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.

Summer Learning

As an educator, I’ve heard people discuss the “summer learning loss” since my first ed methods courses. For that matter, I remember adults talking about it when I was a kid, too. As a kid, I couldn’t figure out what they meant, because I learned all summer long… it just looked different than what it looked like in school.

If we look at learning as facts to be retained indefinitely, then summer learning loss is a concern.

However, if we realize that learning is fluid, that we often temporarily forget concepts, skills, and procedures when we don’t use them regularly, then summer learning loss shouldn’t be a huge concern. When we assume kids should all learn certain concepts by a certain age and then retain them forever, we do a disservice to those children – and it also means we don’t really understand LEARNING.

(How many of you remember every theorem you ever learned AND can use them right this minute with no review? How many of you took a second language and can still speak fluently if you rarely or never used that language again after you graduated?)

I’m worried about some of the articles and posts I’ve read recently about what kids need to be learning over the summer. Many of these posts contain lists that stress more drill including math facts and reading strategies, such as practicing affixes, etc.

“Hey, kids! Let’s have some fun today! We’re going to practice AFFIXES!” [cue kids cheering]

(I wish someone would hurry up and create that sarcasm font we’re all needing.)

Yes, let’s just make summer about killing the joy of learning, just like we have to do during the school year. (I use the word “we” here as a generality. I don’t think all of us have to do that during the school year, and I know for certain that our school, Anastasis Academy, is about bringing back the joy in learning. But that’s not the focus of this post.)

What if, during the summer, kids had the option to learn in a manner that is natural for them?

cc licensed photo by Lotus Carroll

cc licensed photo by Lotus Carroll*

  • running
  • riding bikes
  • swimming
  • playing in the yard or park, running through sprinklers or around the fire hydrant
  • pretending (we spent more time as kids playing Charlie’s Angels than anything else over the summer)
  • neighborhood/street games with no adult intervention

Those 6 things help kids learn a MULTITUDE of important skills, including setting boundaries or rules for games, problem-solving, and being creative just to name a few. The physical activity alone is enough to warrant hours and hours allotted each day for these physical activities. Kids should NOT be sitting around all day, and most especially not during the summer! Sitting has shown to be incredibly harmful to our bodies.

For shorter periods of time during the day, kids should be allowed quiet time to read. The most important part of silent reading time is that the kids have choice to read what they want.

As an adult, when I walk into a bookstore or a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store. That’s because I LOVE TO READ. I love to read, because I had a LOT of choice as a kid. We went to the library often every summer.  My mom didn’t force me to choose books that were at my lexile level, nor did she tell me I shouldn’t choose a book because it was too easy for me. It was always MY choice.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed some of my students love to read fiction. Some love to read non-fiction. Some love to read magazines about animals. Some adore comic books. Some kids will read the boxes of anything in the room, if they’re allowed. (I remember reading every cereal box we had on the table at breakfast!)

If we want kids to read (and write) better, we need them to be reading MORE. Kids will read more when they’re interested in what they’re reading. The more choice we provide, the more likely they will want to read something different AND will eventually trust us when we do recommend something specific. Summer reading should be an extension of just that… allowing kids to choose what they want to read.

As for math facts and problem-solving skills, of course those things are going to fade over the summer. These are conceptual facts, not just something we memorize and ultimately understand. Kids need practice, but they need practice in context. Flash cards might help SOME kids memorize these facts, but why not provide something real for kids to do?

What if, instead of carving out an hour a day for drill practice, we asked kids to build something that required measuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing? What if we baked or cooked together with kids? What if we gave them a box of craft materials or recyclables that are just going to be thrown out and asked them to invent something? What if we asked them to create a work of art, compose a song, or write and perform a play? All of these activities involve math concepts, among many others, even if those are not directly articulated to the kids.

Now stop and think about all the kids who may not have (safe) access to a library, a yard with grass or trees, or other neighborhood areas that are conducive to the type of play I mentioned above. Should they be limited to “drill and kill” activities? The majority of “summer learning loss” articles I’ve read say that children living in poverty need MORE drill and practice in academic-specific skills (usually math and reading/writing) over the summer. I disagree.

“Welcome to summer, James. You are already behind in school due to factors that are beyond your control, so let’s just make your summer seem like you’re in a prison, too. We’ll start by practicing your multiplication tables for the first hour, and then I’m going to ask you to read something you have absolutely no interest in for the next hour. After that, even though you’re probably already feeling like a zombie in the first 2 hours, we’ll continue to have you suffer through more drill and kill activities for the rest of the day. You’ll be SO ready for school in the fall!”

Again, I disagree whole-heartedly and believe that all children need safe and convenient access to play and pretend opportunities, with physical activity options and music and art. How do we ensure this happens for ALL kids?

KIDS NEED TO PLAY.** Period. They need to be silly, laugh, pretend, and they need to MOVE. When we dismiss the benefits of play for children, we do more damage to their eventual “academic” learning than we realize.

Alfie Kohn has already written more about this than I can even begin to attempt, but here’s a great example of his opinion on summer learning loss: Lowering the Temperature on Claims of “Summer Learning Loss.”

As a parent, I understand the worry that your child might be falling behind in school. Since my children have grown into adults, however, I regret that I worried too much about their academic progress when they were younger. I didn’t worry enough about their happiness, their physical activity, and their growth as complete individuals who would become happy and successful adults.

What do you REALLY want for kids?

 

*photo credit: CC licensed photo by Lotus Carroll, “Summer Essentials: Sprinkler Karate

**Articles on benefits of play

No More Rock Stars

My brain is still basking in the afterglow of so many great conversations and connections from ISTE13 in San Antonio. I love that we can continue them via blogs, Twitter, and other social media. The post I’m writing today is one that I’ve tried to finish for more than 6 months.

rockstar

cc photo by Rev Stan

When I first started meeting face-to-face those people that I had admired, respected, and learned from in virtual spaces, I will admit that I was a little in awe.  After meeting more and more really incredible educators, I realized that I was putting them up on pedestals… but they had never asked me to do that. It was awkward for them. I may have called some of them “rocks stars” at some point even.

That term has been bandied about quite often in our education circles lately – in blogs and comments, as well as on Twitter. Do we really want to identify some people as “edu-rock-stars?” I’m not certain I want to associate with anyone who considers him/herself as a rock star.

If you think about the term “rock star,” these are things that come to mind (or through a quick search):

  • untouchable/unattainable to the common everyday person
  • elitist/exclusive mindset
  • traveling with an entourage, including bodyguards
  • riders on their contracts for performance venues – think “insisting no one make eye contact with you, everything in the dressing room must be white, Cristal on ice at all times, drinking water at exactly 65 degrees F,” etc. (ever read the Smoking Gun Backstage page? You can’t make this stuff up!)
  • VIP treatment – immediate seating in restaurants, special perks or rewards wherever they stay, closed boutiques for private shopping, private dining away from the little people, etc.
  • bad boy/girl behavior- trashing hotels, punching the paparazzi, etc.
  • arriving obscenely late, regardless of what time you’re expected to perform/appear

 

I know those are extreme examples, but do we really want any of those types of behaviors, even in the smallest degree, from people who are supposed to have the best interests of children in mind?

Here’s the thing: great people share their stories and learn WITH others who are also sharing their stories. They do not expect adoration, special treatment, or even celebrity status. That’s why they’re great educators… what they do comes from their hearts, not their egos.

So please pardon me when I take offense to hearing someone referring to a person in their educational network as a rock star. I know it’s meant as a compliment, but is it really?

Here’s how it has played out, most recently at ISTE13. These are statements that I overheard more than once throughout the conference:

  • “I almost didn’t introduce myself to you. You’re such a rock star, and I was nervous to say hello.”
  • “Oh, So And So is such a rock star. He couldn’t possibly learn anything from me. I’m just an unknown teacher.”

I know it’s human nature to want to rank and sort ourselves… sadly. I think, however, that most people are uncomfortable being given rock star status. Why can’t we walk up to a person and tell her that she is someone we admire, or that we really enjoyed his session or blog post?  That starts a conversation. Learning from each other should be about the conversations we can have, not about stroking egos.

On the other hand, if someone you interact with actually welcomes rock star status, he/she probably isn’t worth your time. Learning isn’t going to be a two-way street with rock stars.

Just something to think about. It’s not about how many followers you have on Twitter, how many people know your name, or how many people want to meet you.

  • Are you sharing what you do?
  • Are you including your stories?
  • Are you lifting up and sharing the successes of the people around you?
  • Are you reflecting on what you have learned?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, then you are worth someone’s time. I want to meet YOU, not a rock star.

 

My ISTE Wish

I’m sitting in San Antonio, Texas right now ready to attend ISTE 2013. This is my 7th year to attend this conference, and I have to credit ISTE with providing opportunities to learn and think differently about myself as an educator.

This is the place where I meet (quite literally) hundreds of new people. Considering ISTE brings in tens of thousands of attendees, that’s still a mind-boggling concept for me. Some of these people I meet will become part of my learning network. Some of them will become (and have been, as time has proven) some of my closest and dearest friends. I’ll admit… I geek out a little and may even scare a few poor souls when it comes to my excitement for learning from someone new. Where else can an educator go and have this type of environment to meet and learn with 15,000 or more of your “closest”  friends?

Someone once said, and I wish I remembered who, that the ISTE conference has become the premier education conference (not just ed tech) in the world. I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but it did get me thinking. When I first started attending ISTE/NECC, the focus was most definitely on integrating technology into classrooms, helping educators learn best practices in using technology, and creating some technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators. At the time, that was definitely needed, and kudos to ISTE for leading that charge.

I wonder now, though… no, I don’t wonder. I fully believe that the conversations and the focus need to evolve. I don’t think there are too many educators, parents, or communities who would argue against the need for technology to be included in education. It’s simply a part of our world… and yes… I know there are still those holdouts that cling tightly to their pride in being blissfully anti-tech.

So where does that leave ISTE?

My ISTE wish is that the organization and, subsequently, its conference, would move forward into a heavier emphasis on educational progress with the technology and the tools taking a supporting role. As a former coordinator of technology professional development, our first step was to help our educators begin using the tools. After a short time, I understood the need for a significant change. The tools were taking a starring role – we used technology simply for the sake of using technology. We needed to help educators focus on the learning. The tools were simply that… tools.

If you look at the ISTE program this year, you’ll see a very common theme. Session descriptions include names of specific tools, products, or technology emphasis. I get it. The “T” in ISTE is “technology.” Even in my own group’s presentation/workshop, we’re sharing some web tools that can be used in the classroom. The focus is still on the tools, and that’s not how I operate. I would much rather be sharing with interested educators how inquiry can help lead students to deeper learning, and “Oh, by the way… here are some tools that can help you do x, y, or z.” In my own classroom, I rarely ask the kids to use ONE specific tool. They have options and choice to use the tool that best works for them to demonstrate their learning.

Ten years ago, I attended the now defunct Midwest Internet Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, and David Warlick was the keynote speaker. He shared a lesson idea with us about how technology could transform a traditional lesson from a textbook. Mashups were still fairly new at the time, and definitely new to me. David shared a map and then created an overlay with video (I don’t remember all the specifics), but we were somewhat in awe of what we had just seen. The key point I remember from that day was that David didn’t have us gushing over the technology. It was the way he talked about what KIDS could do to learn differently – gain a deeper understanding, share their ideas differently, etc.  – that made the biggest impact on me. I jokingly call David Warlick my “Educational Philosophy Godfather,” because it was that day when I started to realize that education had to change. My philosophy about teaching and learning shifted, and that impacts me greatly yet today. As my Anastasis students always say, “That’s an epiphany moment, Mrs. B!”

This is what I want to see at ISTE. I know that the vendors are great supporters of ISTE and a necessary piece of the puzzle, but I think they drive what happens at the conference with too great an influence. I’m not a fan of financial supporters who say, “Sure, I’ll give you a lot of money, but I want to direct some /all of what you do.” Let’s be done with that. (I know, I know… but let me dream here.)

I want the opportunity for educators who have not had their own education epiphanies to come away from ISTE completely inspired by an educational idea… not how much free stuff and t-shirts they accumulated. Don’t even get me started on the Surface tablet giveaways.

For me, I want the opportunity to have rich conversations with the brilliant people around me- to learn with them and to be able to take back some great new ideas to our school. If tools are mentioned in those conversations, great. I know, however, those tools won’t be the focus. When I think about education, I bring every new idea back to one simple thing: how will this impact a student’s learning? Plain and simple.

If you’re here in San Antonio, I hope you have a fantastic conference. If you feel like sharing something you learned this week in the comments, I would be most grateful.

 

Educational Leaders

When someone asks you to recommend a great educational leader, whose names come to your mind?

[CC image credit: Leo Reynolds]

 

Next question… how many of them are currently in the classroom?

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a post* that is about bashing administrators, educational consultants, or others whose names often come up in leadership conversations. Some of the people I respect the most and who are my very good friends are people with these titles.

I’m concerned, though, that the lack of respect for classroom teachers isn’t just a problem among non-educators. I think WE are all guilty of it, too.

Oh sure… there are the times when a classroom teacher wins an award with a lot of publicity. You’ll hear that teacher’s name often. He/she might be asked to special events, meet with dignitaries, etc. After a year (or maybe less), nada.

It’s ironic when those of us in education discuss educational reform and blame our society’s lack of respect for the teaching profession… yet, is it all that different in our own ranks? Seriously. When was the last time you had a keynote speaker that was someone in the classroom RIGHT NOW?

Don’t even get me started on the percentage of women or minorities invited to share their expertise. Yes, you could name some right now in the comments section, and they would probably be the same people I would list. Compare that number, however, against the norm.

Is it because we, as classroom teachers, are not great at self-marketing by nature? Is that what it takes? Personally, I get tired of people marketing themselves all over Twitter and blogs. Maybe that’s just me.

Or, and this is my sincere question to you, is it because we really don’t respect the people in the classroom as much as we think we do? 

I welcome your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

 

*Please know that I am more than aware of how important administrators are in a school. They can make such a huge difference in empowering their teachers and children to move forward, take risks, and create an incredible learning environment. I’ve also known, however, many teachers doing amazing things IN SPITE of lousy administrators. This is NOT an anti-admin post. 🙂

 

When Competition Fails Us

trophyThere are many discussions amongst world leaders, economists, business leaders, and educators about the pros and cons of competition. Some of the most spirited debates in which I’ve participated have centered around competition and students. Arguments usually include the following:

[cc licensed photo by mtsofan]

  • Students will face competition at every level of their lives. They need to learn to compete early and often.
  • K-12 students will graduate and compete for a prime spot in a college or university.
  • University students will graduate and compete globally for their own spots in a global economy.
  • We have to prepare them to compete. Period.

I’ve taught in both the secondary and elementary levels in public K-12 education. I’ve witnessed kids competing for spots on athletic teams, music performing groups, art awards, National Honor Society and other honoraries… for grades, for representing the class as valedictorian, for speaker at graduation… to be first in line for lunch, first in line for recess, for the fastest time at Field Day, for a solo at the 4th grade program…

… for the biggest helping of lunch (because it’s probably the only meal of the day)… for that coat in the lost and found (because there isn’t enough money at home to buy one)… for the attention of the teacher (because attention from an adult is rare and precious outside of school)…

It seems to me that kids live and breathe competition every day of their lives.

When do they learn to work toward the good of all?

Maybe I’m just getting old and sentimental, but watching the news out of Japan after the horror they’ve experienced in the last month has me really thinking… if we spend so much time on competition and racing to be the best, that leaves a LOT of people in our dust. What if people need our help? What about those people left behind? Should we sit and smugly congratulate ourselves on being the best and beating everyone else? How does that help us as a society in the long-term?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not advocating that we give out “participation” trophies or ribbons for just showing up and not putting forth any effort. It just feels like we’ve cultivated a culture of competition at any cost, and that’s where I see so many problems.

In my music classroom, my students and I often discuss that our goals are very different than they are in other classrooms. No matter what we’re doing, whether it’s preparing for a concert/performance, or simply learning a song for the sake of the music, we’re learning together. “In math class, it’s all about YOU. In music class, it’s all about US.” They probably tire of hearing me say that, but it sticks with them. I heard one of my students explaining the concept to a new student one day.

When we learn something new- a new recorder song, for example- there are going to be some kids who learn more quickly than others. In our environment, those “advanced” kids now have a special responsibility: help those students who haven’t yet learned the song. We do a lot of peer group work, and I am either walking around as a guide or am working with those who need the most help. With shared responsibility in the class, we see improvement in all. More importantly, I see my students building skills in patience, empathy, and caring, as well as their own musical skills.

Now for a little disclosure: I’m a highly competitive person; but I think as I’ve grown up, it’s become more about competing with myself and less about competing with others.

At what point does competition, whether it’s in the market place or in the classroom, do more harm than good? When corporations throw ethics under the bus to eke out higher profits, everyone suffers except for the people at the top. When we push kids to compete against each other in everything they do, they learn that the SELF is more important than the collective GROUP.

And in the end, nobody wins… especially not kids.

I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me on this subject, so let’s have it. Debate me in the comments, please.

Define Success

successIn many school district mission statements I read, the words “success” and/or “successful” often appear.  Preparing children to be successful after a PK-12 experience… what exactly does that mean?

Will their education provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their world? Is that how one becomes successful? Is it about attending a post-secondary institution?  Is it about a paycheck? Is it about contributing and giving back to society?

[cc licensed photo by RambergMediaImages]

The other day, I had a conversation with some friends about the push to send more kids to college. I brought up the fact that, perhaps, not everyone needs or should go to college. There was a hushed silence right after I finished my sentence… imagine a teacher saying that maybe college isn’t for everyone?!?!

I quickly followed up with an explanation- my point isn’t that some kids aren’t worthy of a college degree. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. For some kids, college isn’t worthy of them. Not everyone needs to spend exorbitant tuition fees (and dormitory costs, and textbooks, and…) to find their niche in life.

There’s a young man I know, about 22 years old, who attended a trade school and learned about auto mechanics. He LOVES cars. He can tell you nearly anything you want to know about an engine. He can fix nearly any vehicle. At this time, he is employed by a very large company in our city, and he makes a very nice living. More importantly, he’s very happy doing what he does. A typical four-year institution was not in his master plan.

I told his story, and instantly, a friend replied, “Oh, and he will probably make more money than most of us will in our lifetime and not have the same amount of debt from all those college loans!”  A few others replied with more statements about how much money this kid would go on to make.  As I asked them a few questions, it became very evident to me that their measure of success was the amount of money he would make.

Is that what we’re supposed to be preparing kids to do after they leave school? Make a lot of money? Is that the measure of “success?”

Silly me, but I thought it was something as simple as this:

  • find your strengths
  • find your passion
  • find a way to make the world around you a little better than how you found it

That’s MY definition of being successful. What’s yours?

What I Want for Reform

reformAs I sit and ponder what to write about education reform for National Blogging for Real Education Reform, I think back to the numerous posts I’ve written the last few years… and I don’t want to rehash the same things over and over again.  Here’s what I do want:

  • I want parents, children, and actual educators to have voices in Washington that are heard, appreciated, and heeded. If the politicians were really listening to us, we wouldn’t need this concerted effort to blog for “real” reform.
  • I want schools where children can be free to learn, explore, discover, and be happy and safe.
  • I want adults to understand that children have the ability to make choices about their education, and that they don’t require adults to make ALL the decisions ALL the time.
  • I want children to be allowed to develop their strengths and interests beyond reading and writing. Science, Math, Social Studies, Music, Art, Physical Education, Family and Consumer Sciences, Civic Studies… these are all essential for children.
  • I want people to know that, even though I have over 430 students, I can tell you at any given moment who is meeting objectives in my classroom, who is excelling in my classroom, and who is struggling. I can also tell you how much each child has progressed in the last two years, which is how long I’ve been in this particular school. And guess what? They’ve never taken one standardized test in my classroom. They show me what they know and are able to do by DOING.
  • I want adults who make policies and laws to remember that every child is different. If my job is to ensure that they learn through those differences, perhaps the measures by which we ‘assess’ should also be different.
  • I want to be trusted as a professional to do my best every day. The amount of money you pay me will make no difference in how diligently I work. Please do not insult me or my colleagues by assuming that I will work harder for more pay. The kids deserve better than that, and so do educators.

Want to know more about how I feel about education? I’ve written a lot. Start with these:

A Lesson On Accountability – Part I

A Lesson On Accountability- Part II

I Am A Teacher

This is a LEARNING Class

The Art of the Opus

It’s My Pleasure

[Hit the archives links in the sidebar for more.]

There you have it… my wishes for education. I’m passionate about working with children, and I’m passionate about a free public education. Without it, there is no real chance at a democratic society. But without leaders who listen, there is no democratic society at all.

Ed Leaders: Do the right thing. Open your eyes, your ears, your minds, and your hearts. Find compassion. Somewhere, in the middle of all that, the answers are staring right at you.

The Curiosity of Children

curiosity

cc licensed photo by docmoreau

I love the natural curiosity of children.

Today, my nephew (who is 5 and in kindergarten) looked at his dad (my little brother), and asked him about a song they had heard this morning in church. He said, “Daddy… will you teach it to me?” He knew the words already, but he wanted to learn how to play the song on the piano.

Because this child has grown up in a very  musical family, he has been exposed to all types of music and instruments.  My brother sat at the piano, played the song for him and sang it with him, and then started to teach him the chords. His little hands are barely big enough to play the triads, but he did it. He played an e minor triad and an a minor triad in a little less than a few minutes.

The point of this blog post is not how brilliant my nephew is.  As I sat and listened to the two of them learning at the piano, his question resounded with me, and I knew I had to write about this.  “Daddy, will you teach it to me?”

How many times as teachers and/or parents  have we heard a child ask us to help him/her learn something?

  • Will you show me?
  • Will you read this with me?
  • Will you help me?

How many times have we been too busy to do just that? How many times have we said, “Not now. I’m busy,” or “We’re not on that part of the book yet. Please sit down and wait.”

I think about some of the things that happen in my music classroom, and I wonder… if I had pacing guides or rigid curriculum scripts,  would I have the freedom to stop what we’re doing and encourage that child’s natural curiosity?

Another interesting thought… if you answered “yes” to hearing children ask you those questions, my guess is that you are either a parent/relative of young children or a teacher of young children. I have a feeling that a lot of our older children have lost a sense of curiosity or have been discouraged from asking those types of questions.

Am I way off the mark here? If so, I apologize. But if I’m not… what can WE do as parents and educators to ensure that the natural curiosity of children of all ages is encouraged and cultivated?

A World of Thanks to Teachers

Today is World Teachers Day. Have you thanked your favorite teacher today?

In my last post, I asked for names of teachers who make a difference. In this post I’m going to list them– as well as many of my own teachers– to celebrate their hard work and dedication to help kids learn.

I would like to thank the following people, some of whom are no longer with us, for what they taught me about life and learning:

Ward Carhart– my 6th grade classroom teacher. He was the tough teacher that everyone hoped they wouldn’t get. There was another teacher on his team who was seen as the fun guy. Not Mr. Carhart. He was gruff and he expected a lot out of his students. When the phone call came about a week before school started, I was a little sad that Mr. Carhart was on the other line. I wanted the more popular teacher… but during that school year, I knew that I was actually one of the lucky kids. We were challenged by Mr. Carhart. He expected us to do our best. A compliment from him really meant something. By the end of that school year, I was proud to tell everyone who my 6th grade teacher had been!

Barb Wagner – Barb was my AP American History teacher my junior year of high school and also my Civics teacher my senior year. She was the first teacher to ever give me a progress slip because I was NOT doing well in her class. In fact, everyone in our AP American History class received one. We were honor students. Every single one of us on National Honor Society. None of us had ever received a progress slip because of poor performance! Talk about total devastation! But… she made us realize that we were not giving our best. We were doing mediocre work. We were writing essays that were poor quality on our exams. She asked us to provide answers that made us analyze and critique, rather than to simply recall or apply. She wanted well-formed arguments that defended the points we should be making. No teacher had ever done this before. When I look back at my own teaching career, I have always tried to remember Ms. Wagner’s challenge to have high expectations for ourselves and our students.

Mike Janis, Dwayne Price, Ruth Stephenson, William A. Wyman– each of these teachers taught me that music is an essential part of life, that I have an obligation to share the talents I was given with others, and that only my best is good enough for my students and audiences. They also had high expectations and modeled how to learn about life through music. I learned more life lessons from these four individuals than I could possibly recount in a blog post.

While putting my list together… I was more concerned about the people I would leave out. I’ve had some amazing teachers! I’m luckier than most, because I am able to see some of these people quite regularly and tell them how grateful I am for them!

A few people left comments on my last post and specifically named teachers that they feel are amazing! Here’s that list:

Jen Wagner said:

A teacher that needs to be noticed is Brent Coleyhttp://mrcoley.com/
He is encouraging his students to think daily and is showcasing their work for others to see.
He is encouraging his students to succeed by creating studycasts for their review before tests.
He is encouraging his students to share what they have learned by creating coleycasts which then can be used by other classrooms around the world.
He is encouraging his parents/fellowteachers/peers to keep in touch with him by providing a variety of ways to contact him.
He is encouraging other teachers by sharing what is is doing and how to do it. Plus, shares his resources freely.
His #1 goal is the success of each and every one of his students……individually and as a class.
He is a teacher to be watched. He is a teacher to be emulated. He is a teacher we should clone.

Kelly Tenkely said:

So here are just a few of the amazing teachers I have had the pleasure of working with:
Kerry– currently battling breast cancer (again) after being cancer free for 21 years. She takes the time to know each of her students personally. When she talks to her students she immediately drops to their level. She celebrates everyone of their successes and cheers them on when they are stumbling. Everything she does with the students is a learning adventure. She doesn’t settle for status quo.
Matthew– constantly challenges his students thinking. He doesn’t let them get away with the easy one word answer. He makes them question their beliefs and think critically. He helps them break free of the robot mentality and causes them to be real thinkers.
Susan– A P.E. teacher who believes that every student can shine and should try their best regardless of their athletic ability. She helps those kids who aren’t athletic feel valuable and encourages them to try everything. She celebrates them right where they are.
Karen– a librarian with a real passion for helping students discover that they love reading. She spends hours with them to discover their passions and interests so she can recommend a book they will love.
Christa– an art teacher that helps every student see the world through the eyes of an artist. She breaks down art into manageable pieces so that every single student feels success.

Mary Anne said:

I am drawn immediately to Heather Foster…a 3rd grade teacher here in town…she is able to encourage, challenge and nurture students at all levels in her room. Students who have had her previous years will say, yeah, I am in the Foster Family, and that is how they feel. They are free to experiment, reach, think and learn in her room. Mistakes are avenues to continue the learning and are celebrated. Each student is really motivated to do his/her best…
As a parent, I want her cloned…I want each child to have a chance to have a teacher who loves her job and loves them. The investment in each child is obvious to everyone around.

Lissa Metzler said:

My first year teaching I was fortunate enough to work with Gwen Baccus who with over 30 years of experience could work wonders with first graders. She had them writing amazing sentences, learning fractions, and one student who entered and won a speech competition. I learned a lot from her and her students were better people for having her.


Thanks to all the great teachers out there! You ARE appreciated more than you know!