Monday, April 7, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday Link-Up


A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

*         *          *          *          *
Caravan - Van Morrison


This song is many things.  It is a car ride with the windows down and a light breeze flowing through your fingers.  It's a night on the patio with friends and a brisk chill in the air.  This song is a celebration. 

Van Morrison is one of the all time greatest singers in rock n' roll history.  From Ireland, he sings every note with passion and soul.  This song is so good by itself, but this particular version is enhanced by Van's backing band, one of my favorite groups, The Band.  This clip is taken from the concert film, The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese.  

The drums.  The brass section.  The voice.  Oh, that voice.  

Much of today's current popular music contains no soul.  The music is electronic.  The voices are distorted with effects.  It has to be so perfect and over-produced.  As a result, it becomes watered down, muffled and bland.  So much of our art and culture is meant to appeal to the masses, which means it can't be too passionate or remarkable or extreme.  It has to be in the middle where there's something for everyone to like.  

We need some game-changers.  Van Morrison was a game-changer.  Sometimes ideas need to be radical or drastic.  They need to not fit in a box and appeal to everyone.  Music, art, ideas-they need to be big, bold and command the stage.

"And the caravan has all my friends
It will stay with me until the end
Gypsy Robin, Sweet Emma Rose
Tell me everything I need to know."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

*         *          *          *          *

"I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
'Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?"



Song lyrics are poetry. Some good, some bad. But this song is one of the finest pieces of poetry I've ever heard.  Landslide by Fleetwood Mac is a timeless song about...well, I'm not really sure. And that is what makes it so brilliant. The lyrics can mean different things to different people. I have my own interpretation of this song, which may or may not be the same as your interpretation. The best pieces of poetry empower the reader to use their own life experiences to help make meaning.

At this moment in my life, this song makes me think about time. Past, present and future. "Climbed a mountain and I turned around/And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills/'til the landslide brought it down." For me, our journey through life is climbing a mountain. We walk on the hard jagged mountainside of life, constantly reaching for the pinnacle. Sometimes we realize that we are not prepared for the changes that surround us.

As an educator, reflection is part of my daily life. I strive to climb that mountain and be a better teacher than I was the day before. This song evokes powerful imagery and inspires reflection. It's like a faithful old friend.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

*          *          *          *          *

The Beach Boys are one of the greatest American bands in the history of rock 'n roll.  I feel this is their best song.  Paul McCartney has stated on numerous occasions that God Only Knows the greatest song ever.  In fact, it is well documented that it was this song, as well as the rest of the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, that caused Paul McCartney to start composing the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album.  If a Beatle says this, then I think you may have a future in music.

One of the greatest love songs of all time, and it starts with the line, "I may not always love you..." I'm sorry, what was that?!  I may NOT always love you?

"I may not always love you.
But long as there are stars above you,
You never need to doubt it.
Ill make you so sure about it.
God only knows what I'd be without you."


I talk with my student writers almost daily about how each piece of writing should start with a "hook."  This is a great example of how the best first lines are the ones that make you say, "Huh?!" or "Whoa, that was unexpected."

This song has a simple message of I am who I am because of you.  I believe that we are all influenced by everyone we have ever come in contact with.  People move in and out of our lives, and each of us leaves their mark on the other.  We are made up of bits and pieces of all who ever touched your life.  You are more because of it, and you would be less if they had not touched you.  

This song is, at it essence, a love song.  But, for me, it is about how we should cherish those people that come in and out of our lives and make us better versions of ourselves.





Sunday, March 23, 2014

Room 27, Are You Ready To Rock?



“What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.”
― Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything



The other day, I was driving to school eating a piece of buttered wheat toast and drinking some green tea. As I made my daily 7-minute commute, a song by my favorite rock band U2 began to play. Bono’s voice pierced through the speakers and perfectly blended with that distinct, echo U2 guitar sound from The Edge. I was jamming to this monster of a song, and I got to thinking about why I love my job. And, it’s simple really.

Teachers are rock stars.

Don’t deny it. We are performers who put on a show for spectators. Every day educators try to engage and entertain our audience; just as rock stars command the attention of those in the crowd. Each audience member has been waiting months to see this show, and anticipation is high.  Similarly,t teachers must command the attention of our own arena. Yet our audience is a group 25 kids who are legally bound to be there. For some of them, the biggest concern is whether it’s indoor or outdoor recess.

I have been to many concerts in my life.  U2, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown Band, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Jack Johnson, Janet Jackson, and MC Hammer (don’t judge those last few) have been some of the more memorable ones. Each concert was mind blowing in its own unique way. There is nothing like the thrill of when the lights shut off and the arena is blanketed with the thrill of blackness. When the performer steps onto that stage, a palpable wave of joy and screaming spreads over the crowd.

Like rock stars, our entire reason for doing our jobs is to give our audience a life-changing experience. A rock star knows the audience all adore him, which surely feeds him the energy he needs to put on a performance they will never forget. Rock stars do their job for people who spend their hard-earned cash to attend one of their shows. They travel from city to city and play to 20,000 people under the blistering hot lights. Most of the time, they don’t even see the faces of the people for whom they are performing. They sing the same songs every night, so they are constantly perfecting each concert. After a few weeks on the road, their set list is unchanged, and they know their routine by heart. Man, I can do that. If rock stars don’t keep their audience entertained, they leave and think, “Well, Bono just wasn’t having a good night. I bet he’ll be better next time.”

Now, teachers must perform for fans that are forced to attend a show every day, which makes me consider a simple truth. Teachers have the tougher job! Teachers have their audience for six hours a day, five days a week. Good teachers develop their set list in advance; yet, they know that the set list may need to change each day. It should even change mid-performance if that’s what our crowd needs. We have to anticipate what will work and what won’t, what our audience likes and dislikes. Most importantly, we have to use what each crowd member needs to create an individual concert experience for them.

A good performer has to know what will work and what won’t work. Some nights, Bono might look out into the crowd and want to change their set list because the vibe is different than the night before. Think about it, teachers have to “entertain” 25 kids all with different needs and learning styles. Good teachers must do this on a daily basis as well. We must look out into the faces of our audience and sense that we must change up our plans to keep them entertained. Anyone can teach how to subtract fractions, but it takes a great teacher to know when to play Pride (In The Name Of Love) instead of With or Without You, if you catch my drift.

I argue that teachers are rock stars for another reason—accountability. These young, impressionable audience members pay admission to our performance arenas. (Well, they have parents who pay admission, in the form of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, to support our performances.) As a rock star, I have paying customers in my arena, so I must always bring my A-game. As teachers, we are not only accountable to our audience, but their parents as well. We work together to ensure our audience is getting what they need. If teachers don’t keep their audience’s needs in mine, it could result in feedback from students or their parents. Can you imagine Bono getting angry calls and emails from the parents of his fans because they don’t understand why they only played one song from the album, Achtung Baby?

I’m sure there are many more ways that I could show how teachers and rock stars do the same job. In a nutshell, rock stars and teachers are responsible to their audience. We must connect with our audience and do it with enough bravado to keep them engaged. And hopefully, just like attending a U2 concert, they will walk away having learned something.

As all educators know, our profession is full of joy, change, success, frustration, stress and failure. And that’s just before lunchtime. But one thing that hasn’t changed for me in the thirteen years I’ve spent as an educator; I still love my job. It reminds me of the book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, in which Ken Robinson explains how “the element” is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at “the Element,” they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. I have heard many rock stars and performers state how they feel most comfortable performing on-stage.

True rock stars persist at their career because they have found their element.  I feel I have found mine.


Bono Rock Star on Make A Gif

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.


This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my grandfather's 100th birthday.  Obviously, this is an impressive milestone.  But, what makes this even more special is the man we were celebrating.  Over 100 people from around the country gathered in Hinsdale, Illinois to honor the life of my grandfather.  It was awe-inspiring to say the least.  It made me think about what kind of life I am living.  What will my legacy be?

 My grandfather, Scott Jones, is the patriarch of the family. He is a Princeton University graduate. He was stationed in Paris when victory was declared in Europe.  He started an environmental protection group in Northern Michigan that spent 14 years fighting to protect a stretch of land from being developed into a golf course, losing many close friends in the process.  He had a chance encounter with one of the most important historical figures ever.  (I don't want to spoil it, but his name rhymes with Schmalbert Scheinstein.)  

I am Scott Jones.  My grandfather's namesake.  I realized that it is my duty to live up to his legacy.  I don't know if I will ever do it, but each day I will try my hardest.

Here is a link to a profile about my grandfather in Hinsdale Magazine.  The article starts on page 37.


This week's Tune For Tuesday is "Father, Son" by Peter Gabriel.  It is one of my favorites, and it always reminds me of the special relationship between a father and son.  The melody is a perfect match to these poetic lyrics.  It was written by Gabriel during a yoga retreat that he took with his father.  

"Remember the breakwaters down by the waves
I first found my courage
Knowing daddy could save
I could hold back the tide
With my dad by my side"




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Slice of Life: A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

This week's song brings me back to March 1995.  It was my senior year of high school, and I was on spring break with a group of my friends and their families.  We spent the warm, sunny days on the beach of Siesta Key, Florida.  The Dave Matthews Band were just starting to gain popularity with the college and high school crowd.  I can remember how we played this album on repeat, singing every word and scatting every violin solo.  This song was an anthem to the good times we had that week.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Slice Of Life #6: Life Happens



Well, it didn't take long for me to miss a few days of the Slice Of Life Blogging Challenge. I was going pretty well before I hit some roadblocks called LIFE. What has taken me away from composing these daily blogs? I thought I would share a list of what happened:

CISV happened. 

CISV is a global non-profit organization whose mission is to "educate and inspire action for a more just and peaceful world." This group of volunteers believe that "Peace education provides us with the Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge we need to become agents of change, both locally and globally. In other words, to become Active Global Citizens."  CISV offers local, national and international educational programs for youth.  I have been part of the Columbus chapter of CISV since 2005.  Over the years, I have participated in these camps in Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Germany, as well as Philadelphia and Denver.

CISV is in over 60 countries, and there are 21 chapters in the US. I am the president of the Columbus chapter, as well as the local leadership trainer. As the LLT, I am responsible for training all of the teens and adult leaders who will be traveling this summer with delegations of youth from the Columbus area.  CISV has its own curriculum and there is a lot of material to cover, and many of our leaders are brand new to this organization.  It is my job to educate them on the vision, purpose and educational content of CISV.  I love teaching, whether it is kids or adults.

PD happened.  

I have about 5 professional books that I am currently reading.  For some reason, I have it in my mind that I can juggle four books, yet I manage to not finish one of them.  Sure, Scott. You can read FIVE books and participate in multiple book talks.  No problem.  To some degree, it's not a problem.  But, I am finding myself not being able to put each book down.  There was one night that I spend 20 minutes on each book.

My current reading list:

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Re-reading)
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter Johnston (Book-talk)
A Repair Kit For Grading: 15 fixes for broken grades by Ken O'Connor (for a district committee)
The Literacy Teacher's Playbook by Jennifer Serravallo (self-learning)
What A Writer Needs: 2nd Edition by Ralph Fletcher (self-learning)

Health happened.

I have been working on resetting my eating habits for the past 6 weeks.  As of this morning, I have lost 20 pounds.  I have not been working out much, but I have severely cut calories and I'm eating much smaller portions.  I have learned that the key to losing weight is simple.  YOU ARE ALWAYS HUNGRY.  You just learn to deal with it.

Taxes happened.

I have been working on my taxes, which is always a non-highlight of the year.  Thank goodness for Turbo Tax!


While I haven't been "slicing" in the past few days, I had to make way for life.  While I have not met the 31 consecutive days of blogging challenge, I still feel like I am accomplishing a great deal.  I am writing more. I am reflecting more.  I am connecting more.

I had to stop writing about slices of life to experience some slices of life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slice Of Life #5: Glen Lake



This poem takes place at Glen Lake, Michigan.  I spent the first 30 summers of my life in Glen Arbor, a quaint town in Leelanau County, Michigan.  The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes are just a few miles away, as is Lake Michigan.  There are so many memories here, most of which include family and fun.  Waterskiing, beach parties, tennis, hiking, canoeing down The Crystal River were all part of my Glen Lake experience.  Our cabin is no longer part of our family, but the memories remain.

This poem is about the joy of Glen Lake and the special place it holds in my heart.

A typical view from a dock at Glen Lake

Glen Lake

I walk outside to the smell of morning,
Summer air floating beneath the tent of green.
A taste of pine, carried by the smooth breeze,
Touches the tip of my tongue.
The water, cool and clear, licks
The narrow grass-covered shore,
With the same sound of soft waves
That sent me to sleep the night before.

The wooden path under my feet leads me
Out to the water deep.
Up early, a child splashes and swims
By the dock.  I sit on wooden planks,
The distant hum of a motorboat
Drifts to my ears as it glides
Across the golden horizon.
Too far away to see the line
That pulls the skier
behind it, as she moves back and forth
Of the white froth in front of her.

The wooden boards bounce under me.
The steps increase with intensity as they near.
I'm fearful - certain - of what it means.
I concentrate on the beauty of a
Glen Lake Morning.
I feel a hand on my shoulder.  "It's time."
I start my reluctant retreat
back to the cabin, as the skier in the distance
Falls and skips across the blue.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Slice of Life #4: I Burped In Class Today



I burped in class today.

It started when twenty-four eager faces were staring at me as the minilesson that starts our writer's workshop got underway.  Today's learning target was "Writers write, even when they are adults."  I was explaining the Slice Of Life blogging contest and how it was forcing me to stretch out of my comfort zone.  I wanted my student writers to know that I like to write, and these lessons and tips are not just for 5th grader writers.  Adults use them too.  I explained that I am trying to walk the walk, and practice my writing as well.  "I am a better writing coach for you, if I am a writer myself," I said.  This group of 11 year olds authors shook their head as if the world was finally making sense.

What was the next a-ha moment that I was going to share about the life of a writer.  Tell me, Mr. Jones.  How can I make magic with my writing pencil?  What pearl of wisdom will you share with us?

I was on a roll.  It was one of those moments that classroom communities have when the stars are aligned and everything is working.  Everyone was focused and alert.  There was an energy in the class that was palpable.  There was no doodling on journal covers, no picking at eraser tops, no playing with shoelaces.  I had their attention.  They looked at me.  I looked back at them.  Our eyes locked with anticipation of the next insightful statement that would float from my mouth and into their journals.

As I opened my mouth to share my next pearl of wisdom, it happened.  What my students heard next was no pearl of wisdom.  More like a noisy nugget of smelly air.  It crept up my throat like a morning fog, but a morning fog that belches.  I was not prepared for this.  This had never, ever happened to me before.  This burp was supposed to be a private little moment, but it had now been exposed to the world.

The 5 second silence that followed felt like an eternity.  They were all looking at me with their heads cocked to the side like a dog.  The expressions on their face asked, Did that just happen?  It did happen.  I owned it and shared that this had never happened before.  The laughter that followed spread around until it eventually hit me.  There was nothing I could do but laugh.  I had just burped, and burped loudly, in front of my class.

Today's New Learning Target: Sometimes writing is like a giant burp.  You never know when you'll be inspired to do it.  Ideas can creep into your mind when you least expect them.  And sometimes writing, like a big burp, just plain stinks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Slice Of Life #3: A Poem



A few months ago, my mother and father brought me a box of old memories and treasures from my school experience. It was mostly filled with high school tests, report cards and other artifacts of my upbringing.  From my 3rd grade Young Author Award story to drafts of stories from the freshman yearbook,  I watched my life of literacy pass before me.  A plain manila envelope caught my eye.  It had the word "DENISON" scribbled on the front--all CAPS and in black permanent marker.  My father's handwriting.

As an english major at Denison University, I took classes that ranged from 18th Century British Literature to Contemporary Drama.  But, the one class that really stuck with me was the Creative Writing course.  We experimented writing in multiple genres, but I can remember truly fascinated with writing poetry.  I thought I would share some drafts of poems that I wrote as a junior English major.  Some are really bad, but I think there are a few that stand out as somewhat decent.  I thought I would share some of these poems as they are from a slice of my life on top of "the hill" at Denison.


The Guardian

The statue watches.  A lifeguard
High above the pool of pigeons 
and people.
The bearded, old man
Visits him every day
And tosses chunks of bread to the birds,
Making sure each bird gets an equal amount.
He knows the old man's wife is gone.
He can tell from the way the man slumps there,
Hopelessly feeding them, 
So they don't 
Fly away.
As did the man's beloved dove.

The statue cannot weep for the old man.  
The statue watches.

High above the swirling river of people, he looks
Over them as they pass by, oblivious to his
Permanent existence.
A concrete ice-cream cone melting away
From Mother's harsh winter tongue.
He sits there. Gazing. Watching.
The crowd flows past his lookout station,
Neglecting his graffiti-stained body.

I stop from the rapid flow of people 
And glance up in his eyes. Cracked
From Mother's tears that splash down
Into the pores of his moss-covered gray 
Skin. Weathered from her breath
Blowing across his body.
Looking past the gritty, stone skin, I see
A man who knows things, many things.
A keeper of secrets.

I turn my collar against Mother's morning mist,
Returning to my stream of stress.
The statue watches.  The statue keeps.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slice of Life #2: The Wrong Question - Reflection on Edcamp Columbus



Yesterday, I attended my very first Edcamp Columbus. I, along with my principal and two colleagues from my school, were intrigued to experience self-directed PD. All of us were new to Edcamp with no idea what would transpire. Trying to explain to others what Edcamp is proved challenging. “It’s a conference that has no specific topic, no specific agenda and no planned breakout sessions.” I anticipated responses like, “Sounds like chaos to me. Have fun with that.”

Edcamp is an “unconference” designed for the teachers needs. The Edcamp website states, “Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can choose to lead sessions on those things that matter, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions.”

I was going to spend my blue sky, sunny Saturday indoors, and I had no idea what would happen. As with any PD experience, I always ask myself “What can I take back with me to use in my classroom?” The PD would be worthwhile if there is something I can take and use in my classroom. For me, this question has always been the hallmark of a good PD session. Would Edcamp Columbus be productive and a worthwhile day of professional development?

Upon arriving, I saw many familiar faces from my district. Edcamp had been buzzing around the Twitterverse for some time. I also saw some familiar faces that I’m used to seeing in small profile picture boxes on my Twitter feed. Hmm...here was a room filled with around 140 characters accustomed to chatting in 140 characters.

After a quick meet and greet with new and old colleagues, it was time to build the board. Educators in the room were encouraged to submit ideas for sessions. Not presentations per se, but more discussion-based sessions. The layout of the day became more apparent as text filled in blanks squares on the projected session board. I scoped out the four hour-long sessions that interested me with topics that ranged from: creating a flipped classroom, restructuring the school day, defining personalized-learning and discussing how classrooms are like gaming. After each session, I left the room without handouts. I typed hardly any notes that I could take back to my classroom. Were these sessions worth it? Had I just wasted 4 hours without a new strategy or resource to start using in my classroom on Monday?

Driving home, I talked with my principal, Jacki Prati, about our impressions of the day. What were our take-aways from the sessions? Is there something that we can take back for school or classroom improvement? Our conversation was peppered with non-committals: “Hmm, I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “That’s a great question” or “I’m going to need to think about that.” We sat there with so much swirling around in our heads. I continued to think at home: What were the take-aways?

What can I take and use in my classroom? Nothing.

But, I had been asking the wrong question. I should have been asking myself: What can I take and use to be a better educator for my students?

I believe the purpose of Edcamp is not learning specific new strategies to use in the classroom. It’s about building an understanding of what really matters in the classroom: Empowerment.  Involvement. Risk.  Relationships.
  • Is personalized learning different than differentiated learning? 
  • Does flipped classroom open doors to students or limit the role of a teacher and stifle classroom community?
  • Should our classrooms be more like the video game our students play (Power-ups, cheat codes, passing levels, global collaboration)?
  • How can schools restructure the school day to allow for more teacher collaboration?
Sitting in those rooms with those educators made me realize that it’s not the answers that drive us. It’s the questions we ask. I had so many “a-ha moments” throughout the day that have made me think about my classroom space and culture like I never have before. Why? Because we dared to ask the questions. Edcamp reaffirmed that taking risks is essential to be a teacher for 21st century learners. Our job is too important for us to be doing things the way they’ve always been done before. I need to continually push myself to find the right questions to ask.

Slice of Life #1: Love that Blog





I don't want to
because boys
don't write blogs
every
day.

Girls do.




(Now I know how Jack feels in Miss Stretchberry's class.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

House Of Cards

I have been conducting a secret experiment in my classroom.  My students have been guinea pigs without their knowledge.  I’ve had twenty-four 11 year old test subjects, and I didn’t get parental consent.  But, today I was called out.  One of my students asked a question that cracked my experiment like a small stone smashing into a windshield.  And I loved it!

For the past few months, I have been contemplating getting rid of what some would call a “classroom behavior system.”  It seems that there is a growing number of educators who consider behavior systems to be detrimental or negative to a classroom culture.  Both sides of the argument have merit, and I have been willing to consider all points of view.  After much thought, upon returning from winter break, I decided to see what would happen if I ignored my classroom behavior system without telling my students.

Here is how the behavior system works.  I have a pocket chart where each student has five colored cards.  Each day, students start the day with a blue card.  When one of our essential agreements is broken, students flip a card to the back of the pocket, so a green card is showing.  When students flip a card, there is a consequence: 
BLUE=Awesome!
GREEN=Warning! Think about your choices.
YELLOW=Use recess time to think about your mistakes.
ORANGE=Student calls parents to report their actions.
RED=Students visits the principal’s office.
When students flip a card, it will stay that color for the remainder of the day.

My rationale for this model was always to hold the students accountable.  Not accountable to me, but accountable to our classroom community.  In the real-world, if you are not respecting the community’s laws, there is a consequence.  There are no sticker charts, no prizes, no pencils for good behavior in the real-world, and there never have been in my classroom.  This system doesn’t reward good behavior, and I don’t believe my systems shames those who make bad choices.  The color cards are visual reminders for students to make good choices in our classroom community.  I always made sure to talk about the situation with each student who had to flip a card.

Daniel Pink’s brilliant book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us completely changed the game with regard to a new working knowledge of how humans are motivated.  I have rarely used the “carrot-and-stick method” to motivate the learners in my class.  That does not motivate me; therefore I don’t motivate that way.  I do agree with Pink that humans have an innate drive for autonomy, mastery and purpose, and I try every day to maintain a classroom culture that centers on these three factors.

I have never viewed my card system as a carrot-and-stick method.  It does not say, “Hey kids, be good and I’ll give you a prize.”  I don’t consider my card system to be harmful in the classroom.  That’s not why I’m abandoning it.  That being said, my question is this:  Has this behavior system helped cultivate autonomy, mastery and purpose for my students?

“Mr. Jones, do you realized that none of us have had to pull a card since winter break?”

Crack!  A stone flies into my windshield.  “Yes, I know.  Let’s have a chat about that.”

For the next several minutes, I discussed how I had purposely been avoiding the card system.  Scanning their wide, confused eyes, I related this to learning how to ride a bicycle.  You start out learning with training wheels, which assist you until you’ve reached a strong sense of balance.  But, there comes a point when the training wheels must come off, and you have to ride that bicycle without them.  You can still balance without them and you’re off on two wheels.  By the time I was finished students seemed to understand and agree with me.  There wasn’t one verbal protest or disagreeing comment made.

Some students are going to make bad choices.  They will make mistakes, and there will surely be consequences.  But, I want them to be natural consequences—ones that build autonomy, mastery and purpose. One of my students actually pointed out that the colored cards on the wall are not going to make a difference.  “I mean, Mr. Jones, people are not going to stop misbehaving because their card turns into a different color.”  Good point!  If, and when, there are problems, I will take it up with individual students as issues arise.  I’m excited to see how this works.  The training wheels are off, and we are gliding down the street looking ahead to what’s next.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday #4

It's time for another installment of A Tune For Tuesday.  Each Tuesday, I post a song from my playlist.  I hope you enjoy it.

This is my favorite band.  This is my favorite song.  There is nothing like seeing this song live.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday #3

It's time for another installment of A Tune For Tuesday.  Each Tuesday, I post a song from my playlist.  I hope you enjoy it.

This song is gorgeous.  It definitely puts me in a contemplative, reflective mood and makes me want to write.  The video is a beautiful visual poem, with amazing Icelandic scenery.  Watch what happens at the 4:30 mark.  I'd love to see what Robert Frost would do with this video.

** NSFW warning: There is an inappropriate word at the 1:00 mark in the song. **


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday #2

It's time for the second installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday  

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist.  These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life.  I hope you enjoy them.

This has one of the greatest lines of lyrics in music history!  See if you can figure it out.  (HINT: It's around the 3 minute mark.) This is a live version, which adds to the intensity of the original.  I want this song to play every morning after all the kids are quietly sitting down, and I walk in to begin class...



Caught In The Squall Pt. 1

For the first time in my teaching career, I have spent a great deal of time seriously reassessing my beliefs on my classroom management. Like all teachers, I try my best to help maintain a classroom culture where students experience respect, acceptance, fairness, consistency, joy and positivity. Recently, I participated in a twitter chat about this topic, and my mind was absolutely blown. I was having a crisis of faith. Am I ruining my students’ lives with my current behavior system? Along with lots of chatter in the Twitterverse and blogosphere, this truly led me to have a genuine and legitimate essential question.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION:
What is my belief on student rewards?

I have had many conversations with colleagues at my school and in my Twitter PLN about this topic. I cannot seem to resolve this issue. It lingers there on the horizon with so many questions splashing around. What I once considered to be smooth sailing is now drifting into choppy waters. I need a compass—a guide—to keep my boat balanced as I navigate through these questions and uncertainties.

Drive by Daniel Pink was the first, and most significant, factor in changing my thinking. When I read this book in 2010, I instantly drank the Pink Kool-aid. (I’ll give you a moment to notice what I did there. Got it? Good.) I want my students to develop the intrinsic motivation to do something because it is challenging or enjoyable, not because of any “if you do______, then you get______” motivators. These “if-then” situations tend to stifle creativity and critical thinking. Pink says that the three main factors that keep motivation high are mastery, autonomy and purpose. He states, “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver” of keeping people motivated.

Nevertheless, even Daniel Pink says that rewards are not always inherently bad. And this is where the storm starts to brew. This possible paradox in my thinking is stirring up the waters to create a great, white squall.

Wait. Let the waves subside. Maybe my thinking is off-course, and it doesn't need to be.

Upon further reflection, I realize that I can solve this. What Daniel Pink has made me think about is turning rewards into altruism. That means I do not give any tangible rewards for basic classroom responsibilities (e.g. homework, good behavior). However, I try to make sure every student feels supported and valued. These “rewards” are not always tied to a particular task, but are meant to acknowledge hard work or show appreciation.
  • A high-five or fist bump goes a long way
  • Give students a simple positive comment such as, “Thanks for working hard today” or “I appreciate your positive contributions to our class.”
  • Let a student read a new book for your classroom library first. Let him/her know you thought of them when you bought it.
  • Surprise the students by letting them choose their seats. “You’ve been working so hard on your student-led conferences, let’s have a choice of seats today.”
  • Let students share their work first during writer’s workshop. I can tell you this is one reward I don’t mind students requesting again.
These are all “rewards” that I try to do on a regular basis, and I don’t believe they reinforce the idea of dangling a “carrot and stick.” Are they extrinsic rewards? Well, I assume they are because I am the one giving them. But, I believe the most important part of these is the conversation I have with the students about the purpose. While some may see them as “rewards,” I see them as a way to keep our classroom culture strong. As long as I don’t dangle these rewards as an “if-then” situation, then I see no harm in acknowledging students’ positive behavior. They are positive consequences to keep students excited and energized to learn, and they let the students know that I’m thinking about them and that their hard work is not going unnoticed.

I am always searching for a way to connect with students, and show them that each of them is an important member of our classroom culture. The best reward I can give my students is to show them they are cared-for and valued. I want every student to know, “You matter.” In my classroom, everything I do is to cultivate a love of learning and encourage my students to be active learners and global citizens. I hope that coming to my classroom each day is reward enough, and for many of them it is.

Let me dock the boat for a few days, before I tackle...Caught In The Squall, Part 2.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday #1

I thought I would start a new weekly feature on my blog called A Tune for Tuesday.  I am a huge music lover, and I use it to inspire me throughout the day.  Music is always playing in my car and in my home.  It gets me energized, it relaxes me and it moves me.  Why not share some of my favorite tunes on my playlist that inspire me?

(An excellent teacher and a member of my Twitter PLN, Patrick Andrus, has a wonderful blog that I really enjoy reading.  He has a weekly feature called Music Monday, in which he posts videos of songs that he utilizes to inspire his 4th grader writers in class.  While I have not used this strategy in my classroom, I very much enjoy the music he posts regularly on his blog. Thanks to Patrick for the musical inspiration.)

Thought I'd start with a song I think is pretty much perfect...Enjoy!



Monday, January 6, 2014

Sunshine Award

This week, I was nominated for a Sunshine Award/PLN Blogging Challenge by TWO people. One with whom I have the pleasure of working everyday, Jacki Prati. They other is an awesome educator in my Twitter PLN, Drew Frank.

What is a sunshine award?  Here is a description for the Sunshine Award shared by Matt Renwick:
The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know!

And now...the rules:
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers 
  • know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

So, here are 11 random facts about me:

1. I have been to 12 foreign countries: France, The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Sweden, Guatemala, Mexico, Italy, Norway, Germany, Canada and Spain.

2. I was in show choir in high school.  But, we didn't enter competitions.  Instead we did a 2 hour show every March called "An Evening With The Ambassadors."  It's embarrassing to admit, but I can sing all the parts of "One Day More" from Les Miserables.  

3. I went skydiving when I was 22.  I was a senior in college.  I'm glad I did it, but I have no desire to ever do it again.

4. My dream is to publish a book.  Not sure if I will write a YA novel, or a professional book.

5. I have been waterskiing since I was about 5 years old.  I grew up going to a lake house every summer near Traverse City, Michigan.  Waterskiing was a party of my daily life for about 25 years.

6. I have been a member of CISV for the past nine years. For the past 8 summers, I have been a leader at summer camps for 11 year olds from all over the world.  I take 2 boys and 2 girls from the Columbus area to a 4 week summer camp.  Visit the Columbus chapter of CISV's website here.  

7. I was a film major as an undergraduate at Denison University.  I wanted to be a film director.  There's still hope!

8. I was a model in a brochure for Crayola.  My father worked was a marketing executive for Crayola, and they needed a kid to model some of the new products.

9. I was voted best dancer of my senior class in high school.

10.  I was a gymnast for 7 years.  I competed in the two AAU national meets in gymnastics before I quit when I was 14 because I wanted more of a social life.  Practice 16 hours a week was a bit much!

11. I've shaken hands with Russell Crowe and Bono, at separate times. I met Russell Crowe when I was in the VIP section at the Indianapolis 500.  I touched Bono when I was at a U2 concert in 2005.  He entered the stage and walked right past me.  For some reason, I had this urge to reach out and touch him.  He looked at me and shook my hand.


I will answer both Jacki and Drew's questions below.

Here are my answers to Jacki's 11 questions:

1. Why did you become a teacher?

I seriously became a teacher because I seemed to always feel comfortable around kids. Whether I was babysitting as a teenager, teaching gym classes at The Little Gym, or tutoring kindergarten kids as a college student, I seemed to always understand how to work with them.  Oh, yeah, and to help students become active learners in the 21st century and all that stuff...

2. If you couldn’t have a job in education, what job would you choose?

Honestly, I don't know.  I would work in the media communications field.  Video editing probably.

3. What is your favorite movie? Why?

It's a tie.  Pulp Fiction because it blew my mind as a high school senior.  It's the reason I wanted to be a film student.  I think it was a game changer in American cinema.  Also, Stand By Me, which is surprisingly based on a Stephen King short story.  This movie seems to truly grasp what it's like to grow up as a boy.  I love the book/movie explores the relationship of 4 boys growing up.

4. What is something that you want to do but you’ve never had the time, money, or chance to do it?

Backpack across Europe or South America.  When I win the lottery, I plan to travel as much as possible.  I love learning about new cultures and seeing the world.

5. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or not living, who would it be? Why?

Paul McCartney - Come on, man, the guy was a Beatle.

or

Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert - Those three make me laugh so much.  I'd probably have milk shooting out my nose from laughing so much.


6. What is your earliest memory?

Sitting on the floor in my house with my stuffed animal dog named Morgan.  I called him "Mow-way" because I couldn't pronounce Morgan.  (This was last week).

7. What is one piece of advice that you would give to a new teacher?

Classroom management and building community should be the primary focus for your first year.

8. Who has been the most influential person in your life?

There is not one single person.  I believe that we are made up of bit & pieces of everyone we've ever met.  Good or bad, I've learned something from everyone I've ever met.

9. What book are you currently reading?

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Reading In The Wild by Donalyn Miller

10. What book are you planning to read next?

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner

11. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Cookie Dough


Here are my answers to Drew's questions:
  1. What is your favorite movie of all time?  Pulp Fiction & Stand By Me.  (See above)
  2. If you could go to have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been? I would have attended a U2 concert during the 91-92 Zoo TV tour.  I've seen video and it looked incredible!
  3. What do you do for fun? Hobby? I travel, play golf and read.
  4. What two guests would make the best comedic pair as co-hosts for the Oscars? Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert
  5. Cat, Dog or Goldfish? Why… Goldfish.  Not as much work as dog, and I'm allergic to cats.
  6. How do you caffeinate? Coke
  7. Favorite twitter chat? #tlap or #5thchat
  8. Best place you ever vacationed? Guatemala or Spain
  9. Best book you’ve read in 2013? Reading In The Wild by Donalyn Miller
  10. Favorite television shows? LOST or Breaking Bad
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of? Honestly, I'm proud of what I do everyday at school.  But, I'm really proud of leading fundraising efforts at a former school for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  The kid who we were sponsoring was at the actual event and it was very emotional to give him one of those large checks saying his wish was granted to go to Disney World.


Invitations to Participate

Honestly, I don't know any bloggers that haven't already done this.

La Cultura Es Todo

Ahh...winter break. The half-way point of any school year. Teachers use these two weeks to sleep in, sit back, relax and enjoy friends, family and holiday celebrations. I spent 10 days in Madrid, Spain with day trips to the breathtaking trips to Seville and Toledo. During this trip, I was immersed into the Spanish way of life– paella, flamenco dancing, beautiful cathedrals, incredible artwork and amazing music. Of course these are the things we think about when we use the word “culture.” Culture is the way of life of a group of people (e.g. Food, clothing, language, religion, art, music). Isn’t that what we teach our students? ¡Claro que sí!

Culture is like an iceberg. They say that when you look at an iceberg, you are only looking at about 10% of the entire ice mass, while the other 90% is below the surface. The bottom 90% of an iceberg is the biggest and most powerful part. That’s the part that Jack and Rose didn’t see when they were kissing on the deck. The bottom part of the iceberg is what sunk the Titanic.



When we say culture is evident in such things as clothing, music, food and art, we are only looking at the tip of the iceberg. The other 90% of culture are the intangibles—the parts that we don’t always see immediately, but lie below the surface and make up a majority of how people behave. For example:
  • Concept of time
  • Child raising
  • Concepts of personal space
  • Definition of justice and fairness
To understand why people behave the way they do means understanding the deep “bottom 90%” part of their culture--the values, attitudes and beliefs that guide their thinking and behaviors. These values, attitudes and beliefs—the intangible parts—are what I try to engrain into my classroom culture to ensure my students’ success.  (UPDATE 1/8/14: This is the most important thing I can do for my students.  Without a strong classroom culture, learning may not take place for many students.  In the age when the answers to almost anything is just a short Google search away, what is our job as a teacher?  My job is to empower students to be part of a culture where learning is paramount.  A culture where learning, collaboration, risk-taking and mutual respect is valued deeply.  The "bottom 90%" is where you will find the answers to do that.  Can you think of a time when being in the bottom 90% was thought to be positive?)

A former administrator once surprised me by saying that she could tell how effective a teacher was within the first 3 minutes of entering a classroom. For a while, I thought, this was a very short-sided, generic way to view teachers. Yet, I now understand that what she meant was that a classroom’s culture is obvious when you look for the right things. It is not the symmetrical bulletin boards, the plaid fabric on the walls, the matching polka-dot book boxes on the shelves or the colorful anchor charts that make students successful. Those are the things you can see in shallow water.

I know that I don’t always have the best guided reading lessons or do the best writing conferences. I may not do every math lesson as inquiry or use the latest trendy, cool iPad app. But those are not what you need to make a strong classroom culture. Instead, I try to go deeper and try to instill values, attitude and beliefs into my students so they can grow and thrive in the 21st century.

Here are 3 ways that I try to create a culture of success:

** The Flock – For the past 10 years, I have used this piece of writing as the foundation for my classroom culture. My students think it is really cool that we are the only class with a name. Not a day goes by that I don’t refer to this metaphor. We have daily Flock meetings to share highs/lows of the day, create class goals, and resolve any issues that come up. Each student also has a paper bird that hangs from our ceiling with a statement of intent of how they will contribute to our Flock. I also tell students that once they are in The Flock, they are always in The Flock. My hope is that students know that they are part of a team, where the success of one student makes it easier for the others.

** Essential Agreements – I start out the year introducing these five essential agreements as more than just our classroom rules. They are our bill of rights. We have the right to be physically and emotionally safe. We have the right to be treated with respect. We have the right to speak and be listened to. We have the right to work and learn in a positive and supportive learning environment. We have the right to do out best. I know many teachers would say that having the students come up with classroom rules is more empowering, and gives students more ownership. There are a few reasons why I don’t do that anymore. First, I couldn’t stand another year with students suggesting: Don’t hit. Be respectful. Don’t talk out. Don’t steal people’s stuff. Second, when we are born into our American culture, we don’t get to choose our laws. It’s our job to learn how to interpret the once already in place. Third, classroom rules tend to focus on the individual behaviors, and not how we should act towards others. We spend a great deal of time discussing what each of these five agreements mean and what they look like in the class. We act out skits and make long lists. This conversation doesn’t stop after the first week. It continues to be a main focus of our classroom culture.

** Mission Statement – In the first week of school, the class and I spend time answer these 4 questions: Who are we? What do we want to accomplish? How are we going to accomplish it? Why is this important? These answers are used to create a 1-2 sentence mission statement that states out purpose for coming to class everyday. It is posted in the classroom and referred to frequently. A few years back, I had a student say we should have a copy posted outside our classroom door, so our guests know what we stand for.

I do not want for a moment to come off as a teacher who portrays their class as perfect. We all know that is far from the truth. However, I hope that anyone who steps into our classroom feels our culture. Room 27 is not just a place. It’s an idea. I hope a guest will see students who: have a growth mindset, own their learning, critically think, give feedback, take academic risks and treat others kindly. We as teachers need to find our own ways to look beyond the superficial, surface-level, top 10% of the iceberg, and focus on creating a culture that extends deep into the sea of success.