Saturday, October 27, 2018

Self-Care for Teachers: Telling Our Happy Stories

Tired? Worn out? No worries: That’s teacher par-for-the-course in October. The honeymoon is over, and the holidays aren’t here yet. 

Quick: Tell me 5 good stories that happened to you in or related to your classroom this week. 

In a minute, I’ll tell you 5 good stories that happened to me this week. But before I do, just take a moment to remember that an important part of persevering as a teacher is self care, and an important part of self care is hanging out with positive people and remembering the positive stories. Apparently I do this in this blog every October (see also here) and spring (see here and here).

So, at the end of the first quarter and the ominous month of October, here are 5 of my good stories from the week: 

Monday: I remembered the morning of the 10th grade class on which my lesson plan prompted me to introduce the presentation, that I’d responded to some summer reading by committing to use some TED talks as models. I quickly opened the document I’d started with TED resources and cued the one resource copied in there (Amy Cuddy’s "Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are") for class. I showed the first 5 minutes, pointing out content and modeling students could use. The students were engaged, and we had a good mini-lesson. Friday, the day of the 1-2 minute presentations, after one student's amazing presentation, using all the patterns from the TED introduction and more, the rest of the students concurred: “That was just like TED!”

Tuesday: My dear juniors are a very introverted class. Last year, every quarter, they chose overwhelmingly to share their independent reading by writing a review on Goodreads—only 1 or 2 choosing to talk in front of their classmates. This year a majority chose to share in class. I’m happy that class feels safe, that they’re getting more comfortable sharing verbally, and that the variety, shared both in class and online, was eclectic: from nonfiction like Being Mortal, Half the Sky, A Higher Loyalty,  The Girl with the White Flag, and The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers, to fiction like When We Were Orphans and For the Time Being. 

Wednesday: When I arrived in my classroom in the morning, I looked at the corner of my desk I’d designated a “parking lot” for sticky notes with questions I’d promised students to find out about. (I’d just established this the day before when I checked the implementation plan I’d made for my book discussion group on Marzano’s The New Art and Science of Teaching.) I saw a Post-It note with my classic green-ink scrawl, “Foreign language citation.” I promised a student I’d have that information before the next class—that’s first period! Momentary panic, followed by focused perusal and sticky-noting of my MLA style manual. After the mini-lesson, when I asked if there was anyone else who needed information about citing foreign language sources, one other student joined us at the empty pod of desks in the back. I assured them, “Don’t stress out about doing this perfectly and then decide going forward to avoid using your first language sources: The ability to find information and perspectives in more than one language is a great gift. Use it! Let’s just use today as a jumping-off point to begin to explore how to do it with expert ethos.” 
Thursday: Before our end-of-quarter class share of an independent reading book read this quarter, I caught the 2 sophomores pictured above actually referring to the bulletin board listing books students were reading first quarter, talking about what they wanted to read next quarter!

Friday: A student asked me, "Out of the books you recommended, these 3 look interesting. Which should I take?" She fans out copies of Evicted, Killers of the Flower Moon, and The Book Thief. Working hard not to scare her off with whoops or fist-pumps, I calmly reply, "Why don’t you take all of them, read the first chapter, and decide which one you want to read first?" "Really? Wow!"

Reflection, gratitude, and self-care: Three words you’ll hear frequently in education these days. I find them so crucial--hanging out with positive people and telling positive stories. Here are mine. What are yours?

Friday, October 19, 2018

What Does Learning Feel Like?

When was the last time you learned something new? Not a fact (Did you know that according to a new study, “teens who leave school before graduating, but have access to books, end up with skills equivalent to those of non-reading university graduates”?), but a skill (like changing your oil), or an understanding that made you reconfigure what you thought you knew (you mean everybody isn't as happy and successful as their Instagram account portrays?), or a project of a type or scale you’ve never tackled before (like running a fundraising campaign). 

We’ve got a lot of things to teach our students, and we know from all the recent buzz about growth mindset, that if students have one, they’ll be much more successful in learning all those things—both now and on into adult life. There are many ways we can help students with this essential mindset underpinning all their learning, and here’s a blog that lists 6

One additional way to foster a growth mindset is telling stories about times we learned something. Not in 4th grade. Maybe not even back in college. But in real life—maybe last week. Because learning is scary and uncomfortable at first. Sometimes I want to be angry, or defensive, or quit. Sometimes I get anxious. I have to take risks. I may fail. It can be embarrassing, or worse (especially if it's a physical skill at high speed, like downhill skiing). But eventually, I begin to get better. There’s the thrill of a new competence, of experiencing success. And it gives me a little more confidence the next time I start out on a new thing. Which is good, because learning doesn't end when you graduate.

I felt that discomfort 3 years ago when I moved into my new position as curriculum coordinator. Every time I had a professional development meeting to lead, I’d think, “I’m taking 1 hour of 25 people’s time. Is what I have to offer worth 25 man-hours of school time?” I’d nearly hyperventilate thinking about it. But last week I was positively looking forward to leading a meeting--it's as energizing to see adults engaged and learning as it is to see kids! (See photo below.)

I’ve felt that discomfort about doing writing conferences with students. Over the last 5 years I’ve read Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and other writing workshop leaders, and I’ve become convinced it’s an important activity. And I’ve practiced it in starts and stops. (See part of my journey in this blog.) But this week, I was actually looking forward to the writing periods I would get to confer with students. I never found myself with nothing constructive to say. They never looked at me like, “Why don’t you go away and let me write?” but always had some elaboration to their “Okay” answer about how the writing is going. (See photo above.)

And when I sat down to write this blog, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. But since I've been blogging for a while, I was more comfortable with the discomfort, and had a bag of strategies for dealing with it. I started writing about conferring with students, and after a paragraph, I realized that I had actually had the bigger conversation—about what learning feels like, and how sharing our experiences with our students in order to model growth mindset is important—a couple of times this week with other teachers. 

And next week, I’ll have it with my students. 

Who can you encourage with a story about the last time you learned something new?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cultivating a Culture of Reading: Encouraging Reading

As we work to cultivate a culture of reading, sometimes it's not enough to just model reading and share your reading...sometimes students need a little more active encouragement to read. A little extra nudge, or a little straight up teaching on why reading is important. Maybe we assume too much--they've always had books held in front of them, but not been told in so many words what, exactly, all the benefits of reading are, or helped to experience those benefits.
My school is encouraging reading in middle and high school by designating 35 minutes every Thursday afternoon as “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) time in homerooms. But few values are deeply embedded by proclamation, so in my role as curriculum coordinator, I have become chief modeler, sharer, and encourager. I've provided every 6th-12th grade English teacher, as well as anyone else who wants it, a poster of the excellent infographic “Why Read: 10 Reasons” from Gallagher’s web site. Once a month in staff meetings I am letting teachers experience a reading activity or mini-lesson. It helps us realize the joys of reading, share them as a professional community, and offers homeroom teachers ideas to implement in DEAR if they want. In August, we did our own book pass or “book speed dating” activity. Several teachers walked out with books to read, and several used the activity in DEAR time. 

In September, we talked about first lines. I modified one of Kelly Gallagher’s mini-lessons on the first reason, “reading is rewarding,” from his book Reading Reasons. I modeled a couple of my favorite first sentences from—one from a classic novel and one from a contemporary. Then I gave every teacher a book with a relatively interesting first sentence, and we conducted an “amazing first line” tournament bracket—pairs facing off to determine which of their books had the more interesting first line, then pairs of pairs, etc., until we had 3 winners. 

I loved circulating among the discussions and hearing things like “This one is more poetic, but this one makes me want to keep reading more,” because the point was less to choose the best lines than to think about what makes a good first line. I made a Google Doc of the 2 I shared and the 3 the group ended up with, and shared it with the group, inviting people to add their own favorites if they wanted. It was, indeed, rewarding to see how many people had first lines of their own they were invested enough to contribute. Here’s the list we came up with: 
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
  • Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. (Little Bee, Chris Cleave)
  • Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. (Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston)
  • There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis)
  • If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. (The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket)
  • I always get the shakes before a drop. (Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein)
  • The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. (The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G.K. Chesterton) 
  • No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. (A Grief Observed, C.S Lewis)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)
  • I saw Byzantium in a dream, and I knew that I would die there. (Byzantium, Stephen Lawhead)
  • Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams)
  • All beings begin their lives with hopes and aspirations. (Thrawn, Timothy Zhan)
  • Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giving no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed. (Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson)
  • Lizzie Hearts, the Princess of Hearts, daughter of the Queen of Hearts, heir to the throne of Wonderland’s Card Castle, captain of the Ever After High Croquet Team, and hedgehog enthusiast, was holding a knife. (Ever After High: A Wonderlandiful World, Shannon Hale)
  • My mother named me after a cow’s rear end. (Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, Liesl Shurtliff)
  • Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)
  • I know I’m not an ordinary 10-year-old kid. (Wonder, R.J. Palacio)

Do you have a favorite first line? Please share it in the comments below. Whether it’s colleagues contributing to a list of favorite first lines or a grandson beseeching, “Gamma, peez weed,” I’m blessed to be part of many communities that model, share, and encourage reading.

P.S. If you want more information on reasons to read, to help encourage yourself or your community to read, here are some places to start:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Cultivating a Culture of Reading: Sharing Reading

“There was a book you had up on your door last school year that I was interested in reading.” A colleague caught me in the hall at the end of the one day of school we had between this week's bookend set of typhoons. I was excited to be able to locate the book in question on my desk and pass it on. In my previous blog (see link) I posited 3 ways to cultivate a culture of reading for the communities I’m part of, whether at home or in school—modeling reading, sharing reading, and encouraging reading—and I reflected on the first one, because it doesn't often work to cultivate by fiat what I don't do myself. 

Sharing reading with my community starts with making my modeling more public: posting my current reads electronically on Goodreads and Facebook and putting posters of them on my classroom door (see photo above). It also expands into exploring what my community does or may enjoy reading. “Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs” by Sandra Boynton would not be my first choice of reading material, but I will read it ad infinitum to my grandchild, with great and unfeigned joy, pretending to poke my fingers on the “dinosaurs spiny” because he squeals with excitement when I do, and I delight in his delight, and in increasing his delight in general and his delight in books in particular (see photo below). 

On the same principle, though a number of years ago suspense, sci-fi, and YA romance would not have been my first choice of reading material, I read it now, because I love the satisfaction of being able to recommend a book to a teenager that he ends up loving. I’m also addicted to the excitement a student exudes when I come back to talk to her about a book she's recommended to me. (I make it a personal rule to always read a book that a student has cared enough about to recommend to me.) 

If you want to know how to figure out which books your community might like—whether that’s a grandchild, a child, or a student—you can take 2 approaches: (1) ask him or her, or (2) check out a blog like The Nerdy Book Club which issues annual awards in a plethora of categories from picture books to YA lit, in fiction and non-fiction (see this link for the 2017 awards). When a student is looking for a book to read, I use a combined approach: I ask, “What are 2 books you’ve enjoyed?” and then I find 2 or 3 recommendations based on that.

However you do it, keep sharing your reading. While there are few things more fun than animatedly sharing a favorite book with another avid reader, remember 2 things when you're dealing with a child who insists she hates reading: (1) there are no non-readers, only readers who haven't found the right book yet, and (2) it only takes 1 book to transform those children into avid readers. Don't give up.

How do you share your reading with your communities?