As I sat in my classroom, watching my students participate in the National Academic Challenge. If you haven't heard of this, you can check it out at nachallenge.com This is a really cool opportunity for your students to problem solve in a team and in a competitive nature. I currently have three teams (2 have 5 students and 1 has 3) frantically searching out knowledge while having a great time together. I love the idea that they are learning new things in 11 different topics and building a sense of unity at the same time.
My greatest mentor was my principal, Carolyn Dowler Spain. When you think of a principal, you typically think of a charismatic man who can silence the room with a look, and that the students and staff both love and respect. Carolyn was an anomaly as she was a female high school principal (and in Texas, those jobs are still dominated by the men) who could do all of that and more. Her towering presence, platinum blonde hair, and those spike heels would make anyone stop and listen. She is one of the most student-centered principals I have ever known and she is also one of the smartest.
Carolyn and I frequently discussed what made a good teacher - and also what made a terrible one. We would talk about that one teacher - you know the one that made you feel stupid, or that school wasn't for you. The one that you just knew didn't want to be there and couldn't wait for retirement. You know - the one that never even noticed you were absent. She called those teachers "kid killers" and I couldn't agree more.
As a young campus administrator, I recognized those teachers immediately. They were the ones the kids dreaded going to, or they celebrated when there was a sub. They were the ones with the most office referrals and often the ones with the biggest truancy problems. They remind me of the quote, "Those who can, do - those who can't, teach." I always take offense to that quote because I believe teaching is a calling - a mission. But I see the kid killers and realize where it came from.
Then there are the sneaky ones. They aren't kid killers, but they are limiters. The ones who limit their students achievement by not realizing the untapped potential and the talent beneath the surface. The ones with too many safety nets or that are so afraid of failure they never let kids stretch their wings. And you have to wonder - are the limiters as dangerous or more dangerous than the kid killers?
It is time we take back our profession. It is time for us to say our students deserve better. Will you be the one that the students have in their corner - the one that pushes them to explore new boundaries, cheering them on with their success and helping them pick up the pieces and put a new game plan in place when they fail? Will you be the one that they look back and think you were the significant adult in their life who turned the tide and challenged them? The one that lit the spark? Every day you have the power to make a child's day. You never know at what moment they will look back and say, "that was the day that changed everything." Will you make a difference? I am committed to being that person. That significant adult. I hope you will join me and make a difference every day.
So our faculty is reading the book "Teach like a Pirate". I first read the book a year ago (who doesn't like anything with the word pirate in it?) and I am so glad to be reading it again with my colleagues. I really can't say enough about it.
We are using Schoology (that's a whole different post) to have discussion about what we are reading. Dave Burgess uses the word PIRATE to stand for: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation and Enthusiasm. He shows in the book that by using these strategies you can truly increase student engagement and love your job more. I am a believer.
Passion is easy for me. I am so passionate about teaching, about computer science, and about getting my students to want to be in the STEM fields. I am passionate about extending my students and making them want more for themselves. Many of my students are first generation college students - and some are even first generation high school attendees. I want them to love computer science the way I do - to just be enthralled. I don't understand people in my career who aren't passionate - who don't love the kids and love igniting the fire of learning. I don't understand why they are in it.
Immersion is defined by Burgess as being deeply engaged or involved. He uses an analogy of a swimmer versus a lifeguard. The lifeguard sits on a perch overlooking the pool, monitoring all the swimmers. He is not amongst them. The swimmer on the other hand, is actively in the pool - splashing, interacting, and active. Too many times as teachers we separate ourselves and don't get into the action with the students. I have found my best lessons have me involved with them - not watching from the sidelines. When you are in it with the kids, they sense the excitement, and learning occurs at a fevered pitch. It really is something to behold! I leave those days exhausted - but it is the exhausted that comes not from frustration, but from having lived!
Rapport is another area that comes easily to me. This is building the atmosphere of trust and really knowing who your customer is. Branching from Burgess, I think this is also the time to get to know not only your students, but your parents. I hear the moans now - I have so many kids and there just isn't enough hours in the day. Before you go down the excuse route, you need to know my teaching day. I am responsible for 273 students. I teach 8 classes a semester. I teach dual credit so I have to play by the rules of three institutions that don't necessarily want to conform to one another. Yet I still manage to communicate in some way with my parents once a week (go check out http://www.smore.com for a great way to make visually creative newsletters). I still manage to get my grades entered (what good are assignments if kids don't get feedback?). GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS. I promise it will pay off in dividends later. The first day in class we spend on getting to know each other and making our social contract (Capturing Kids Hearts - Flip Flippen). We decide how we are going to treat each other. The kids always like this step. They love the ownership. I promise to give my kids 100% and they promise to give me 100% (remember, it is important to know that 100% does not always look like 100% each day - we all have off days). We set the expectations and the norms. By taking the time to know my students, they almost feel obligated to do well for me. They don't want to let me down. The few lost days at the beginning are more than made up by Christmas. This is the piece that so many secondary educators miss. By missing this, you really do miss out on some great humans.
Ask and Analyze is difficult for me since I always want to save the students. But if you truly want to extend your students, you need to ask great questions. Questions that challenge the students and extend their learning. Life isn't a multiple choice test and so many times we as teachers try to make it one. We also need to analyze the situation we are in. As a project based learning teacher, I constantly analyze what I have done and what I can do better next time. Ask the students for critical feedback - they are the audience and too many times we leave them out.
Transformation - We need to make our classrooms stand out. I love when Burgess asks - "Is your classroom a brown cow or a purple cow?" I want my room to be a purple cow. One that is different and is a standout. But how do you do it? First, it cannot be sterile. I have been in so many classrooms where the walls are bare and nothing is there to personalize it and make it yours. Why is that? I know I spend a great deal of my time here and so do my students. I don't want them looking at an institutional wall. That's boring! I want to be the flame that attracts the moth to learning. I can't do that in a brown cow classroom!
Finally, the "E" in pirate - my favorite - enthusiasm! Here is a secret - you can't fake enthusiasm with kids. They see through it. Be enthusiastic - for the students, for education and learning, for your content. I promise the enthusiasm will spread! They will love it too! Over the last two years it has been incredible to hear my students say, "I always thought computer science was boring. I met you and now I want to do it. This is a cool field." This makes my heart flutter! I LOVE that they love what I am doing. When you are enthusiastic, students want to learn and they want to be there. This is what gets the students to the lesson.
If you have never read the book, please do. It will reignite your passion and love of what you do. It will inspire you to do more and grow as a teacher. Maybe it will even remind you why you got in this crazy field. Remember that first day when you were going to change the world? Well guess what? You probably did!
For the last twelve years, over the course of my graduate programs (my M.Ed. and now the Ph.D I am pursuing), I have been consumed with the education reform movement. When American schools began in colonial times, education was used as a "socialization" means - schools educated for family, church, community, and apprenticeship. Mathematical and literacy components were first taught at home, but by the mid-nineteenth century, these tasks became a part of the function of schools. In the early 1900's, John Dewey, who led the Progressive movement in education, touted that schools should be a place not only to learn content but also how to learn to live. Dewey noted that, "to prepare him (the student) for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities." (John Dewey, "My Pedagogic Creed"). Dewey met with resistance from bureaucratic administrators who were resistance to change and wanted to maintain the status quo.
It seems that not much has changed in the years that have passed between Dewey's time and present day. The same resistance is present today, even at governmental levels. While there are some concerted efforts at change with high school redesign techniques such as STEM academies with a STEM focus and Early College High Schools, it seems the vast majority of schools still function as they did in industrial times. One has to ask - WHY? Why do we not change? Why do we not see that we need to prepare students for so much more? Why are we content with mediocrity and status
So I tried doing this before, but now that I am truly going to model digital citizenship, I am going to blog on a regular basis. Today we watched the remixed version of Shift Happens. I am always amazed at the look on my students faces when they watch it. They have no idea how fast technology has changed. It really is the best opening to digital citizenship that I know. I invite you to watch the video here: /uploads/2/8/0/5/28053103/did_you_know__shift_happens_2014_remix.mp4
I remember growing up we had one Mac in the classroom and we had to sign up in order to use it. There were no computer labs and there were no computer teachers. And maybe that is why the part of this video that resonates the most with me is that we are training our students for jobs that don't yet exisit. Are we really training them? I prefer to believe that instead of training them we are lighting a fire for knowledge - that we are creating the desire for life long learning. Which leads me to why I have embraced Project Based Learning. Through PBL, we are fostering those 21st century skills for critical thinking and collaboration. We are teaching our students skills to deal with problems we don't know are problems yet. Our role as a teacher can no longer be the sage on the stage but a guide on the journey. This allows for personalized learning that becomes relevant to the student.
With PBL, risks are taken and students learn from failure. If they struggle, they learn skills to overcome the obstacles or to think of new solutions. I am blessed to work in an environment that supports learning in higher ed through calculated risks. And my students constantly teach me new ways to look at problems.
Having seen my students I can confidently say that the future is in good hands. While the video is eye-opening, I can't wait to see the video redone in 20 years. My students are going to leave a mark on this world - and I am so glad I was able to be the tour guide for a small portion of their journey.