#MSchat: Ideas To Action Challenge

I have been moderating Middle School Chat now for a year and a half. The chat has re-energized my teaching career. I look forward to each Thursday night chat with so much anticipation. Wonder who will bring hot new ideas into the discussion? What ideas can I bring back to my classroom to enhance my students’ learning? I have been amazed at the incredible educators that join in each week.

In a recent conversation with a teaching colleague, I was challenged about the power of twitter chats. His argument was that twitter is just a echo-chamber where like minded teachers validate their common thinking. Disagreeing with this premise, I shared all the ways my teaching has changed since starting the chat. I was meet with a quick rebuttal, “Todd you like change and doing new things just like all the other teachers on Twitter. Most of us just want to teach like we were taught to do.” Having taught with this colleague for my entire career I knew he was right about me. I do like change. I do like trying new things, figuring it out and learning. Not everyone is of the same mindset. How can teachers help other teachers change teaching to meet the changing needs of our students?

After pondering this for a long time, My answer is one teacher at a time. So I am laying down a challenge to all of my #MSchat participants (Inspired by a conversation with my colleague and Colleen Skiles @cskiles80). During the month of February bring a “new” teacher into our chat conversation. Invite them over on a Thursday night, show them how the chat works, introduce them to the concept of twitter chats, and have them lurk while you participate. A twitter chat party if you will. Then debrief with your colleague to hear how their experience went.  Finally take the ideas learned from the chat back into your classrooms for your students’ benefit.

I plan on bringing my colleague into the chat and showing him as well as others that it can be so much more than an echo chamber. I will be writing here in my blog how I am trying to help my colleagues see the power of twitter. Not only by saying it to them, but by showing it to them.

Since many #MSchat participants are “chat” addicts like me, this challenge applies to any chat. Hopefully we can help other teachers see the power of collaboration on social media. I just ask that you share your experiences of doing it with me.

Can’t wait to hear about all the “CHAT” parties! We could have one every night of the week!

Snow days should = e-learning days everywhere!!

Winter 2014 is going to be one for the ages. Students will talk about this year to their children: “I remember the winter where we didn’t have school!” School is an important part of children’s lives. Attending school helps students develop socially, physically, emotionally and academically. States feel school is SO important that they have mandates for the total number of days (and/or hour) a K-12 student attends during a given school year. When weather inhibits students ability to attend school, the educational process is disrupted.

Current practice in most states is to build in a few “snow days” to the calendar. When the weather requires more cancellations that normal, districts have to be creative in making up missed time by adding minutes to the day or days to the calendar. Does this work? probably not! Adding a few minutes to the remaining school days, does not make up for a missed day of learning. By adding days to the end of the year or canceling breaks, districts run the risks of students not attending due to pre-planned vacations over the breaks. Teachers also make plans for school breaks, whether it is a vacation of their own or scheduling professional development.

One district in Illinois, has come up with a creative plan to make every day count to its fullest. Using today’s technology tools, schools can turn snow days into e-learning days. Many teachers are already using the technology to keep absent students up to speed. Shouldn’t we just extend the expectations to “snow days”? States need to recognize that learning is not school dependent. Educators need to foster their relationships with students and parents by communicating learning expectations for working from home. Parents want/need activities for their students to complete when at home. Just look by looking at parents’ comments on Facebook, one can quickly notice a need for a blended learning approach to “snow days”.

Educators need to let their legislature know that we can make everyday count, Even when the students are working from home.


Here is another example of a district using e-learning days!

Or when technology might not be at home Blizzard Bags are discussed here.

How the Common Core should be

As states debate if they will join the Common Core State Standards Initiative, districts are busy training teachers on how to implement the new standards. The standards have been created out of good intentions, with the goal for ALL American students to have the “same” educational standards. Many educators have spoken out against these standards for many reasons.One is due to the  feeling that the push has a hidden agenda of comparing teachers, schools, and states to each other in a rank and sort manner. The Common Core do have a broad reach and challenge students to reach a higher level of learning.

These new standards seem to broad for schools and miss out on the key elements society has expected schools to focus on in the past. We need to Focus on a few “Life” skills to make our students better citizens. Below is what the Common Core SHOULD look like!

A Teacher’s Common Core

Preparing Students for LIFE!

  1. Humility-a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.
  2. Compassion – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
  3. Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  4. Honesty- the quality of being honest not lying.
  5. Integrity- the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
  6. Determination-firmness of purpose; resoluteness.
  7. Justice- seeking just behavior or treatment.
  8. Passion/love- showing or caused by strong feelings or a strong belief.
  9. Financial Literacy- the ability to understand how money works in the world
Men's Humor's photo.
10. Wonder- a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
11. Reflection- serious thought or consideration.
By focusing on these simple 11 concepts as a common core, schools will create better American citizens. Our common core should be the values that our country was founded on, not concepts that aren’t essential.
Feel free to add additional Common Core ideas in the comments section, I am sure I missed something.

Lessons learned from coaching basketball…

For the past 3 years I have been coaching my son’s youth basketball team. I started when he was in 2nd grade, it has been fun to watch the kids mature and develop skills. The league is run through our school district. Records are not kept and the high school players serve as referees. At the beginning of each season the head high school coach gathers all the volunteer coaches to emphasize sportsmanship for the league. He also explains that our referees are learning their jobs and only high school students. Reminding us that mistakes will happen, but not to act like it is the Pros.

I try to teach my team to focus on improving their game. Shooting, rebounding, dribbling, and passing are skills the young developing players need. During games, I ask my players to not complain about the whistles, but listen to the referees to help improve their games. I sit on the bench, only yelling out directions when the team needs assistance. “Get back” is my most used call, for after the other team pulls down a defensive rebound. Otherwise my players would press and try to steal the ball back (not allowed until next year). Other calls will be for players to set picks or for motion. I make a point to assist the young referees with calls that they might not see, by pointing in the the direction the ball should go for out of bounds. After the game I thank the high school players for help my young athletes learn. I feel I am modeling positive sportsmanship for our next generation of athletes.

After two games this year, I have been disturbed by the other coaches shouting out complains focused at the officiating. In our first game, the you referees allowed some moderate physical contact. I noticed it at both ends of the court which mean the referees were consistent. My players adjusted. The other coach yelled out complaints against our teams contact. Since, I noticed it. I took it upon myself to talk to the young high school players at a break in the action. Sharing that the physical contact is a bit much for both sides and might lead to a problem. The other coach rushed over yelling that I have nothing to complain about and my players need to have fouls called. His temperament cause the assistance high school coach to observe the rest of the game in concern.

During today’s game, the opposing coach started to notice that a few players were carrying the ball on the dribble. This often happens with 4th graders learning the game. The student  referees, again were not calling it consistently both ways. The coach you yell every time a call was’t made on us, failing to notice all the no calls his players were receiving. I felt the referees were trying to let all players learn and tried to be consistent with all of their calls.

Should youth coaches dispute calls? I feel this is a touch subject. My players point out all the missed traveling calls on the other team today. I have told them never to dispute a call with a referee. Players need to learn the referees are in charge of the game. We might not agree with them, but their calls are final. My players know that I am the only on to talk to a referee about the game. Youth coaches need to realize we are modeling behaviors for the athletes we coach. Pro and College ranks do not model well for the athletes of tomorrow. Youth sports programs need to lead the way! In youth sports winning and loosing does not matter, sportsmanship does!

Remember we are always modeling for the next generation!! If you have a real issue then discuss it with the organizers in private, not in front of your young impressionable team!

Thoughts on teaching while driving in snow..

During the Polar Vortex’s visit last week, I ventured out to  school on a snow-day, like many teachers working on a day “off”.  As I cautiously crept out of my neighborhood to make the 7 mile drive to school, I quickly realized the intelligence of our superintendent for canceling school. The roads were covered in black ice with sub zero temperatures. Our buses and walkers would have struggled to make it to school safely. Driving slow and cautiously, I turned onto the main road.

Quickly noticing a diverse group of adventurers out on the road. Some speeding along in their four-wheel drives, while others cautiously inching down the road like snails. As a jeep sped by I noticed the driver texting. When, checking my rear-view mirror, I caught a glimpse of the driver on the phone.  Things that might be done under normal weather conditions, but not what I hope to see on the slick roads.

As I passed a couple of cars that had slid off of the side of the road, I began to wonder if driving teachers are going to be evaluated like school teachers. Instead of the driver paying the price of a wreck or receiving points on their license for their actions, their instructor will be marked down or pay the price with their career. OF COURSE this is ridiculous.

But this is what is happening in schools. Our students are like the drivers. Some listen to past instructional advice and proceed with caution. Other take risks and short cuts to get to where they are going on time and arrive safely. And finally there are those that are unlucky, unskilled or take too great a risk and end up wrecked on the side of the road. In all cases the driver is responsible for the end results, not their instructor.

Ultimately the learner is responsible for learning and the teacher is responsible for teaching. When examining the effectiveness of teachers examine their lessons, pedagogy and practice. By examining how well student receive their lessons measures learning which ultimately is the learners responsibility. Great lessons can be taught and the students have the free will to be active learners, passive learners or just be present. Everyone can learn but desire and effort are necessary for it to happen!

There should be talking in the classroom!

To exist as a social individual talk is needed. A classroom should be a place where dialogue is constant and flowing. Without this dialogue students may become isolated and will not perform at their optimal levels. In my experience, I have always performed better in a comfortable setting. Students can not feel comfortable if they are not involved in discussions. Our jobs as teachers is to involve our students, there is no better way to involve students in class than by conversations. How will teachers know if they are effective without the verbal feedback from students?

I remember sitting in so many classes in college feeling very uncomfortable. The professor is standing in front of the class preaching the lecture. Students afraid to answer the questions hurled down from the pulpit. Tension is created by professors who fail to develop a dialogue with the class. Students are afraid of how the professor  will respond to their answers, This situation occurs in classrooms on every level all over the country. Teachers need to create an environment in which students feel comfortable to answer questions and formulate their own questions. If students are afraid to respond they turn off to learning. Why do some teachers foster this stand-off environment?

To create a discussion based classroom, teachers need to move from the “lecture” mode. Create a conversation atmosphere in your class. From day on give ALL students an opportunity to share their voice. Promote discussions with interactive activities. Lectures can be boring and should be avoided. Students to participate in their learning. Answering questions and generating new ideas. All students input needs to be accepted and discussed. Students need to make decisions in regards to the direction the conversations head in class.  Students voice needs to be valued in decision making. Give them choices: Which book should we read? How should we complete the lab: hands on or virtually? Through empowerment students will gain motivation and participation will increase.

Discussions need to occur daily, ranging from current events, review of yesterdays lecture or just about how their school day is going. Students will feel valued. Learn how to converse with each other. Encounter disagreements and learn how to handle them appropriately. When I was growing up this all happened around our dinner table. Sadly many of our students don’t have this experience any more. When need to recreate it for them in our classrooms!

Create a “talking” classroom!!