Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't Give Up. STEP UP!

To my 5th grade students,
I always tell you that in the Fearless Classroom you won’t fall.  That we have each other’s backs and that we will succeed together no matter what.  I tell you that I don’t worry about the learning that takes place in our classroom because I know the level to I teach.  But that isn’t exact 100% true.  Truth is I am very worried.  Truth is we are not being as successful as we could be.
I always tell you that when you want to confront something you need to look at it from all angles.  You need to approach a problem with a solution or a bunch of solutions.  Complaints don’t fix anything.  Words without action are meaningless. I need to share with you how I feel about teaching and then I can tell you why I worry so much about you.
As an educator, I am torn between wanting to educate children to be thinkers, explorers, and curious souls, and covering the curriculum.  Being fearless means taking a leap of faith, a well-calculated risk, that the curriculum is secondary to the education I will be providing.  It is believing that I, the teacher, am actually the weakest source of information I could give to my students, but the most powerful of idea-generators, question-posers, genius-cultivators, and that, in fact, it is YOU, the students, who are capable of learning without me.  I must allow failure to always be an option in our classroom. I must commit to fail, disappoint, and make mistakes eagerly.  
 
I must fail to stop learning, fail to settle for less than my own best or yours, fail to be satisfied with our work.  I must disappoint you when you think that I will back down when you fight against your best and against the opportunities you are given in my class.  And I MUST make mistakes.  Make them daily...in front of you and let you engage in solutions with me.  It is a necessary tool in learning to struggle through a challenge in order to find authentic learning. 
     
I believe this so fully.  And this is why I am so afraid for you.  I care about you more than you realize and more than you probably care about yourselves.  It never has been and never will be about what you do or accomplish in my classroom.  I am not in this career, I don’t come to school excited everyday because I think something I say or do will suddenly morph you into a student who for the rest of his or her life will embrace every piece of information as if it were the last most delicious morsel of food every eaten.  But I do care about the kind of people you will be when you leave me.  I remind you daily that you matter.  What I mean is that you matter in a way that no book or website or poem or math problem could ever matter.  You matter more than any test score or grade or academic achievement.   It is because you matter so much to me and to this world that I must tell you that I can no longer sit by quietly and watch what isn’t happening to you.
Don’t get me wrong.  It is vital to your future that you learn the reading passages and poems and fractions and science experiments and historical events.  Knowledge is power and you can’t go anywhere in life without knowledge.  But you don’t need me for that.  You have resources available to you right now at the press of a button that will give you all of that information.  You’re not coming to my class solely for information.  I can see why you would not care to attend regularly or not understand what the point is if you are thinking that this is all you are expected to gain.
You come to my class to learn something so much more important.  Something that you cannot learn on the internet or from an app or from a book even.  You come to learn your impact in this world.  Your place of importance.  Your ability to have influence.  You are here to be as much of a teacher as a student and to figure out who you are and can be. 
So I ask you this.  How do you approach problems?  I mean what happens when you forget your lunch in the car?  What happens when you can’t find a paper that is due?  How do you react when a friend tells a lie about you or betrays your trust?  How do you react when you tell the truth about something and no one believes you?  How do you react when what we do in here gets tough?  Really tough?  When you have no idea what to do next or how to even begin?  Who are you then?
You see, my dear students, THIS is what you come to this classroom to learn.  You must learn who you are and who you can be in order to negotiate these moments wisely, fairly, and maturely.  It is about growing up a little and seeing struggle as a gift, as a chance to grow and become greater than you think.  It is a chance to impact others and your own life in a positive way.  Because you need to know that life will go on after 5th grade and all of the thing you think are horrible will not matter in a year or 5.  The girl or boy who has your heart now will not have a name in your memory by college.  Even the lost opportunities to try and give some extra effort that you brush off because you don’t feel like it or think it isn’t important will hold no worth in your memories as the years go forth.  But life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs and it is in those downs that these experiences will either ease your anxiety or strike fear in your heart.
In my lifetime I have loved and lost, seen friends and loved ones die, I have had bad things said about me and I have not been believed.  I have given up when things got tough and I have quit trying a far too many things.  And the one thing I wish I had learned in school was how to tackle life when life roars at me.   
Being fearless is about embracing changes and challenges as steppingstones to success.  It is about not backing down but facing them head on with the determination and tenacity needed to come out having given your all to persevering through.  THIS is what being fearless is all about and what is going to be your legacy.  This is your preparation for life after school, far more than the content we discuss
I don’t want to see you give up in these moments.  You matter in this world and the world needs your contribution.  Without your contribution this world won’t be as effective, compassionate, connected, or beautiful.  That is quite the responsibility to take on, isn’t it?  But man, are you worth it.  Man, are you capable of that and so much more!
Don’t give up when it gets too difficult in class.  Step up, rather, and do it.  Do the task.  It doesn’t matter if you get it correct.  That will come.  But don’t give up on what you COULD do by allowing your doubt to stop you.   Don’t give up on that person you can be who doesn’t back down from a challenge.  This is YOUR education and YOUR intelligence that is in YOUR hands.  I can give you the task and the information, but it is up to you what you do with it.  Don’t give up, STEP up for yourself, your education, and your own intelligence.
Don’t give up by leaving class when things get tough or boring.  Don’t use the bathroom as an excuse to avoid challenges.  STEP UP.  Step up to drown out the voice in your head telling you that you can’t or shouldn’t have to try this.  You have the PRIVLEDGE of going to school without worry and without limitations.  So many have been denied this privilege and some have even been hurt and killed trying to just have a chance to learn.  Don’t give up on this opportunity.  STEP UP and embrace it.  STEP UP and honor it with your fullest effort to attend and try and fail and try again.  It isn’t about just showing up.  It’s about being present.  It’s a gift to learn in this country. 
Don’t give up by using defense tactics like sarcasm, back talk, and disrespect.  We ask you to walk quietly in the hallway to honor the learning of others.  It isn’t about compliance.  Whether you listen to us or not isn’t the point.  It is about stepping up for each other.  It is about stepping up so that our campus can honor the privilege of learning.  It is so you can step up and once again be the person who can be counted on to honor others respectfully and maturely.
Be the hope you want to see.  Be the change you deserve.  Be the person you and only you know you can be.  Be YOUR own hero.  If you allow doubt or mood or negative attitudes to stop you, you’re giving up.  You’ve lost.  You’re quitting and giving in to being powerless and voiceless later.  And no one who ever gave up ever did anything worth mentioning.  YOU matter more than giving up on.    
So here is my commitment to you as we move forward in this year.  As long as you are in my classroom and beyond that even, as long as you are part of my life, I refuse to give up on you or to allow you to give up on yourself.  My job is to give you the chance to be determined, courageous, tenacious, and respectful.  My job is to create opportunities for you to step up.  These opportunities may be difficult, they may angry you.  They may challenge you beyond your comfort zone.  They may scare you and make you feel incapable.  That is until you don’t.  Because you stepped up. You didn’t make excuses, you didn’t back down, you didn’t give up.  You stared the challenge straight in the eye and stepped up!

DON’T GIVE UP, STEP UP!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Trending What Matters

After hearing about the "Alex from Target" phenomenon, I had a conflicted reaction of moral duality.  On one hand, it demonstrated the power of social media.  Imagine that 250,000+ people in this world now know of this one kid from Texas simply because one girl thought he was attractive enough to post a photo of him on social media.  Having anything go "viral" is a demonstration in the sheer power of what the right tweet through the right channels can have on something.  But unfortunately, often the viral effect happens to damaging and humiliating events.  The case of Alex simply exemplifies our society's relentless obsession with looks.  I began to wonder what message was being sent to our young people, particularly our girls.  Will this "Alex from Target" effect perpetuate the selfie epidemic in our girls?  Will they amp up their obsessive display of self-objectifying photos just to have others build their egos so that they feel adequate and important?  What are we celebrating?  What are we encouraging?

As an educator, it is my obligation to use current events, particularly ones that impact my students directly, to, in the very least, get them to thinking and examining these events more critically.  They can draw their own conclusions, but I want them having deep and meaningful conversations about it.

I brought this topic to my 5th graders.

We talked about harnessing the power of social media for something more meaningful than selfies and viral photos and videos.  We discussed what makes a person beautiful and how beauty comes in all forms and all manifestations.  We listed humor, compassion, kindness, talent, effort, sacrifice and faith as ways beauty can be displayed.  I was inspired to hear that they really tried to stray away from physical beauty.  But there IS a need to discuss the positives of celebrating your most beautiful self too. We need to recognize and celebrate the beautiful parts of us.

And so the "OUR Beauty Project" began.

We have been learning about poetry and today's form was a diamante.  The topic was about defining beauty.  They were charged with creating a diamante about beauty and giving me a statement about what they find most attractive about themselves and why.  Then I asked them to respond to how they would capitalize on the sudden exposure to fame and 250,000+ followers to change the world.  Here are the results of this exercise.

Kaden:

"Popularity shouldn't be based on your looks.  It is your character, honesty, respect for yourself and others, and compassion that matter and make you important."

Miniyah:

"Beauty is perfectly imperfect."
Fake
hidden, masked
veiling, misleading, changing
a million bucks can't buy a heart of gold
inspiring, world-changing, creating
natural simple
Real

I would encourage people to step away from their phones, stop texting and taking selfies, and trying to impress social media with your looks and do something to make the world better.  

Kylie:

"My eyes are beautiful not because they are a pretty blue but because they see truth."


Outside beauty
altered, deceitful
fibbing, improving, covering 
Your truth lies inside of you
charming, shining, sharing
real, individual
inner beauty

Ebony:
pretty
gorgeous, lovely
sparkling, glowing, charming
grace is beneath the skin
hiding, disgusting, hating
unattractive, deceptive
ugly


Sophie:
"I would tell my followers, 'YOU are important! Share this.'"
Ugly
negative, impure
repelling, distrusting, changing
the cup is half full
charming, loving, laughing
positivity, graceful
good-natured

Emilie:
"I would tell them to follow their true self and live life."
Outer Beauty
untrustworthy, cruel
self-loving, faking, deceiving
true beauty is true to yourself
caring, loving, sharing
unselfish, good 
inner beauty

Alexis:
"Cherish this one day.  This is the day God has given you.  Start a viral revolution!  Befriend someone unpopular at school and start lifting them up."

Kalia:
"My smile changes the world because it is how happiness populates."

outer beauty
pretty fake
hiding, faking, worrying
you don't need validation
caring, loving, helping
kind-hearted loving
inner beauty

Devan:
"My ears are beautiful because they hear the truth in people."

Fake
pseudo, phony
veiling, suppressing, cloaking
fake is a break
shining amazing alluring
exquisiteness glamour
beauty

Anonymous:
Belonging
possessive, gorgeous
boasting, bragging, gloating
it's the inside beauty that counts
caring, admiring, respecting
cheerful, compassionate
character

Jola:
Makeup
fake, outer
lying, hiding, trying
wolf in sheep's clothing
impacting, expressing, seeing
true, inside
natural

Chris M.:
popular
cruel, spoiled
bullying, stunning, hurting
don't judge a book by its cover
caring, listening, loving
thoughtful, genius
alone





Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stop Setting Goals with Your Students

Start Setting Intentions

"Don't do anything unless you INTEND to do it. "--Oprah Winfrey

For the longest I can remember as an educator, setting goals has been something that we do as a way to not only track student progress, but to give them ownership of their own educational progress.  What we hope happens when setting goals with kids is that they will focus on something attainable and strive to achieve it.  Some do, some don't.  There never seemed to be a real draw or significant result from setting goals.  I even tried having students set their own goals each week and define how they would achieve them.  Still, nothing significant.  Sure they were aware of their academic status, where they needed to go and where they needed to be.  But why didn't this act of setting goals work like we all hoped it would?  I don't have the answer, but I think I have an alternative that might elicit a better result.  

Our classrooms are in service of our students' stories.  Think about that.  Their stories matter.  As humans, we often become what we believe.  Our students become what we help them believe.  If we want them to rise to meet the life and success we want for them and that they deserve, we must change our focus and beliefs.  Setting goals fundamentally has a flawed perspective.  We focus on our deficits, figure out a limited place of achievement, set our sights on that place, and work to get there.  We begin with a deficit viewpoint.  

So what if we stop setting goals and start setting intentions?  Webster's Dictionary defines intention as a having a course or action as one's purpose or objective.  The course of action becomes their purpose.  If students focused their minds everyday on their intention to learn something, achieve something…if they name it, see it, feel that success…would they achieve at higher rates?  We shall see.  It is certainly worth making reflection questions and our classroom content objective our intentions each day.  Ask your students, "What do you intend to learn today?"  

When we think about the way things tend to be however we perceive them to be…you may have seen the quote about change your attitude, change your life?…well, what if our educational system, our states, our districts, our campuses, our classrooms, our teacher's lounges, our PTOs, our communities all perceive our student outcome success or failure as a reflection of our intention?  How might our attitudes about student work, objectives, lesson planning, etc. change?  If it isn't what we want, we MUST change our intention.  

As an educator, I must reflect honestly about what my intentions are when I write plans, give assessments, give feedback, communicate data.  Is my intention to comply with campus and administrative expectations?  Is my intention to one up a colleague?  Is my intention to keep my students busy and quiet?  Or is my intention to give them the most unforgettable learning experience I can offer them?  Is my intention to create the opportunities for my students to discover their own potential, to experience new learning, to make connections and delve deeper into content?  

It is our responsibility to check our intentions daily…in everything we do.  Without our intentions being focused on the positive potential in our classroom and within our students, we are setting up a reachable goal of the same old same old.  But why wouldn't we, along with our students, want to rise to our greatest potential?  

Excellence is the best deterrent of negative "stuff" so…be excellent!



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fearless Gamification = Creative Collaboration!

 "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." - Henry Ford


When students walk into a classroom feeling less than confident and capable about their academic abilities, one MUST consider why.  What has happened in their lives as students that has created such cynicism?  As an educator myself, I do not believe there is one answer that can adequately bring clarity.  However, ALL answers are PART of the truth.  Perhaps assumptions were made and allowed misconceptions to slip by, perhaps the curriculum wasn't written well enough to ensure longevity in the students' memories, perhaps their personal lives at home are a larger focus for them than school is.  This is not a blame game.  The fact is, many students around our country feel this way and the finger can be pointed directly at ourselves.  You see, regardless of the reason for a child to be shut down, cynical, jaded, unengaged, and unenthusiastic, it is OUR JOB as their current teachers to reignite that flame of hope and excitement for learning; because WE ARE HERE TODAY and they matter.

I am often asked about how to do The Fearless Classroom rotations in ELAR when there is Reader's Workshop and Writer's workshop and they need sustained times for both skills to gain stamina and to really hone their skills.  To that, I am writing this post is to demonstrate one simple activity you can do with your students, the reluctant and the eager alike, to get them discussing reading, collaboratively working together, and writing for a purpose.

The Case of the Slain Green Dragon


Using a fifth grade level detective story from extrareading.com , students were grouped together heterogeneously based on academic reading levels.  I believe that there is a time and place for homogeneous groupings, but I also want my more skilled students to be an inspiration and support for my lesser skilled students because we ALL had skills we needs to work on and we are all in this together.  Students were charged with solving the crime of the slain endangered green dragon in the kingdom.  I am dressed as the head of the Department of SIOG (Significantly Important Operational Geniuses) who has come to the class to ask for their help and to brief them on their mission...










There were five suspects and several eye witnesses.  Students read through several pages of eye-witness accounts, testimony, and evidence, collaboratively took notes, asked questions, created charts and drawings, and worked together to make sense of what might have happened.  


Students of all reading levels were able to participate.  Some read the text part by part, some elicited excellent and thought-provoking questions, some provided possible angles and alternative explanations based on the testimony.  Whatever their contribution, everyone participated and felt successful.  









Some groups succeeded in figuring out the actual truth to what happened to the poor dragon.  Others did not.  However, the level of engagement, the level of conversation and negotiation with textual evidence, the respectful collaboration that occurred during this activity was far more important than the right answer.  


THIS is what I mean by being an "idea-driven" rather than an "answer-driven" classroom.  Sometimes, especially in learning situations, it is more about the journey and experience of the activity than the correct answer that makes the greatest impact on students.  


Notice where they are working, that all students are engaged and a variety of strategies and approaches are being used to solve the problem.

So be fearless in your approach, release the students to their own learning.  Set up an environment in which all students feel safe to take risks, supported by you and their peers in their thinking, and where effort and authentic chances are rewarded.  Answers aren't always the most important thing.  Sure they have their place…like on assessments…but if we don't teach kids to LOVE learning and to feel capable and free to explore EVERY angle of problems, then we are simply teaching them that there is always an answer and that if they can't figure it out, they must not be capable.  This unspoken and hopefully unintentional lesson happens daily in our classes… and we must not allow for it anymore.  Be fearless, let your students be fearless.  They deserve the chance.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Looking Back to Remember…Looking Forward in Hope to Honor

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."
--Marianne Williamson

When we ask of our students, "Who do you want to be?"  we often get answers like, "rich, famous, professional athlete, singer…"  Why not ask them who are you not to be? 
It is of no service to the world or oneself to pretend to be too small to make a significant impact.  There is no magnitude in shriveling into minute insignificant wisps because we are afraid that our light will be too powerful for others to appreciate and receive well.  Enlightenment is not about diminishing each other and ourselves.   The younger the child is the more they embrace and celebrate and believe in their light and genius.  They focus on it, create and sustain it, they play with it and cherish it.  They honor and protect it.  But somewhere along the line, they also lose it.  We were born to light this world and to share our genius with each other.  It is our purpose.  And when one of us accepts our own light, love, and genius within, we can begin to open the way for others to do the same.  Being fearless requires pushing forward with all of our light and abolishing self-doubt.  
On this, the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, we look back to remember.  We look back not to dwell in the darkness of that day, but to study the light and the hope that manifested within that day.  As a 5th grade teacher, it is a difficult task to teach such a tragic and personally significant topic to children who weren't even born yet.  They don't have the heart-wrenching connection that kids do who were aware of the events on that day.  But nonetheless, empathy is something we can teach.  So we read stories, watched video clips that were age and school appropriate, but we also talked and shared concerns about why this happened and how we can help it from never happening again.  
Still, I pondered how to teach kids who were either not born yet or just, how impactful 9/11 was and how important it is that we remain humbled and grateful, vigilant to changing the world for the better, and steadfast in our charge and commitment to creating a world of compassionate genius. 

9/11 can be a tricky and scary topic to teach kids. They need to feel safe in their world while still made aware of the potential dangers. I need to be careful to keep it objective…maybe?
What is it that I REALLY want them to take away from these learning experiences? I started to see personal stories from surviving family members of victims of 9/11…maybe those could be our reading passages? But then again, I didn't want to focus on the sadness of that day…

I pondered on….

So my decision…I taught it through letter writing. I wanted my students to write letters to their future selves. To the leaders, the thinkers, the inventors, the changers that they will be. Thank them for the changes in our global culture…conceptualize the world they WANT and DESERVE. Thank the future "them" for the compassion and peaceful world they created. Thank them for tolerance and celebration of difference and uniqueness. Thank them for believing in human potential, human kindness, and love. I wanted them to see the world they want not only in their minds and written words but also in their hearts. I wanted them to conceptualize and hold fast to that image and feeling of having the world they will create, if only we just give them the chance.

I don't want them to be a generation of letter writers about how they lost someone in an attack. I don't want them to be a generation of letter writers questioning why this continues to happen. I wanted them to write letters explaining how and why they were the generation that figured it out…that changed the world…that created the world we've tried to destroy.



You may say I'm a dreamer (yeah yeah yeah I know the lyrics)…

but I DO believe in the genius of kids. And if we, with all our cynicism and jaded judgment, can listen and learn and get out of their way…to just love them and show them HOW to love each other by learning to LOVE each other too…we might just get this ball rolling…..I do believe it is THAT simple.

CHOOSE to matter. Because, in fact, YOU do.


Here are some of the resulting letters from 5th graders who have begun to see the glimmer of their light and the possible impact of their contribution to the world.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for learning how to control your temper.  In fact, all you have control over is yourself and your reactions. Learning this has helped our world become more peaceful because when you don't get upset others don't get upset either.  This helps people who have sadness in their hearts believe in a more powerful emotion: hope.  Hope is so important to keep alive.  Hope is the change and LOVE is the way we give hope to others.  Thank you for always being an example of this.
D. C.

Dear Future Self,
Thank you for working hard and studying.  You have accomplished your dreams and the world is better for it.  Through your work as a medical researcher, you have not only come up with years of advancements in cancer treatment, but after persevering through failure after failure, you've found a cure!  You have shown people to never give up on their dreams and that with perseverance anything is possible.
N. A.


Dear Future Self,
Thank you for helping to create a world where special needs people are included and treated fairly.  Thank you for creating an organization that everyone wants to be a part of because everyone is included and loved.  Thank you for giving special needs people a chance to share their genius and light with the world.  Because of your example, you have changed the world for every person.
A. Y.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for feeding hungry children by collecting canned food and making sandwiches.  No child should ever be hungry and because of you, no child who ever has known you has ever gone hungry.  You may not have changed the whole world, but you changed the world for those kids.  Thank you!
A. B.


Dear Future Self,
Thank you for becoming a police officer who doesn't just make sure people follow the laws, but who helps them to not break the laws again.  Police officers can be a lot like teachers.  They can teach people how to be better.  They can give them resources and show them better ways of thinking.  You have been a great example of how we can use our passions to create a more positive world.
C. D.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for impacting other children by listening to them and allowing them to be who they are.  You have tried to experience every person's story.  The rich, the poor, the black, the white, Christian and atheist.  You have given everyone a chance to share who they are and made them feel like they mattered.  This changed the world.
J. O.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for keeping kindness in your heart and the respect you have.  Thank you for living in love and never forgetting that you matter to the world.  You never doubted yourself which is why you accomplished more than you ever thought you could.  Thank you for not giving up on us.
A. C.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for becoming a scientist.  Your contribution to children around the world who cannot afford care and medicine has created a world where no child dies from illness without a fighting chance.  Your work is important.  Your work matters.  
E. B. 
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for building a community park where the homeless can safely go to find shelters that are nice and make them feel like they are home.  Thank you for putting in a garden that feeds the homeless while they are there.  Thank you for giving them a chance to grow things in the garden so that they learn that they are important to this world too.  You have made a difference in their lives.
J. V.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for becoming a veterinarian and rehabilitating rescued animals to be used as service pets for children who are sick, people with special needs, elderly people, and prisoners.  Animals are friends and they make people feel good and calm.  They can give children hope, help people with special needs feel more accepted in the world, give elderly people someone to be with when they get lonely, and can help give prisoners hope and a purpose so they won't feel like they have to always be a prisoner.  You are very special and the world is a better place because of you.
S. M.
Dear Future Self,
Thank you for learning to sing and using it to sing lullabies to babies who are in the NICU.  They need joy and they need to hear happiness.  Your voice in giving babies who are born early a chance to live.
M. Y.