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.

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.


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.