Sunday, September 29, 2013

Say it With Me: I WILL LISTEN

Helping to administer a 245-person book club has meant--well--everything to me over the last few months. And one thing has become incredibly apparent--people are willing to talk if you let them know you are willing to listen.

Simply by tying my name to this book club, I have let people know that I want to listen to them, that I'm open to listening to them.

I do not have answers for everyone. Hell, I'm not a counselor. I'm not a researcher.

But, I AM a listener.

In just two weeks since the Kickoff of our Spring Lake Community Book Club of Emily Bazelon's Sticks and Stones, I have had conversations at the grocery store, at the school, at my daughters' playing fields. But these conversations aren't always with people I know. Over Facebook and email and Twitter, the conversation has extended to people of all ages in all parts of the community with people I know and with people I don't.

And I keep thinking, the conversation has only just begun.

And all I did was listen. So, please listen with me--even if it's the only thing we can do.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

So Much To Say: A Week of Wonder!

In my early college years, I couldn't get enough of Dave Matthews Band. So many songs stand out, but there is one--"So Much To Say"--that captures my feeling about the week I've had. In the chorus, Dave Matthews repeats So much to say over and over in his unique tone. (If you don't know the song, take a listen. It's lots of fun.)

Well, in my own boisterous voice, over and over and over again, I just have so much to say about my incredible week.

  • I could say that I'm proud to take a group of twenty students for each of the past seven years to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. We just returned one week ago today and the trip, like each of the past seven, was spectacular. The city's setting was as beautiful as always. And it's theatre was riveting. We saw The Three Musketeers on Friday night, Othello on the Saturday matinee, and finished with The Who's Tommy which blew all of our minds with its theatre technology wonders. It was a great start to the week of wonder.
  • On Tuesday, 235 members of the community and I started a book club to discuss bullying. With six other committee members, we informed the group of the inner workings of the book club (how we plan to use social media to model positive behavior, when we plan to meet, our goals/objectives, etc.) and we tried to inspire them as well by showing bits of the Shane Koyczan poem "To This Day" and an interview I was able to have with author Emily Bazelon. (Both are embedded below.) It's hard to say what the result of this book club will be--we've only just begun--but when 235 people are thinking about the same topic (in this case, bullying), good is sure to happen. A solid Tuesday to my week of wonder.

  • Then, come Friday, I welcomed 33 parents, grandparents, siblings, and teachers into my classroom for an essay reading from my students. We just wrapped up a two-week intense workshop on descriptive essays and, as my major shift in education happens, we needed an authentic audience. For most of these parents, it's the first time they've come into the high school classroom during the school day to hear their student's work--and the students were outstanding. They were nervous, sure, but it resulted in powerful writing and powerful voices. Perhaps more importantly, it resulted in respect to each other's work. It was a phenomenal conclusion to this week of wonder.
So, as I look back, I now understand why I'm so tired--it's been a busy, long week. But I also see why I'm so energized for the future--great work lies ahead.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Community Book Club

Two months of dreaming,
Six dedicated committee members,
Countless meaningful conversations to come,

And ONE community making it happen.

Sign Up Now--Kickoff on Tuesday night
Spring Lake Community Book Club

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Increase Meaning, Decrease Cheating

Let me be clear: If a student cheats, he has to own that.

Did you see this today? Almost Half of Incoming Harvard Students Admit Cheating  I read it. I saw it on The Today Show. Cheating is a problem.

But what's the school's role in it? The teacher's? The culture's?

I'm concerned that our love affair with grades and test scores shows that we value those numbers over actual learning. That's damaging to an educational system. If the best students in the nation, as Harvard students are so often considered, are cheating, something is wrong.

On a local level, when I asked my students to dream about themselves in my Advanced Composition class, more of them answered that they dreamed of getting an A than of writing meaningful essays. More cared about the final number than the process of creating a powerfully written piece.

But what can we do? How can this change? I know that GPAs and ACT scores are important in the current educational setting, but we must set up a system that rewards internal motivation. We must show the students that there is more than grades.

Colleges can help by putting more emphasis on the class's taken, the application essays, and the extracurricular activities and less emphasis on the time-efficient, but easily-manipulated-by-cheating numbers.

As for me in the classroom, I try to create meaningful work, work the students want to do. (Quick note: I know that ALL dedicated educators are constantly working on this. Just by trying to do it, doesn't mean I'm always successful. But the effort does matter.) I also try to offer time within the class to do the bulk of the homework which so many of my math colleagues do by flipping their classes. By giving time in class, I can see the work being done and offer solutions to problems on the spot. I don't have to worry as much about copying in the hallway--an act I see almost every day. Also, by utilizing GoogleDocs' Revision History, I can keep tabs on the progress of written work. There are ways to detract cheating.

Mostly, this is the student's issue. He needs to keep himself in check. She needs to be honest with herself.

But the educational system and I, as the classroom teacher, can do things to help.

Let's make work meaningful. And by doing so, we'll decrease cheating.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Summer Goals Revisited

On June 9, at the beginning of summer, I created a list of six 6-word goals for the summer. Here's the post: Summer Goals. Now, in my final blog post of the summer, I'd like to see if I succeeded in my goals. Here we go.  

1. Reconnect with family who sacrificed time

  • One week road trip to Boston, ten visits to Michigan's Adventure (local amusement park with season pass), and countless backyard bonfires. Success!

2. Read a professional development book monthly

  • Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate, Stephen King's On Writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Emily Bazelon's Sticks and Stones, and more. Success!

3. Promote "Theune Fireside Chats" to students

  • Though there was only one chat (which was wonderful, by the way, and resulted in a particularly good working relationship with a student--we share a bond in graphic novels), I did promote each one through emails to parents, posts on Facebook, and direct messages on Twitter. Success!

4. Allow English colleagues to motivate me

  • NERDVANA! Though the groups were a little smaller this summer, I was able to take advantage of two Nerdvana gatherings. We talked about Penny Kittle and we discussed male success (or lack thereof) in high school English classes. Every time we meet, I find myself newly inspired. So, I was inspired twice. Success!

5. Be silly with friends, laugh lots

  • I just got done shooting eighteen holes at a local golf course with some of my best friends! There were many occasions at local watering holes. I went to two professional baseball games this summer: one good team (Tigers) and one not as good (Cubs). Success!

6. Learn from unexpected moments and transform

  • Mostly, I thank my friends and mentors at the LAKE MICHIGAN WRITING PROJECT for this one. They let me re-identify myself as a teacher/writer, not just a teacher. They encouraged me in some wild ideas, namely a community book club which will be kicking off this fall to over 100 people. Also, I transformed as a dad and husband. My twins just turned ten three days ago. They are different and, because of them, I am transformed into a better man. Success!
So, yeah, great summer. But the cool part? I anticipate an even better school year.