We Don’t Need Badges for Reading

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(c) 2016 Michelle K. Baldwin (all rights reserved)

My students love to read… and I don’t exaggerate when I say “love.” They adore books of all kinds, and they are excited for any time of the day that includes a book. This love for reading has come from a very carefully cultivated classroom environment where they have access and abundant choice in reading. (I can’t take all the credit, though. For many of them, that love of books is also nurtured greatly at home. My goal as their teacher is to help that love continue to grow.)

When I want them to do some research about the topics that interest them, I pull as many books as I can from our own little library and spread them across the tables in our classroom. We read picture books together. We read books with accompanying CDs and songs. There’s a great mix of non-fiction and fiction available to them. Reading is not a chore in this classroom – it’s a right that feels like a gift.

My emergent readers have access to the same books that my developing and fluent readers have. Sometimes they choose books that they cannot yet read (emphasis on “yet”), and sometimes they choose books that might be considered too easy. What I see is a continued love for books and continued progress in where they started when they first came to this classroom in the fall.

Earlier in the year, we were very excited to get an app on our iPads that brought us access to even more books. The kids could search for a keyword, and many titles showed up in the results. When we needed to do some investigating in our inquiry block and didn’t have enough books on each topic for individual research, this app helped fill a void. I was very pleased and often tweeted about how happy I was with this app*.

Then something changed. All of a sudden, my kids wanted to read on this app all the time. They were quietly chattering amongst themselves about how many books they had been reading, how much they read over the weekend… but something seemed “off” to me.

This past Monday, one of my little girls was in tears. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until she was finally able to tell me that she didn’t get the Mother’s Day badge. I asked her what she was talking about, and the other kids showed me their badges page in the app. Sometimes, you get a badge just for reading on a special day. I explained to her that it was ok that she didn’t get a badge for reading on that day… and that the badges don’t matter at all to me. She told me that she had spent the day with her family and not on her iPad… and I explained to her that it was a better thing to be doing than reading for the purpose of getting a special badge.

On top of that exchange, I heard my students’ conversations change. Instead of being excited about what they had learned from reading, as had been the case before, now they were all talking about which badges they received.

I brought them all to the center of the room and asked them what was going on. I questioned, “Why are we reading books?” Some of them answered, “because we like reading and because we learn a lot.” But then the responses changed, too. They started to talk all about the badges- how they liked getting more badges and how important that is. One of them even mentioned how you can page through all of the books in the app to trick the app into thinking you’ve read the book… and then you get MORE BADGES.

They could tell from the look on my face how disappointed I was. There was a bit of silence for a while, and then one of the 7 year olds started to say, “Guys, I think we forgot about why we read. Badges aren’t important.” Not everyone agreed with him. My solution was to tell them that we will continue to use the app for research, but that’s it. If we’re reading just to get a badge, then we’re reading for all the wrong reasons. If the badge mania continues, we’re going to delete the app. 

Just like that… my students’ motivation to read – because they love reading and want to learn more – flipped like a switch. This is what happens every single time we apply extrinsic motivation to something we want to encourage. EVERY. TIME. I’ve taught long enough to see cycles of rewards for reading… or learning to play the recorder… or learning multiplication tables… whatever you want to add to the list. You might help a kid memorize something or change a behavior, but extrinsic rewards always fail on a long-term basis.

I’m not the only person to write about this…

Pernille Ripp has written extensively on reading motivation here, here, and here – These posts are very specific to reading logs, but make a similar point. (If you’re not reading her blog, please do. The posts on reading instruction alone will be well worth your time.)

Alfie Kohn wrote a great post (amongst many) about The Risk of Rewards… but most directly about this topic in A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs.

As I spoke with Kelly Tenkely this morning about this blog post I needed to write about reading incentives, she recommended a book called Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. I haven’t yet read this book, but I can guarantee that badges (or pizza coupons) are not going to be the solution to what’s happening in reading instruction and motivating kids to read.

Larry Ferlazzo has an entire curated list dedicated to posts he and others have written about the failure of extrinsic rewards in education. Take the time to read these!

Honestly, I could have just posted links to the above posts and the book recommendation and not even written THIS post… however, there’s a story here. I saw firsthand what happened to my littles when they were incentivized with something other than reading itself. They already loved reading… but then their focus changed for the worse. I have some “badge damage” to undo with a few of my kids.

*I’m not blaming the makers of this particular app, and I’m not using this blog post to call them out publicly. They are providing what scores of other teachers (unfortunately) want.

Here’s what I want:

  1. Get rid of the badges. ENTIRELY.
  2. Create a graphic of a bookshelf within your app to show kids which books they’ve already read (I know there’s a scrollable section where they can see what they’ve read, but the virtual bookshelf would make it easier to see the sum total.)
  3. DO NOT CREATE POINTS OR BADGES FOR THE NUMBER OF BOOKS ON THE VIRTUAL BOOKSHELF.
  4. Continue to provide great choices for the kids to read… because ultimately, that’s what will keep us reading.

If none of my suggestions are possible, then consider giving teachers the option to turn off the badges. We don’t need them, and I’m not putting my students in a situation where badges are an option anymore.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you made it all the way to the end, you can give yourself 10,000 make-believe points as a reward. *wink*

Standing Desks Are Not Innovative

Standing desks in a classroom– whether they’re for students, teachers, or both — are NOT innovative. It is not changing how kids learn, no matter what some advertisement is trying to sell you.

Standing desks are not going to change the classroom environment for the better, especially if the “tasks” the students are doing don’t change.

If you don’t feel you have the power to change the “tasks” the kids are all doing in the classroom (you do, but we’ll debate that another time), let’s first discuss the the problems with promoting this type of  “innovation” (that is not really an innovation):

  1. If you remove all the traditional sitting desks in a classroom and replace them with standing desks, you still have a problem: All the kids are still physically doing exactly the same thing, and you’re making the assumption (consciously or not) that all kids need the same thing.
  2. Kids need to MOVE. The research is still unclear about whether sitting all day or standing all day is worse for you. Research about movement for all ages, on the other hand, is VERY clear. Kids of all ages need to move. (I only added one article on movement here. There are MANY. Search for “why kids need to move.”)
  3. Multiple options in a classroom will always be better than one option. Why not have some places where kids can stand, some places where kids can sit, some places where kids can be together… I think you get the picture. I have different options in my classroom, and the kids choose sometimes to simply sit on the floor with no furniture. When I taught high school students, it wasn’t any different. Kids need choices of where to be, and those choices should be determined by the kids… not by the adults assuming they know what the kids need. Multiple options are especially helpful in cramped-for-space classrooms.
  4. It’s really difficult to collaborate with other students when they’re all standing at individual desks. Humans are social learners, and they should have options to group up and discuss.
  5. Could we also talk about how “ableist” this “standing desk” assumption is? Not everyone can stand. Not everyone can stand for an entire school day… and that goes for adults as well as kids. I’m not going to use this space to rehash my own health issues, but I would be an absolute wreck if I had no place to sit during the day. I don’t sit there all day– I teach 5-7 year old kids. That would be impossible. BUT… my body tells me when I need to sit down. I need options, and so do my kids.

So instead of advocating the “latest, greatest” fad in standing classroom desks — or pedal desks (seriously?), why don’t we stop and think about advocating BETTER options altogether?

Provide spaces where kids can be comfortable.

Provide options for many different types of spaces in the classroom.

Provide for more movement throughout the day (sorry, Florida. BIG FAIL on the recess issue. Kids need to be moving outside every single day!). Hands tied on giving the kids more recess? Then do something, ANYTHING to help those kids move around in their space. There are yoga videos on YouTube. You can have a dance party. Just help them to move in whatever way they can.

Your best bet? Ask the students what THEY want and empower them to help make that classroom design happen. Flexible spaces can be significantly less expensive than one desk for every student. Get creative. When you involve students, you may have to help them through the creative process more than once. Make sure they “shoot for the moon” in the design process, because they might stick with the only thing they’ve ever known.

Then… make it happen. I know this is possible, because I’ve been in places where it’s changed, even this late in the school year. A teacher from Texas came to our 5Sigma Educonference (at Anastasis) in February. When she returned to her school, she shared with me,

“I came home from Denver and completely gutted my room. All desks gone including mine. Changed the mojo completely! We got tables. We are also starting our mornings with a group activity rather than desk work. So far we are loving it.”

Don’t let advertisers tell you what is best for your students. Ask the kids. Read the research… and then make it happen.

Thanks for reading.

The Lie of Busyness

Over the weekend, our school hosted our 2nd annual 5Sigma Educonference (a reflection post to come later). Because we roll over learning excursions for the conference into Sunday, Kelly schedules a “no school” day on the Monday after the conference for a much-needed day off.

I do not do “days off” well. One of two things generally happens when i don’t have a work day: 1) I schedule it chock full of appointments and errand running, or 2) I’m so exhausted, I sleep through the entire day and practice my bump on a log impressions. If the latter occurs, I spend the rest of the week feeling so guilty about wasting a precious day, and any restful benefits from doing nothing wear off immediately.

cc licensed photo by Jeffrey Putnam

cc licensed photo by Jeffrey Putnam https://flic.kr/p/e9pSi4

What is about American culture that makes us feel guilty about doing nothing? (I’m sure it’s not entirely exclusive to Americans, but…) We’re constantly describing people as productive or as lazy. The cultural disapproval of one who is seen as lazy or unproductive is everywhere. We even do it to kids as young as five. If they’re not “on task” or taking their academic progress seriously, we start looking at disorders and how we can FIX them*. The message we send children, by example and by directive, is that we must always be ON and working.

What we have created is a culture of highly anxious, stressed out, and wellness-deprived people.

For some, being “busy” all of the time is worn like a badge of honor. My friend, Dean Shareski, wrote about that in “Let’s Stamp Out ‘Busyness.’” Dean also talks in this post about how being busy is used to feel superior to “less busy” people. I witnessed examples of this on a trip to Maui once. Maui Time is a thing. If a business says it opens at 9am, don’t expect anyone to be there at 9am. They’ll get there when they roll in. I knew this before I arrived, but it was interesting to hear the tourists complain… lots of people talking about laziness: “how can they possibly be expected to make a profit if they’re so unproductive,” and “I do not have time to wait around for someone who doesn’t care about my business,” etc. What I noticed was happy owners and employees who didn’t really care what anyone else thought.

On the day-after our educonference, I scheduled a few hours at a local spa. My class and their families had graciously given me a gift card for Christmas and my birthday, and that paid for my entire time at the spa. As I sat and relaxed, it got me thinking about how needed this day was due to the road runner-like pace of the last few months. (I’d started noticing that my heart rate was elevated, even when I sat down. My anxiety about checking off things on my to-do list and planning the minutiae of each day was causing my heart a little stress, too.)

While I was on my way to the relaxation room, I was tempted to bring my phone with me, but decided against it. My husband knew where I would be and knew how to reach me in an emergency. There was nothing else that needed my attention on that phone.

Instead, I brought my journal and a book. I started with a short meditation, and then began reading Paulo Coelho’s Like The Flowing River. In this book, Coelho shares thoughts and reflections in his usual style. This man can craft a metaphor and such incredible imagery… it often leaves me breathless as I read his writing. In one of the first sections, he talks about seasons of our lives and how they mimic seasons of our planet. Even Nature knows when to go dormant and rejuvenate.

While I was reading, I was reminded of a time when I heard a very insightful, yet simple comment. Dr. Martha Bruckner, currently superintendent of Council Bluffs Community Schools in Iowa,  said something once that has since stuck with me (and I’ll paraphrase here):

Sometimes, you just need to go sit under a tree.

cc licensed photo by Laura Gilchrist https://flic.kr/p/cayGbQ

cc licensed photo by Laura Gilchrist https://flic.kr/p/cayGbQ

Schools (and school districts) can often operate like speeding trains… go, go, go. Move, move, move. Don’t sit still; we don’t have time to be unproductive. We must remain busy, busy, busy.

What I’ve found is that you miss so much of the scenery every day when you’re on that train. The speed of the train blurs out really important things… things that matter. Often, we’re on that train for so long, we’ve forgotten everything else around us.

Busyness does that to a person. It lies about how important it is… and even how important we are. It lies to us about the people who do know how important it is to just be still.

Sometimes, sitting under a tree is exactly what we need. A person can see so much from that perspective and view, and it’s not at all blurry. Everything seems to be light and clear.

Our bodies, minds, and souls need rest. They need days when we do nothing. They need days when we just take the time to recuperate.

As always, I think about the lessons I’m learning, and how I can do better for the children I serve. My little students love learning, and we’re always excited to do more! But then I remember that they also need rest. They need time to play and just be little kids. They need time to sit under actual trees. I know I’m responsible for these children for many hours a day… and while their learning is a part of that responsibility, so is their wellness as human beings.

Tomorrow, the weather forecast is sunny and 52º F. We’re going to make time to just go sit under a tree.

 

 

 

Note; As I edit my writing in this post, I acknowledge the HUGE amount of privilege I have in occasionally seeing a day off and being able to make time to rest and relax.  There are many who do not share in such a luxury. I want to help make that a possibility for all of us, not just a few. If you have ideas about this, leave suggestions in the comments section. 

 

*We’ve started getting phone calls at Anastasis from parents who are interested in our school because family physicians recommend our school in place of anxiety medications. This says a LOT about the culture of busyness in most schools… and what it says truly breaks my heart. We have to do so much better for kids.

He Had A Name

As I read about the death of my friend, Deven Black, something stuck with me… and I couldn’t let go of it.

The headline read, “Homeless man dies…”

Not “Former teacher.” Not “Friend of many.” Not any other label that would have said more about the man who lived on this planet for 62 years.  Not “Deven Black.” There it was in stark contrast to the human being behind it. “Homeless man.” *

I wanted to scream, “HE HAD A NAME!”

I’m not just writing about this, because Deven was my friend. I’m writing this, because this is how people are labeled… as if there is nothing more descriptive about them when it comes to news. This is how we describe human beings.

I’m not going into detail about what happened to Deven in the last few years. That’s not my story to share. What I will say is that I know Deven had a mental illness. That some of the things that happened – or things that he did – were not characteristic of the Deven I knew. Mental illness does that. It takes away the person – the husband, the father, the friend, the professional – and turns him into someone else. Sometimes, that person is barely recognizable to those who knew him best.

As I’m writing this, so many other people… people with names… come to mind. I doubt there’s a single person reading this who hasn’t had some experience with mental illness in their circle of friends, family, or acquaintances. Maybe you, dear reader, have fought your own battle with those demons. I don’t know.

What I do know is that our nation treats people with mental illnesses abominably… like it’s their fault. As if they could just will themselves to be better. “If you try hard enough, you can NOT be mentally ill.” No one would say that to someone going through another type of illness, most especially a terminal illness. And mental illness can be just that – a terminal illness – if it’s not treated properly.

Mental health care is expensive. If you don’t have the money, your mental illness does not get treated. We have basically doomed a very large percentage of our country who cannot afford the proper mental health care. Those people – people with names –  many of whom are living in poverty, have little to no chance of living with a mental illness.

In Deven’s case, someone else’s mental illness was the cause of Deven’s death. I don’t want to go into that right now. I can’t go into that right now. The system failed that young man, too.

What I do want to think about is why Deven was in a homeless shelter in the first place. How someone who fell through the cracks in the system had no other options but to be in a homeless shelter… that’s what I can’t let go of. I can’t let go of the fact that so many people who are living on our streets in this country are not there by choice. And that many of us look the other way and “comfort” ourselves by thinking that their “bad choices are what caused them to be there, so really… what can I do? If they would just try harder and make better choices, they wouldn’t be in that situation.”

It’s really easy to look the other way when you assign blame to someone else… then you don’t have to do anything.

Deven isn’t the only person who becomes a statistic. There are others who suffer every day. People with names. This is someone’s child. And now… that person is another nameless statistic. These statistics are staggering… and if you’re living in poverty and a person of color, the statistics are worse. 

The “solution” for many who are homeless is prison. I’ve heard politicians say, “Well, at least they’re getting the health care they need now.” Really? That’s the best we can do??

We have to speak up. We have to tell our government leaders that we can do better… that we must do better. How many others like Deven have simply disappeared? People who have so much to give to the world around them. If we raise our collective voices, we can’t be ignored. When a significant percentage of our population is affected, we can’t turn around and ignore them. Use your voice. Tell your representatives that this is unacceptable. Those of us who are able must speak up for those who are not.

It’s ironic that Deven died on the day Canadians were tweeting with #belltalks – Mental Health issues were being discussed all across their nation. Their national and local leaders were involved. That’s a start for people who are often ignored and forgotten.

Speak up. Be loud. We can’t afford to forget those who are ignored. We can’t afford to forget their names.

His name was Deven, and he was my friend. I’m not going to forget him.

 

*A couple of articles later updated their headlines to say, “Homeless ex-teacher.” I’m not sure it’s any better, and I’m not linking to them.

5Sigma Educon – Pay-It-Forward 2016

Last year, Anastasis Academy held its first annual 5Sigma Educonference. We were incredibly happy to share what our students do, meet new friends, and learn along with our keynote speakers and many wonderful session facilitators. If you were in attendance, we thank you for joining us!

Something we established last year to help educators attend 5Sigma was the #payitforward 5Sigma Newbie. Some history:

A few years ago, our friend Beth Still wanted to demonstrate the power of social networks and PLNs while also assisting a “newbie” in attending ISTE. The ISTE Newbie Project was born! Beth asked people in her network to consider contributing a small amount of money ($10, $25) to help pay for the travel, registration, and hotel costs for someone to attend the international conference for the first time. Each year, over $2000 was raised to cover the costs for that year’s newbie. The beauty of this project, however, was that many people contributed relatively small amounts. Because our networks are growing, it was easy for an individual to only donate $10 or so, yet the project could be fully funded. This was that power of networking that Beth wanted to illustrate!

For 5Sigma, we thought it would be great to continue the idea of helping to crowdfund travel expenses for someone to attend our conference. Last year (February 2015), Eric Johnson (@yourkidsteacher) was the first 5Sigma Newbie.  Eric wrote this post about his experience: EduConferences, Woodstock, & Physicists.

We are thrilled to announce that our 5Sigma “Newbie” and Pay-It-Forward recipient for 2016 is Inge Wassmann from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove, Florida!

IngeProfileBioPic

Inge’s bio:

After teaching PreK, JK, Kindergarten, Grades 2 and 4 for 12 years, it is Inge’s forward thinking in learning that led her to the Tech Team at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove, Florida. Inge works relentlessly with faculty and students to innovate learning at all levels; from integrating technology, implementing student-driven curriculum, fulfilling character education both in school and online, to creating digital portfolios to show reflective learning.

Inge is a 2014 NAIS Teacher of the Future and received the Joanna Naclerio Educational Excellence Award in 2006. She presents at several conferences and provides training for faculty at different schools.

If you want to find out more about Inge:

inge.wassmann.me

@ingewassmann

A note about Inge from Felix Jacomino, Directory of Technology at St. Stephens Episcopal Day School:

Inge Wassmann is a natural innovator. She is also inspirational to those around her. Those qualities make Inge the kind of teacher students want to learn with and along-side. Her students understand she will give them choice and allow them to be the masters of their education. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School is extremely fortunate to have her on the faculty, where her colleagues also look forward to collaboration and sharing of ideas with the Wonderful Mrs. Wassmann!

We’re hoping to crowdfund Inge’s travel expenses and hotel accommodations. Last year we were able to raise $500 to meet our Pay-It-Forward goal. Please help us match that total this year for Inge Wassmann!

If you would like to donate, please visit the cross-post at http://www.5sigmaeducon.com/#!pay-it-forward/c34c .

Star Wars, The Cool Kids, & Ridicule

I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, and I’m proud of that. I think I was in 2nd grade when A New Hope was released, and it absolutely captivated me. I have so much nostalgia for those movies, and I don’t care if other people think I’m weird for liking them so much. Yes, I have an R2-D2 USB charger in my car, and I nearly lost my mind the other day when my Waze navigation app asked if I would like to have C3PO’s voice deliver my driving instruction. Umm… YES!

Of course I have friends who don’t “get” my love of all things Star Wars. Most of them chuckle at my excitement… some of them politely rib me about it… some come right out and say, “I don’t understand how you can get so into these sci fi/fantasy movies.”

And that’s okay. I’m almost 47 years old, and I’m at that wonderful place in my life where I don’t always care so much about what other people think of me. It’s taken a long time to get to that place, even though I still struggle in some areas.

I started thinking this morning about how people sometimes make fun of others simply for the things they LIKE… or are really passionate about. A friend and I were chatting yesterday about how mainstream Comic Con has become. Conventions like that used to be fodder for a lot of jokes. People dressing up like the characters in comics, science fiction, or fantasy? What nerds, right? Now we know that cosplaying is an art form, and I’m increasingly in awe of the incredible attention to detail in so many of those costumes!

A couple weeks ago, a “news” channel, which shall remain unnamed (and not linked, because I don’t think they deserve more attention or traffic to their website), spent time making fun of people who like Star Wars. One of the commentators went on and on about how ridiculous these people are, and that she is too cool and “attractive” (yes, she actually used that term) to be into Star Wars. She presented herself as one of the Cool Kids, and liking something she thinks is stupid is unthinkable.

So, ridicule is important enough to air these days? (Again, I consider the source, but still…)

As always, my teacher hat pops on, and I think about the students in my classroom, in our school… and kids all around us. What does it say to THEM when they hear someone ridicule another person or group of people simply for what they LIKE?

When I was a shy, little girl, I was VERY aware of what the people around me thought. In 5th grade, I was really excited to wear my brand new Peanuts socks to school. Every character was on those socks, and I thought they were really cute. I wore a dress that day, and proudly pulled up those socks to my knees, so that you couldn’t miss seeing Charlie Brown and company.

When I got to school, some of my friends looked at my socks and then walked away. Later, I overheard them whispering to each other, “Can you believe she likes Peanuts?” “That’s so stupid.” “I hate Charlie Brown and Snoopy.”

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CC licensed photo by Matt Grimm

I was crushed. I kept trying to hide my legs under the table so no one would see them. I thought about taking them off and putting them in my backpack, but I lived in Omaha, Nebraska… and it was a chilly day. I excused myself to the restroom and tried turning them inside out, but you could still see exactly what they were. I stayed in the restroom and cried for a while, because I didn’t know what to do.

[Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/66Aaq4 by Matt Grimm]

That was one example… but I know most of us have have multiple examples of situations like that. As I got older, I started hiding the things I REALLY liked from my friends. I was a closet nerd. Most of the kids in my class loved Star Wars, so I didn’t have to hide that. Luckily, it was cool to like Star Wars in the late 70s and early 80s. But my tastes in music, certain books, TV shows, toys I played with… much of that was hidden from the kids at school. I stopped sharing the things I was really passionate about and pretended to like the things that the other kids liked. Sad, but pretty typical, right?

When I became a music teacher, I often invited the kids to bring in music they wanted to share with their class. I didn’t realize that asking 7-12 grade kids to do this could open up a lot of pain for some kids. As they brought in their cassette tapes and CDs, I asked them to play a song for the class and then explain what they liked about the music, lyrics, etc. We had to go beyond just saying, “It’s cool,” to discussing the music a little more deeply. I asked the rest of the class to also ask questions or provide comments about the music…  Which instruments do you hear?What do you hear in the bass line? How does any of this make the song unique? etc.

A lot of the kids brought in heavy metal (to this day, I think I know all the lyrics to “Enter Sandman by heart.), rap, and a lot of country. Often, I would hear comments about how stupid someone was for liking a particular song… and that took me right back to the days of being ridiculed for liking something that others did not. I couldn’t let it go.

I asked the kids, “Do we all have to like the same things? Is one type of music better or cooler than another type? Or is it just different?” We started discussions that, at first, weren’t very productive. But as we started to analyze the music more deeply, the kids started to notice some common elements, patterns, and other factors that helped them move forward in their thinking. I kept reminding them how boring it would be if we all liked exactly the same things. Some of the kids started listening to music they would never have dreamed they’d like. For those kids whose tastes were completely different than their peers, I started to see some relief, and eventually, more confidence about those tastes.

Inevitably, the kids started asking me about my tastes in music… and other things as well. I shared the things I liked. When they laughed at some of the songs, movies, TV shows, and books I brought up, I stopped and just looked at them. And waited. And waited… until one of the students stood up for me. That was HUGE! By modeling for them that it was okay to like different things, and that it was actually cool to be an outlier with your tastes, some of them were able to step up and advocate for me, and eventually their peers. When kids begin to act as leaders in your school and start to show acceptance of diverse tastes, the rest of the kids take notice.

Fast-forward to the present in my teaching with 5, 6, and 7 year olds, I’m seeing the same things. They all tend to want conformity, and they’re sometimes afraid to share the things they really love that are different. We spend a LOT of time really working out those issues and sharing that we SHOULD all like different things. We are better together, because we have diverse tastes.

Now… back to the recent Star Wars ridicule. Or whatever it is that someone is really passionate about. If you’re an educator (or parent, or someone who has influence with children), how are you modeling acceptance? How are you showing children that we should celebrate our differences? That it’s okay to like something that isn’t mainstream or popular?

It’s difficult enough for kids, especially when peer pressure is so great an influence in their lives… if the adults are acting like Regina George from Mean Girls and dictating our tastes and opinions, how are the kids supposed to deal with that on their level?

One of the parents from my school told me earlier this year that she could hear “my voice” in her son’s conversations at home. At first, I was flattered… and then I started thinking even more about how great my influence is on these children… and what a heavy responsibility that is. If I were to make fun of a movie I didn’t like, for example, what would that do to a child in my class who liked that movie? What impression does that leave with that child?

I can’t just leave that in the classroom. I see it among the adults in my network, on Facebook (which is its own evil monster sometimes), and in conversations with acquaintances. Yes, snark is often funny, but I wonder how we could learn to appreciate our different tastes more… or maybe just let it go. If you don’t “get” why everyone is losing their minds over Star Wars right now (or whatever the new thing will be after the Star Wars mania dies down), that’s okay. Maybe just keep that to yourself. We won’t tell the other Cool Kids.

You don’t make your flame any greater by extinguishing that of another.

Trust, Compassion, and Love

Think about this:

Why do we cheer on Katniss Everdeen and company in the Hunger Games? Katniss sees a wrong and wants to fix it. The authority (the Capitol) abuses its power. When a person in one of the districts breaks the rules or speaks out against the Capitol, they’re physically and publicly punished. Katniss doesn’t trust the Capitol, and she leads a revolution… and we cheer.

When our STUDENTS communicate to us something they see as a wrong, do we applaud them for speaking up? Or do we try to shut them down and force compliance? When they break our rules, do we sit down and talk with them? Or do we punish? How often is that punishment public and/or physical?

 

What if…

  • we showed kids that we trust them?
  • we stopped requiring absolute compliance with no questioning? (because we wouldn’t want that requested of us, right?)
  • we looked at their acts of defiance as courage to stand up and advocate for themselves?
  • we taught them how to respect others by showing them respect first?
  • we looked at “discipline problem children” as who they really are? Human beings who need our care, trust, compassion, love… and no labels. They are children. Period.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the video* I watched where a young girl was thrown around her classroom while still in her chair… because she didn’t put her phone away. People commented that it wouldn’t have happened if she would have just done what she was told. Comply with my rules, or we will physically cause you harm? In my eyes, the ONLY justification in putting hands on a child is if he (or she) is endangering himself or others… and then only to restrain.

Reading more about her story is heartbreaking. What if an adult in that school had taken the time to simply stop and TALK with her? I’m betting we wouldn’t have seen a video of her being thrown around the room.

It’s extremely obvious that we do not trust kids… and that the depth of our fear OF those children (yes, children) goes so far that we allow them to be hurt by us. We allow them to be treated as LESS than. Less than human. And when you account for the suspension/expulsion rates broken down by race, you see an even more sinister story. We don’t trust kids, especially children of color.

I say “WE,” because each of us is complicit in allowing to this happen over and over again when we don’t stand up to make it end NOW.

I’ve come a long way from my first few years of teaching. Those years when I required absolute compliance. Those years when I didn’t listen to a “sob story,” because I didn’t trust the kids to do what they were “supposed” to do. Those years when a lot of my students hated me and didn’t trust me at all. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t respect them. As their teacher, I was supposed to anticipate that these students would try to get the better of me… would try to be lazy… would try to do anything but what they were supposed to be doing… if I didn’t have the upper hand.

Now, I look back on some of those kids I had… the really defiant ones… and I know they were hurting. I know they needed me to teach them that life was more than what we learning in the classroom… that someone could care about why they were upset. That sometimes an adult who will just LISTEN is more important than following the rules every step of the way. And I wasn’t that teacher.

I’ve read and heard a lot of comments about how “kids are so disrespectful nowadays,” and how they need to be taught respect properly. (Read here: we need to teach them to fear us). Any time I’ve ever heard someone use the phrase, “they need to be taught to respect me,” it always comes across as derisive. Full of contempt. As a child, why would I ever want to respect someone who wants me to fear them?

How can we teach kids to respect us if we don’t respect them?

How can we teach kids to trust us if we don’t trust them?

I am the adult in the classroom. THE ADULT. I need to ensure the safety of my students… yes. But they are in my care, and I take that very seriously. My second priority as a teacher is to help these children love to learn. My first priority is to make sure they know they are cared for. They are trusted. And yes, they are loved. When they make mistakes… and they WILL… I need to be the adult who can think past the mistake. I need to be the adult who sees the child in front of me. The child waiting to see how I will react.

I didn’t do that when I first became a teacher, and that still haunts me. I will not make that same mistake again.

 

 

 

*I didn’t link to the video. There are too many of these types of videos. This is a crisis, and we have to step up. Do better.

Start With The Kids

School started for us at Anastasis Academy last Wednesday. We’ve had three days with our classes so far, and I’m so excited about all the possibilities in store for our students.

My students on the playground (c) Michelle K. Baldwin 2015

My students on the playground
(c) Michelle K. Baldwin 2015

I have nine kids in my class this year, four of whom were with me last year, too. They range in age from 5 to 7, and watching every little aspect of the school day through their eyes is an incredible experience already.

I should back up a bit and explain that we have meetings with each child individually before the first day of school. We call these meetings “Learning Profiles.” We ask the kids about themselves, their favorite movies, what they like most about school, their best vacation ever, etc.

One of the questions we ask is, “If you could change anything about yourself, what would you change?” Every single one of my littles replied with either “Nothing!” or “I don’t know… probably nothing.” (Wouldn’t it be awesome to go back in time to that place when we really liked exactly who we were?)

I always enjoy these learning profiles so very much. The kids make me smile, laugh, and sometimes even cry. Most importantly, I get to know quite a bit about these little friends before they join the rest of their classmates for their first day.

Before school even starts, we spend time getting to know each child… even those we’ve had in class before. We start with the kids.

Not the curriculum. (We don’t have boxed curriculum at Anastasis, but even the thoughts about what we want to do with our students come later… after we actually know something about the kids in our care.)

Not the rules.

Not the routine of each day.

Not which gimmick or trendy education panacea will be best for our students and help raise their test scores.

We start by having conversations with every single kid and really listening to them. And these kids have a lot to tell us about what they want to learn about, how they like to learn (spoiler alert: none of them likes to sit still all day!), etc.

Our school’s founder, Kelly Tenkely, often talks about how she started our school with specific kids in mind. That these are “kids with names.” That kids are more than test scores. That children are NOT data points.

As a teacher, I think very intentionally about every single child in my classroom… and I start truly considering what each of them needs.

Many of you reading this post know I’m a connected educator. I believe very strongly in connecting my kids with other classrooms, educators, and experts around the world to learn from them and share what we’re learning with them. I love bringing other connected friends into my classroom, either in person or virtually, to expand our learning beyond our classroom walls.

But I don’t start with those connections.

At Anastasis, we like to get our kids out of the classroom to other learning experiences – museums, performances, and service learning opportunities –  just to name a few.

But we don’t start there.

We start with the kids. If any one of us thinks we know what’s best for these children BEFORE we get to know them, we are doing a huge disservice to those in our care.

My advice to you as you continue with your newly started school year or before those kids walk into your classroom for the first time in 2015-16:

  • Forget the gimmicks. These are not the things that are going to help your students learn.
  • Forget the outside connections for a while.
  • Take the time to get to know your students. (I know that many of you are in situations where you have two or three times as many kids in your classes as I do. I also know that you’re not able to have Learning Profile meetings before school like we do.But that doesn’t mean you can’t get to know your kids before everything else grabs your focus.)
  • Take the time to ask them about themselves.
  • Give them a reason to open up to you, and then keep that privilege sacred. When a child trusts you enough to share something personal, show her that you value her and what she has shared.
  • Ignore the advice from your undergraduate training that told you to hide your “humanness” and to be the “firm, but fair” teacher. Instead, show the kids you really care about them (not just their learning).

THIS is where you start when you want to improve a child’s education. It always starts with the kids.

 

The Pinterest Mentality

I’m not knocking Pinterest. (Please, no hate mail.) The tool is not really the problem. The mentality of how people thoughtlessly and mechanically use this tool IS the problem.

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[CC licensed photo “3D Broken Copyright” by StockMonkeys.com]

 

Many of us work really diligently to teach our students to be digitally literate: navigate digital environments, think critically, access and analyze digital information, and produce creative and relative digital content.

Part of digital literacy also includes digital citizenship and understanding intellectual and creative property of digital content. You see a photo online? Someone took that photo, and THAT person owns the rights to that photo. You do not have the right to use that digital photo. Same thing with music, art work, writing… we know this. It’s not okay to use someone else’s work without explicit permission. Even WITH permission, there are still  restrictions on how and when you can use that work.

Creative Commons provides licensed work (photos, music, video, etc.)  with options to use freely. **If you don’t already know about Creative Commons – take time to do so.  I license a lot of my photos and even this blog with a Creative Commons license. Feel free to share, but be sure to post proper attribution. (The photo in this post is a Creative Commons photo with attribution specific to how the creator wanted to be credited.)

So, back to Pinterest. Pinterest is that tool that allows you to easily (too easily, in my opinion) curate sites you want to save: recipes, fashion, quotes… you name it. When you save a pin, it scans the website for all photos to use as the “face” of that pin. In the case of a photo, the photo itself is saved as the pin, but the OWNER’s information is not saved with the pin.

And then the photo is repinned. And repinned again. And repinned again. The 500th person to repin that pin may or may not have access to the original site where that photo was posted. There is absolutely NO trace back to the owner.

Two years ago, I found on Pinterest an education poster that I wanted to revise and use in my classroom. I spent DAYS trying to track down the original creator of the poster to no avail. You can read my post about the need for ATTRIBUTION and the rest of that story here.

To this date, I still do not know who created that poster. 

And guess what? My version of that poster- the one that I drew based on that original poster? Now MY POSTER is being shared, reshared, and pinned without attribution. We are two levels deep in sharing without properly crediting the work that was created.

This is the Pinterest Mentality. We don’t even think. We pin. We retweet. We don’t stop to make sure that someone’s intellectual and creative property is respected enough to ask permission to use OR even to include the creator’s name with the work. And I hate to even type this, but educators are some of the worst offenders. Fair Use does not exempt us from all copyright restrictions. “It’s for education” is not an excuse.

Pinterest (and tools like it) makes it really easy to ignore the owner of the “work” being pinned… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If you teach your students not to plagiarize, they should also be learning that they can’t use creative works without permission. The adults need to learn this, too.

Model appropriate use and respect of the work of others. If you want to share something (or repin), be sure to add attribution somewhere in the description of what you’re sharing.

Digitally literate and respectful educators shouldn’t be the exception… we should be the norm.

Dreams Fulfilled

As the school year came to a close for us this past May, I realized that I had just finished my 20th year in education: six years in 7-12 vocal music, eight years as a technology professional development coordinator, two years in elementary general music, and the last four as a teacher at Anastasis Academy.

At each stage in my education career, I have loved working with my students, both children and adults. But somehow, I always felt something was missing. I didn’t always like that students were required to learn a certain way or a pre-defined set of skills and concepts… and that I was required to teach in a certain way. It didn’t seem like real learning to me.

A good friend of mine, Sharon Comisar-Langdon (who just retired after 34 years!) visited Colorado a while back. It was great to catch up with Sharon and her husband, Randy. I found myself going on and on and on about how much I loved Anastasis and the incredible opportunities we have for our students. At one point, Sharon remarked, “Michelle, what you’re doing at this school is what we ALL went into education to do.”

That statement has stuck with me since that time, and she was right. I have never been happier as a teacher than I am now – watching our students at Anastasis grow in their confidence, ask amazingly deep questions, and become excited about learning! This is a place where students LOVE school. This is a place where teachers love school!

I watched a lot of my teacher friends post countdowns to summer break on Facebook and other social media sites a few months back, and I realized at the time, I had no idea how many days we had left. As much as I enjoy sleeping in occasionally during the summer, I’m not excited for summer break anymore. I miss my students! I miss the joy of learning I am so privileged to witness in those children every single day.

I didn’t mean this to sound like a commercial for our school, but more a testament to what happens when you stick your neck out and do something DIFFERENT. Anastasis is different.

To Kelly Tenkely (who is actually celebrating a birthday today), I express my profound gratitude. Thank you for thinking, “why not me? Why shouldn’t I just start my own school?” Thanks for writing a blog post that started Anastasis. Thank you for making a place where people WANT to be – what I have always loved about teaching and learning happens because of your dreams and drive to make them happen.

This also makes me wonder… why don’t more of us do this? Why don’t we stand up to the lawmakers, those who make and enforce policy, and demand what’s best for kids? Why do we insist on “fixing a broken system” with more of the same things that make kids unhappy? Learning should be an experience that is enjoyable, challenging, and based on the needs of each child. I don’t see that happening in most places.

My friend, George Couros, often asks, “Would you want to be a kid in your classroom?” I can truly answer an enthusiastic YES to that question now… and I wish my own children could have experienced learning in this school as well.

As a child, I knew that I wanted to become a teacher, because I love learning… and I wanted to share that love and joy with others. As much as I enjoyed my previous experiences, there was always something missing. Teaching at Anastasis is not just a job. Now I am able to share my passion about learning with our students. As Sharon noted, I get to do what I always dreamed about doing. The smiles on their faces, the realization you see in their eyes when they learn something on their own terms, the pride they feel when they see their progress, and the joy they experience because they know they’re in a place that honors them as unique individuals – THAT is what I wanted to be able to experience when I dreamt about going into teaching. Dreams fulfilled.