Magic School Bus

Do you remember Ms. Frizzle and her magical school bus?  Watching this show growing up, it was so fun to see the kids go on some amazing field trips to different ecosystems, inside the human body, and everywhere in between.  Recently, Netflix revamped the series and my youngest daughter is hooked!Screenshot 2018-09-13 at 12.41.24 PM

While watching with her one day, I was struck at how the field trips that were once impossible outside of the show are actually quite possible today.  You can visit almost anywhere in the world via Google Maps or Google Earth.  There are apps and websites for looking at human anatomy from the inside out.  With a green screen and the DoInk app, a student can take the path of a water droplet and explain it in detail.  Then, with Seesaw, the final product can be shared with an authentic audience!

Find your inner Ms. Frizzle!

What a fantastic time to be teaching and learning!  Magic School Bus will still be a favorite at our house, but as a teacher and a coach, I have the opportunity to bring these experiences to life!

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You Want Me To Do What?!

I have two daughters, nine and five.  As they get older, I expect them to do more for themselves.  As their parent, it’s my responsibility to have these expectations, and to increase my expectations as they get older.  Nothing I ask them to do is outside of being developmentally appropriate, but the way my girls react when I ask them to do something new, you would think I was asking them to climb Mt. Everest.

I repeatedly say Henry Ford’s quote “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”.  My girls know that a positive attitude can change your outlook on specific tasks.

I found myself thinking of that quote today, when having conversations with teachers.  Sometimes it is easy to resist change by saying the kids can’t do this or that.  As a technology coach, I’m often asked to support teachers in finding solutions to problems ranging from data tracking to evidence of learning compilation to using a different way to show student learning.  When I present solutions that involve the students having to learn a new skill in order to solve the issue, the response I get is usually that the kids are too little, or will have too much trouble with it.  Guess what?

Whether you think THEY can or you think THEY can't, you're right!

The same thoughts on expectations apply to teachers’ thoughts on student abilities as my thoughts on my own children.  When you set expectations so low that you won’t even try something new for the assumption that kids can’t do it, you are doing a disservice to everyone involved.

Kids will surprise you with what they can do, with or without technology.  They know a lot more than you think, and are willing to learn a lot more than you might think, if you only give them a chance to show you!

Wanted

Both of my girls are in elementary school this year.  My oldest started 4th grade and my youngest started kindergarten.  Being a staff member at the school they attend, most of the teachers know my girls.  I have been told so many times “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait until your daughter is in my class!”  It’s a great feeling to have, for sure.

Then I had a conversation with a co-worker a couple of days before school started.  Her daughter attends a different school, and is exceptional in many different ways.  This little girl has her hand stacked against her to some degree, but also has a sweet, loving, kind side.  This side can be hard to see in daily interactions, but her mom wanted so desperately for that side of her to be what teachers knew about her before anything else.  Her exact words were “I want her to be wanted”.

This was heartbreaking.  I could hear the pain and worry in this mother’s voice, thinking what her new teacher would have already heard about her child.  This mother only desired what we would all choose for our own children…to simply be wanted.

By friends at recess.  By teachers to be in their class.  By other parents for playdates.

How many times have we looked at our class lists and already had ideas about what a child was going to be like?  I’m guessing most of the time, those ideas came from previous teachers and their experience with that child.  What we don’t always do is give each student a clean slate to start the year.  Each year is different, even with the same child in mind, and that child’s relationship with the teacher makes a huge difference.

As you get that list of names, think of this:

Someones Whole World

Find out what you have an educational need to know about that child, but let it stop there.  How each child behaved the year before has no bearing on how they will act this year.  Get to know each child, build a relationship, and go from there.  Kayla Delzer says it this way:

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Every student in your class has the right to feel wanted.

Contagiously Positive

Across the U.S., schools are gearing up for a new year.  Carpets are clean, floors are waxed, new bulletin boards are being created.  Teachers are trickling in, excited and anxious to get their rooms ready and, more importantly, get that list of new children they get to pour into for the next 180 days.

Teachers who are new to my district started back last week.  I had the opportunity to facilitate a training session with them, and there was one thing I kept thinking:

“Wow, every single person in here is smiling!”

We have first year teachers, experienced teachers, grade level teachers, fine arts teachers, and special education teachers new to our campus this year.  They know the challenges they might face in the upcoming school year, yet they brought such a positive attitude to the school.  They are so full of energy.  They are ready.

In our first day as a full staff, these brand new faces brought even more eagerness and zest to the room.  They participated in discussions, didn’t shy away from speaking their mind, and seemed to fit in right away.  It was incredibly inspiring!

This group of amazing people brought new life into a building that is working on rebuilding its culture.  There are major changes happening (that’s another post), and they are bringing positivity to the whole school.  As my principal, Natalie Miller, says, they are “contagiously positive”.

Who in your school is contagiously positive?

How can you be contagiously positive?

Using Up Grit

Grit.

It’s become a commonly used word in education over the past few years.  Educators refer to a student’s ability to work through difficult situations as “having grit”.  Sometimes, it is explained to students through demonstrations with sandpaper.  Coarse grit gets rid of rough patches, while fine grit prepares the wood for staining or painting.  All types of grit are needed to create a beautiful table or shelf, or to help a student learn a particularly difficult subject or topic.

Most of the time, we think about students only having grit in school.

Recently, Matt Larson and the rest of the #4OCFpln discussed grit in schools.  Matt works in an inner-city charter school, and many of the students come from difficult home lives.  He alluded to the fact that for some students, simply getting up and getting to school takes all the grit they have.  They arrive at school and their piece of sandpaper, if you will, is already worn smooth.  There’s no grit left.

This was a point of view I hadn’t thought of before.  What do we do for the kids who have no grit left to use?

Give them a new piece of sandpaper.

Make sure they ate breakfast, and feed them if they are hungry.

Let them nap if they are tired.

Show empathy toward their life.  Things that might not be a big deal to you could be a big deal to them.

Take time to teach social-emotional skills, no matter what age group you work with.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Just as a master carpenter can’t finish a piece of furniture with just one piece of sandpaper, students can’t finish the year, on occasion even the day, without somehow getting a new piece of sandpaper.  And if they aren’t getting it from home, it’s our job as educators to provide one for them.

It’s A Great Day To Save Lives

In a recent conversation in my #4OCFpln Voxer group, a comparison between surgeons and teachers, and how teachers should share new knowledge like surgeons was discussed.

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Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

While thinking about surgeons, I was struck by another analogy.  When someone has a surgery, the phrase “surgery team” is used when discussing the upcoming operation.  In the operating suite, there are surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, other technicians, and even students learning the art of surgery.  Hopefully, this scenario seems familiar…

When in planning meetings, don’t you have just as many people around the table?  Teammates, instructional coaches, administration, even the occasional student teacher?  Just as each person in an operating suite plays an vital role in the success of the operation, each person in your planning meetings are essential to the success of the students in the school.

Staff Meeting

Surgeons save lives.  They fix problems to improve a person’s well-being.  While not as flashy, and certainly with much less money, teachers are saving lives, too.

They save lives by building relationships with students, empowering them to own their learning, and giving them the opportunity to truly belong somewhere.  A teacher might save the life of a student who is being bullied by simply  being there to listen.  Another might encourage a student to learn something new, thereby changing the career path and that student’s future.  Yet another teacher may give a leadership role to a previously shy student, boosting their confidence for years to come.

While it might not feel like it when you are in the trenches, you save lives every single day.

Holly King explores this similarity further in her recent blog post “Teaching: Compared to Other Professions”.

From Innovation to Best Practice

Open Concept School Buildings

Workshop Model

Guided Reading

Whole Language Teaching

Data Driven Instruction

All of these concepts were once innovative in their practice.  Some are still fairly new, some have gone by the wayside and aren’t seen very often anymore.

Some have become best practice.

My school is moving to a house model next year.  This means that instead of one grade level being all together in a row, all grades will be together in a house.  From kinder to 5th, students will belong to one house.  Many schools around the country are moving to this model, and it has its benefits:

  • Collaboration between grade levels, with academics and social skills
  • Higher level of social-emotional learning with implementation of daily house meetings
  • Older students on campus have the ability to be leaders to younger kids, instead of only being around their own grade
  • Relationships built, so lower incidents of bullying

There are concerns too.  What if older students talk about things younger students aren’t ready to learn about yet, like Santa?  What if they are sharing the same bathroom?  What if younger students feel intimidated by the older kids?  I think the what ifs could go on and on.

But what if this works?  What if we are setting kids up for success because we are teaching them life skills in addition to academic skills?  What if students leave elementary school armed with the social-emotional skills needed to tackle middle school and beyond?

What if this becomes best practice?

Don’t we owe it to our kids to take the risk and try?File_001