Failure & Mistakes

Failure & Mistakes

I have been thinking lately about failure and mistakes. Schools are arenas where we often isolate those who commit them (go to the principal’s office!) or put on probation those who do not perform well (code word: improvement plans). Both contribute to a culture of blame and of shame.  Historically, the punitive route has always been easier. If anything, failures and mistakes can be the great equalizer. They put us on common ground, from janitor to head of school, 3rd grader to valedictorian.  It is the existential tattoo of being human. Yet we live in a culture bound by right answers and wrong ones. Boxes and labels. Dewey spoke eloquently about this kind of two dimensional thinking in “Experience and Education” when he said, ”Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites….In terms of Either –Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities. “

But mistakes, if we allow them, and failure, if acknowledged, can be harbingers of opportunity and self-knowledge.

In organizations that are unforgiving, the default mode is to either cover up or to point fingers. When we assign blame to everyone but ourselves, we vindicate ourselves. On the Richter scale of emotional intelligence it is up there with road rage: instinctual, and unconscious. I have been in both camps, a disciple of blame and avoidance.

Failure, a close relative to mistakes is another cultural taboo (in spite of the sate of articles and books on embracing it). Failure is like a bad odor: You want to avoid it. Flee from it. Or be in total denial. When I was fired from a job in which I held a high position, it was a time of shame and retrenchment. I felt branded with the Scarlett A of unemployed. At the time, I felt lost, wounded, and very angry. Failure never feels good. It’s not something you want to talk about at a dinner party. But it is a part of the University of life. And if we accept responsibility, probe beneath the surface; we apprehend one of life’s great treasures: humility and perspective. Failure is not apocalyptic. It is a rite of passage that sometimes  (if we allow it) can transform us.

There is the proverbial ‘school of life.’ But what about life in school? The knotty, ambivalent, complexities where failure and mistakes happen all the time. Where do they fit into the curriculum? This is where literature, the sciences, the arts, and history can play such a riveting role. The dilemma of Oedipus, the trial of Socrates, the Voyager Space Shuttle, Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the life of Charley Parker. School should be a place where we explore and talk openly of these things, so that our students can learn what it means to live deliberately and mindfully. But this only happens in schools filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, and reflective people who are enfranchised to take responsibility. If school, as we so glibly claim, is a preparation for life, than it is not test scores that kids need readiness for but a seamless environment which takes seriously learning how to lose, how to fail, and what it means to accept responsibility for our actions. Who has not broken a rule, lost an assignment, or unfairly judged a colleague? These are immeasurably important lessons that arise from our frailty and sometimes our carelessness.

So teachers and administrators, make your school (and life) a safe zone for failure and for mistakes. But don’t confuse understanding with permissiveness. Few things establish a greater sense of bonding or commonality. Or the preparedness to live life ethically.

 

First Day of School Jitters

Back to School

The first day of school. Just that phrase alone conjures up reactions spanning the emotional gamut from happiness and excitement, to fear and dread and just about every other emotional state in between.

Until this year, my entire lifetime of first days of school came from the first person perspective. It was my first day of school, my new teacher, my new friends, my new classes, etc. I even remember laying awake in bed the night before fifth grade was about to begin, just as I had done on so many other Back-to-School eves, wondering, Will I like my new teacher? Will I make new friends? And the most important question of all, are my back-to-school clothes cool enough?

Butterflies in Stomach
This year was different. I once again had that familiar feeling of going back to school, but this time I was going back to school not as a student, like every other year, but as a teacher,* which surprisingly, still produced the same sensation of butterflies in my stomach that I remember feeling when I was a kid.

Why the nerves? Because I, just like every student who gets nervous for the first day of school, implicitly understand that a good first start can set the tone and mood for the rest of the year. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure that I could make the day as great as possible for the kindergartners that would be walking through the door on that early August morning. Additionally, I also wanted to make a good first impression with the students, their parents, and my colleagues.

Let the Games Begin!
As the morning bell rang there was no time for anxious worry because bursting through the classroom door was a swarm of five-year olds excited to begin their elementary school career! The children’s uncontainable skipping carried their curious minds to the various learning tools that were placed in every nook and cranny of the classroom. The tables and shelves were stocked with toys, puzzles, games, and books all designed to foster their natural curiosity. Some students gravitated towards the math center, while others stopped at the science exploration center. Then there was the writing center, dramatic play area, blocks corner and reading center where there were books, books and more books! Here was a fully rounded environment designed to facilitate learning through exploration, play and inquiry for all types of learners.

First Things First
While the young students were eager to learn and get started, I too, as a new teacher, was equally eager to start teaching! But I immediately remembered what I learned in orientation the week before. We were told that the first days of school are all about making sure each student feel emotionally connected and secure. More important than jumping into the curriculum, is the need to make real one-on-one connections with each student and to help them form connections and friendships with their fellow classmates.

Breaking the Ice
It was clear that some students were already making friends, as they clutched onto each other’s hands and explored the classroom together, while other students were shy and reluctant to interact with their peers, and instead, seemed more focused on taking in the classroom setting itself. Kindergartners, like adults, need certain “ice-breakers” to help them warm-up and feel comfortable in a group setting. One way to do this is to encourage them to share some personal facts about themselves in a safe and encouraging environment.

Personal Connections
A dialogue is started to spark a naturally curious mind to want to know more about the person sitting opposite him or her in circle time. Questions are asked to promote conversations such as; Does anyone have an older brother? What is your favorite food? Is anyone else’s favorite food sushi? These questions immediately show students that they have something in common with their classmates and help to enhance the newly formed social relationships that are being forged. This in turn enhances student motivation because only when a child feels emotionally secure and happy in the classroom is the soil ready to start planting the seeds of learning.

Aristotle Knew
By the end of the day, even the shy students had already made new friends. It was encouraging to see them pairing-up as they set out to explore the classroom together. Watching them decide amongst themselves who would go first, and what they would do next, was almost as gratifying as seeing the smiles on their little faces. It reminded me that even with all our new research and insight into how children learn that more than two thousand years ago, Aristotle had it right all along when he said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

*Actually I am a teacher in training at an internship program at The International School of Manila.

Speed Transitioning

We’ve just completed our first PD day of the year. As a staff- new and returning- we’ve now been together for 30 days. DAYS.

A good friend of mine in the US has been teaching with the same person- her grade 3 partner- for 12 years.

Reflecting on this, it has occurred to me that there are times when international teaching is very much like speed dating. From the interview process to orientation and the first days of school, we are rapidly getting to know and getting used to each other. The necessity to be able to “know” rather quickly is a skill I believe most of my colleagues have, and need.

From the initial, “I want to work at your school and live in this new country- I’m up for an adventure,” to the reality of living and working in a new place, there is so much transition. Some people, (regular people, my daughter calls them, meaning not superheroes like us) don’t go through a “life transition” such as moving or changing jobs. They stay where they are and do what they do. That consistency roots them to a place and a community. Others only transition when they must. For some of us though, the scenario of new job, new school, new country is a familiar one, occurring every two to six years.

Right now, I’m working with a new admin team. Of the eight of us, six are new to the school and country. In my division, we have 13 new teachers. Unlike a business where we could spend weeks, months even, getting everyone up to speed on the project at hand, we have to be ready to work with kids from day one. That requires people be quick to come together, fast to plan, and most importantly immediately ready to trust.

That is where the speed dating turns into more of a shotgun marriage. The immediacy of the “I dos” (and maybe some I don’ts) are what allow us to get moving, so we can serve our students and families.  We sort out the details as we go.

While I can’t imagine having the luxury of teaching with the same person for 12+ years, I do know there must be a sense of safety with that consistency. However, I also know that for our transitioning population, there are lessons to be learned from teachers and leaders who can quickly get up to speed. It is a life skill. One we can model because we are living it.

Here’s to the unique few who can transition, adapt and thrive. All in record time.

Photo credit: http://spark.utah.edu/images/ideas/581/images/large/timer-icon.png?1349198229

Feedback for Effective Thinking

So I’m currently riding back to Shanghai on a fast train from Nanjing and I’m feeling energized and inspired. I spent the weekend at the Feedback for Effective Thinking conference hosted by Nanjing International School, and I have to say that it was very, very good. There is so much on my mind right now that I don’t quite know where to begin, so I guess I’ll just give a quick synopsis of some of the powerful ideas that were shared by the three headlining presenters. Rest assured that I’ll dig much deeper into these ideas in my upcoming posts but for now I just need to get some of this down to help clarify and unpack some of my own learning. My head is so full of exciting and innovative ideas that it feels like it’s going to pop off of my shoulders….and it’s a great feeling! After listening to these wonderfully inspiring and current educational thinkers over the past two days, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt about the future of education, and where we are headed with our students. Here’s a quick recap of the fantastic weekend that I honestly feel privileged to have been a part of…….

Dylan Wiliam – He talked at length about Feedback as part of a system (a student and teacher loop ALWAYS focused on improvement). Feedback can be too immediate sometimes, as it can take away their chance to think…..teachers need to continually give students a nudge, and scaffold their feedback so that kids have a chance to correct. Teachers need to make sure to actively involve all kids in the feedback loop.  “Smart is not something you are, Smart is something you get!”…..Measure progress, like the PE model where kids are looking to improve upon their personal best. “The good teacher knows their student”…..Know how each kid is going to react to different forms of feedback…..let them know that it’s down to them as learners and that they can do something about it, and that nothing is fixed with regards to mindset! Students often feel like they’re limited by their perceived “potential”. Practice, and practice, and practice…..training for the triple jump is the same as training for math but kids often don’t see it that way. Teachers need to find that match between challenge and capability…..it’s imperative to help students to stay on the growth pathway, and this is the teachers main responsibility…..teachers should work hard to frame their lessons so that they are interesting to kids…..through effective and actionable feedback, tell students what they need to do to get better, and give them opportunities to find small successes along the way.

Judy Willis – She gave wonderful insight into how the brain learns, and discussed the 6 stresses for kids that shut down their brain and prohibit learning…..peer relationships, test taking anxiety or oral presentations, no personal relevance, boredom, frustration with previous failure, and language differences …..these cause kids to zone out, shut down and act out…..stop giving directive lectures! There’s a vicious cycle of students thinking that they won’t do well so they don’t….. “the brain stops expending effort when there is a low expectation of success”…..fixed mindsets are common but changeable! (many kids think that they cannot do it, and that they’re not smart enough)…..brain breaks need to happen every 10-30 minutes so teachers need to pay attention to this……She talked about the importance of mindfulness in schools and classrooms (emotional self awareness with a focus on sensory information), and the research behind the effectiveness of being mindful of yourself, your thinking, and your learning…..She stressed that the video game model works, which is made up of a “buy-in” to a goal, an 80% failure rate, the opportunity to persevere with the challenge, and the use of constant and continuous feedback so you can improve…..students have to get to a place where they WANT to learn what they NEED to learn…….small success releases dopamine in the brain so regularly set those opportunities up for your kids…….engage them with photos of themselves and their classmates, relevant videos, create lessons that have personalization for relevance, and give them interactive opportunities to share information.

Ron Ritchhart – He inspired me with his message about “Cultures of Thinking”…..He says that curriculum isn’t delivered it’s enacted, and we enact it with our students through our school and classroom culture. He spoke about the residuals of education, or the “what’s left after the student has been out of your classroom for a year, or two, or five”? He stressed the importance of not testing too quickly…..teachers must teach with the idea of what would happen if I tested my kids on their learning a year later? Children grow into the intellectual life around them!…..He discussed the notion of work, not learning, in schools (school work, homework, group work) and how this word is so ingrained (give “home-learning” instead of homework). He said that students need “work” that has a clear purpose, and that they have to “work” for a purpose, and it’s in the purpose that you’ll find true learning……a lot of kids think being smart is being fast with the answer and we have to change this misconception. He left us with some great quotes which are still rolling around and marinating in my mind…..

 

  • Learning is a consequence of thinking
  • Learning isn’t a competitive process
  • Learning and thinking are not individual endeavors
  • Learning is provisional and frequently changes with time
  • Listen to a student’s questions because these will reveal where they are with their learning


Finally, he spoke passionately about the 8 cultural forces that impact learning…..

 

  1. Routines and structures
  2. Time- how do we allocate time and what do we value
  3. Opportunities – to think, to wrestle with the ideas, to confront and push back
  4. Modeling – who adults are as thinkers and learners
  5. Interactions and relationships
  6. Physical environment – peek into classrooms to get a sense of the leaning environment
  7. Language – we, us, and our as opposed to me, I, and my
  8. Expectations – what do you expect with regards to purposeful work and a growth mindset?


Wow, I could go on and on about these three inspiring presenters but I guess I’ll save it for another day. I’ll leave you however with my strong urging to go through the links below and become acquainted (if you’re not already) with the ideas, the messages, and the projects that they’re so deeply engaged in…..you’ll be inspired! Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to give effective feedback to our students and to be good to each other. One more week until our October holiday…..make it a great one for our kids!

Quote of the Week………
Curriculum isn’t delivered but enacted…We enact it with our students through our culture! – Ron Ritchhart

Ron Ritchhart Website
http://www.ronritchhart.com/Welcome.html
Cultures of Thinking Resources
http://www.ronritchhart.com/COT_Resources.html
Project Zero Website – The Harvard Graduate School of Education
http://www.pz.harvard.edu/
Dylan Wiliam Website
http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Welcome.html
The Six Secrets of a Happy Classroom – The Independent
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/the-six-secrets-of-a-happy-classroom-2086855.html
Judy Willis Website
http://www.radteach.com/
Judy Willis on the Science of Learning Video – Edutopia
http://www.edutopia.org/big-thinkers-judy-willis-neuroscience-learning-video

Same ol’ Samsung

Part of our responsibility of working in a boarding school is taking our advisory group of students on a weekend trip somewhere in Switzerland. It is a chance to bond with the students, obviously get them to know one another, and to offer support for many who are far from home and in boarding school for the first time.

I booked an overnight at Lac Lioson and was excited to share the experience of hiking, enjoying the clean air of the Swiss Alps with my advisee students and my family and forgetting about work for awhile. However, it wasn’t long into my second day that I discovered that you can take teenagers are what they are, no matter how idyllic the location. We were having a great time, don’t get me wrong. We rented dirt scooters and bumped down Alpine cow pastures, walked around a wonderful lake, and had a great dinner of cheese fondue. They even played cards and enjoyed one another’s company for awhile.

But something just wasn’t right. It was the constant beeping, blipping, checking miniature screens and giggling at snapchats, instagrams and selfies of friends in other places. As close as I thought we were getting to the others around us, those omnipresent things, those gadgets (I won’t even honor them with an actual name), took us away. So, at dinner I took the risk of putting mine (brought along for pictures and for emergency purposes of course) in the middle of the table in the hut and announced that I was turning mine off and encouraged everyone to do the same for the remainder of the trip. No one followed suit, not even Suzanne, my favorite and most trusted advisee. They clutched them a little closer, looking a combination of hurt, offended, and ‘are you kidding me?’ So, my little black powered down object sat there by itself, unaccompanied and useless.

One boy in particular, seemed to really enjoy the small victory. He had this new Samsung with a huge screen. It was like a mini mini I-Pad and I wondered what sort of person could possibly carry something like that around all day. But he did. I considered pulling rank as Principal and forcing them to put the objects on the table but feared what my options would be if they refused. So, I decided not to empower them by bringing attention to it, but let it go, taking solace in the card games at least and the incredible natural beauty of our surroundings.

The next and final day, it got ugly. Samsung boy resisted going on the day two hike and actually sat down twice on the trail, swiping and jabbing his precious gigantic screen, a sight that really started to enrage me as we were surrounded by spectacular Alpine mountains. But there he sat, refusing to move. Daring me to act. Why did I let them take those things on the hike? I asked myself. Oh right, so they could take pictures. And I picked my battles too. At least while he swiped and texted he was walking, however slowly, up the mountain to our destination. I asked on of his friends, at one point, what would happen if I challenged the boy and made him give up the Samsung. “He wouldn’t give it up,” the friend said. “Oh no?” I said. “What if I grabbed it?” “Then he would just grab it back,” the friend said without hesitation. “If I threw it off the mountain do you think it would shatter?” I said, finally, feeling perspective slipping away.

“He has another one,” the friend said, smiling and turning to finish the last third of our hike.

Epilogue: The boy (a senior) finally made it up the mountain and said on his way down he didn’t want to be part of our advisory group anymore. I smiled and said, “I am proud of you for making it up the mountain. I knew you could do it.”

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t seen the video below, it summed up our experience this past weekend, though we did have some very nice in person moments. Keep fighting the good fight of educating young people to appreciate the world around them.

I lost my I-Phone

Rules of Engagement

1. Know your students names. You have the latitude to mispronounce them once. In many cultures all of ones ancestry and history are embedded in a name.

2. Before launching into the year, find out something about whom they are and life outside of school. Things like what languages are spoken at home, what kind of music they listen to, or what they imagine they will be doing 10 years from now. These are not ice breakers. They are relationship builders.

3. Learn to listen not merely hear. Silences are important spaces in between. They communicate meaning as well.

4. Observe like a point guard with court sense: who does most of the talking and who stays quiet. Don’t monopolize the floor. Distribute it.

5. Pay more attention to the questions than the answers. Questions are the language of curiosity. The trick is to cultivate the art of posing and pursuing complex questions.

6. Distribute expertise. Everyone has something they love, that makes them happy, that inspires. Could be the kid in the back with a perpetual yawn who is a master chess player. Or the girl with the quiet eyes who never talks, but is a budding poet. Distribute expertise and knowledge, and enthusiasm will spread, like democracy, when legitimate opportunities are created.

7. Curiosity. Pledge allegiance to the most important element of the learning process. Use every verb in your arsenal to seed it. Then watch it germinate. It s a perennial plant in the garden of becoming human.

8. You can’t fake it. Either you are passionate and deeply committed to what you do. Or aren’t. Both are obvious. And kids, as Hemingway said of writing, are consummate  crap detectors.

9. Make connections. Eschew information without context. It only serves to reinforce knowledge as a textbook of linear facts with questions to answer at the end of the chapter. Life is not organized according to subjects. Help them see the natural linkages to what they are learning and the world they are inhabiting.

10. Be an advocate and a mentor. A guide and a coach. Don’t be a friend. Don’t blur boundaries. Kids will let you set the bar higher if you respect and support them.

So that’s why I left teaching…

Staying up late on Sunday night, grading papers. Year after year. For eight years. There’s nothing like grading a stack of essays, tests, and random homework assignments, and then entering them in the computer, to really make you not like teaching. At all. They say teachers are the worst students? Watch them grade. It’s even worse than you thought. Except for the math teachers. For some reason they seem so efficient.

It’s not really why I left teaching to go into administration. But it’s what the teachers tell me. “You don’t know how lucky you have it. I wouldn’t want to be Principal but at least you don’t have to correct papers.”

Why is this topic suddenly relevant to me again? That’s right, because I am correcting papers again on a Sunday night. But unlike when I was teaching in the 1990s, I don’t have to write things by hand and I have Google Docs to make looking over essays and making comments so much easier. Still, grading really kills the joy of teaching and if you think about it even learning sometimes.

There has been so much written about assessment, grading, and the purpose of both. Some schools are going standards based, but not nearly enough. In my course (digital literacy), I’m trying many experiments around teaching and learning. I am determined to make the course about proficiency and not “the grade.” No one is going to fail unless they simply don’t turn something in. They will have all kinds of opportunities to get their work in. And as I grade, I feel somewhat guilty because I don’t ever recall telling them in the first place what would get them an “A” on their first essay other than “it had to be three pages.” I bombed that one. I actually found myself grading on how long the essays were (with some feedback on the things they wrote). It wasn’t pretty.

But back to the Sunday night grading. There has to be a better way. There has to be a way that teachers don’t have to feel like assembly line workers, sorting and arranging these monitors of ‘progress’ so that students will work harder and do what the teacher tells them. I am thinking of having them do portfolios that will be ‘graded’ based on progress and a set of criteria that we in the class all agree upon.

We’ll see how it goes. Anything to bring some joy to the work and less misery on Sunday nights. Wish me luck.

Student Voice

So at the very end of last year, a handful of us sat down and took a hard look at our overall Middle School program, as well as the individual initiatives that have made us who we are. We wanted to identify areas that still needed our attention…..areas that needed some extra focus, some re-working, and a little bit more unpacking on our part in order for us to really achieve our goals as a division. We came up with two areas that seemed to be screaming out for a little extra TLC, and I’d like to briefly talk about one of those areas today…..STUDENT VOICE. Developing a strong, supported, and empowered student voice has been a work in progress for us honestly. Sure, we had our student council, our bi-annual student surveys, our student/teacher feedback requirements, and our student leadership teams but it always felt like we were missing something…..it felt like we were forcing the program on the student body from our adult perspectives, and it never felt like it was truly accomplishing what it was set up to do……so we decided to do something about it.

We decided to re-write the student leadership mission and vision, and to enter into this year with a brand new approach. An approach that has allowed our students to be involved at the ground level, an approach that has allowed us to utilize the various skill sets of our incredible student leaders, and an approach that has begun to change our Middle School’s student voice from a whisper to a scream. We started back in August with an advertising campaign of sorts, rallying the students around the different leadership possibilities that were now on offer. We talked and talked to kids, we gathered up some amazing suggestions and feedback, we looked around at other successful programs, and then we whipped them all up into a frenzy at the welcome back assembly. With the commitment and vision of five of our ridiculously talented and passionate educators (thank you Kim and Andrea and Dani and Robbie and Mike), we now have 65 Middle School kids, or one out of every 5 students in our division, who are eager to make a change, and focused on making our Middle School the best it can possibly be.

We finally have students placed in areas that align with their individual passions, and in areas that allow them to find some purpose as young adults. Kids are now making a difference in our community in the following areas, and we’re gaining some serious momentum……

  • service learning
  • relationship building
  • fundraising
  • creative design
  • peer tutoring and peer mentoring
  • event planning
  • public speaking
  • house system
  • communications
  • student run television


We’ve turned our student leadership council from essentially a “Middle School dance planning committee” to a council that it on the verge of something truly special. The best part about this transformation is how engaged our kids are in taking back their school. I have kids in my office now every day asking me what I think about this idea and that idea, and it’s spreading like wildfire. If we’re not careful then next year we’ll have the entire student body applying for positions! I guess the point is (and we should have recognized this from the start three years ago) that if you want something done right….turn it over to the students 🙂

We’ve had a great start to the school year and it’s shaping up to be the best one to date…..and that’s just what our students are saying. I feel as though we’ve found and addressed a missing piece of the puzzle, and now we’re firing on all cylinders and running more smoothly than ever. I’ll be sure to talk about that other area that needed our attention in another post, but until then, have a wonderful week everyone and remember to let our students be heard and to be good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
Our lives, hopes, and dreams depend on our ability to be heard.
—James Bernard

TED Talk – Ntaiya KaKenya ( Inspirational…a true student voice)
http://www.ted.com/talks/kakenya_ntaiya_a_girl_who_demanded_school.html
Student Voice website – Worldwide student Activism
http://stuvoice.org/
Student Voice Website and Blog Posts– Hot Topics in Learning
http://www.pil-network.com/HotTopics/studentvoice
Article #1 (attached) – The Power of Student Voice The Power of Student Voice
Article #2 (attached) – Amplifying Student Voice Amplifying Student Voice



Digital; Literally

IMG_4115

So, this is Valla. Yes, he gave me permission to use his likeness because that’s what responsible digital citizens do. He’s Iranian and he’s very, very skeptical. You can just see it in his face, can’t you? When the Principal (me) decided to create a digital literacy course with another teacher AND teach it, there was enough skepticism for everyone.

Who is this guy and what does he think he is doing? I knew on the first day of class there was going to be trouble.

Okay, so a Principal stepping back into the class isn’t new. Maybe new because we have no curriculum for this digital thing, but no one else wanted or could do it and I just couldn’t let it die on the vine.

Back to Valla. He was really skeptical. He probably knows more about technology than I and he really was not in the mood.

That’s when I dumped the legos. All over the floor. He was still skeptical but he was curious.

I gave them ten minutes to build something that expressed themselves. It was my experimental “in” to build some street cred. Several built little houses. A couple tried to build car type of things. Valla built a perfectly aligned skyscraper, with windows, towers, and even a weathervane that he found in the pile. It was brilliant. When he held it up, his peers said it was his ‘evil tower from which he was going to control the world.’ Whatever, he smiled.

Did I mention that the students are Seniors? Yes, that’s right.

So, after the lego exercise we talked about expression, communication, messages we want to send about ourselves and our thoughts to others (I think you get the connection to social media and technology by now), and we had a few laughs.

I am going to bring this story home by saying I don’t care about how you engage kids or get them to understand the power of technology. I’ve reviewed a lot of digital literacy curriculum and, honestly, I think we’re missing the point. This cannot be another phase that gets ground up in the edu-machinery of vocabulary lists, horrible exercises and worksheets with phrases. This is a unique opportunity to really engage kids in an authentic learning experience. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day.

Please don’t blow it. Dump the legos on the floor and have fun. Learn about the people in front of you. And challenge them to make a difference.

After the class, I put Valla’s tower on my desk with pride. My boss saw me putting it on my desk and asked what I was doing.

I said, “teaching.”

Setting the Stage

Setting the Stage
Finally, it’s time to put all of that rich information from orientation into life as we set up the classroom!

Sweating the Small Stuff
I’m not sure if was the intense Manila humidity, or the overwhelming to-do list of transforming a bare classroom into a kindergarten classroom that had me breaking into a sweat. After all, if one were to look into your typical kindergarten classroom it would not be an overstatement to say that a visitor may be hit with sensory overload. Colorful calendars, cubbies, pictures and bulletin boards adorn every wall and work space, making it a bright, cheerful and sensory-rich environment.

An Empty Classroom; a Blank Canvas
Unless you’ve taught your own kindergarten classroom, there is literally no way you can imagine how much thought, effort and energy goes into all of the classroom displays and the overall presentation of the classroom. The empty room is like a blank canvas and as an intern mentoring under an experienced pro, I have felt like an apprentice training under a master artist laboring on her next great work of art.

The Art of Teaching and Mentoring
The teacher with whom I have the pleasure of working with has been teaching at the school for over ten years. Not only is she an incredibly successful and effective educator, but she is also an artist capturing beauty in every moment of the day. Whether it’s humor in the midst of chaos while preparing our classroom, or patience and understanding as she pauses in her activity to guide, instruct and encourage me as I prepare for my first days in the classroom. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside such a passionate teacher who is so generous in spirit that she’s willing to share with me her past successes and mistakes all learned through years of experience.

To-Do, or Not To-Do
That is the question! As we worked together on our exhaustive checklist filled with numerous items to complete such as the creation of bulletin board titles and borders, posters, decorations, reading corners, activity stations and everything else required to construct an inquiry/play-based environment, I was starting to feel satisfied that our room was slowly but surely coming together!

Despite this growing feeling of accomplishment, I couldn’t help but feel another sensation brewing in my mind. As I am poised to begin my first year teaching, I am getting the feeling that there is never enough time in the day! Even though the tasks on our to-do list have been completed, there is the realization that there is always more to do!.

This was really beginning to stress me out. Although I was working late and bringing work home, I realized that I had to accept that time had run out. Students would be arriving in the classroom on Monday whether or not the classroom rules were pinned-up , all activities were planned, and other details that we envisioned were not yet fully arranged.

As I walked into the classroom the next day, this concern was still on my mind, and I had to discuss it with the classroom teacher, and now my teacher. She patiently listened with an understanding ear and then explained to me, that this is something as a teacher, that I would need to accept. She confided that she too was a stickler for getting things done on time and was very hard on herself in the process. But through her years of experience, she realized, especially at this grade level, that there is always something more that can be done. Therefore, the checklist never ends.

A is for Attitude
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending to-do list, she advised, to instead focus on being mentally ready for the day. Your positive frame of mind and enthusiasm to start each new day is ultimately, the best preparation a teacher can give to his or her students. She reminded me that despite the importance of the props in setting the stage, the intellectual and creative energy of the director is what is going to produce the best performance from the actors.

So as we embark on a new year, and have a fresh slate to work with, I am reminded, and consoled, that there is no such thing as perfect. As educators we can strive to be as prepared as possible, but in this field, that will always be an elusive goal. It is the constant chase that makes our journey so exciting. With that understanding I came away with the assurance that all I can do at this point, is to save up as much energy as possible for Monday morning. With 20 new kindergartners set to walk through that door, I know I’m going to need as much of it as I can get!