Friday, July 31, 2009

teachable moment

my geeky secret is that i love talk radio- and not just talk radio, but the sirius-xm station POTUS that is all politics, all the time. they play full press conferences from the white house briefing room (so you can hear just how obnoxious the press can really be).

driving to work this morning i listened to yesterday's conference on the "teachable moment" aka beer summit. as the press attacked the press secretary for the TM phrase, i had to admit i totally got they said it was a teachable moment. the first grade teacher in me got momentarily giddy with the ideas of how to incorporate this message from the president into our beginning of the school year community building.

i mean, the president of the united states is sitting down and discussing problems with people who were mad at each other. certainly you and your fight over the blue crayon can do the same.

but then i got stuck. what am i going to do- hold up a big picture in a first grade room of the president and beer with a sign that says "talk it out"? have our own little white picnic table for conflict resolution (which would be super cute) but how do i explain the meaning behind it without the beer? i feel the beer a very important piece of this. it is the great "man to man" symbol- but i can't exactly convey that to 6 year olds. i don't want kiddos thinking the only way we can problem solve is with beer. besides, most of them associate beer with the craziness that happens afterward, a parent being arrested, and their pastors have told their parents to "go with God" and "not drink the beers".


maybe it wont be a teachable moment for us after all. sadness, because, according to the press, we would have been the only ones who would have gotten the message.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

miracles & hard work

Two of my think-tank coworkers blogged about this morning's meeting already, so I'll send you there to get the details.

What a way to start the year- When they announced this morning that we had a meeting with someone from Central Office I felt a sense of dread. Why would they be here if we weren't in trouble? Or Central Office wasn't coming to tell us about some new policy of initiative. Don't they know we have a million things to do?

Yet once she started talking I was right there with splattypus getting goose bumps as our cluster superintendent praised us for our hard work and the miracles that happened within our school last year, despite not making AYP for the second year in a row. She praised our high scores, how we teach every child (not just focusing on ones' who fit into a certain subgroup in order to manipulate the numbers), the dedication of our administration to empower the teachers, and how we, despite our extremely diverse population, do not have achievement gaps. Our numbers are growing upward in all subgroups.

We'll be listed in the paper as a "Failing School" whenever the list comes out, and we're facing all sorts of craziness as we look at how to increase our scores and make that magical 100% pass rate in 2014. The general public will never know how amazing it was that we did so well even though we gained over 150 students- many who did not speak English- and that we still managed to get the great test scores we did- that we only failed in one area- where only a small handful of students' test scores impacted that final "fail". We know what it's like, we've been there. And we're getting ready to teach our hearts out the minute our new little ones walk in the door on Monday morning.

But for a moment, this morning, it was wonderful to sit in the library with all of our think-tank staff and listen to someone exclaiming that we are a miracle.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

notes from today...

i found myself scribbling ideas from today's patterns of thinking workshop that i wanted to be able to mull over later. here's some general snippets of what we talked about... some are general quotes, some are actual quotes, but since i was writing fast i'm sure i missed pieces. my apologizes to the thinkworks team if i'm way off here...

knowledge = product

thinking= process and is therefore invisible.

however, the two are married and inseparable, despite the fact that in schools we are primarily focused on giving knowledge like an ATM machine- you put in knowledge and you can check to be sure of your knowledge balance by giving a test. quick and easy.

educational world doesn't currently act as though we know how knowledge works
while we are trying to only give knowledge, advertisers and politicians are using the newest and the best research in cognitive science to get into our brains.
we can teach our kids to think, or someone will do it for them.

no matter what we do, children are building knowledge, recognizing patterns and using the patterns of thinking.

we need to teach a balance of knowledge and thinking in order for our children to be successful. in 1900 8 out of 10 jobs were industrial but in 2000 2 out of 10 jobs are industrial. in 1900s we needed to use the laws of physics in order to be successful in that job field. today we have to change the skill sets we teach to give our children successful tools in the future.

this is just scratching the surface of everything we touched on today and everything racing through my mind. i'm sure i'll be revisiting these thoughts in the next few weeks, but if you're curious check out and their videos- they explain it better than i can!

much better....

After yesterday's training I was in the worst mood. Poor Mr. Lipstick was subjected to a long rant about everything that's wrong with education. He'll be happy to know that today's all day training was 200 times better so this evening will not be nearly as painful. Sure, I still fidgeted with my ipod, worked on my to-do list, talked to people beside me, and managed to kick my flip flops under the table when I got tired of sitting, but I do that during movies I'm interested in, so that's not necessarily a good measure of how well a training went.

Today we had trainings on the Patterns of Thinking Method. This was my 2nd training and I have to admit that back in April I drank the kool-aid and became obsessed. Today's training made me realized how much I've ingrained the Patterns of Thinking into my teaching philosophy already.

It's hard to remember not teaching with the Think Blocks now to be honest. I had so many great breakthroughs with them last spring. I was able to really understand what was going on with one little boy's home life when he walked me through his perspective on family using the Think Blocks. I wrote down our conversation and was able to bring it to Child Study and use it to help the team discuss how to best serve the child's emotional needs. It was disturbingly powerful.

Another kiddo had a pushing incident that landed him in the Principal's office, sobbing. We were able to re-create it using the Think Blocks- we broke the incident apart, examined the pieces of what happened, took perspectives, and talked about what to do next time.

One little girl struggled to tell sequential stories without repeating herself. We used the blocks to organize her thoughts- draw out the parts of her stories and single parts that related to the next part of the story- this helped her stop repeating phrases and writing "in circles" but instead create logical, meaningful stories that showed us what a smart little one she truly is.

I used them with my little ones with autism to retell stories, we went over rules, deconstructed social situations, and made a good stab at taking other people's perspective.

It only took one quarter and I was using the Patterns of Thinking and Think Blocks on the fly- I'd get into a lesson and realize that to fully flush out what we were talking about we needed the blocks. I started carrying them everywhere so I'd have them for those "oh yeah!" moments.

I am hooked.

Today's training was such a huge jump from yesterdays. Here at The Think Tank we can be critics, and we have high expectations. Yesterday we whispered about feeling frustrated and talked down to, but today the whispers were about lessons we could do, or ah-ha moments we were having. I loved listening to everyone on the staff jump into it- sometimes getting it, and sometimes being confused, and then coming round to get it. I'm so excited about what will happen once we all start to put our heads together, share ideas, and build off what one another are doing.

Bring on the kids!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

you may be surprised to know, although i teach k, i'm not actually 5.

there is nothing quite like sitting in at a training and having the leader say, "now, show me that you were using your listening ears" and then- when they are met with silence continue, "who wants to show me they were a good listener when their friend was talking?"

when you ask how to fix education- it is right here.

stop talking to teachers like we're idiots- start treating us like we are the smart, intelligent professionals that we are.

but i'm just tired and grouchy without my summer 1 o'clock nap. ignore me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

exhaustion already?

There is nothing quite as overwhelming and yet exciting like the first days back at school. Entering the newly cleaned classrooms stacked with furniture and boxes towering over us. The possibilities of change are endless- nervous energy and many cups of coffee guiding our arranging and rearranging of the furniture. The constant questions floating through our heads as we try to guess what our class will be like- what will motivate these little ones- where is the best place for the classroom library to make them want to dive into books? Where can we put our furniture to eliminate all little hiding places for those little ones who will be drawn to adult-free zones? Where can we set up tables to give quiet work space to the little ones who need extra space- and where can we create open space for group work?

And how are we suppose to move all these desks, tables, filing cabinets, book shelves & carts AND get everything in order for a brand new batch of kiddos?

I'm exhausted already and it's only Monday!
On the last day of school, in a moment of desperation we asked our wild and wound up kinders to color our boxes. Ok, it was more like "we are really going to need this box colored. yeah, this is super important. and oh yes, now we need you to put stickers on all these boxes."
It kept them busy for the two hours we had them, and it meant we were greeted by these colorful boxes today. There was something comforting about coming back to a wall of last years' art work.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Loving

Dear Summer 2009,
Well, it's been a great 5 weeks, yet the time has come for us to part.

We had a rough start, you and I, with all that studying I had to do the first week. I tried my best to study by the pool, or study as I walked around the neighborhood, but let's not pretend that was the stuff memories were made of. But we did it- got the studying over with, took comps, and then jumped on a plane to Colorado.

That's really where we began our brief love affair. You took me on so many hikes in Colorado, and despite the sunburn (hiking in the Blue Ridge is usually shaded- never thought to coat myself in sunblock until the burn had set in), it was a glorious week- the perfect combination of friends, lazy pool mornings, and active hiking. I was even able to waste away an afternoon in one of my favorite independent bookstores in Aspen (because everyone should have favorite independent bookstores across the country).

Then I was back home, but with three glorious weeks of nothingness. Unlike Summer 2008, you were not filled with three graduate courses. You and I did not have to huddle over the computer writing papers, pretending we were relaxing because we were on the porch. No, you and I re-read Harry Potter (Year 6 and Year 7). You and I read books for fun, read books for school, had many lunches & pool dates with friends, and went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter (where you reminded me, so gracefully, that I am too old to stay up that late and still enjoy a movie).

I learned from Summer 2007 and Summer 2008 that Summer To-Do lists can overtake you and drag you down. Summer 2009, I did not do that with you. My list primarily focused on becoming more cat-like. Naps in the sun, lazy mornings interrupted by bouts of energetic play. You introduced me to The Wire Season 4 and Wii Active. You gave me bits of time to organize my office, clean some of those areas in the house I normally never get to, and go through grad school papers. But even more time was spent on nourishing my laziness.

Summer 2009- with your relaxed schedule I learned to keep score in baseball, kayaked in the Potomac, played numerous softball games on the National Mall, hiked Aspen Mountain, played with my sewing machine, planted new flowers on the porch and kept them alive (at least for a little while).

And now it's time for us to part. It's been a beautiful 5 weeks, really. I will never forget your gentle mornings- although it was just cruel to have the road crew start working at 8am last Thursday and Friday- but perhaps you were only trying to get me ready for the coming week.

I will not dwell on the fact that you and I did not really do anything productive. The big goal you and I had was to have the upstairs bathroom remodelled. On this last day together, you and I sit with multiple estimates, but are no closer to having a bathtub that does not flood the kitchen. So you and I were lazy, but perhaps that was ok.

Here's to the beautiful, lazy days we shared together, Summer 2009. I am sure the rest you gave me will get me through the chaotic start of school with the new kindergarteners.

At least, I hope so.

Mrs. Lipstick

Monday, July 20, 2009

one week left...

There is so much to fill in my one week of summer vacation... books to read, movies to watch, hours by the pool, friends to see, art projects to finish- along with all those pesky tasks that add up during the year that you think, "I'll just do that during the summer when I don't have anything else to do". One week to get it all complete.

Last Thursday the idea of having to go back to work on the 27th filled me with a certain dread. I needed at least another week of having my breakfast on my porch in the morning, another week of sitting by the pool, another week of the slow, quiet life of summer break. Yet on Friday something seemed to snap. By the time Mr. Lipstick got home Friday afternoon ready for a relaxing weekend I was wound up like a six year old before Christmas. It was then I realized it may be about time to go back to work.

Then my horoscope (I don't usually put stock in them, unless they are amusing) yesterday basically told me that I'm not good at having no responsibilities and that I'll be a happier person when I get those responsibilities back.

Even my horoscope thinks it's time to go back to work.

Don't get me wrong- I fully plan on enjoying this last week of summer. My to-do list includes many lazy, all-about-me projects that will let me fully appreciate the lack of responsibilities this week offers. But I have to admit my students are slowly slipping into my thoughts at the pool- ideas for starting the year, communicating with parents, teaching reading- are all running through my head when I least expect it. I think I'm starting to be ready.

Sunday night, I'm sure, I will be singing a different tune.

why we teach

A few weeks ago my mother, a second grade teacher, was meeting my aunt in nearby college town. As my mom and my aunt walked the campus they ran into one of my mother's former students. She introduced herself and the boy lit up, excited to tell his former teacher about his new adventures. He took them around campus to meet people important in his life and proudly introduced her as "my second grade teacher", giving her a certain reverence. They had a delightful afternoon and learned all about his life in the fairly large college town. He was thrilled to see her again and wanted to know all about her memories of him as a second grader. She and my aunt had an absolutely delightful afternoon with him.

I suppose any veteran teacher visiting a state college campus may have similar experiences, which would be such a wonderful reminder to why we teach, but this former student has Downs Syndrome. Running into this student in his independent life, and having him give you a tour of where he works, explain how he gets to work, all while proudly introducing you as "my second grade teacher" gives a reverence to teaching that gives me goosebumps.

I hope that one day, years from now, I'll hear about my current students with special needs and how successful they are in their own lives.

Friday, July 17, 2009

i heart reading

I'm not going to lie- I am withholding all judgements on the current administration until after the National Book Festival on Sept. 26th.

Say what you want about Laura Bush, but she put on a great event.

This year Mo Willems will be there, along with David Shannon. So excited to hear them again.

Fingers crossed that it will once again be a piece of readers' heaven.

****(Question: Will the jr league still provide the volunteers, or was that just a Laura Bush thing?)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

question for you

We're putting together a back-to-school night program for the parents of children who are eligible for special education. We want to make them more comfortable with the process, answer their questions, and help them understand what everything we talk about so fast at the IEP meetings means.

If you were (or are) a parent trying to navigate the world of special education, what would you want to know? What exact terms would you want defined? Would you want a lay out of how your child will receive services? A list of complicated definitions? A list of resources you could go to on your own?

I'd love your thoughts on what we should include!

Thank you :)

the current debate inside my brain

I'm completely finished with my masters program! I found out last week that I passed comps, so as soon as my university puts the paperwork in I am officially finished :)

And yet... I've found myself exploring different programs, looking for what's next. Because deep down, I love taking classes and I love learning new ideas that change the way I look at my teaching.

I'm not sure I want to teach without taking classes, but I also know that I don't want to take classes without teaching. I love my job too much. So, this post is really me just writing out pros and cons that are floating in my head. I don't necessarily recommend reading it unless you are really bored, because, I feel, it's a bit painful.

I found my dream phd program a few months ago, and haven't been able to let the idea of a phd go. The program is at a nearby private university, and is a special education phd program, but puts an emphasis on neuroscience. Reading the course requirements makes me giddy (I know, I am a huge dork). The brain and early development. The brain and learning disabilities. The brain and attachment. I want to soak up that knowledge. I NEED to soak up that knowledge.

Then I saw how much the university courses cost. $1,450 per credit hour. CREDIT HOUR. Two of my masters classes = 1 CREDIT HOUR. I cried. I can't even take the intro class for fun to see if I'd like it.

So I kept looking at other phd programs. I can't continue at the same university I did my masters because the phd program is only at their main campus, two hours away. My advisor tried to talk me into it- saying I just rent an apartment there, take Tuesday/Thursday classes and live in the two towns while I'm working on it. This is what she did. I didn't want to tell her, but that does not sound like fun. I really like my husband. I don't want to be away from him three days a week. This time-before-babies is fun- I don't want to waste our young years driving back and forth to another town.

Plus, I love my job. I'm not sure I can give up my job to do a phd full time.

There is another university here and my neighbor is actually working on her phd in education there. We go for long walks so I can soak up what she's studying. So it's a possibility. But the required courses don't make me cry with joy like my dream program. But I'd finish with a phd, I could teach full time, and I could live at home without robbing a bank. All good things.

Then I found two different programs that offer the courses my dream program offers. One is a year long masters program at Harvard on the brain and learning, and the other is a 15 credit certificate course on the brain and learning at another slightly-nearby university. So I'd get the learning and the knowledge I am craving. One would involve living in Cambridge for a year, which I'm not sure Mr. Lipstick and I want to do. My husband is a southern boy and has honestly been complaining that the summer here isn't hot enough. The other is a possibility, but while it would quench my thirst for neurology-education, it would be spending a lot of money on quenching that thirst, and not enabling me to do anything I can't already do, like one day, down the line, teaching college courses in education.

So, do I want the knowledge (yes) and the enjoyment of taking classes because I love taking classes? (yes, I am a dork)

What if that means spending a lot of money on a program that is just "for fun" while it is taking funds away from a future phd program?

Do I want to start a phd program that will give me knowledge (but not the knowledge I really want to geek out over) that will one day make it possible for me to do something outside the classroom, or in combination with teaching?

I love teaching and don't see myself ever wanting to do something else. I want knowledge that will make me a better teacher- better at doing exactly what I'm hired to do now. I'd love to be able to pick up extra income, one day down the line, teaching night courses, or perhaps take a year or two off to do research- but ultimately I want more education to make me better at my job. Is that worth spending all of this money?

Welcome inside my head. It hurts, I know, going round and round like this. Luckily we go back to school on the 27th and I wont have time to sit around all day by the pool thinking about the pros and cons of my future education.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

reading, reformed theology, public schools, & scary masks

Today the Presby-geek and the Edu-geek in me merged in a beautiful celebration of public schools. We celebrated John Calvin's 500th birthday in church (this involved very scary Calvin masks handed out to little children- I may have nightmares that I'm being chased down the church hallways by three-foot old men with long beards and holes where they eyes should be). My pastor shared the impact John Calvin had, not just on Reformed Theology, but on education in general. Calvin had a desire for everyone to be able to read the Bible for themselves, but hit a wall with his effort because only the wealthy elite could read. So, he began the first public schools in Geneva, Switzerland in order to teach everyone, not just the upper class, to read.

Beautiful, isn't it? Reading for the masses! Educating the public! Regardless of his religious intentions, I always love a story that involves making reading accessible to everyone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

to be held in one's mind

Now that I have time to read anything and everything I've been browsing my way through books on various education topics that I wanted to read throughout the year but couldn't find the time. One book I picked up is Attachment Theory in Clinical Work with Children edited by David Oppenheim and Douglas Goldsmith (2007). It's really a collection of research articles, or research reports intended to be read by counselors to help with their clinical practice. Even so, it's given me a greater understanding of attachment disorder, and I've picked up some ideas here and there that I think will benefit my little ones.

One of the simple interventions that stuck with me is the importance of letting children know you think about them even when they are not around, or "being held in one's mind". Goldsmith writes, "The comfort and delight of being held in mind provide a critical human connection that produces a sense of safety and containment for the child. Such an experience is a critical building block that leads to the development of a secure base..." It lets our children know they are worthy of care and for our little ones with attachment disorder it chips away at their inner working model of their self, which usually tells them they are not worthy.

It's so simple- telling a child, "this weekend I saw a cardinal, and I thought about the story you wrote about the red bird!" or, "WOW! I thought about you last night during the thunder storm. I can't wait to see what you write about it today!" Debbie Miller suggested occasionally leaving books for children on their desks with a sticky note that says "I thought you'd love this book!" It's something I love doing because I delight in watching the children's delight in getting a recommendation note.

I think it's something we naturally do- letting the children know we think of them, but also something that we forget to mention when we get busy. Or, for me, it's harder to do for the child that's already pushing my buttons from the moment he walks in the door, even though he's probably the child who needs it the most.

I love knowing that something so simple- letting our children know they are "being held in one's mind" can be a part of building them up. When we're frustrated and feeling we're not making headway, it's good to remember these little pieces are slowly chipping away.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

outside the think tank

On my "Hike Colorado By Day but Eat, Drink and Sleep in Nice Places By Night" tour I met a couple of parents who have children with special needs. As I listened to them talk about their struggles with teachers and how they watched their children begin to like school less and less I'd find myself offering suggestions for what the teachers could try with their child (I know! I couldn't help it- I don't know the kid, I could be making it worse!). The parents would throw their hands in the air, or bang on the table, saying, "EXACTLY! We just wanted the school to listen to who our child is!"

Trust me, I know that we can't modify our instruction to meet every child's needs, but my suggestions were small- ones that at my school we'd do for any child, without thinking twice. The idea of trying to force a square kid into a round hole sounds painful for everyone involved- the teacher, the parents, the other students, and especially for the child.

I love that I work in a think-tank- where it's not about any one person being a better teacher, or having perfect lessons. It's about putting our heads together to find the right solutions-as a team- for our students. I love the creativity we get to have on the job- how working together with the "well, what if..." allows us to try new ways of looking at our kids and our teaching. Our parents have complaints about us- they wouldn't be human not to- but I have never heard them complain that we aren't working hard enough for their child, or that we don't know their child.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm on to you

As we prepared for take off on my flight out to Denver the flight attendant stopped by our row of seats to give her safety speech.

"Would you help me?" she asked, "Will you hold these for me?" and she distributed her props- the seat belt, oxygen mask, etc to the seats around us.

As I held the oxygen mask and paid attention to the security talk for maybe the first time ever it occurred to me that this is exactly what I do to encourage the more rambunctious children to pay attention. Give them something to hold under the auspicious of "helping me" in order to encourage them to pay attention.

Hmmmm.... I don't know if I feel tricked or if I'm just impressed at the flight attendant's airplane management strategies.