Time

Today I was sitting in a meeting with colleagues. During the meeting, we had a conversation around the idea of whether we were a person who led through checklists, or if we were one who led through the rally cry mentality. I know that for me, definitely trend towards the rally cry side of things. I like to think about big ideas, about making change happen, about causing good trouble, about being a ruckus maker for the benefit of all the learners in my school (notice the intent of learners – that’s not just students). But the tradition in educational leadership has trended more towards the checklist mentality.

I think that this checklist leadership has led to an education system that relies on their checklists. I think that those checklists are what cause us to pull out the same activities from year to year, not being responsive to our students, not being responsive to the environment around us. It’s why in January we write stories about snow even when there isn’t any snow on the ground, or why we might spend a lesson in science on what a full moon is even though if we were to look at the night sky we might notice that the moon is currently in the new moon phase.

If we operate on checklists, our system is going to stay the way that it is. And here’s the thing… The system as it is can be hard to argue with for some. If you teach in a school that “does well” on the standardized assessment, even though you operate from that checklist mindset, it’s going to be hard to convince you, or your families, or maybe even your students, that there might be a better way to make learning happen.

But I believe there is a better way, because our checklist mindsets create kids who think in checklist ways. But our world doesn’t need checklist thinkers. In a recent article from Forbes (The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking For In 2020), the following list was shared:

  1. Data Literacy
  1. Critical Thinking
  1. Tech Savviness
  1. Adaptability and Flexibility
  1. Creativity
  1. Emotional Intelligence
  1. Cultural Intelligence and Diversity
  1. Leadership Skills
  1. Judgment and Complex Decision Making
  1. Collaboration

Or you could take a look at the list of Key Attributes that Employers Want to See on Students’ Resumes (click here). This survey, put out every year by National Association of Colleges and Employers, doesn’t list skills that could be achieved by checklist thinking anywhere near the top of their list.

Excitement and CuriositySo, my mindset is that education needs a little bit of a jolt. A swift kick in the behind. Because the system as we know it doesn’t help create students who are prepared for these skills listed above. Not to mention, I’m very fearful of any system where its users enter with excitement and curiosity, and exit feeling bored and disconnected. Visit a kindergarten classroom… After you get past all the hugs and stories, you’ll see learners who are excited to tell you about the littlest details of their curiosity. But somehow, by the time they reach late elementary or middle school, that excitement is mostly gone.

These fears drive me to a lot of conversations with other educators about what schools could be. About what we need to do to create a system that our users exit just as excited as when they enter, but with all the skills listed in the lists above. What’s hard about those conversations – so many of the educators I have those conversations with are checklist thinkers. They have the thing that they do every year because it’s the first month of school, or because it’s almost winter break, or because it’s the middle of winter and no matter what it looks and feels like outside we’re writing our snow stories.

And here’s the thing that drives me crazy. As soon as I start talking about my admittedly crazy ideas, as soon as I share a little bit about what it might mean for us to truly adjust what we do to be more responsive to the day to day needs of our students, and be responsive to the future needs of our society, I almost immediately get one word thrown back at me…

TIME

And I get that, I really do. When we live in a checklist mindset, our most important factor of those checklists is being able to check off the things on the list. And that means we have to do it at the time that we plan on checking it off.

But when I’m talking about change, that means we need to go into design thinking mode. When I say the word innovator, who do you think of? Maybe Einstein, or Edison, Tesla, Jobs, Musk, Wozniak, Gates… Those are the people that we think of as innovators. As we get into a problem-solving mindset for education, I want to remind you of a quote from Einstein that I love:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.”

You see, Einstein got that our ability to solve a problem doesn’t lie in the solution itself. Rather it lies in the ability to appropriately identify the problem. And if you were able to talk to Einstein, or any of the other innovators that I listed above, you’d learn that one of the last things you do in an innovative design process is start to allocate resources.

Time is a resource.

Let me say that again a little louder for the people in the back:

Time is a resource.

And as a resource, it’s not part of our innovative discussions. As educators, there are definitely some resources that we can’t solve. We probably don’t get to pick the location of our school. We typically don’t get to make many changes to the physical building itself. We can’t ignore our state standards of learning. But what happens within the walls, the pedagogical decisions, the allocation of staff, the assignment of students, those are all things that can be adapted. There are schools who have found ways to build regular collaboration time into the school day for teachers. There are schools who have removed a grade-based system, and instead meet each kid right where they are in terms of the instructional decisions that need to be made. Other people have figured out ways to make these innovative things happen. And they didn’t let that pesky issue of time get in the way.

Unless I’m missing something, that 24 hours a day thing is kind of consistent everywhere. Others who have made massive changes to the way they do education don’t have any more time than we do. They’ve just chosen to allocate that resource in a different way. They’ve chosen to change their dispositions, to change their mindsets.

So here’s where I am right now. I’m ready to throw the whole system out on the table. From soup to nuts, what’s not working? What might work better? Let’s try things. Let’s ideate as a staff. What do our kids need in order to be able to leave our building just as curious as the first time they set foot in it. Let’s put it all out there. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Then, let’s start testing. Just like how SpaceX must test each and every part in order to build a rocket that can do this:

We must be willing to ideate, innovate, test, reiterate, and test again. Eventually we can land our own system that creates students who are ready to leave us with the skills that employers need.

This IS GOING TO BE A MINDSET SHIFT for us all! But I’m on board. I’m ready to start testing, start trying, start building. These kids are too important to not.

It’s called winter BREAK for a reason

It’s called winter BREAK for a reason

It’s the last week before winter break, and what a break it’s been! We started the week with 2 days of 2-hour delays due to the snow that fell. On Monday, we even had an early release. As I write this, it’s Tuesday afternoon, but I honestly had to check my calendar because I wasn’t completely sure!

I know that these final few days before break are going to be CRAZY. Sometimes student behaviors ramp up. The upcoming holidays can bring out stress in all of us (adults included). But before we know it, it’s going to be Friday afternoon, and the bus radio will go quiet. For some of us, we’ll be running out of the building, possibly almost as excited about the break as most of our students. Others may stick around to wrap up a few things after the school goes quiet. At some point though, we’ll all hit the point on Friday where school is done.

Almost everything will work again if you uplug it... Including you.The reality is though, as teachers, often a break isn’t something we completely afford ourselves. Due to technology, most of us are never truly disconnected from school and our students. Some of us may religiously check out email first thing in the morning, while we’re eating lunch with our family, or right before bed. We want to make sure that we haven’t “missed something important”. And it’s hard for us to turn that off over a break. Others of us can’t stop thinking about our students. Many of us will have kids that we’re worried about for a multitude of reasons. Maybe it’s because you don’t know if they’ll get a hot meal every day of the break, or maybe you worry that they’re going to struggle because they won’t be in their normal routine.

If you’re anything like me, that will take up much of your thoughts over the first 3-5 days of break. Eventually you’ll get to the point that you can disconnect, but it takes time.

Then, when we creep into the second week of break, we’ll probably all start thinking about what we’re going to do with our students when they return after break. Some of us may spend a day or two in our classroom doing end of semester grading or beginning of the semester planning. We may use the time to come in and work on reorganizing something in our classroom that we’ve been putting off.

What I know and love about educators – we all have a hard time turning it off.

So, let me take a moment to make a suggestion: Take advantage of the break! During those first couple of days of break when you feel the desire to check in on your email, know that it can wait.

relax_fireplace-600x490Here’s the way I’m planning to disconnect over break:

  • No email until after Christmas day – if there’s an emergency, most people who need to get hold of me have my cell number
  • Put my “school bag” away for the beginning of break – out of sight = out of mind. If I don’t see my bag with my school stuff in it, I won’t be as tempted to pull school stuff out.
  • Limit my email usage after Christmas until at least New Year’s – I’ll peek at my email to get rid of junk messages from time to time, and if there is anything that appears to be really important. Other than that, it can still wait.
  • After New Year’s, I’ll probably start ramping up a little with work stuff, but I’ll limit my work to times the rest of the family is in bed.

I want you to take the time to think a little about your plan to disconnect over break. What commitments are you making to yourself? Write them down, maybe share them with someone – a family member or colleague who can be an accountability partner. We all need a break in order to recharge. I believe that for each of us to be out best self as an educator, we have to take the time to take care of ourselves first. Use the break for that purpose!

If you’re looking for some additional ideas for how you might recharge over break, check out this short article from Todd Finley on Edutopia:

https://www.edutopia.org/article/use-winter-break-to-renew-spirits-sense-of-purpose-todd-finley

What other ideas do you have? Is there a tried and true recharge strategy that you’ve used in the past? Share with us in the comments below!

My self-care tips

My self-care tips

Ok, truth talk. Working in the education world can be stressful! The list of responsibilities that fall onto teachers and administrators can be completely overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine finding the time to finish them all (especially for those of us who like to be sure that things are just right). I’ve been talking to several teachers in my building, and I can tell that the stress level is on the rise.

In addition, we take so much time to try to help our students with their various social-emotional struggles, as well as support our colleagues when they are going through struggles. This can lead to moments of secondary trauma, where we haven’t actually lived through the trauma of those around us, and yet we feel the same effects of that trauma.

Due to all these reasons, I am a huge fan of self-care strategies. I’m going to share a few of mine below. You may have similar ones, you may have completely different ones, but hopefully there will be a few nuggets here that you can take back to your own self-care strategies.

IMG_4377But before I get to some of my strategies, I’m going to share with all of you one of the things that causes so much stress to so many of us: Perfectionism. Something I know about educators is that many of us were rule followers when we were in school. A lot of us liked to work hard to get the teachers attention in positive ways because we knew we wanted to be a teacher. And because of those things we did, we developed this drive for perfection that still lives in many of us today. The problem with perfectionism? It’s kind of like counting to infinity. There’s always the one more. We have to be willing to let go of perfection. Sometimes good enough is all you need to take the next step with your students.

My first self-care strategy – Email

It’s easy to let email drive our day. It’s on our phone, our iPad, our computer. Depending on how you have alerts set up, you may not ever be able to receive one without knowing about it. And it kills us all! I’ve turned off email alerts on my phone, iPad, and computer (even the pop ups that show up on the screen of my device). The only time I am going to know I have an email is if I intentionally check for one. The alerts completely distract me from the more valuable work I’m doing.

In addition, I NEVER check my work email after 7 pm. Let me explain my thinking on this. When I receive an email after 7 pm, what are the odds that what I receive is something that I can actually solve before I get to school in the morning? Slim to none. You might be thinking “what if there’s an emergency?” For that, I have my cell phone and people who need to reach me in an emergency know it. Prior to making this decision, I found that the stress of an email in the evening was affecting the quality of my sleep and my ability to be completely present when I’m with my family. When I stopped checking email as much, I started sleeping better and evenings with my family were better.

My second self-care strategy – Movement

When I am feeling stressed out at the end of a hard day, or because of something that I know is coming up, one of my favorite things to do is to get moving. It could be a simple as going on a walk around the school building or an evening walk with my dog and family. Other times it might be heading out for an early morning #RunBeforeTheSun. And when I really have time for something, I’ll go out for a 40+ mile bike ride. Movement, even in the form of a walk, creates endorphins (those magical chemicals that our body produces to relieve stress and pain).

 

Not only do I use movement as a way to handle moments of stress, I also look at it as a stress preventative measure. I try to get some form of physical activity 4-5 days per week. When I do so, even the toughest days seem to go a little bit more smoothly.

My third self-care strategy – Rest

I’ve recently started using a sleep tracking app called Sleep Cycle. It helps me track not only my amount of sleep, but also the quality of that sleep in terms of a percentage. If I’m getting about 7 hours of sleep and my sleep quality is over 70%, then I’m going to be feeling pretty good for the day. If either of those numbers are much lower than that, I am probably not going to be feeling my best self the next day. Sleep is such an important part of our stress relief because it helps to clear our mind. The difficulty is though – when we’re stressed, we can’t sleep as well. Kind of a vicious cycle. So, see strategy one and two. When I remove potential stressors closer to bedtime, and I get a little movement in my day, my sleep quality is that much better. In fact, when I look at my Sleep Cycle app, on all the days that I had some form of physical activity in the past week, my sleep quality was higher than my non-workout days.

My fourth (and final for the purpose of this post) self-care strategy – Mindfulness

A couple years ago I participated in a Mindful Educator course and I learned about the benefits of mindfulness for our students, but also found great benefits for me as well. I try to carve out 5-10 minutes of my day for myself to take a mindful sit. I’m not very good IMG_870E48E7616A-1at doing this all on my own. I love to use an app to help guide my mindful moments. Both Headspace and Calm are free for educators. In fact, it’s as easy as saying “Hey Siri, let’s meditate” and it opens Headspace and goes directly to the Everyday Meditation which allows you to start a session for as little as 3 minutes or as many as 20. Much like sleep, mindful moments have a way of helping to clear out some of those stress chemicals from our brain, and I typically feel energized at the end of a mindful sit.

So, my message to you, find ways to take care of yourself! We take on so much stress in our role of working with little humans that we need to have a way to help clear out that stress. I give each of you permission to adopt as many of the strategies above as you would like, or adjust them to suit your needs.

But here’s the thing – I don’t hold the key to everything, and I love to learn from others! If you have self-care strategies that you’d be willing to share, add them to the comments below.

What’s luck got to do with it?

Recently I was listening to an episode of the TED Radio Hour. If you’ve never heard it before, this show takes a theme, then pulls clips from a few existing TED Talks that tie in to that theme. The host, Guy Raz, interviews the speakers about how their talk ties in with the theme. One of the recent episodes was titled Luck, Fortune, and Chance, and one of the segments in particular got me thinking about the work we have been doing around Equity in my school district. You can listen to just the segment of the show here:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/697809215/699112445

Mark Sutcliffe, a talk show host from Canada who is also an entrepreneur and runner gave a recent TEDx Talk on the role that hard work and luck play in our stories of success. Our society has traditionally put an emphasis on the idea that hard work can lead to success. The reality is though, that this is not true for all.

Hard work is an element of success in life, but it’s not the essential element… The secret sauce is luck.

Sutcliffe shares that he won the genetic lottery the day he was born. Because of the makeup of his family, their experiences, education level, socio-economic status, and so much more, Mark had an excellent starting point on the day he was born. Not everyone has those same chances. As a runner, Mark makes the analogy between our starting point in life, and the starting point in a marathon.

If you’ve ever run an organized marathon, half-marathon, or possibly even 5k, you’ve started the race with a timing chip attached to you in some way. When the starter at the front of the race says go, the timer starts for everyone that is right at the start line. But if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t at the front of the pack. In the last half marathon I ran, it was almost 20 minutes between the time the starter said go and the time I crossed the official start line. Thanks to the help of that timing chip, my time didn’t officially start until I crossed that start line.

Sutcliffe shares that life isn’t quite like that. There is no computer chip that levels the playing field. As he points out, if you’re born as a visible minority, a member of a lower socio-economic class, with a physical disability, with a mental illness, or of a different sex, then you start your life further back. And, as Sutcliffe goes on to point out, “You carry that disadvantage your whole life.”

I was raised as the child of a middle class, college educated, white family. I remember conversations about the key to being successful was through my effort. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being told that if I worked hard in life, I would be more likely to be successful. And when I think about the life that I have led, I know that I have worked hard to get to where I am. But as I come to grips with what I am learning in my work with equity, I’m beginning to realize that not every one of my students starts at the same point. Merit does not drive all success in life, and what Sutcliffe is trying to get at is that when you start your life in one of those lucky situations, chances are pretty good that we will continue to be lucky throughout our life.

In the actual TED Talk the Sutcliffe gave (linked at the end of this post), he shares his plan to run his next marathon starting 3 hours after the official start time. His reason: he wants to remember that anyone who starts life at the back of the pack is likely to get a lot less help and support. He knows that he will most likely be running alone when he runs this marathon.

Some of our students are the ones who are starting the race a little farther back. As the people in their life who make it our goal to help them learn and grow, we have to keep remembering that some of our students may have started their life a little further back in the pack. As a result of that starting point, they may need a little more support in order to be successful.

And some of you may be thinking of someone who likely started further back in the pack and led a truly successful life. Sutcliffe shares that “When the winner comes from the back, it’s an exception, not a rule.” Hard work simply doesn’t do it all.

This past weekend, as the ideas for this post were bouncing around in my mind, the following tweet showed up in my timeline:

Before my work with equity, I probably would have said something very similar. I would have believed that everyone started on an equal playing field. The reality is though, and I think Sutcliffe’s talk does an excellent job of putting it into words, is that not all of us start at the same point. As one of the “lucky ones” who got to start near the front of the pack, I now make it a point to take Sutcliffe’s suggestion of what to do with our luck: be humble; kind; and generous. I can help those who may have started a little further back than me. I do it because it’s fair, it’s smart (there’s a cost of others not having the same opportunities that I do), and it makes me happy.

What are your thoughts? As you reflect on your starting point, where were you in relation to the start line? Do you believe that you have led a lucky life, or is your position in life based solely on hard work and effort? What steps to you take to help level the playing field? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’d like to listen to the entire episode of TED Radio Hour that the idea of this post came from, you can find it here:

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/697805275/luck-fortune-and-chance

And if you’d like to see Mark’s full TED Talk, check it out here:

This is hard…

Recently I was talking to a friend who is a teacher. I noticed some cool project-based learning activities that she shared on Twitter, and I was talking to her about them. She’s a fairly experienced teacher, and one of the things that she said really struck a chord with me:

“You know, I used to teach really differently than I do now. Ten years ago, the things I was doing were easier for me. The things I do now are harder, and I keep hoping that those things will get easier. As I reflect though, while things have gotten harder for me, the learning experiences for my students have gotten better. I guess I’m not sure that I’m hoping for the right things. It’s not easy for us, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Woah! What a powerful statement! A favorite author of mine is George Couros. In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, he says:

“I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change to something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of ‘new and better,’ it is not innovative. That means change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword as many organizations do to appear current and relevant.”

And in a recent blog post, AJ Juliani took it a step further… He argued that just being new and better isn’t quite enough. We need to make sure that it is also better for our learners.

Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.

And here’s the thing about that – we all know it is difficult to plan for a project-based learning experience. It’s difficult to build an inquiry project for your students. It’s difficult to create learning opportunities that integrate Language Arts, Math, Science, and more into a single unit of study. But what about the opportunities it creates for our students?

We talk about preparation for the next in education all the time. Whether we’re thinking about the next year, the next step, the first job, whatever… The reality is that with the world changing so rapidly, we’re naïve to think that we have any idea what the future really holds. I’m sure my elementary and middle school teachers never imagined that some of the kids in their class would be making money by taking pictures and posting them to Instagram. What amazing things that we can’t even imagine will our students be doing when they are out in “the world”?

So, given the fact that we can’t predict the future, more than anything we need to provide a skill set to our young people that prepares them for anything. We have no way to know where they might go!

So often we have been talking about 21st century skills, but we have to remember that we are now almost 2 decades into the 21st century, and some of the students sitting in our classroom will actually see the 22nd century!

So here’s the question. Why do we do these hard things? We know that it takes us more time and effort to create these deep learning experiences for our students but look at the results. Most students are more highly engaged when given true project-based learning experiences, or student driven inquiry projects. And with that higher level of engagement comes stronger learning experiences. And with those stronger learning experiences our students will be better prepared for whatever their future may hold.

If we’re worried about preparing kids for the “real world,” then this should concern us:

Yes, it’s harder to teach this way. The reality is that it’s harder for administrators to lead this style of learning. But when we look at the children walking into our building, and we remember that we have no way to know what their future may hold, we’ve got to focus on those skills that take them anywhere – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication.

As you have shifted to deeper learning activities, what has been your experience? Have you noticed a greater desire and drive for learning from your students? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Running through the sprinkler

As I sit writing this, it’s Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s in my family are often about getting work done – chores around the house, prepping for school, groceries, etc. To fit with that norm for our family, today was no different. This morning my wife Diane, an amazing kindergarten teacher, needed to go over to school to do some prep for her week. I needed to mow the lawn and then get to the grocery store. The kids had no real responsibilities, so they were going to stay home with me. I knew that if I left them inside, even though they said they were going to read, it would turn into a Netflix binge of Dinotrux, or Glitter Force, or something of that nature. I wanted them to be active, so I convinced them to come outside and play while I was mowing.

As I did the front yard, they had out their big wheels, their stilts, and their pogo stick. They were working on creating an obstacle course in the driveway when I finished the front lawn and grabbed the sprinkler to try to deal with a couple of brown spots. As I starting working on the side yard, Lainey came running up to me and asked “Can we run through the sprinkler?”

I started to say no, I mean they had just gotten dressed, we had to run to the grocery store after I mowed, and Lainey was going to a birthday party for the afternoon. But then I looked at the excitement in her face – how could I say no?

IMG_5242.JPGFor the next thirty minutes, while I mowed the rest of the lawn, Lainey and Brody were in heaven with that childhood joy that goes with running through a sprinkler. I may have even let myself get sprayed because I was jealous of the obvious fun they were having.

Seeing the joy on their faces as they played in the sprinkler got me thinking about classroom conditions. How often, when you scan your room, do you see the look of joy that would accompany a kid running through the sprinkler? When I reflect on my own teaching practices, it probably happened far less than I would have wanted it to.

Last week I participated in an online, free, open to anyone PD called Hive Summit. It was put on by Michael Matera, the author of Explore Like a Pirate, and the front man for the #XPlap community. The gist of the Hive Summit was to bring together amazing educators to share little tidbits of knowledge in short, easily digestible conversations between Michael and various guests to provide ideas to help us start the school year off with a bang!

The last session of the Hive Summit brought in Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, and easily one of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. Towards the end of the conversation, Michael asked Dave for some practical things that we can do right away. Dave started talking about the beginning of the school year. He suggested that we should “Invest time in the front end to build a community, to build rapport, and to create a place that kids are desperate to come back to the next day.” We don’t accomplish what Dave is suggesting by spending lots of time on procedures. Those can come later. We need to hook them, get them excited, get them wanting to be in your classroom, get them banging down the doors to come to school!

Dave went on to share a couple of his favorite activities to accomplish those goals. The first is the Play-Doh lesson. Students walk in to a container of Play-Doh on a paper plate in the center of their desk, and when ready, they are asked to create something out of the Play-Doh. The goal is to create something that is in some way representative of them. Let them know up front that when time is up, you are going to come around, show the class their object, ask a couple of questions about it, and then have them share their name. Let them know in advance that they will not have to stand up or come to the front of the room, and the process will take less than 30 seconds. Letting kids know what to expect will alleviate some stress that comes with any type of getting to know you activity. Give students 10 minutes of work time, and while they are working, walk around and chat with them in an informal way.

This is great because it gets your students creating right away. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, and knowing things doesn’t make you successful. In today’s world, it’s about what people can do or make. When we show kids that’s what we value right off the bat, they will be more likely to continue to do and make things when asked.

Another activity that Dave loves is the plane crash on a deserted island lesson. 10 people are stranded on an island, and when a rescue helicopter shows up, it only has room for 5 people. Students are given a list of the different people, split into small groups, and asked to work together to come to a consensus on who should be rescued, and who has to be left behind (click here for a shared google doc with the instructions and list of people). Again, this activity immediately gets kids to collaborate, connect, and create to solve the problem.

Activities like this allow kids to engage right away, and think about how much more excited your kids will be about tasks like this instead of a more traditional lesson. All of us bring our own special skill set to the classroom, and we all have the ability to create learning environments that kids will be excited to return to day after day. You get to decide if the lights are on or off when students enter. You get to decide what shows up on your screen or board. You get to decide what is sitting on your students’ desks when they come in. When we pause in our lesson planning to think about those hooks at the start of our lesson, we’re able to create more of those “Running Through Sprinkler” kind of moments for our kids.

If you are looking for more ideas for amazing engagement strategies, check out Teach Like a Pirate (I linked to it on Amazon above), or if you’d like, I’ll loan you my copy (as long as you don’t mind my highlights and notes in the margins). If you feel overwhelmed by a book, look for Dave Burgess on YouTube or Twitter, or check out the #tlap Twitter chat on Mondays at 9:00 pm eastern. There are lots of small resources that will help you create lessons that engage students on the sprinkler level!

Let me know if you’re planning to try something new to create a sprinkler moment in your class! I’d love to see it, or talk to your students about it. I think we all want joyful classrooms! How will you bring that joy to your room?

IMG_1266

The teacher from the movies

When you think of teacher movies, what comes to mind? Do you think of someone like Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future? Or do you go the way of someone more like Miss Riley in October Sky or Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland’s Opus? I’m sure that for all of you, there is a connection (and maybe even a feeling) that goes with each of those characters. You might even be able to think back on one of your own teachers who is a little like one of them.

I’m guessing that we would all agree that some of these teachers are a little stronger than others. But what is it that makes the “good” movie teachers? There are a few things that these great teachers have in common – they build connections with their students, the students and teachers have respect for each other, and the students are empowered. The “mean” teachers were focused on control and compliance, while the “good” teachers were focused on community and empowerment.

In creating the environments of the teachers that they make movies about, you build a relationship with your students where there is an understanding between the teacher and the students that we’re two people here. What those movie teachers understand is that classroom management has much more to do with the environment, and much less to do with the rules that are put in place.

One of my all-time favorite teacher movies is Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating does some amazing things with his group of students. Many people think of the Oh Captain, My Captain! scene when they think of that movie, and trust me, it’s a great scene.  But one of the more overlooked scenes is the soccer scene.  Take just a moment to watch the scene:

The reason I love this scene so much is that it reminds me of the value of movement in learning – especially for students that are in the age group I work most directly with. Most of us know intrinsically that a fifth or sixth grader cannot sit still for much more than 10 minutes, and yet we consistently have classroom situations where students have to sit for double that – sometimes even more! One of the things that will make you a movie star teacher to your students is to allow them opportunities for movement consistently.

I always like to provide some kind of new idea, and here’s one that you could try tomorrow to add some movement in your class. Many people use the turn and talk consistently to get students to share their thinking. What if you take that a little bit further and do something new called musical chairs. Explain to students that you are going to play about 10 seconds of music, during that time they should move around the room and find a partner. When the music stops, they start talking about your question. After enough time for both students to respond, start the music again and let them find a new partner. It’s kind of like musical chairs for a turn and talk. Students get to share their thinking, and get their movement and wiggles out! The best of both worlds! After a couple of rounds, have them move back to their seats and continue.

Or you might try a walk and talk – take your class for a walk on our campus. Talk about your points while you walk. Occasionally stop and allow students to partner up for a pair share, then continue the walk.

With each of these strategies, you have to build to structure in advance. That’s what the movie star teacher would do. Set your expectations high, and then hold your students to them. Don’t let those 2 knuckleheads pull your expectations down to the mean. Let them know that you trust them to do the right thing, and then lay out what needs to happen. Most kids will not want to ruin something fun, even if they are a knucklehead!

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Just a few of the things that happen in the classrooms of the movie teacher!

So what movie teacher do you think of? What made that teacher great? Of not so great? What elements of the movie teacher do you try to bring to your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below!