Thanks… Focus on positive and let the negative fall away!

It is that time of year, where you reflect and give thanks for all the positive things in your life. As a teacher it has been easy to get caught up in all the negativity. The profession feels like it has been under a relentless attack lately, but there is so much to be thankful.

  1. Professional Learning Network- Such a positive group of teachers can be found on social media. When you are feeling down, have a bad day, they are always there to pick me up. I have yet to have a negative experience with my PLN. You engagement me, challenge me to grow and do better, give me comfort after a long day and never let me settle for being good.
  2. Collaboration- Teaching is in a time of transition from teachers being alone in rooms doing their own thing to a model where teachers collaborate to create awesome learning experiences for their students. All who have collaborated with me, thank you for opening you minds and sharing what you do in your classrooms so I can be a better teacher.
  3. My Administrators – They get it! Knowing how to comfort the afflicted teachers and challenge the comfortable. Always striving to exhibit the traits teachers desire. Thanks for being humans, not robots, striving for the best learning environment possible.
  4. #MichED – Thanks to the vision of Jeff Bush for spearheading the efforts to start this group of Michigan teachers. You all inspire me. The weekly chat is just the tip of the iceberg. Meeting many of you face to face has greatly enhanced my learning when attending Edcamps and conferences. Looking forward to the Connected Educator Unconference in Boyne City in January to meet more of you.
  5. AMLE– Thanks for the support with #mschat. Everyone at AMLE has an incredible energy and enthusiasm towards teaching students in the middle level. The passion that you bring out in members inspires. I can’t wait till we collaborate again. (Great chat coming in January).
  6. MEA– Protecting the risk taking teachers is a hard job. Many of us would only be good without the knowledge that the union is there to protect and fight for teachers rights. Being a union person is not a glamorous job (similar to teaching), it has many critics. The job they do, helps us all be better teachers.

Enjoy your break with family and friends. Focus on all the positives we have in life and teaching. Be the change you wish for in education.

Traits teachers desire in their Principals.

Principals have a tough job. They are responsible for an entire building of staff and students. Answer questions and demands from all sides. It is hard to for them to focus on their passion: The student and their learning (Has to be to spend so much time in a school), In the rush to handle the demands of the job, principals can take their staff for granted. Forgetting about the need for building and maintaining relationships. Below are a few traits that teachers find desirable in their principals.

  • Listen to teachers, acknowledge their concerns and give them assurances to their actions. Teachers need to feel that the principal hears them and cares what is being said. Teachers like to feel like their opinion matters and it should. Respond promptly to concerns and address them. Disagreements will occur but not without hearing both sides out, then agree to disagree.
  • Give time to your staff. Teachers want to be able to reflect and share what they are doing in their classrooms with the principal. Leaders need to be available for staff to meet, share positives and discuss concerns. Create a schedule so teachers know when you have time for them on a regular basis. When principals aren’t available teachers feel that they don’t care what is going on in the classrooms. Ask questions about lessons, successes and failures. Staff will be more comfortable sharing when more time if give.
  • Give honest timely constructive feedback. IF you see a great lesson, tell the world. IF you see one that needs work, reflect back to your teaching days find the positive and then share how to make it better. Be specific on what works and doesn’t to help the staff grow.
  • Treat all staff as equals. Teachers need to feel valued and equal. Every member of a building’s staff has unique qualities that make the entire team work. Give all staff equal access and time. Play no favorites, staff will see this action and start making assumptions upon it.
  •  Publicly back your staff. Teachers need to make split decisions when dealing with students. Back the decisions publicly, so staff feels supported. If teachers action was a wrong, deal with the issue in a private setting so the teacher can save face. Teachers need to feel supported.
  • Lead by example. Model the behaviors you desire out of staff. Remember that your staff is watching every action. Choices you make with behaviors affect the entire building.
  • Be Positive. Smile and say Hi! Just like Harry Wong says a teacher should meet their students, Principals should meet their staff every day. This is probably the hardest thing to do but has the best results when done.

Hope these quick reminders help remind principals to focus on their staff and create a positive environment for everyone to work and learn.

Reflections on 3 days of learning at #AMLE2013

Students performing at #AMLE2013 

I had the pleasure of attending The Association of Middle Level Education Conference in Minneapolis, MN this past week. It was my first time attending a “national” level conference. The conference had an incredible feel of energy an passion. Walking into the convention hall I should have know the energy would be high since the line for the only coffee stand around went out of sight. All the attendees had to get their share of caffeine to match the energy of the conference and its presenters.

The session program was littered with who is who of educational Authors/ experts: Ruth Culham, Laura Robb, Jeff Wilhelm, Ruby Payne, Rick Stiggins, Jack Berckemeyer, Monte Selby, Kim Campbell and Rick Wormeli to name a few. As an attendee it was hard for me to choose what sessions to attend, not only high caliber sessions from authors, but 100’s of sessions from teachers about what works in their classrooms. Every session I walked into demonstrated a passion for teaching every student that walks into a middle school classroom. What ever topic you needed to fulfill  your professional development needs you could find it.

The General Session on Thursday remarkable. The Special Olympics, Project Unify put on a stage show demonstrating the needs to spread the word to end the word. If you every get a chance to see their performances DO!! Inspiring and meaningful. Every middle school student should be exposed to this program. Danielle Liebl and Jamie Behymer shared their personal stories about student advocacy and how SPecial Olympics had impacted their lives. The session ended with everyone dancing to Katy Perry’s Roar!

Friday kicked off early with a 7:30 general session by Brad Meltzer about Heroes. I am a huge fan of his Decoded series on the History Channel, but did not know why he would be speaking at  a middle level conference. He opened sharing his story about how he became a writer. Stories about his teachers filled the auditorium. He talked about the power of Thank You, and listening to the unheard stories for those are the ones with meaning. I was inspired by the end, Brad Meltzer is an engaging story teller.

For me the greatest experience of the conference was connecting with other like minded educators. As a classroom teacher, I have little time to connect and share ideas with others. Due to my activity on Twitter, I meet up with members of my Professional Learning Network. We talked in the halls, in session, on twitter and enjoyed meals together. These personal connections matter. I also had the privilege to attend the AMLE leadership lunch on Friday. The discussion there were rich with focus on students learning. The time was engaging and meaningful. Lead by Dru Tomlin, the lunch is a must for leaders that want to engage in answering the critical questions facing educators.

The conference wasn’t all roses: WiFi connections were spotty at times and the web app for the conference had issues. It was not light on the pocket book: I was out over $800 for travel and accommodations (Note to self find a sponsor for next year: anyone??) The money was worth it, the conference is not about the TECH so those were minor drawbacks. The conference was about connections, passion, energy all to make student’s learning improve in the classrooms.

All attendees have to remember to maintain the feelings from the conference, share the passion with your building and maintain connections with presenters via twitter. One member of my PLN shared that the energy felt at conferences can be continued by participating in Twitter chats. I hope I can live up to the energy and passion presented at the conference. If you have the time it is so worth attending. I hope to return next year when it will be in Nashville, TN,

Thank you to all I connected with! Dru Tomlin, Mark Clements and Rick Wormeli: Thank you for making me feel your equal. You inspire me to work harder and be better everyday.

#MSchat Schedule for November to January

All Chats are Thursdays weekly at 8 PM EST- Unless otherwise stated

Don’t know how to Chat? Check this out

Nov. 7- #AMLE2013 – Chat on Conferences and PD – Special Time due to AMLE conference 7-8 PM EST

Nov. 14- Parent Involvement:  The PT conference and Beyond

Nov. 21 -Student Engagement

Nov. 28 – Thanksgiving -No chat

Dec. 5th -Student Engagement

Dec. 12-Creating a culture of learning

Dec. 19-Celebrations in the Middle School

Dec. 26 -Boxing day No chat

Jan. 2-Goals, Resolutions and Challenges for the New Year

Jan. 9-How to refocusing students after breaks

Jan. 16- Gamification in the Middle School Classroom

Jan. 23- Strengthening Teams Through Technology-Special Chat event based on AMLE article.

Time to reinvent Education: Stop the insanity

It is time for teachers to take hold of their profession and reinvent it for the first time. So far all of the political so-called educational reformers have failed!! and Failed miserably. They have failed so horrifically that passionate teachers are either rebelling against the system (BATs)  or exiting the profession in record numbers.

The event that might wake up the state of Michigan is happening right now in Lansing. A bill has been introduced to mandate that ALL 3rd graders reach proficiency on our state standardized test (the MEAP) or repeat the 3rd grade altogether. Sure a business person might see logic in this bill. Student need to learn to read. If students are behind in 3rd grade this is a primary indicator of struggles ahead, let’s help them and  make sure they won’t struggle, hold them back till they are ready. The article says that if the law was in place over 36,000 students would have been held back this year. WOW! Just seeing that number is stunning. The author of the bill states she hope it would make schools provided MORE services to help students reach this target. (Of course the article fails to talk about all the budget cuts schools have been going through.) This bill won’t create better PUBLIC SCHOOLS, it will end their entire existence. Parents will take their students to charter schools or K-12 inc that don’t take the MEAP to save themselves the embarrassment.

Schools are trying their best to educate OUR children. My district has been working hard to educate every student that steps foot on our doorstep. Recently, I attended a meeting where data was presented about our kindergartners. They recently took letter recognition tests to check on their ability to be introduced to reading. 25% were ready, 50% were getting close. The shocking result to be was that 25% were not able to recognize more than 9 letter (out of 52 capital and lower cased). WOW! No wonder students some students aren’t reading at grade level in 3rd grade, they are starting so far behind.

Schools are facing budget cuts not having enough to pay their staffs fair wages, so let’s add another unfunded mandate. While continuing to cut taxes on businesses. This is the very definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results, Hey wait a minute that is what this very law wants us to do!

We need to make a few fundamental changes to obtain the goals this very law is written to accomplish. The law want to create fluent readers and learners. So let’s try these instead:

  1. End the “Day Care” model of school- Schools should not go bell to bell and be set up to take care of the kids while mom and dad go to work. Have hours, schedule different courses have students show up based on need and interest. Create free time for reflection, reading and one on one help from teachers. Set up a school Offices, study spaces, classrooms and plenty of space to learn independently. Sure K-5 might look different than 6-12 but we need to move to this model.
  2.  Change to mastery learning model- Stop the idea that students should move on just because of the time they have spent in a seat. If we believe that students need to learn something, they should not move on until they have. Some students will move up quickly others the journey will be slower. Allow students to learn at their pace, while holding them (no the teacher) accountable for the learning. If a student is doing “3rd grade” reading but “4th grade” math that is what they should be learning.
  3. Focus on student accountability- right now students are the least accountable person in the educational system. An education doesn’t make you, you make your education. Student need to realize all their opportunities and they are in the position to take advantage of it.

By making these 3 changes in our educational system, teachers will be reinvigorated. Passionate professionals will flock to the educational profession feeling empowered and respected, while accomplishing the SPIRIT of the Bill.  Let’s start listening to teachers we reforming education and stop the “business-like” solutions, Education is not a business!



(Other items not addressed here: all students learn at different rates and the cultural biases of standardized tests)