we’re doing and make changes to do it better. More information is still coming on the results of that, but most participants I’ve talked to have summed it up through these words: time, depth not breadth, people. That sounds like it aligns to my reflection, doesn’t it?

But again, I go back to what’s in my control. My classroom. My instruction. My world of students.

And for them, I’ll fight for simplicity and significance.

I’ll fight for what matters.

*Featured image from http://the-seekers-corner.blogspot.com/2012/01/mirror-of-heart.html

yes, please: my reflection on the learning and the brain conference

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to represent Graded at the Learning and the Brain Conference in San Francisco. The focus this year was on Educating with Empathy. Yes, please.

If one of the goals was to make my brain hurt, it worked. Terms like neurons and amygdala and periaqueductal gray and neuroplasticity and vagus nerve and lizard brain and lions and tigers and bears oh my are just running around my cererbral cortex.

Ouch.

But it was all worth it. Ultimately, I left this conference feeling validated, inspired and concerned.

It’s always a good feeling when you’re listening to the experts telling you what to do and you’re like, “Holllllah! I already do that! And that!” Many times throughout the conference, I felt that way. For example, the bedrock of who I am as a teacher is that students must feel good in my classroom. If they don’t, they won’t learn. I remember reading about this when getting my Masters in language acquisition. But more importantly, I have seen this, day in and day out in my classroom. At this conference, I learned even the brain research supports this idea. If students do not feel comfortable in a classroom, the part of their brain responsible for learning literally shuts. off. (What part of the brain? Yep, good question. That’s in that soupy swirl somewhere in my head, but I’m sure you can Google it.)

Even more validating though is my work with mindfulness in the classroom (See here.) I do it every single day with students to start class. If I don’t immediately begin with it, students are like, “Ms, aren’t we doing a mindful moment?” Sometimes, my students lead it, and that is just breathtakingly beautiful. One of the greatest joys is to see the student survey data: for example, from last year to this year, more students report doing mindfulness on their own outside of the classroom. Ugh one more, yes please!

The brain research is aflame with support of mindfulness practices; mindfulness has been shown to correlate with increases in empathy, health, productivity and memory while decreasing stress. One more time: yes, please! Especially important is the research into metta meditation, or lovingkindness mindfulness, which has been shown to improve the outlook of teenagers toward other humans. All together now, yes please!

But of course, the conference wasn’t only validating, it was also inspiring. I walked out of Douglas Fisher’s session on collaboration with concrete strategies on building effective collaborative models in my classroom. Did you know, his district is one of the few to do well on high-stakes testing (ugh, not everything, but something) even through changing multiple administrations. When thinking about why, he said two things: 1, our kids always know WHY they’re doing what they’re doing and 2, the majority of classroom time is spent on student collaboration.

Here we go again. Yes please.

I also learned some concrete strategies from Jeff Zwiers about how to foster meaningful academic conversation in my classroom. Sometimes in my class, I feel like student conversations are just 52 or so different mic drops, with nobody listening and responding to each other in an authentic way. Zwiers talked about this in terms of building ideas and how you teach students to do that. It was very helpful. I plan on using this with Socratic seminars for sure!

Even with all this validation and inspiration, I cannot stop thinking about the heavy weight of one of the last presentations by Dr. Sara Konrath I attended called “Are Teens and College Students Becoming Less Empathetic?” Wow. Just wow. Without citing a bunch of studies, let me just give the gist of our current teenage situation…

Increasing: narcissism, dismissive attitudes, materialism, volunteering rates (associated with a rise in requirements), mental health problems, GPAs, IQ, ACT scores, self-control (yep, you read that right), ambition (although not attainment), and perfectionism. Aren’t you just exhausted reading that list? I am.

But…wait…here are the declines: security, empathy (both in perspective taking and concern), care for others, the pursuit of meaning in life, socializing with others outside of family, and donations to charities.

These lists are depressing. And I am only reading them.

Can you imagine what it feels like to be a teenager today?

I didn’t leave that session with many answers. Just lots of questions. How can I support such a uniquely pained generation? How can I set them up for success? How can I change the culture so that they change their families so that they change the future?

And it just comes full circle, doesn’t it? Compassion. Mindfulness. Teaching the heart, and not just the mind.

Yes, please.

when the tables are turned: what I learned about my instruction while being a student

This January, we’ve spent three weeks in Rio doing a Portuguese course at a local language school. Now, as I head home to the kiddos that I miss and the job that I love, I cannot help but reflect on what I learned while being an emerging bi(tri)lingual student.

  • The Teacher. When I think back on my educational experience, it is people I remember…not lessons or curriculum. The teacher matters. Humanity matters. The same goes for this experience: I felt much more engaged when I connected with the teacher; I felt much more motivated when I respected the teacher. What created this dynamic? Patient, present, and authentic listening. A remembering of details. Facilitation rather than sage-on-the-stage-look-at-me-showmanship. A sense of humor. Well-timed feedback that corrects but doesn’t interrupt. Intentional lessons that are relevant to my zone of proximal development. Attention to all modes of learning: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. An encouragement of beneficial resources and a caution against resources that in the end undermine learning.
  • The peers. Since learning is never in isolation, peers have a critical influence on achievement as well. As I was learning a second language, I was slow at times to formulate what I wanted to say. Nothing irritated me more than when a peer would jump in to save me, or steal my struggle, or finish my thoughts. I also was highly annoyed by those who dominated air time. Of course, this goes back to the teacher’s role as well. How do I build community? How do I honor struggle? How do I regulate participation? How do I ensure all voices have air time? How do I equally challenge the “know-it-alls” while supporting other levels?
  • The space. It is hard to learn in uncomfortable chairs in a room that doesn’t feel cozy. It is hard to learn when sitting for hours on end. It is hard to learn when I have limited space. Of course, it is not impossible. But as I think about my role as a teacher, I wonder how I can create the space for optimal learning…especially when I don’t have my own classroom.
  • The learner. Ultimately, my experience in Rio learning Portuguese was up to me–the student. I had to practice. I had to do homework. I had to take risks. I had to struggle. I had to make mistakes. I had to ask questions. I had to engage. In my last week when things shifted to a different classroom, a different level, a different teacher, I didn’t engage fully. And though I may criticize the root of this, in the end… it’s on me.

As I begin my second semester teaching abroad, these are the things I’ll keep in mind.

 

 

an open reflection on my practice: semester one of teaching abroad

“As I draw the curtains on the sleepy eyes of 2017, my mind turns to the power of reflection. It is my first semester teaching internationally. How has it gone? What are my strengths? What are my next steps?

At the end of the semester, I presented a survey eliciting student feedback. It is a survey provided by my school leadership that I modified for what matters to me most as a teacher. Here are the results (prompts are at the top). Some thoughts:

  • I need to improve in clarity. 1, “In this class the expectations for assignments, quizzes, tests, homework, summatives are clear.” 2, “In this class I am clear about the goals, standards, objectives.” In both of these categories, I scored an average less than 4. As I have wrestled with before, my current school is adopting Ken O’Conner‘s approach to grades: that is, no grades. Or accurate grades. Or standards-based grading. Or… well, you can see why my students are unsettled with this aspect of my instruction: so am I! As with all initiatives, it is not the theory with which I am at odds, but rather the annoyingly messy implementation. I think this also ties into the below 4 score in “My teacher is fair” category. Here are my plans to address this: 1, more class models and collaborative scoring of work 2, student self-assessment and reflection 3, soliciting continued feedback from students about this aspect of my teaching 4, deliberate introductions and thorough explanation of assessments and 5, being targeted with and explicit about the alignment among homework, formatives and summatives. Those are the easy ones (insert giggling emjoi here). More nuanced but nonetheless necessary: the intentional offering of opportunities for ambiguity (never accidentally). I know that students need to tolerate and negotiate ambiguity to be successful in the real world. But sometimes this is at odds with grading policies, especially in a competitive school like mine. I want to work on transparency regarding this. And yes, well, that is ambiguous. Hopefully, I’ll work through it like my students will!
  • I am proud of the level of rigor I have maintained this semester. 1, “My teacher challenges me to think critically and analyze information.” 2, “In this class I feel challenged.” This has always been the hill I will die on. [bctt tweet=”I will not insult my students by lowering expectations for them. ” username=”eternitymod”] They deserve better. And yes, it is shreddingly painful while I’m establishing that 1, yes they can 2, no I will not back down 3, this comes from a place of love and 4, that’s right, now here we go. One of my greatest points of pride as an educator is the number of alumni who have told me my class prepared them for the intensity of college. I may not be liked, but I make a difference. 

But therein lies the rub: I want to be liked. And this has been the dominant reflection in my mind this break. Today marks two weeks since I have last seen my kiddos; and I won’t see them until January 23rd. I miss them. Do they miss me? Am I a part of their lives more as than just a taskmaster?

To be fair, I don’t think it’s about being liked. That is superficial. But it is about a connection, which is exactly why I asked this question on the survey: “I feel connected to Mrs. Davenport.” This also scored below a 4 average. And out of all the other numbers, I am NOT. okay. with. this. average. And really, connection shouldn’t be about average: it should be percentage. 100% of my students feel connected to me. I am connected to each. and. every. human. in. my. charge. 

And so, more than anything else, this is what I want to work on next semester. And it has a face. This student doesn’t do well. And this student sits in class, quiet, anonymous, hidden. I do not know this student. I am annoyed by parental blame on me rather than student ownership. And I have probably taken it out on this student. And I know this student probably rated me low on so many aspects of the survey.

I have failed this student. I have let it become personal instead of professional. I have neglected our connection. But that was 2017. Look out, this student, I am coming for you.


To all my teacher readers: I’d love to hear your reflections. What went well for you this past semester? What are you working on? What’s your “this student” story? What questions help you reflect meaningfully on your practice? 

 

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