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I have not been a huge proponent of the Common Core State Standards. However, if education is faced with such a sweeping movement, teachers should be prepared with good strategies. Here are my Top 5 ways to improve your Common Core strategies.
Mark Barnes is the author of ASCD books, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom and The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom? Learn more here.
I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
I taught English for 16 years. I love English. I love English teachers. I don't want to upset anyone. I do occasionally challenge current practices and try to get people to rethink old habits. I'll give you a quiz that I hope prompts more questioning.
Question One: Name one non-English teacher adult you know who reads Shakespeare, undisputedly the world’s greatest author, for enjoyment.
Now let’s talk about some imaginary people. We’ll name one Skippy and one Muffin. Skippy never had one class about Shakespeare in school. Never heard of the guy. Muffin had several classes in high school that required reading Shakespeare. She read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. She was taught about iambic pentameter.
Question Two: After schooling ends, will Skippy be less successful in life professionally and socially than Muffin? A) No; B) Well, in my life Shakespeare has never come up so no; C) Just cuz it never comes up doesn’t mean you aren’t a better person by knowing about him.
Question Three: How often will Skippy’s lack of knowledge about Shakespeare negatively affect his life? A) Never; B) Almost never; C) I teach English so I have to believe that there is a third choice. There has to be!
Add a new detail: Skippy is given instruction during his school years that helps him develop oral communication skills. He becomes confident and impressive as a speaker whether one-to-one, in small groups, in large groups, in person, and digitally (webinars, video conferences, podcasts, and videos). Muffin receives none of that instruction but remembers that Macbeth includes something about witches and Hamlet has something about “Alas poor Yorick”—about all that anyone remembers about those plays two years after high school.
Question Four: After schooling ends, what are the odds that Muffin would trade her Shakespeare knowledge for Skippy’s abilities with oral language? A) 100% chance; B) 99% chance? C) But ya gotta know Shakespeare! Ya just gotta!!
We are not dealing with an either/or proposition here: you don’t have to teach either Shakespeare or oral communication. But in reality, we do make choices and there are things we Don't Have Time to Teach, therefore...
Question Five: If you had to make a choice for your child, which would you choose, developing his/her speaking skills or developing his/her Shakespeare skills?
I mention this because I am attending the NCTE national conference in Boston. For decades now, NCTE has failed to recognize the importance of speaking well and the value of effective verbal communication. This year, I counted 16 sessions about Shakespeare and one about speaking (it was combined with listening and debate). Is teaching about Shakespeare 16 times as important as developing effective speakers? (Sessions about poetry outnumbered speaking 15 to one. As adults, do we write poems 15 times as often as we speak?) If all students were obviously competent communicators; if all students were comfortable in front of the class; if all reader’s theater presentations were powerful and engaging; if all student poetry recitations were terrific; if all book reports were riveting and wonderful; if all biography presentations were enthralling and appealing; if Socratic circles were full of well spoken comments; I could understand the oversight. But that isn’t the case, is it? And in a world full of digital tools that display oral communication skills, becoming well spoken is more critical than ever before. Students will become better speakers only with direct instruction. Teachers will not be able to give that instruction without help. That help is not given at any teacher preparation program or district workshop or organization conference—sadly, even a conference about the English language, a language spoken far more than written. Maybe next year? www.pvlegs.com
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Policy Points Highlights Funding Sources for Educator Professional Development
Despite shrinking education budgets, there are still opportunities to pursue funding for educator professional development. Check out the latest issue of Policy Points (PDF), which provides links to these resources.
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Leader Voices
Welcome University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter
ASCD is pleased to announce a new ASCD Student Chapter, started by ASCD emerging leader Eric Bernstein. Please join us in welcoming University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter to the ASCD community!
2013 ASCD emerging leader Melany Stowe was recently appointed director of communications and community outreach for Danville Public Schools in Virginia.
OYEA winner Bijal Damani is one of 250 educators chosen for the Microsoft Expert Educators Program. She is also a finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teacher of the Year award, and will be sharing her experiences at their global conference next month in Hong Kong.
Throughout November on www.wholechildeducation.org: Supporting Student Success and the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in each student’s success. How are we designing course content, choosing appropriate instructional strategies, developing learning activities, continuously gauging student understanding, adjusting instruction accordingly, and involving parents and families as partners to support our students’ success?
A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on supporting student success as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. Guests include Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in New York, author, and Education Week blogger; Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., author, and ASCD Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community facilitator; and Rich McKinney, an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tenn., and Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
The passage from childhood to adulthood is a road of dependence to autonomy. To gain independence, a transfer of responsibility must take place, from adult to child, and this impacts all areas of life from exploration of the world to learning about it and our place in it. Yet, for many young people, this shift happens all too suddenly instead of in increments. As teachers of tweens and teens, we have a responsibility to aid in this transfer, to intentionally teach agency and provide the opportunities for such ownership. One way educators can help accomplish this is through student-led conferences which help us achieve a new level of independence as well as a few other key conference tasks. They allow us to...
Break it Down: Bringing a child and parent together provides us with a chance to remove a tough barrier that often exists, even in the best of households, so that young people can communicate with their parents about their learning. In turn, parents can listen and offer advice to show support for their child and present a partnership mindset with the teacher.
Illuminate: In a student-led conference, we have the chance to shine a light on a quality which a parent may not have seen or may not have realized others see in their children...in the presence of the child who feels proud and bright in the moment. The thought which goes through a child’s mind when he or she hears a teacher say something positive in front of a parent is invaluable. This begins an open, growth oriented conversation when listening to constructive feedback. The path forward to growth is thereby similarly illuminated for all to journey together.
Build it Up: Having all constituents present at a conference means being able to give constructive feedback in a setting where more people are working together to construct. Think about the manpower we then have to build something significant, like a growth plan, like confidence, like trust!
Preparing for successful student-led conferences is an essential step. Using a tool like this Student Conference Form, students can reflect on their learning and prepare for a discussion with their teachers and parents. From what we have seen at our school, and from what I have personally experienced as a parent, this simple invitation to the conference table can be truly transformative for a middle or high school student during the key transition years of adolescence.
For those who may be unaware, The WISE Summit is an education conference held each year in Doha, Qatar. The Qatar Foundation, which supports innovation in education around the world, sponsors it. It was my good fortune to be invited to attend last year along with my good friend and colleague Steven Anderson. The invitation to attend the WISE Summit comes with travel and accommodations paid for by the conference. This enables attendees to be truly representative of a huge number of countries worldwide. I was quite fortunate to be invited back a second year and lead a discussion in a common ground session.
One thing that sets the WISE Summit apart from all other education conferences we have become most familiar with is that the WISE Foundation is able to act on their good intentions. When they find educators who are passionately pursuing innovative educational endeavors, The WISE Foundation shares not only the idea with their summit attendees, but they deliver those very innovative, passionate educators to personally tell their stories to the WISE Conference. This in person delivery more than anything else best shares that passion and innovation in hopes that it becomes infectious. This conference sets itself above all others in that it fully support its intentions with actions, and of course this does not come cheaply.
The result of the huge investment in this education, and innovation connection is that the very necessary ideas for change in education can be discussed and shared at levels that potentially can make a difference on a worldwide level. Some of the most influential, Non-Government Organizations, responsible for educating millions around the world have personal access to these exceptional individuals and their ideas. The best part of this from my personal perspective is that, as an educator, and a blogger, I have the very same access to those folks. I find their ability to share their stories based on their ideas and experiences is not just inspirational, but also empowering.
There are so many people with whom I connected at this conference that I could write about, but a single post could not begin to scrape the surface of connections. Almost every business card handed to me at the conference brings to mind something about the individual represented. Of course it helps that I made notes right on the card after receiving it. It was my personal method of keeping up with so much information.
Of all of the connections and friendships that I made in Doha, Qatar, there are two individuals who are probably best described as unlikely standouts among educators. At a truly international conference I tend to bond more quickly with American educators. I find myself naturally attracted to and comfortable with people who seem familiar when I am in unfamiliar surroundings. To my advantage however this was my second year attending the WISE Summit, so a great deal of venturing beyond my comfort level took place. The two people I first came in contact with upon my arrival probably had the most profound effect on me for the conference. One was an African-American man from South Los Angeles, California, and the other was a white man from the South Bronx, New York. The three of us met for the first time in Doha. It was their first trip to Qatar and they were both wondering what it was that got them the invitation. I knew why they were invited within minutes of each of them telling me their story. Both men had a mission in life and each was passionate about it. Both were about helping people and each was laser focused on that goal. Both encountered great obstacles set up by culture and politics and each had battled and won great victories. One was steeped in hyperactivity and had a hard time sitting in a chair. The other was mellow and very laid back. I was comfortable with both guys and we got along fine. They are people I will keep in touch with and follow, as they continue to do wonderful things for their communities and that alone will drag or push many of us along with them.
I could not do justice to their stories in attempting to describe them to you in this post. I could not begin to even attempt to describe the passion and enthusiasm of these men for what it is they each do. It is ironic that each was brought around the world to meet for the first time when one considers what each of them did to get there. To best serve you as a reader, I can connect you with their video, so that you can see to some measure that which I saw in full measure. Even that should be enough to recognize these men as extraordinary educators and people we need to hold in high esteem with our support.
These are the Ted Talk videos of my new friends, Ron Finley, and Steve Ritz. I would expect you to view them, and hopefully, pass this along to other educators as well.
Simply click on each title to view the video.
I recently uploaded a toolbox of information to LiveBinders around Close Reading.
You can access the toolbox here: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=1134950
I've shared several resources for engaging Close Reading in classrooms but want to underscore the fact that it is a "sometimes" strategy. Anything we do with regularity in the classroom becomes run of the mill. When what we do is punctuated with differences and divergent opportunities for engaging students, we create mental velcro.
The strategies that I've shared here represent multiple opportunities for creating mental velcro, as long as they are not used with regularity. Critical thinking and valuing evidence are important, but cannot be the only strategy for engaging readers and writers the way the Common Core might have you think.
If you'd like to share any additional resources, please do in the comment section below. I'll add them to the LiveBinder.
Looking forward to seeing you all in L.A. in March for the ASCD Conference!
@fisher1000 on Twitter
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available in the ASCD bookstore.
Digital Learning Strategies, now available for Pre-Order from ASCD.
This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.
The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.
A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.
The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.
As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.
Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.
What a message.
The online Global Reform Symposium for educators is an amazing virtual conference with keynotes and presentations from educators around the world.
This conference has something for all prek-12 teachers and administrators. The Reform Symposium, in its 4th year, attracts thousands of attendees from across the globe. Sessions take place around the clock, beginning today, October 11, and continuing through Sunday, October 13.
You can attend these sessions from anywhere with Internet access. Here is a short list of what is covered in over 100 available presentations:
For a complete schedule, locate your time zone at this schedule link.
I'm proud to be the keynote speaker at Saturday's Technology Smackdown, a collection of 2-minute presentations of the best applications and websites for any classroom. In the past, this has been the most popular event at this remarkable conference, so you won't want to miss this. My 5-minute keynote speech is based on the concepts in my book, The 5-Minute Teacher (ASCD 2013).
If you want to improve teaching and learning in your classroom at no cost from the comforts of home, don't miss the Reform Symposium. This is truly an amazing event that only comes once a year.
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Shutdown 101 for Educators
The first federal government shutdown in 17 years did not lead to immediate consequences for most schools and districts, but as each day goes by it becomes more problematic for the nation’s educators and students. See the ASCD policy team’s key takeaways and behind-the-scenes details on what the shutdown means for schools by reading our special edition of Capitol Connection and our ASCD Inservice blog post. They cover everything from how health and nutrition services for children and families are being affected to the long-term repercussions of the shutdown. And, for ongoing coverage, read your weekly issues of Capitol Connection!
ASCD to Host 23 Common Core Implementation Institutes November 2013 to February 2014
Starting in November, ASCD is holding institutes across the United States to help guide educators in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The one- and two-day institutes will be held in nine U.S. cities and are focused on Mathematics; English Language Arts and Literacy; Formative Assessment; Leading the Change to CCSS; and Common Core and the Understanding by Design Framework. View the full institute schedule on ascd.org.
New Whole Child Publication
The Korean Educational Development Institute’s KEDI Journal of Educational Policy publishes scholarly articles and reports on research that makes significantcontributions to the understanding and practice of educational policy on an international level. This month's special issue, “Promoting Students’ Social-Emotional and Character Development and Prevent Bullying,” includes an article written by ASCD’s Sean Slade, director of whole child programs, and David Griffith, director of public policy. The article, titled “A Whole Child Approach to Student Success” (pp. 21–35), describes the whole child approach to education and its global education policy recommendations.
Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems
In August 2013, ASCD and the International School Health Network began work on a new draft statement, titled “Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems,” at a global school health symposium held in Pattaya, Thailand. The two organizations would like to encourage readers to review and comment on the draft, which was developed to explain how health and social programs can be integrated more effectively within education systems.
Leaders in Action:News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Welcomes the Competency-Based Education Professional Interest Community
ASCD invites you to join our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by ASCD Emerging Leader Jason Ellingson. The Competency-Based Education group is a place to share your ideas and connect with one another.
2012 Emerging Leaders Will Use Pilot Grant Funds to Benefit Students through 2013–14 School Year
This year for the first time, ASCD accepted grant applications from 2012 emerging leaders. The grant program, now in its pilot phase, is designed to give emerging leaders the opportunity explore new and innovative ways to support the success of each learner.
This year’s grant fund recipients are Jessica Bohn, Krista Rundell, Fred Ende, and Amy Murphy. Jessica and Krista are working independently; Fred and Amy are working as a team.
ASCD would like to thank all the emerging leaders who participated in the grant application process as we continue to learn and improve the program over time.
ASCD Leader Voices
Common Core Myths & Facts
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are preparing to fully implement them—including administering tests based on the standards—in the 2014–15 school year. But rumors and myths about the standards have run rampant, causing confusion among educators, policymakers, and the public. The latest ASCD Policy Points (PDF)clarifies what the CCSS are and are not and tackles these myths head-on.
Read the issue for straightforward facts and explanations that help combat common misperceptions about the federal government’s involvement in the standards, the cost of their implementation, the role of local schools and districts, concerns about student privacy, and more. We hope this Policy Points provides you with useful information about the CCSS that you can share with your local communities to help dispel confusion, counter opposition, and establish yourself as a trusted resource on the standards. If you have any questions, contact the ASCD policy team at email@example.com.
Throughout October at wholechildeducation.org: Early Childhood Education
What does “education” mean for our youngest learners? The first years of school are as important for an educated population as any other period, perhaps more. Research shows that implementation of high-quality preschool programs can be beneficial for the lifelong development of children in low-income families and that an upfront commitment to early education provides returns to society that are many times more valuable than the original investment.
With the current focus on standards and academic achievement, is learning and testing coming too early? Curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children’s needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. Young children have different social, cognitive, and emotional needs than older children and early childhood is where they begin to build skills and behaviors such as persistence, empathy, collaboration, and problem solving.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the importance of early childhood education with ASCD’s Walter McKenzie, authors Thomas Armstrong and Wendy Ostroff, the New America Foundation’s Laura Bornfreund, and ASCD Emerging Leader Jennifer Orr. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blogand tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
National Teacher Day isn’t until May, but in our experience, trying to cram all of our appreciation into a single day can feel slightly disingenuous to teachers. Rather than wait for May to roll around, we’re sharing 15 simple ways principals can recognize teachers throughout the year. We owe the principals over at Education World a big thank you for sharing their ideas. Should you find that the tips we’ve listed below aren’t enough, you’ll find 50 more by visiting the original article here.
15 Ways for Principals to Show Teachers Their Appreciation
For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.
It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.
So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.
Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'
However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.
So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.
An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children. And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.
I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"
As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.
And learn from it.