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Monday, April 29, 2013

The "S" Word

I've written a draft of this post a few times and found myself really unsure about whether or not to share it, or exactly how to articulate the sentiment. SHARING. There, I said it. Maybe I've become more aware the importance of the "S" word as it has gained value in my own life with a toddler at home. Sharing is not an innate act. We are not all the selfless creatures we might want to believe ourselves to be. We want to keep our stuff - whether it be physical or intellectual. While Coley is determined to keep her pile of rocks to herself, I find many teacher sit on their own ideas and accomplishments like a stubborn toddler. Why the fear? What is there to lose?

I would argue there are no truly original ideas. We are all influenced by what we hear, see and read. Unknowingly we are all probably holding onto the illusion that we created this masterpiece of an assignment, that in all actuality was the culmination of the ideas of many. Why is there such hesitation in our community to share with one another? Are we so afraid of someone getting credit for our great idea? What would that credit look like? A child who learns something? It seems so silly not share in a profession that should be about continually pushing ourselves to find a way to reach our students and innovate new practices for mastering a skill. 

I have a few theories on this, and they are my own so take them for whatever that is worth. I believe in education there is such a lack of recognition and options for upward mobility that we become very stingy with unimportant "stuff". Like who has the closest parking spot, who is closest to the bathroom, whose classroom has the most windows, who has the better schedule.  Without any way to distinguish ourselves we seem to hold on to these silly benchmarks. This is "my" project that I do with "my" class. We can become like dogs marking our territory. In the end the only people losing out are the students. I find it totally ridiculous that people would pay for lesson plans online. Why would we make our colleagues pay for an idea that is probably the hodgepodge of workshops and online resources and other teachers' previous projects? I know many may feel differently about this, but I think it is terrible that we would make it so difficult to help one another. Why would you keep something that has been a successful tool for you away from those it could benefit?  Why would you withhold your shovel to watch someone dig their hole with a spoon? 

There is also the new emergence of individual branding. My sister-in-law and I were having a conversation over Christmas about this very thing. She had just come back from a conference for dietitians  At the conference there was an entire session just on professional branding. Finding your "thing" and tweeting, blogging, promoting yourself as a master of knowledge in that area. The same thing is happening in education. You first need a Twitter presence, a cool nickname (preferably with a pun or some obscure literary reference if you are an English teacher), a blog (well...can't beat 'em join 'em), and then you can get on the presenter/lecture circuit. I'm really not degrading the practice, but it does create competition that wasn't there before. It isn't enough to just do a good job in the classroom. You also have to be the face of a whole movement. You need a professional head shot on Twitter to reach your mass audience with 140 characters of life changing wisdom. I think it perpetuates some fear of sharing. We are pushed to self-promote and talk about our awesomeness. We can become, if we aren't careful, educational narcissists. 

I have encountered some wonderful educators who have literally given me everything they have. At the mention of something I am thinking about teaching, they get absolutely giddy about passing on everything that they so enjoyed using. Why can't we all be so gracious? How do we create an environment that supports the art of sharing? It is such a disappointment to see great strategies someone is using after the unit is over. Sharing, as in any element of a relationship, works best when both parties are participating. Sharing our successes, and failures as well, are what help us grow. All of my best ideas have come from being able to brainstorm with fellow teachers. I am thankful for all of those who help me daily to take an idea and turn it into something wonderful. In the end everything amazing that our students create is their own creation. We only give them the tools and direction. 

By the way I am more than willing to share anything I have...:)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I guess you had to be there...

It's that time of year when you begin counting down the days left until summer. Along with counting the days comes the anxiety of somehow squeezing in every last bit of information that you so enthusiastically planned out at the beginning of the year. It is always a bittersweet time for me as a teacher. I find myself excited about the break and being able to spend time with my daughter, but I also become critical of all of the expectations I don't feel I have met during the year. It makes me take a look at how valuable every day is with my students. There never feels like enough time!

In saying that every year I've been teaching I feel there has been more pressure put on us to do more, create more, comply more, develop more, engage more...more....more. There is always an endless list of to-dos awaiting my return every morning. On my drive in every morning the media continues their spin that teachers just aren't fulfilling their responsibilities to the students and that the education system is broken. As always you question what is the real problem. A problem this big however is never just on one person's shoulders. One concern that I have though is the value of time. 

I see more and more students just not here. Not present for the material. How can we value the education if we don't value and honor the classroom time? On some level I know that our technological advancements have allowed for students to, if the teacher creates the opportunity,  have a relatively similar experience of the  classroom outside of the classroom via the flipped classroom. But how many students are taking that extra step? I know even with a week long calendar on the board and all of my resources for the week on edmodo, I still have students come in from missing a day asking "what did I miss" without feeling compelled to spend the extra time to get caught up before they return. 

Is it because our society has adopted the mentality of fast results with minimal effort? We think things should all come easily to us without having to put in the hours of work to get there? Education should just happen if your teacher is doing a good job? 

It's like expecting to get in shape by having a gym membership without putting in the hours of sweat and tears to produce the results. How can we expect to raise the standards we have for our students when we can't get them into the classroom five days a week? When there is always another field trip or retreat or training? I understand the value of a real world learning experience. But I don't see why we aren't using all of the technology that has literally been handed to us to make some of these trips happen in the classroom during class time.  

I'm not trying to just complain, if anything I am trying to work out a resolution in my own mind, I would really love to find a solution to the problem. Where does it start? Does it mean that maybe we have to reevaluate what constitutes a legitimate reason to have students miss class time? I think that is a start. Does the value of the school day have to first be recognized at home. I think so, I think we have to expect parents to see that week long Disney adventure in October as a bad idea. If we want to offer our students the best we have, we have to expect that they are here to receive it. On the other side we in the classroom have to give students a reason to expect more. If we find days that are a "waste" and "don't mean anything" then why should they want to be here? Whatever the solution it requires everyone to put forth additional effort, including myself.