Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One Resolution: BE BRAVE

As the calendar turns to 2014, it's inevitable that I think about myself as an educator. Really, after husband and father, I most identify myself as an educator. So, it's natural on this, the last day of 2013, to be thinking about school and my role in it.

I have just one resolution: Be Brave.

The older I get, the more daring I've become in my teaching. That daring has led to some significant changes in the classroom and I'm so happy. When change is made, I feel refreshed and I'm quite confident that rubs off on my students.

But I'm still scared of one thing and I'm determined to get over it.

In 2014, I will submit a piece of writing for publication. I don't know if it will be an article or a poem or a short story, but I will put my name on something, call it complete, and send it in to a publisher.

It might not be selected, but it definitely won't if I don't send it in. The willingness to fail allows for greatness to enter.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Captain John Smith is 'Melo

So, let's turn early American literary figures into NBA superstars.  Or early American literary figures into musical instruments.

Those are my instructions for my students. Let's face it, The General History of Virginia by John Smith and Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford are just plain HARD to read and understand. So, we must find ways to make it interesting.

My recommendation? Blend what we don't know with what we DO know very well.

Turn John Smith into Carmelo Anthony. By using third person and talking about his own heroics in the face adversity, John Smith transforms into the New York Knicks' superstar: he's selfish. I mean, 'Melo doesn't have the assist stats or the rebound stats that LeBron has. AND--his shooting percentage proves that there isn't a shot he doesn't like.

Not a hoops fan? Find the musical instruments. The early native myths are the winds, connecting the natural beauty and Olaudah Equiano is the percussion segment, pounding at the heart of the human soul.

This is the challenge to my students and to me. Let's work hard to make this difficult literature interesting by connecting it to the things we already love.

Then--and only then--can we really love the literature.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

An IB State of Mind

For the past four days, I've been taking my first real swim in the International Baccalaureate pool. Previously, through a visit to an IB school and some discussion with colleagues and administrators, I've just dipped in my toe. This time, though, it was a full cannonball as I traveled to St. Pete Beach for my Category 1 training.

On the first day of training, I found myself in awe of the IB. Their mission statement echoes so much of what I believe about education, stating it, "...aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world..." as well as "encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right." When I look at that, I just see empathy and global connectedness. I couldn't be more excited.

We also examined some motifs that appear throughout the IB curriculum:

  • Students should be agents of their own learning--students must guide their own understanding with my assistance; they must be actively engaged
  • Everything is an argument--students need to make claims and support them with details because truth is so often determined by the individual's personal experience which means there is rarely, if ever, a single truth
  • Knowledge is a negotiation--students must derive meaning from all they read, see, and do, making knowledge a negotiation between what is presented and what is received
The IB waters were refreshing, indeed. But, come day two, it got a bit chilly.

While the IB claims ten different learner profiles, highlighting risk-taking and communicating and caring among many others, we started to dig into the assessments--all of which are fine; I mean, any company can use any assessment it likes. But I didn't initially see the ways that the students could use their learner profiles within the papers, oral commentaries, and exams. After day two, I was concerned that the ideals of the first day didn't mesh with the realities of the second.

But then, after leaving the pool a bit cold, I wrapped up in the warm blanket of the third day. 

On the last day of training, I started seeing my own students in the work. It brought me some calm, some warmth. I became convinced that, though they'll be pushed, they'll be successful because there is an incredible amount of choice within the IB curriculum. Yes, students have to write an essay, but they decide on the question and approach. Yes, students have an oral commentary, but they get to determine the direction in which it will go.

Our day-to-day class will be about negotiating our knowledge, about arguing with support, about being engaged in the learning. It will lead us to become more careful thinkers and, finally, to a world where we understand multiple versions of the truth because each individual's experiences are so different throughout the world. 

With IB, empathy is a desired trait.

And that is a pool I can swim in any day.

(I can't write this post without recognizing and thanking my district for sending me to this training. It's so rare for teachers to go on business trips, but this one was worth it. It was a great place to be and, for that, I'm thankful.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Group, New Inspiration

As I continue on this great journey to become the best teacher that I can, I realize that so much of my job is inspiring students to learn. They have the power and they have (or have had) the curiosity. I just need to inspire them, to let them see value in learning, to allow them to create.

Because I'm in English guy, a words guy, I often find my inspiration in quotes, poems, sayings.

Tomorrow, I get a new group of students and I'm thinking of bombarding them with words that move me--and I hope move them.

Here are just a few I'm considering, but I need your help! Besides, I think it could be quite powerful to know that others are paying attention to their actions, that others care that these students do a good job, too. So, reply. Whether it's Twitter or Facebook or right on this blog, get me your favorite words! And I'll put them on my board tomorrow as we start a new trimester.

"Only engagement can produce mastery."--Daniel Pink, Drive

"Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."--Shakespeare

"I have no special talents; I am only passionately curious."--Albert Einstein via @delta_dc

"Ask a different question. How are you intelligent? Instead of the classic: How intelligent are you?"--Sir Ken Robinson

Keep the words coming! INSPIRE MY STUDENTS!!!