Happy 2021! There have been a plethora of articles and books written on making resolutions, setting goals, blah, blah, blah. I have found that writing resolutions (for me) has been an exercise in complete and total futility. I write them down (or painfully think them up) and inevitably don't reach the goals which then leads to feelings of failure and inadequacy. I have already seen naysayers of this but I am embracing the ONE WORD concept. A friend of mine suggested reading this:
The idea is that as you read and work through the exercises in this book, your "word" will emerge. You then apply this word to every aspect of your life for one year. The first sentence that rattled my thoughts as I read was: "In the Chinese language, the word busyness is represented by single pictograph of two characters: heart and killing." After mulling this over, I was reminded of all of the times I (and others) have remarked,, how busy I am. That scared me because I realize I am in the vortex of driving to work (an hour one way), doing my job, driving home (an hour), eating supper, going to bed, and the cycle starts over. Drum roll please...my word for this year is LIVE (really live). It permeated all of my thoughts as I continued to read. I hope you've seen the movie Secondhand Lions but if you haven't, it's about a young introverted boy who is sent to live with his eccentric great-uncles. Through many obstacles and adventures, the young boy learns valuable life lessons and teaches them some as well. In the end, the boy remarks they lived, really lived. So that's my mantra and I'm sticking with it. I want to really live - not survive, but live my best life. What is your word?
Today is the test! Today is the test! Said no one ever! As I visited the campuses in my district this morning, I noticed a few things. First of all, I saw adults posted in the halls every few feet and the silence was deafening. What struck me as funny is that we have specific bathroom monitors. Really? Do you think our students are going to the bathroom to Google answers on the standardized writing test? Their phones have already been taken up. Oh, I know the state requires us to do some pretty crazy things to accommodate, monitor and "protect" the testing environment...I just think we have gone overboard. When I was young (in the days of the dinosaurs), we were given a standardized test one day when we came to school. Here are your #2 pencils and do the best you can, we were told. There was no stress. I have had more than one student tell me they did not want to go to the next grade because of THE (fill in the blank TAKS, EOC, STAAR...) TEST! Seriously, I think our legislators and the state board of education should have to take the 4th grade STAAR, writing, and the 8th grade STAAR math, reading, science and social studies' tests. But before they take the tests, they should be warned, the date circled, notes and emails to remind them of the impending event, and make sure to tell them to get a good night's sleep before THE TEST. On top of that, they should be told that if they don't pass this test, they will lose their jobs-even if they have done a super job up to this point. Wow! No wonder our students and teachers have that glazed over look at the end of testing days. We probably need counseling, but our counselors are too busy making sure every pencil, answer document, test document, and scratch paper are checked in along with making sure the teacher initials the checking out and in of materials. WHEW! Do you see something wrong with this picture?
Infographic by- GO-Gulf.com
This infographic was designed by Go-Gulf Web Design Company.
Do you ever wonder to yourself, "What did people do before the internet?" Our students don't know a world without internet, apps, cell phones, or instant news. When we, as teachers, try to engage our students with lectures or endless worksheets, how do you think they will react? There is nothing flashy, no discovering, no creating, or depth of knowledge going on. Engage isn't even the correct word to use; talk at is what we do. There is only one-way communication because oftentimes we don't even ask questions; or worse, we ask and then answer (ourselves) without giving students time to think. We have robots sitting in their seats (well, some of them are; the rest are fidgeting, wiggling, etc.) hoping we will hush up so they can do something.
As you look at this infographic, notice the sites that are getting the most traffic. Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Whats App, and YouTube are seeing tons of traffic. What are these sites? Social media. Someone posts, another person replies, debates, comments, or gives kudos. There is almost instantaneous feedback. Students need feedback, quickly and meaningfully on assignments. Google Classroom allows us to provide just such feedback. What are you waiting for?
Reflections are sneaky. At first they seem so simple and straightforward. The tricky part comes when you try to put words to it. The explanation, description, process becomes more difficult. Only those who truly understand the concept can explain it well.
Video or audio reflection for students can reveal so much. First of all, what kid doesn't want to record him/herself and share it with others? Secondly, it's a lot more interesting and fun than writing an essay. In the process of video reflection, students unknowingly have to organize their thoughts, understand what they are explaining, learn to demonstrate, and figure out how to be concise. Those are all skills they need for life.
The best part of reflections are what we can extrapolate from them. We can immediately tell if the concept was understood. (informal assessment without a worksh**t!) We can spend our time one-on-one with students who need our help while others are engaged preparing for their reflections. We can also "hear" and "see" students' voice and body language. We can hear apathy or passion, surface or complete understanding, shyness or boldness. We can also find growth as we continue the reflection process.
We can also add constructive criticism and teach students how to leave positive feedback. Rubrics can be introduced to guide students to look for key points. As teachers, we can leave our students comments that will give them specific ways to improve or to let them know you'd like to work with them (without announcing it out loud).
What a wonderful way to keep a portfolio for each student to show them how much they've learned throughout the year! They can see not only what they've learned, but how they have become better speakers and more confident in presenting/sharing.
My friend, reflections are of great value for our students. There are so many sites and apps that can be used. Here are just a few:
A comment I overheard at the middle school prompts me to write this blog post. I heard two 8th graders saying they wish they could take their math STAAR test with pencil and paper. This shocked me! I thought all Generation Z-ers wanted to do digital things exclusively. I started to ask random students and adults about their digital worlds. Guess what? Pencil (pen) and paper are still cool!
When I hear people say we are going paperless in their school, I have to laugh for several reasons!
1. If you took the copy machine out of the work room, there would be a mass uprising of teachers.
2. The power of doodling has been shown to relieve stress and improve focus. Not as easy to doodle on a device. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-thinking-benefits-of-doodling-2016121510844)
3. Handwriting? Students need a perfunctory knowledge of penmanship, whether printing or cursive.
4. Math-students need to be able to draw shapes, complete steps in a problem, and erase. Isn't there something powerful about being able to erase??
I could go on ad nauseam, but my point is there has to be balance between being digital and using paper and pen(cil). If you were forced to only use a specific device all of the time, how would you feel about it? Why not give your students a choice? You might be surprised at how many times older students will choose pen(cil) and paper!
Every year, I fight the guilt that I know I am going to feel when I make a resolution and can't follow through. What constitutes a good resolution? There are lofty resolutions to be sure, but can they truly be accomplished fully? It seems that everyone makes a resolution to get in shape or lose weight. How many people ever satisfy that? Seriously? If guilt drives the resolution, sign me up to lose weight and get in the best shape of my life!
No, that just doesn't seem to fit me this year. I want to craft a resolution that is attainable and sustainable. My resolution should be an example to my teachers and students. A resolution that can be measured. No pressure at all!!
Be present. That's it! My resolution is to be present completely in every meeting, PD, face to face conversation, etc. Listen, think about, respond carefully and fully pay attention to the one speaking. Hear what they are conveying not just with words but with body language, tone, and expression.
This resolution doesn't knock your socks off, and I will try to lose weight and get in shape. I want people to know when they communicate with me, I am really there, present in that space of time.