What ARE the Odds?

http://insightbyseymour.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2635-101413-gs2635.jpgFor the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the upcoming PARCC. I’m speaking of the Next Generation Assessment known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. If you thought the Ohio Achievement Assessment was bad, then wait until you see THIS! I suggest, if you haven’t yet taken a look at this new online assessment, you should…and soon!

Over the last 5 years, educators across the nation have witnessed the development and implementation of the Common Core standards. In writing this piece, I found it important to research the who, when, and how the standards were developed before expressing my opinion about the PARCC. In a February 2014 article, Allie Bidwell of US News reported,

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards – which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade – have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system.

During her stint as governor, Napolitano desired to develop an initiative focused on strengthening the country’s competitive position in the global economy. As students’ performance in math and the sciences have become comparatively lower than their global peers, the goal of this new initiative was “to give governors the tools they need[ed] to improve math and science education, better align post-secondary education systems with state economies, and develop regional innovation strategies” (retrieved from http://www.nga.org on December 4,2014).  Therein, a task force of governors, CEOs, and university presidents was created. Think about that for just a moment. Does that elicit any emotions for you as it did for me?

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I remember hearing that the Common Core was essentially birthed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 in that the standards were developed to hone in on the skills students needed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  The standards were thick with specific skills all students were to master only, with NCLB, this varied from state to state as state leaders played more of a role in the development of their own standards. Unfortunately, the level of expectation varied significantly as well from state to state. States, like Massachusetts, were known for holding very high academic standards, while other states, like Tennessee, did not (Bidwell, US News, 2014), making it more difficult to comparatively determine whether scholars were making adequate growth compared to their global counterparts.

The Common Core differs in that the numbers of standards have been decreased for each grade level and the depth of each of those standards increased. That’s my subtle way of saying that the standards push our scholars harder to learn skills they are fundamentally and developmentally not yet prepared to learn, whether they are ready or not! Don’t get me wrong, I do see this as an incomprehensible issue. It’s clearly a problem, and yet I was not at all surprised to find that the challenge of developing equitable academic standards has been in existence since the desegregation of public schools in the 1960s. Students of minority ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status, born in poverty from parents struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, and some of them with nothing more than a middle school education was prevalent then and still exists today. Oh yes! You see, what I’ve just described for you was my current classroom and any educator teaching in an urban school district can relate to that very description.

Our scholars have been chasing their peers to close an achievement gap that was created to keep minorities out of public education and distanced far behind their white peers for years! And now, here we are with the Common Core standards, an initiative started to strengthen our competitive position in the global economy when neither our scholars, nor their families, are adequately equipped with the resources or skills to compete in the local economy!

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Let me be clear, I can appreciate the idea behind the Common Core. I get it. We want to develop critical thinkers, leaders, social changers! But then you add the PARCC to the equation. Oh my goodness! Consider this, the majority of my fifth grade scholars are reading at a fourth grade or below grade level right now. I even have a few reading at a second grade level! SECOND GRADE!! That’s their fluency and comprehension level. Did you catch that? The majority of my class is still behind 1-3 grade levels in reading. They struggle to develop a 5 sentence paragraph with a clear topic sentence and strong conclusion. They’ve been working to develop these skills since the second grade. When they are challenged to push themselves to a higher expectation, they shut down with frustration. Oh, I’m not finished yet. My scholars barely know their basic multiplication facts, even though they’ve been exposed to them two grades prior. Many still struggle with regrouping in subtraction and will argue to the end that 0-4 = 4 even when provided proof that it is impossible!

Finally, after losing our technology teachers about four years ago, teachers were tasked to teach not only keyboarding skills, but also researching skills in a computer lab which we were scheduled to use once, maybe twice a week for 30-45 minutes, if we were lucky. There were several times I’d taken my class in to complete assignments and it’d taken the first 20 minutes alone just to get through all the glitches we’d face trying to simply get logged in! Amazing! Well, the computer lab no longer exists after 6 years of existence. The district has begun transitioning to the use of chrome books. I share a cart with a coworker. Yes, share! We make it work. Our scholars are most knowledgeable about how to search for information because that interests them. However, they still lack in the area of research, note taking, and essay typing. It continues to be a struggle for them since it requires more thinking and effort. Not a very good place to be with PARCC right around the corner, wouldn’t you think?

Our scholars, while they’ve shown growth in reading and math, are continuing to chase the leaders of the achievement gap every single day they enter our urban school. This is based on data from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, a two and a half hour, paper-pencil, written assessment. The new PARCC will assess my scholars electronically and will take multiple days. They will be given multiple reading samples at a time with two part answers where one answer will depend on scholars’ knowledge of and response to the other. On this assessment, scholars performance levels will be scored in the areas of text complexity, range of accuracy, and quality of evidence. There are multiple choice questions, matching, and two part extended responses that will need to be typed, providing explicit evidence from the text provided. The questions are much more challenging since they are multi-step questions and very different from what they’ve been used to. Scholars must use, not only the text provided, but also answers from previous questions to construct their responses. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the sample PARCC, you should take some time to peruse the website. Here’s the link:

PARCC Practice Tests

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If I sound a bit anxious about this Next Generation Assessment, it’s because I am, along with many of my urban school educator friends. It feels a lot like my scholars are being set up to fail! Do you understand that the growth my scholars have made, any growth at all, will absolutely go unnoticed after taking this test! And YES…I take it personally! If they are not functionally or developmentally prepared to meet the Common Core standards then how could they possibly be prepared to take this Next Generation Assessment? Well, I don’t know either, but it kind of sounds like yet another way to keep our minority scholars at the bottom end of the achievement gap. All I know is that we need to get our scholars ready for this PARCC with the limited resources we are provided and hope that just one of them beats the odds, gets across that gap, and comes out on top! With everything we’ve been given, what do you think those odds are?

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Failure is Not an Option!

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Well, I’m through my third week of school. Things are going well for the most part. Probably one of the best starts to a school year that I can recall. I have 20 WONDERFUL scholars who, in these first few weeks, have reminded me why I remain in the classroom.

Initially, I had 18 scholars on my roster. I had looked over my roster prior to the first day of school and was excited to see that I was apparently receiving a break this year from some of the customary behavior challenges I’d been used to. After working with some very challenging children in the recent past, including a visually impaired child with a sharp tongue and a tenacious attitude, I welcomed the break. Educators working on the front line will be able to relate to my exaggerated exaltation. However, as expected in the world of education, things change ever so quickly and as such; I received my nineteenth scholar on Meet the Teacher night. He is a returning student who is extremely excited to be back with us! He shares his love of school and especially reading with me on that evening! This is too good to be true!! I have to be the luckiest teacher of the year!

My twentieth scholar arrived bright and early Monday morning just after I began my introductory instruction. He is also a transfer from another school in the district. I have not received his permanent records as of yet, which is not uncommon with transfers, but in conversation, he shares with me, in a rather boisterous voice, that he is not good at math and he is very shy! This statement left me looking confused since he is far from shy and has displayed some mathematical problem solving skills. Yet, these observations, coupled with his over activeness and frequent off task behavior had now become an all too familiar scene to say the least. A prologue to the main event if you will. As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. This scholar requires a lot of time and attention and I slowly realize, HE is my purpose this year.

On the first day of school, I read a book to my scholars, entitled “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day” by Dr. Seuss for our first morning meeting. I used to read this book to my own children when they were younger. I found it appropriate for my fifth graders because every year, a handful of scholars enter my class claiming they don’t know anything, much like my twentieth scholar. The story is about creative teaching and thinking. The tale celebrates originality, differences, and uniqueness, but also reassures that each of the scholars in the story has everything they need not only to be successful when taking high stakes assessments, but also to be successful in life. What an amazing way to begin the school year! We acknowledged each other’s differences but I also assured all of them that they too are bright, intelligent scholars that can and will be successful, but they had to trust me, trust each other, and most importantly, trust themselves.

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In the days to follow, we would talk a lot about our school “PRIDE” (that is, Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Empathy) and our Scholar Statement. We would discuss in great length each attribute of PRIDE and each line of the Scholar Statement. This is my second year using the statement and I have found it to be a great guiding principle in my classroom. The statement reads as follows:

I AM A SCHOLAR!
I can DO anything, LEARN anything, BE anything.
I CANNOT fail and WILL NOT fail,
because failure is not an option.
I am in control of my future and my destiny.
I AM A SCHOLAR!
I AM THE FUTURE!

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I had no idea what a powerful impact this would have on my scholars. I mean, last year, we (my colleagues and I) always spoke of the attributes of our PRIDE principles, however, most of us assumed our scholars inherently knew them, especially by fifth grade. We were very wrong in our thinking. This year, our PRIDE principles are more visible around the school and in each classroom. The attributes are discussed and modeled frequently throughout the day and school year. I have noticed this year that the school wide PRIDE attributes, coupled with my statement, had begun to do something amazing to my scholars. Something I didn’t see or hear last year and something I hadn’t seen coming this year at all. They instantly began holding each other accountable for displaying PRIDE and never giving up. I was in absolute awe the first time I heard it. Let me frame this for you by offering just one example.

Every afternoon, we do a spiral math review. This review is a culmination of skills previously learned and some newly introduced skills as well. Because math is so intimidating to most of my scholars, their initial reaction to any questioning of their knowledge results in a shrug of their shoulders and the response “Um, I don’t know.” Oh no. Here we go again! I think to myself, “I just wish these children would believe in themselves the way that I believe in them.” I proceeded to respond encouragingly when from the back of the room, I heard, “Don’t give up! Failure is not an option. Persevere!” I stopped in shock as I slowly looked to see who was speaking. Someone heard me! Someone understood me! It felt like for the first time, my scholars got it because they all chimed in to encourage their peer! Since that moment, when anyone gets stuck, including me, and we feel like giving up, we support each other by saying out loud…”failure is not an option”! This has become our daily reminder to keep trying.

This was a powerful moment for me. There are so many times I become discouraged concerning whether I am making a difference in the lives of my scholars. I wonder whether my expectations are too ambitious for them and whether I am doing everything I can do to help them succeed. How many times a year do you do the same thing? We do this all the time because we are passionate about what we do and we believe in the capabilities of our scholars. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking about who’s life we can screw up today. That is not the case at all. But on this day, at this moment, it was that voice. It was that very moment when that young scholar’s voice in the back of the room reminded me why I am still in this classroom. I actually knew exactly why that Monday morning, when that twentieth scholar entered my room. I still have some lives to change. We ALL have some lives to change! Our scholars believe in us and they depend on us. No matter what the obstacle, we need to remember not to EVER give up on them because their failure…our failure… Nope! Failure is just not an option!

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Time Flies

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I absolutely cannot believe summer has gone by so quickly! The last time I shared something was the end of June! My intentions were good people. They really were! But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel that bad about it. In fact, I think you will probably understand once I share with you my ever lingering “problem”.

As many of you know, I completed my doctoral degree in April 2013. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year and a half since I earned that accomplishment!

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I think back to all the late nights, the long hours of studying and writing, and the summers spent at little league football or baseball games with books and homework in tow. Summer vacations during those six years always included long periods set aside to research, write, and hardly ever time to rest my brain. I was always thinking, always worried, always on a deadline. My laptop and study materials were always among the first items packed if we found time to travel at all. I’d stopped participating in many things I enjoyed doing and replaced them with hours upon hours spent in the library or locked in my room instead. Since my children were young when I entered the doctoral program, my studying was a normal fixture in their minds. It’s what they were used to.

imageYep. That’s me! This is what taking a break from reading, searching resources online, & studying looked like during my doctoral studies!

Last summer was the first summer in six years that I was truly FREE to do anything I wanted. I took a vacation with my husband, traveled with the entire family, sat at little league baseball games and actually WATCHED every inning of every game! I enjoyed myself tremendously! It was all so exhilarating…and awkward at the same time. But guess who enjoyed it even more. My babies. Yes, my husband was pleased as well, but my children made it very clear that all they wanted was their mommy back! I wouldn’t dare disappoint.

This summer, I’d planned to connect with all of you at least every 3-4 weeks in some capacity just to let you all know I was still around. Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC continues to grow and education reform continues to define and shape our practice. I had a clear, definitive plan for growing and developing Transitions this summer. However, what happened instead was I chose to be present for my children entirely because there was a moment this summer that I connected with each of them, and I could see the time flying right before my eyes! You see, for six years my husband and children could say, “Mommy, let’s watch a movie.” and I would have to respond, “Okay. Right after I’m done studying.” I suppose I still feel some guilt about that, but I know that they are the reason I pushed so hard in the first place.

At the same time, amazing things were happening and I was missing it! At some point during those six years, my oldest son grew taller than me! How in the world did I miss that?! My middle son…he had started wearing men’s size shoes! He was on his way to the fourth grade then! Oh, and my daughter? She’s the baby of the three. She was reading picture books the last time I had noticed and then…all of a sudden, she was reading chapter books and having high-level conversations with me that left me in awe! I mean, it feels like only months ago, although it’s been 7 years passed now. No way! Not another second will I lose.

imageMy children and I at their district track meet over the summer. I coached them!

I have missed my Transitions blog a great deal, but I’ve enjoyed the time with my family this summer so much more. Every time I prepared to write or visit my blog site, send a Tweet, or post on my Transitions Facebook page, one of my children would require some attention. I admit, I put every task on my “to do” list aside right at that moment, just to watch a movie, to take a walk, play a game, or just to cuddle with them. I loved every single second of it, too. Now that’s a lingering “problem” I’ll endure any day!

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My fellow educators, we have a very tough job. Tougher than many others. Yes, we get time off in the summer to recuperate, but realistically, many of us spend it preparing for the following year, attending professional developments, or collaborating with coworkers. I implore you…take a break when time permits. Laugh with friends, reminisce with family, or do nothing at all! It’s really okay. In the end, you cannot go back and get that time you lost.

So I respectfully ask that you please accept my apology for being absent for the summer. Transitions has great things in store for this year, so be on the lookout! But, for these last days of summer, time continues to fly by…and I choose to catch every last second while I have them.

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The 27th Line

Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

Tomorrow my students will take their first round of STAAR testing in Writing, a subject I teach twice a day. The test is scored by their responses to 40 multiple-choice revising and editing questions along with 2 essays—one narrative and one expository.

Although the Writing test is one of three they must pass in the 7th grade (along with Reading and Math), it was important to me to communicate to my students that it doesn’t mean that much to me.

Allow me to explain. I have known my students for 8 months. I spend more time each day with them than with anyone else. I teach some of them for 3 hours a day (the lucky ducks who have me for Reading, AVID, and Language Arts).

They are more aware of my quirks than anyone else (including myself—apparently I have an “about-to-go-off” face). They have taught me more…

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How Do You REALLY Feel?

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“These kids…they just don’t get it! They have no respect and they just don’t want to learn! I don’t get paid enough for this!” I would venture to say that we all, at one time or another, have heard, spoken, or had similar thoughts. I’ll be honest…after this last week of school, I may have been liable for walking away from all of it at a moment’s notice. Spring fever has set in and these babies are rambunctious as ever! Is THIS what my life has come to? Several days during the past month, I have reflected on my practice and my approach with my scholars. At this moment, they appear cold and uncaring of their behavior, level of effort, and will to learn. I’ve lost them. They no longer care. “Well, then…if they don’t care…I don’t care.” I think to myself. Then, I question myself. Is this how I’m really feeling?

You see, for the last few weeks, I have been leaving my school and my scholars exhausted, agitated, frustrated, and discouraged. I admit these feelings hover above many of us as a desolate cloud around this time every year. Winter has been long and cold. The students have had no true release of their pent up energy other than however they release it at home or during their P.E. classes since temperatures have been too unbearably cold outside to take them. I would like to consider myself one who works diligently and desperately to make learning fun, but being confined to a classroom for several hours a day, every day, can unsettle even the most knowledgeable, creative teachers and their students. And right now…for me, I’ve thrown my hands up in accepted defeat, saying aloud to my husband, “I’m done! They’ve given up and I just don’t have the energy.” He shakes his head in disagreement, and says, “No. That’s not the type of person you are. That’s not the type of teacher you are. So, what is really going on? How do you really feel?” I look away to hide my frustration, unable to answer.

https://i1.wp.com/www.simplyoasis.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/BangHeadHere.jpgLike the unconditional love I have for my own three children, I find myself wretched with guilt over my current emotional uncertainties and copiously overwhelmed with the amount of love and care I have for this particular group of scholars. I have love for every one of the students that has crossed my path, but this particular group is different for some reason. Different in ways I can explicitly identify, but also different in so many more ways I cannot. Differences in race and ethnicity are the most obvious the moment you walk in my classroom. Learning styles become apparent with daily instruction, which ultimately draws out the differences in students self esteem and self worth. It’s the unseen and unknown differences that probably make what we do the most challenging and, as I’ve come to realize, is the primary source of my current aggravations. As it goes, I am only in control of that which occurs within the walls of my classroom and the school environment, but, oh, how I wish I could control more.

While they are in my presence, I talk to them about hard work, challenging themselves, settling for nothing, changing their thinking, and believing in themselves. I show them what empathy for others looks like, good manners and respect as well. We are a family, so we practice lifting each other with supportive words and gestures, as well as further strengthening our bond by not only learning, but by having fun in every aspect of our instructional day. I guess this is why seeing them out of sorts, rejecting everything I have worked so hard to instill in them, hurts so very much. You heard me refer to this earlier as “Spring fever”, as most educators do, but my humanness calls it disrespectful and inconsiderate! This past week, they have shown nothing but ungratefulness and I, for one, have had enough! I am done! I have other things I could be doing and focusing on rather than going the extra mile for a group of unappreciative “other people’s children”! This…I don’t need it! And…yet…I can’t get any one of them off my mind, out of my every thought, or the depths of my beating heart. I just cannot shake them.

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Ok. Fine! You want to know how I really feel? Alright then, I’ll tell you.

I am in complete and total awe of the growing potential I see in each of my scholars, not only as individuals, but also as an entire group. I believe that every child has a gift and that every child can learn. I take full responsibility for making certain that each one of those babies, my scholars, believes the same before they leave me at the end of the year. I have tough love for them, but also a gentle love that some of them may feel only when I give it to them. Reprimanding or strong correction, strong encouragement, fist pumps, pats on the shoulder, or even a hug are just some of the ways I show just how much I love and care for my scholars. State and local policies strongly discourage physical contact between teachers and students for reasons I am aware and do understand. However, when mine may be the only source of love and nurturing my scholars receive; there is no question about whether or not to relinquish the gestures. Quite frankly, the thought never persisted very long. Simply put, I will not be an added source of rejection for my scholars.

How do I feel? When my students are upset, it makes me upset, especially when I am unable to determine the root of the problem. When they are crying or someone hurts their feelings, I respond very much like a mother bear with every intention of protecting them from all hurt and harm, in and out of school. I feel strongly that my scholars’ circumstances, whatever they may currently be, do not have to be the determining factors of the future they wish for themselves. My passion for my scholars runs deeper than it has any year prior. So, even on the days I want to throw up my hands and give it all up, I know that my inability to get them off my mind tells me that I need them as much as they need me. It is confirmation that for this particular moment in my life, at this particular moment in time, on this particular day, I am right where I am supposed to be, and really…I would not change a thing. And that, my friends, is how I really feel.

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Keep It Movin!!!

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Conferences never cease to amaze me.  Typically, we spend two nights a year meeting with parents to discuss plans for the year, student behavior, and student progress.  The conversation generally starts with a highlight of the student’s grades and their academic performance.  I work hard to keep things as positive as possible, unless there is an imperative need to discuss the negative in more detail.  Most of the time, parents whose student requires a greater focus on negative behavior never show up anyway, which I still struggle to understand.  The only thing I can determine is that these parents just don’t want to hear one more negative thing about their child. As a parent, I guess I understand that. As an educator, I want to work with parents to make positive changes in their child’s life.

As I contemplate on that, I think about my Victor. You may remember Victor from a previous blog post. I spoke to him about changing his behavior to demonstrate the greatness inside of him rather than the behavior his friends and even some adults expected of him.  I talked with him about being confident with regard to his academic ability as well as his leadership ability.  I assured him that it was okay to be a positive role model rather than a negative one and that in doing so; he could be just as popular.  Well, Victor has made great strides since that conversation in December.  Don’t get me wrong, he still has some work to do, but what is certain is that he needs someone to continuously remind him of his greatness and to keep it movin after every accomplishment he makes, otherwise, he will lose sight of his objective. Therefore, when Victor is off task or pulled in the opposite direction of his greater ability, all I have to do is say, “Greatness”, and he responds appropriately.  Since our conversation prior to winter break, Victor remains on task during instruction most of the time.  I rarely see any pouting when he is working in class and he even completed his winter break homework.  He has not been sent to the office for disruptive behavior and has even joined the school’s Safety Patrol program.  His potential is more than apparent but my hope for him is to just remember that he has to keep pushing.  He has to…keep it movin!

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More recently during conferences, I met with a father who, first, was not required to conference for his child, and second, had not confirmed a time to conference for his child, so I wasn’t expecting him.  Murray’s father, who speaks limited English, came to see me simply to check on his son’s academic and behavioral progress.  Murray is far from the typical description of a “behavior problem”. In fact, he has made the Merit Roll this quarter and has become very detailed in his work. He does however enjoy socializing quite a bit, which does become a distraction to his learning.  For the most part, though, Murray is right on track. His father expresses how proud he is of his boy, then looks at me and tells me that he always tells his son that he can be whatever he wants to be and that he wants him to do better than he did himself. Of course he does.  It’s what every parent wants for their child, right?

Murray has three other siblings, two older and one younger. They are all performing at or above grade level academically, so father is extremely proud, as he should be.  Murray is listening to his father proudly and intently.  I look at him and confirm that we are all so very proud of his accomplishments this quarter, but explained that he still has work to do.  Even though he has worked hard to earn these grades, I explained, “You have to keep it movin!” It’s at this time I ask Murray to recite a couple of lines from our Scholar Statement. I ask, “With hard work, you can do what?” “Anything.”, he responds. “With hard work, you can be what?” “Anything.”, he responds. “And who is in control of your future?” I ask.  He responds, “I am!”  I add that it is not too early to begin thinking of his future and that he cannot get comfortable with the success he has made this quarter.  I tell him he has to keep it movin. I maintain that he has to continue working hard to make the grade, so, “You have to keep it movin!” I tell him. His dad nodded in agreement and appreciation for the reiteration as our conference ended.

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What is ironic about this entire conversation is that my pastor had just spoken on the topic of “keeping it movin” in that past Sunday’s sermon. He explained that attaining success in anything does not stop once you reach a set goal.  Once you reach your goal, you keep it movin and set a new goal!  How profound is that? You see, in the past, “keep it movin” meant, go away, get a life, get to steppin’, and leave me alone! But, now, in a more positive connotation, these few words could have powerful implications on us as educators as well as on our students. This phrase has helped me to define perseverance for my students in a different way. In a way they seem to better understand!

As educators, we face many challenges. We are charged with the task of determining the academic needs of anywhere between 20-30 students. We assess each one, individually or as a group, frequently, at their individual level, at many times throughout the year.  We assess and monitor our students in a variety of methods in order to predict their possible success on the state assessment.  Sometimes, the things we do work.  Sometimes they don’t.  The fact of the matter is, however, that regardless of the outcome, it is at that point that we make the conscious decision whether to keep it movin or not, when in reality, there should be no decision to make. As they say, it is what it is. When our students master a skill, keep it movin and challenge them to master the next.  Even when they don’t master the skill, we need not give up on their ability to succeed, nor should we focus on what may appear, at that particular time, to be our inability to reach our students. Instead, we need to keep it movin! Remain focused on our purpose. Remember the commitment we made to children the moment we decided to become educators. Check your approach, change your instruction, and keep it movin! Students inability to master a skill does not indicate an unwillingness to learn, but rather necessitates a different way of teaching in order for them to receive it, process it, and finally, to master it.  It is an opportunity to define our instruction and make it better. So, instead of giving up, keep it movin! When students master skills beyond their ability, it does not mean your job is complete. What it does mean, is that you have more work to do! So, keep it movin! It’s our duty and obligation to push our students beyond their seemingly confined limits. It is our job as educators to determine just how far we can push. Therefore, you have to keep it movin!

Listen, no matter the level of success, no matter how big or small their dream, we have to help our students see that even when they reach one goal, another goal is waiting in the ranks. Once you acquire one accomplishment, keep it movin…on to the next one! In like fashion, we as educators need to model how to set goals and persevere through barriers in order to reach them.  We need to show our students what can happen when they keep it movin.  So, get out there and get busy.  There is no time to waste. There is still much work to be done. So, go ahead! What are you waiting for? Keep it movin!!

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Check Your Approach

Approach

It’s 3:20pm on the Friday before winter break.  I’m driving home in complete silence, thinking. Every part of my soul wants to be thinking about the holiday parties I will attend, the fellowship with family I will enjoy, and of course, the rest I so eagerly have been longing for. However, this is not what consumes my thoughts.  A student has touched my inner core this week.  I will come back to this shortly.

As I drove along, encased within my own silence, I began thinking of the “Scholar Statement” I wrote over the past summer.  My students recite it every morning and it reads as follows:

2002 Doc Hurley Scholars

I am a Scholar.

I can DO anything, LEARN anything, BE anything.

I cannot fail and WILL NOT fail,

because failure is not an option.

I am in control of my future and my destiny.

I am a Scholar.

I am the FUTURE.

I wrote this after spending some time thinking of ways to help my students change the way they think about learning.  I had recently visited a local charter school and done some research on the Uncommon Schools. I was drawn to the approach the schools use to help students focus on a future filled with success. I found that inside the walls of these schools, student classrooms are typically named for colleges and students referred to as scholars, thus committing to reinvent students’ thinking from that of a fixed mindset to that of a growth mindset. In a 2012 interview, Carol Dweck clarifies the difference between the two mindsets as follows:

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it (retrieved December 24, 2013 from onedublin.org).

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So, the approach of the Uncommon Schools now became MY approach. The Scholar Statement became our daily affirmation. I needed to empower them. I needed for them to embrace the greatness that many of them had yet to realize was within them.  They are all Scholars and are referred to as such no matter where we are or what we are doing in the school.  The Scholar Statement is a reminder of my expectations for them and the expectations for themselves and each other. There is greatness filling the walls of my classroom.

With that, let me share this interaction I had with one particular scholar during our last week of 2013 together.  I will call this young man Victor. On the Thursday before break, the school attends the annual winter program. This year, K-2 students, with the exception of about 17 of my scholars, performed the program.  The music teacher asked if this select group of scholars would assist the kindergarteners with one song during the program, as well as greet parents and act as runners for other classes in between songs. Of course, like a proud mother, I agreed to allow the scholars to participate. Victor was among the chosen.

Now, Victor is one of six siblings. He’s the third oldest. He is known to cause mischief and to instigate drama. He is also very bright, athletic, and funny.  You see, I found in his academic records that Victor has the documented potential of performing in the advanced level on the state’s standardized assessment.  His scores have been on the decline since 3rd grade.  His strength is in the area of mathematics, particularly with problem solving.  He especially enjoys the challenge of solving 6th grade problems. Reading is not his best friend, but he trudges through it, only to pacify me. However, this can all change if Victor is having a difficult morning. There are times when Victor refuses to work and instead pouts in protest to the daily assignments. That’s quite a difference from the description above, isn’t it?  His inability to process frustration often times blocks his capability to complete his work.  There are times when he is confronted with something that pushes him straight to the point of giving up.  He doesn’t believe that there is more to his mindset. It’s fixed! So, rather than exerting more effort, he reverts to behavioral disruptions instead.

Today, the Thursday before break, Victor is in his all too familiar mischievous mood. He is all over the place, excited, off task, and in somebody’s ear about anything insignificant (albeit significant enough to get under anyone’s skin)!  He has become quite skilled at doing things under the radar. Normally, I can detect even his slightest thought of becoming disruptive, but today with so much going on, he is two steps ahead of me.

As we waited for the other grade levels to arrive for the performance, I noticed one of my girls crying uncontrollably. I had been sitting in view of them and hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, so I was aghast at the sight. I knelt down and asked what was wrong. She proceeded to tell me through each crying breath that Victor had been calling her names and how extremely tired she was of him messing with her. Victor is avoiding eye contact with me at all cost as I speak with her, so I know…something is up.  He’s even talking to himself under his breath and I know he’s trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care that she is telling me what he has done. My stare has now become a glare and Victor’s eyes finally meet mine.  I motion for him to take a seat on the bleachers and allow the young lady to go to the restroom to get herself together.

I am SO upset with Victor and I begin to scold him. “Scholars are respectful to each other and to other people!” I scolded. Then, I stopped. I had to approach this differently. He’s been yelled at and scolded enough.  Probably more than imaginable but that is an uncertainty and is irrelevant at this particular moment. What is important right at this moment is the manner in which I choose to address Victor about what has happened between him and his peer. I waited a few moments before speaking with him. We both needed a moment.

need new approach to IT,

Moments have passed and I think I’m ready, so I call Victor over to me and away from his peers. I ask him what that incident was about and he admits he called her names, but only AFTER she called him names first. Now, this next statement will seem a bit cliché, but I have to say it…she’s the student that never says a word and is never in trouble, so needless to say, it was difficult for me to believe this accusation. I shared my reservation with Victor and he understood my dilemma.  I thanked him for his honesty and understanding at that moment. It was at this point that I shifted the conversation from his admitted negative behavior to his positive and greater potential.

I told Victor that he was filled with greatness. I told him how smart he was, in addition to being athletic and humorous. I told him that he could do anything he wanted to do, but that he blocks his greatness with some of the choices he makes inside and outside of school.  I explained that hurting people is just a way of blocking the good that is inside of him.  I tell him that it’s ok to be smart and to show others that he is smart.  “You are and are allowed to be a great example for your peers! Don’t be ashamed of your ability.  Use your greatness to change the world around you.” I continued. Victor said nothing. Tears began to stream down his face instead.  I asked him why he was crying. He again said nothing.  I asked if he had ever been told that he was smart and filled with greatness. As he wiped his tears, he still said nothing. Only shook his head indicating he had not. My heart sank at that very moment. I have been thinking about Victor and that conversation ever since.

The following day, the last day before break, Victor was…different. This is the day we all expect shenanigans and over zealousness from our students, so I expected Victor to respond in-kind. This time, I was wrong. Victor came in reserved and stoic. Rather than sitting with the other young men that had congregated to work on a holiday packet, Victor sat alone. Don’t get me wrong, he did not withdraw himself entirely. I could, however, tell that he was making good choices, purposefully and consciously, throughout the day. It took my reflecting on the events of the day to realize what had happened. Victor had heard what I said and had begun thinking about his potential.  He even gave me a hug and wished me a Merry Christmas before he left. The best gift I could ever receive. I have to admit; I cannot help but wonder if this change in mindset will continue once we return from break. I expect that there will be more to be done with my Victor and more to this story after break, but for now, at least he and I both know that change is possible, there is hope, and there is a future for him.

My reflection reveals that our approach, as educators, matters.  What we say and how we say it, what we do and how we do it…matters.  Our choice of actions and words can have a transformational affect on our students’ lives. They can be interpreted as s/he cares or s/he doesn’t. One word, one phrase is all it takes to make or break them. One word, one phrase can change the mindset of our students in the blink of an eye. That’s quite a bit of power and responsibility, wouldn’t you say? I agree wholeheartedly. However, I also realize that this duty comes with the territory.   We have committed to taking the good with the bad. It is my opinion that we have changed the meaning of that statement. You see, what we frequently find ourselves doing is taking the “good” and the “bad” and using them to label our students as such.  Yes, you’ve done it! We’ve all done it.  “He’s good.” and “She’s bad.” But, let’s be clear, we should not consider “good” and “bad” to be definitions of a student’s behavior but rather an indication of a students inability to communicate their needs and/or the lack of guidance they may or may not receive outside of school.

As I conclude, stop and think about YOUR Victor…or Victoria.  Think about what s/he does and says, the choices s/he makes, the challenges s/he takes you through on a daily basis.  Now, think about how you have responded.  How did you intervene? What was your approach? Know that while you think you may be emotionally connected and have developed a trusting rapport with your students, there may be something buried so deep down that they don’t even realize there is pain inside. We have been charged with the task of helping our students work through their confusion in order to help them realize their potential and free their minds. It is imperative for us to keep this in the forefront of our minds when disruptive behavior outweighs productive behavior. So, the next time YOUR Victor is under everyone’s skin…take a moment…and check your approach.