Be the Advocate For Your Students

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I never took a class in college that told me a large part of teaching was advocacy. Most teachers spend their time focused on lesson planning and relationships with students, we feel politics should be left to others. I have found politics have impacted education and it is time to make sure our students’ voices are heard. Over the years I have witnessed the lost of elective classes, funding for supplies, class sizes increase and no longer having a media specialist to support my students reading need. All of this has been a result of policies enacted by state and federal legislators.

While education is a much talked about issue during campaigns very few politicians follow through on promises to educators. The tide seems to be turning slightly in Michigan where our new governor, has been steadfast in holding education as a high priority in the budget, while also creating a educational advisory panel of teachers from around the state. These big steps can only be maintained by persistent educational advocacy from teachers.

Teachers know what is going on in the classrooms. Teachers are trained in assessing and meeting our students’ needs. Teachers are busy with all that they do, but advocacy matters, when we show up our voices are heard. Today I wrote my senators and representative in support of Success in the Middle Act of 2019  to ensure that all students in the middle grades are taught an academically rigorous curriculum with effective supports. I urge other educators to do the same.

For the same reason many educators in Michigan have and will march in #RedForEd Rallies in Lansing. The next march is Tuesday June 25. Teachers have to keep the pressure on legislative bodies to fund their priorities in education.

Keep speaking out and sharing your voice on behalf of our students!

Lorax

My previous advocacy post: Be A Lorax for Education 

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Summer Perception of Educators

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It is the first week of summer break for most Michigan teachers. While on twitter a well meaning teacher friend posted the message above, signaling to all teaching friends to enjoy the well deserved summer break. Teachers have to be careful of sharing this type of message on social media. It gives the misperception that teachers don’t work the same amount of time that “other” employed adults work.

Teachers need breaks to rejuvenate and grow professionally. The same educator who posted this message spent yesterday in Lansing lobbying for adequate funding for schools, which could not be done during normal school hours. (#RedforEd Rally) The really message educators need to share is that it is summer and NOW teachers can finally act like all other employed adults.  We can go to the doctor or dentists without taking the day off. We can get to the markets before all the fresh produce is picked over, during the day. We can go out to eat and do so taking our time, instead of normal rushed thirty minute lunch while multi-tasking.

The thing is teacher spend most of their day working. Not just the 8-3 time that students are in the classrooms. Teachers have to plan the lessons, grade papers, attend meeting and stay current.

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Constantly looking to improve teachers work hard like all other professionals. In fact best estimates are that teachers work 2,200 hours per year . So to put that in perspective if an employee works 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year it comes to 2,000 hours per year. Nobody calls Doctors, Dentists or Lawyers part timers but most of them have office hours less than 40 hours per week. Actors and professional athletes spend far less time on their stage than educators again they aren’t part of the narrative of being part time or working less than a year. So why does society hang this narrative on educators?

It might be because we impact those around us. Parents are impacted when schools are out for breaks, now they have to figure out their children’s schedule and who will watch them during their working hours. This impact and teachers public “joy” of a break (which is valid and needed), gives rise to the “part-time” teacher position.

It is time for society to recognize that teachers put in MORE than enough time for their pay! As an educator I am going to share ALL the work I do during my summer “off” to give evidence that my district is getting every penny worth of my salary!

I previously wrote: 7 hour workday and summers off.. 4 years ago with similar sentiments.

A PSAT day!

Its Tuesday after spring break, My 7th grade students spent the day at home. I sat silently in a school hallway, PSAT tests were today. Our 8th grade students had to come to school to sit for this 3 hour exam. “At least I get paid for today” was mutter by a teacher as we passed in the hallway. Me, I was bored, staring down a hallway to help students or teachers during the exam. Counting the minutes till the testing was done.  I felt empathy towards the eight graders who were dragged to school out of compliance to the the “TEST”.

What good does the PSAT do for an eighth grader? A practice SAT test that they will endure the struggles for again before moving on to the “REAL” SAT. Their scores will be sent to them in late summer or early fall. Used to tell them where they might need improvement. Concerned parents, worried about college admission MIGHT use the scores to help their child improve. But really the scores are used for something else.

USED to judge our instruction, our teachers and our district. Might there be better ways to do both of these tasks?

As I perused social media over the past day, many teachers and administrators shared positive thoughts, eating and sleeping tips and best wishes to all the students partaking in the exams of this day. What makes this day special? Shouldn’t schools and communities promote good eating, sleeping and wish everyone well for every day? Why should these standardized tests, a snapshot summary of students be so special? Especially since we keep adding more tests each year. ALL of our students will have to endure NWEA and M-STEP assessments in the coming weeks, are we going to hype these up, give groups of students time off and test in small groups for each and every test?

It is time we allow students to build portfolios of work that show who they are so that a few hours on some random test doesn’t carry all this wait and stress.

Podcasting as an educator

anchor

I have been podcasting using the Anchor app. Why? Well using Anchor it is quick and easy. With just a tap of a button I can record. I am not doing anything fancy just recording my reflections, thoughts and observations about education. It can be done any where with just my phone. It is that easy. Open the app, press record and boom, a podcast is born. The app is free and distributes your message to all podcast networks from I-Tunes to Google to Spotify (who recent purchased Anchor). I find that podcasting is quicker and easier than blogging. I sure don’t have to worry about typos as much!

I used to think Podcasting required a capital investment in equipment, Microphones, digital recorders and editing software. Now it is all contained in one simple APP. I am sure there are others. I attended a PD where a teacher shared about Anchor and BOOM!! I was Podcasting the next day. I am listed using my blog title Sweat to inspire.

I might be using an untraditional format since I don’t like rules. Most of my episodes are short 3-5 minutes, with me talking about a subject and sharing reflections. Mainly it is me sharing what is keeping me up all night. It helps me revisit ideas while making my thinking visible for others to reflect upon. Unlike other podcasts, my casts are short, sweet and simple focused on one main idea. I hope the quick listens inspire others and help them reflect.

Eventually I hope to get my students using Anchor to podcast their learning. Hopefully it will be soon. Give me a listen and maybe you will be podcasting soon.

 

Homework: To give or not to give

homework

Right now this is debate in many schools, coming from educators, parents and students. Those that are on the side of homework talk feel there is a need for skills to be practiced independently before they can be mastered. On the other side many argue that practicing without a coach (teacher) can lead to errors in learning that takes more efforts to unlearn. Handing one assignment to a class of students as homework is troubling. In that class some students might have already mastered the skill while others are just beginning to tackle it. Why should they all do the same assignment? Matt Miller and Alice Keeler address these concerns and present solutions in their book “Ditch that Homework”.

I suggest that instead of ditching homework we might want to SHIFT IT! This idea comes from practice in my classroom. I don’t assign homework, haven’t for many years. I accept work when it is done and grade it based upon the learning standards. A few years back, after a student failed an assessment, he challenged me. “Mr Bloch, you failed to teach me what I needed to pass the assessment?” What, wait, did I? Others passed!! The students and I went over all the material presented in class, all the projects and tasks given. We agreed it was covered but he still challenged: “But I didn’t do any homework to help it stick, you should have given me homework!” I thought about it for awhile and asked these 3 questions of the student:

  1. Did you know what you needed to learn?
  2. Did you receive feedback as to where you were in this learning?
  3. Did you have access to resources to help you learn it?

“Well, yes but I needed more homework to learn it.” I asked him if it would be fair if I gave the entire class more homework, since as a class most students mastered the content. “Well no, they would hate me if I made us have more work!”

Teachers shouldn’t be the ones assigning homework in the classrooms, students should be assigning it to themselves! Teachers need to set the learning targets, give feedback and provide the resources students need to learn but the learning and homework belongs to the students. Each student has different needs because they are in different places in learning. Schools have to stop thinking one size fits all and model how learning happens in the workplace and in homes.

In the workplace new skills are presented all the time. If a worker wants to get ahead and master the skill they will work on it at home. Those that don’t add the extra efforts might now advance in their jobs as quickly as those that work. At home when we don’t understand why the lawn mower won’t start or how to landscape the yard we assign ourselves homework to figure it out. Schools need to start modeling the skills students need to succeed in life. One of these skills is for learners to know how to assign themselves extra work to reach mastery!

This image of my daughter show it:

Grace knew that she was struggling with fractions in math, so she accessed Kahn Academy to study on a snow day. She could have been sitting on the couch watching TV with her brother but assigned herself homework to fix a perceived weakness. This is a life skill.

Time to shift homework, from teachers to students!

 

Culture around schools matters!

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Schools spend time and energy to create positive cultures. Students need to feel that the work they are doing in school is meaningful and relevant. Schools work hard to make students from all backgrounds accepted and comfortable. Student voice and choice are helping guide school decisions. The culture of schools is maintained by the teachers, but what happens when students go home?

The culture of learning that schools spend so much energy to demonstrate needs to expend beyond the school campus into the community! Students will know what the school is doing is important when it is reflected in their home lives. Is it? Where do students see Science, Math, ELA, and Social Studies at home? The most visible way for students to see culture is through media. Where is a culture of learning modeled in media? It can be seen on Do It Yourself Show, PBS, and a few other channel: mostly focused on the final product with very little details about the process of figuring things out. Rarely are failures celebrated in our media (unless on funny video shows to laugh). In schools failure happens regularly, as a step in the process of learning.

Often times schools are working against the culture around them.  Just look around. Hip Hop music culture promotes language that is banned from schools. “Drop the Mic” on TBS  insults and bullying behavior that if done in school would lead to discipline referrals. Television and the internet are jammed packed with images that work against a school culture of learning. Just look at the recent Volkswagen advertisement:

We are selling cars by promoting playing “Hooky”, in a time when schools are struggling with chronic absenteeism. Where is the outrage? Even the t-shirt racks at Target and Walmart are full of messages that the school culture isn’t the “real world”.

If we want to fix our educational system it starts with showing it matters in our culture. We can do better. If not NOW, WHEN? The culture outside of schools should match that with in them!

The Incentive Dilemma

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Celebrations are needed in schools. Students need to be reminded that their accomplishments matter and should be celebrated. One way many schools are celebrating their students is through using Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) Incentive Programs. Our school has found success using PBIS incentives. Students that meet the school’s behavior expectations qualify to attend an incentive.

Our School does a variety of school wide incentives through out the year. Ranging from grade level movies in the auditorium, roller skating trips, human hungry hippos and Let’s Make a Deal game show!

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The students that qualify for the incentives have fun and remember the activity. Our dilemma is how to work with the students who DON’T meet the criteria to qualify for PBIS incentives. Typically this is a small number for students, 10-15% of the population. These are not “bad” students they just are struggling to consistently meet expectations. Our staff works hard to set clear expectations for behavior but like most middle schools some students just aren’t ready to meet them consistently. Currently these students in our school go to a classroom with a core teacher to work on assignments or complete lessons on meeting expectations. This room is dreaded by teachers and students alike. Many students will contact home to leave during the incentive because they don’t want to be caged up in a room while the “good” students do something fun.

It would be great if 100% of the students qualified for incentives but it has’t happened YET. What can we do to make this time more meaningful? Is this just one drawback of carrot and stick programs? How do you run incentives at your school? If all students attend the incentives does that ruin the integrity of the program?

If you read this I would love your feedback. I left school the Friday of break completely frustrated having to stay back to work with students during an incentive on the Friday of Winter Break. I saw struggling students feel completely like horrible kids because they didn’t qualify for incentive and then they lived up to their feelings. Thanks in advance!