A Journey Together

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Kindergartners Wired for Learning
Kindergarten students are thirsty for knowledge and their excitement is palpable. As the days progress, I am witnessing first-hand the process of how a young mind untangles the symbols of language by stringing the sounds of letters together to decode words on a page. This is reading and they are embarking upon the most important learning process of their lives! I am not only witness to this miracle, I am their guide showing them where and how to find the keys so that they can learn to unlock this great gift of language. And then there is the mystery of numbers — numbers greater than 20 have real names, two numbers together make a higher number – as the students start to put these pieces together, you can clearly see the excitement on their faces. It’s learning in its purest form – inquiry and discovery.

We’re All in this Together
As I watch the students’ minds open up through learning and discovery, I can’t help but feel that my journey parallels theirs’. Every day, I too, am on a learning curve trying to fit together the pieces of the educational puzzle. At the end of each day I come home with more practices and pedagogy than the day before. As an intern, this may be expected, but the thirst for knowledge is not just relegated to students — everyone at this school, (and perhaps every great school), is thirsty for knowledge and the quest to be better at what they do.

No one Really Has All the Answers
I am greatly aware of how much I need to learn in this craft of teaching so I have made it a point on several occasions to reach out to some of the more experienced teachers on our staff, so that I may pick their brains for advice and insight. I’ve spoken with teachers who’ve been doing this for more than 10 or even 20 years, and when I ask these educational gurus for some sage advice they offer it freely, but always seem to qualify it with some version of: “But hey, I am still learning myself!”

Learning for Life
This is good to know that even the experts are still figuring it all out. It tells me that this profession of teaching, like life, is infinitely richer because we can’t possibly know all that there is to know. And just like those kindergartners who are starting out on their journey, it is a reminder that learning truly is a life-long process and should be filled with wonder, excitement, and most importantly, love

#teachlikeapirate*

*Part of my job as a learner is to know how the kids are doing it. My teenage daughter hashtags everything. It is how she quotes and promotes different sayings. Thus- the title. If you are interested in downloading the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, check out BookRix where you can get a free ebook copy.

One of the best parts of my week is when I’m with kids and in classrooms. For the past few weeks, I’ve been offering an ASRP (After School Recreation Program) for 5th graders. Our goal- to create a weekly news program written and produced solely by fifth graders for the whole school to see. This concept replaces an idea we used to have, a weekly newsish video with grade 5 as “hosts”. The difference? This is much, much harder to get off the ground because I’m asking the kids to do all the work. I’m just there as a facilitator. However, it is also an incredibly authentic learning environment, where magic might just happen.

Not only have I never done this, we don’t have any formal tools. Not a concern for these kids. “Do you have an iphone Mrs. Munnerlyn? An ipad? A computer?” they asked me. “We can do this!”

The students and I determined we want this to be a show with real news events, not silly stories. I manage their time (start this, end this) and officially sign off on their ideas. That’s about it. The kids are off running to learn: pitching topics, writing stories, and filming outside on the stairwell where we will hang up a sheet so it doesn’t look like school.

Their learning is hidden in the excitement, the engagement and the fun they are having. But here is what I can tell you professionally is occurring: cooperative and collaborative groups are happening authentically, students are finding answers to their real problems, and they are using technology as they might in the real world. Those who are writing stories want them to be right. They are pouring over their words and editing for clarity so the audience understands. Feedback is part of the natural, necessary process; with a constant question from one 10 year old to another being “What do you think?” and the other answering honestly and with a vested interest in helping his fellow reporter improve. It is everything you would want to see happen in school.

So, I can’t help but ask myself: Why don’t we do this more often? Why doesn’t school seem more like real life?

Well the truth is, it is getting harder to do so when we walk the tight-rope of defining, tracking, and determining growth on finite standards and skills for all subject areas. While I believe in using standards to measure both student achievement and our work as a school, I don’t find them to be… fun. Standards don’t get me out of bed and make me want to be with kids.

To me, the big work for educators moving forward isn’t identifying the standards, finding ways to track them, or to report on them at pre-determined intervals across the year. The real work is for us to find ways to keep the excitement and the passion in what we do while being able to measure how our kids are improving.

Without the passion, why are any of us here?

#teachlikeapirate

(Crossposted on www.literacybytes.com)

Photo credit: http://rovingfiddlehead.com/kidlit/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pirate-Ship0001.jpg

Global Citizens?

The other day, on the #1 train, I think I spotted a global citizen. Instead of loitering by the door, as many subway riders are apt to do, blocking people from entering and exiting, she was seated and actually offered hers to an elderly woman weighted down with shopping bags. Global citizens you see, are not genetically endowed. Do not walk on water. Don’t have wings, and live and move amongst us, with the air of mindful and engaged people.

What is a global citizen?

Before answering that it is important to state at the outset that text book, academic journal, education periodical definitions, will not suffice. One, because they sound like each other. Second, wrapped in the gauze of hyperbole and platitude, they illuminate nothing but opaque concepts that contribute nothing but another opaque concept.

My hope resides in what it means to become a citizen, globally minded, in the Greek sense of civitas—citizenhood of people not as people but as citizens belonging to a collective bound by responsibilities, rights and a common good.

Global citizens?

Someone who embodies lots of Socrates and the belief that ‘the unexamined life’ is not worth living, John Dewey’s learning by doing, Maxine Greene’s metaphor of ‘wide awakeness‘, and Thoreau’s retreat to the woods ‘to live deliberately‘.

Global citizens?

Savor music from Debussy to Sonny Rollins. Tony Bennet to Mercedes Sosa.

Know that food is one of the elemental expressions of culture and can relish everything from pazolle to beef stroganoff.

Don’t walk by the homeless as if they are lamp pots or fire hydrants.

Know the world is neither what FOX TV nor CNN depicts, but something complex, historical and full of perspectives.

Accept that everything is at risk– from the biosphere to civil liberties, public education to freedom for all. And neither waits for politicians to save them or complacency to take over.

Are connected and conscious that the last century of unprecedented war and destruction cannot be the way of the 21st century.

Inhabit cities and towns with a restless desire for wellness and justice, knowing that the two are not incompatible or mutually exclusive.

Unite in the face of injustice be it in the streets of Cairo or Sanford, Florida.

Are students of life.

Come in all shapes, sizes, colors, nations, classes .

Are full of hope, ideals, indignation, civility and the conviction that limits have been violated and only humility and the urgency of social action can restore peace, balance and a future to the wounded planet.

Know that the nature of citizenship is an obligation and a social contract that crosses all borders and boundaries, is colorblind and ageless.

Revere the natural and the urban world.

Travel to learn not to distract.

Don’t wait for the world to change but work with others to change the world.

Postscript:

It was reported that Luis Armstrong, Pablo Neruda, Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson and Woody Guthrie gathered over the weekend at Ellis Island to organize  a day of silence to occur in every city of the world to honor children, and the immaculate powers of play and the imagination.

They too, are our global citizens.

The Autumn Chill

So this week I’d like to talk about something that I call the “Autumn Chill”….let me explain. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than the start of a new school year. With the excitement of some new school improvement initiatives, the addition of some fantastic new students and faculty, and the overall buzz and energy of a year that is bursting with promise and possibility, it’s not hard to want to rush to work everyday and soak up all the positive vibes. For us this year, the weather was warm and the sun was shining, we had a wonderful beginning with our new curriculum/Let’s Talk about Kids focus, and we seem to have all come up for air after our much needed October holiday. We’ve completed our MAP testing and used the data to goal set with students, we’ve had faculty goal meetings with individual teachers, we’ve gotten our heads around the new report card and electronic portfolios, and we’ve all settled into the year that lies ahead with a clear focus on our collective and individual expectations for ourselves and our students…..and now here comes a long, demanding, 9 week stretch that is bound to test our resolve.

There’s something about the second quarter of a school year here at SCIS that wields a double edged sword in my opinion. On one side, it’s the time of the year where initiatives can start to solidify, student learning can really start to take off, and we can all start to totally gel as a new faculty. On the other side, it starts to get colder, the leaves and rain start to fall, there are no breaks in sight with regards to long weekends or holidays until Late November, the decision about contracts and renewal is very much on our minds, and inevitably the enthusiasm and energy begins to wear off. There tends to be a slight melancholy, or Autumn Chill, which looks to creep in, and like the season (insert life metaphor here) our mindsets can begin to change.

I think it’s important to not only recognize this potential change of energy, but to talk about it specifically. Many of us can (and will) become distracted by all that lies ahead, and unfortunately, these distractions can detract from our focus on the students. Over the next 6 weeks we have comments to be written and reports to go home, we have parent teacher conferences over two half days, we have school swim meets and UN day celebrations, we have the International Food Fair, and we have our first semester Drama performance as well as our annual three day Dynamix music festival…….wow, my head starts to spin just thinking about it! The biggest distracter of all however, is the anxiety and trepidation (and excitement of course) that comes along with our individual decisions about next year. Contract time is a heavy time indeed as you all discuss, review and deliberate over what your futures hold. I wrote a piece this time last year about teacher retention (find it on my blog if you want to review), and below is a snippet that I’d like to reiterate and share……..

“My true attempt with this message really, is to say that I am committed to helping you all find a situation that is the best fit for you as an educator. I would be happy to go through the decision making process with anyone, at anytime, to ensure that you make the best possible and informed decision when it comes time to sign. I want happy teachers working here, and teachers who are committed to the vision that we’re trying to bring to life over the next couple of years. I am also interested in hearing about what it is that is making you want to stay or go, through exit interviews, goal conferences, or informal conversations. Please seek me out if you need to bend someone’s ear, and I’d be thrilled to help you find that perfect fit………..even if it isn’t at SCIS”.

I guess what I really want to say about this time of the year, or this Autumn Chill, is that we need to take care of each other, and be a tremendous source of support for one another. Let’s talk openly about how we’re feeling, let’s rally around each other when the weeks drag on, and let’s go out of our way to lift each other up. I’m asking all of you to please take care of yourselves physically and mentally over the next couple of months, and to find a balance in your lives that keeps you healthy and energized. It’s going to be a long stretch, the weather is going to get cold and damp, the days are going to get shorter and the nights are going to get longer, so let’s prepare and ready ourselves for the benefit of our students and faculty. Don’t forget, this upcoming 9 week stretch is brimming with opportunity for our students, as the uninterrupted student learning time is as good as it gets.  Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead. I’m excited about all that is coming our way, and together we can make it an incredible second quarter. Be good to yourselves everyone, and please be good to each other………. and remember, I’d love to help and support any one of you if you need an ear to bend.

Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and supportive of one another through the upcoming Autumn Chill!

Quote of the Week……..
Winter is an etching, Spring a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.
–  Stanley Horowitz

Attachment – The Autumn by Elizabeth Barrett Browning The Autumn ­ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Interesting Article on Caring in Education (thank you Kim Comeau)
http://www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm

Wonderful TED Talk – Amy Cuddy
http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html