Saturday, September 20, 2008

In the trenches

As I reflect at the end of the week about what has happened in just a few short days, I am amazed by the little and enormous happenings of the week. Our days are spent moving from one challenge to the next with barely a breath in between. As teachers we take on many roles as the job requires. We think quickly on our feet making decisions that hopefully have the best interests of our students in mind at all times. It is a balancing act. There is outrage and threats of being sued by a parent because their child got off at the wrong bus stop. Another parent that has moved her child out of our school district claiming that her gifted child is not getting his needs met in the multi-age classroom she selected for him. This classroom teacher is in multi-age for just this reason - differentiation of instruction. Students with lice, intestinal troubles, life threatening allergies and diabetes are every day issues that teachers deal with. Autistic, oppositional defiant, and ADHD children mainstreamed into our classrooms present many challenges for us. We rise to the occassion because we are dedicated to educating all of our students. It is not always easy.

Fortunately there are students, parents and colleagues that make up for the difficult situations that are a part of every job. We are fortunate to have parents that care and show it with their actions. There are co-workers that share freely their ideas so that others can benefit. Life in the teaching world is a unique and rewarding experience and one that I would not want to trade.

As most of my fellow teachers know, being a teacher involves a fraction of our time doing actual teaching. Meetings(and more meetings), lesson planning(revisions to revisions), communication with students families & colleagues(phone calls, emails and notes), making, setting up and taking down learning activities, formal and informal assessment, grading assignments(quizzes,tests and papers)-the list goes on of things other than "teaching" that must be done.

I would love for someone critical of education and teachers in particular to come and trade places with me or one of the other hard working dedicated individuals in our school. I think at the end of the day, certainly by the end of the week, most would think that you could not pay them enough money ever to do what we do.

And so this week and for the rest of the school year, I will look forward to bringing a smile to a child's face. Hopefully I will make a colleague feel like they are making a difference in their students lives. I will have kind words for all of the people that are in the buildings that I teach in. Without all of us, there would not be great places for our students to learn to become the leaders of tomorrow. What we do makes a difference to the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Importance of leadership

How one behaves and is allowed to behave is determined by the leader at the top. It does not matter if it is in a family, in a business, in politics or in a school. Leadership is critical to the success or failure of ones leaders. Every adult and many students have the opportunity every day to be a leader. How we lead affects everyone directly and indirectly in ways that we don't even know.
I recently read a blog in which the main theme was the very poor leadership that was occurring in a school. It sadly had made the morale of the staff so negative that it was affecting all aspects of their lives. It is very hard to keep a positive attitude when around you is a vacuum of negativity. If the leadership instead empowers you to think creatively, supports your ideas and makes you rise to the challenges the entire structure is strong.
There are all sorts of ways in which to be a leader but great leaders all share characteristics that make them this way. A great leader inspires others to want to work harder. They allow others to do their jobs also encouraging them to keep asking questions and learning. A strong leader inspires those around them to think of problems as opportunities to solve. A great leader does not tolerate behavior that hurts others. They also recognize the achievements both large and small of others in the group. Clear expectations of everyone's behavior, including their own, are critical in great leadership. Essentially a great leader makes the individuals around them be the best that they can be while working together as a collective unit.
I hope for all of us an environment to live in, in which we can be a great leader as well as have great leadership leading us. It is a daunting challenge but one that is essential to our happiness.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Testing- My Musings

This past week has had a mix of emotions and activity. There have been many successes and other things that maybe have not worked out the way that I would have liked. It is my observation that the school is a microcosm of society at large. If you think about it, there are all kinds of people in school- old, young, in between, all learning and ability levels, healthy and sick people, all different economic levels...Schools have politics, economic troubles, tragedies, failures, successes...

Those of us that are lucky to be educators or working in the schools have the power to affect the lives every day of the students. It is a daunting challenge that we have risen too. The teacher does not have the choice of who is in their class. We have no control of the family life that our students come to us with. And yet, we are given the task of making sure that our students meet all of the grade level standards that our state and federal governments have given us. Can you imagine if YOU had to have the same intelligence or know the same things as your neighbor?

We all have strengths and weaknesses? Should this be ok? Should we all have to have proficiency in everything? I do not think so. If I had to graduate today from high school, I do not know if I could pass all of the math requirements. I was an excellent writer and reader. These are my strengths. I tried very hard in math. I got "C's" in algebra, geometry, and any other higher level math class that I had to take. "C's" used to be average and an acceptable grade. There is nothing wrong with being average in some things. I graduated from an accredited college and did well in almost all of my classes except math. I went on to get my masters degree. Most important I was learning new things and getting experience in problem solving. Today my brain still has a hard time understanding abstract math concepts- my graduation from high school or college would be in doubt.

As part of my technology teaching job I will be spending the next month supervising students as they get tested in reading and math. The tests are high stakes. Teachers use these test results to get a direction in which to instuct for the upcoming school year. At the end of the school year students are tested again to see if the instructional goals have been met. While testing is one way to get information about students knowledge, it is not the end all. I have sympathy for the students and the teachers. We all have our own time table for learning and we all have strengths and weaknesses that are unique to us. The home lives and the day to day stresses of life for our students are not taken into consideration. Making all students have to achieve proficiency in every academic area is unrealistic.

My hopes for the future is for the pendulum to swing the other direction when it comes to testing in our schools. I want this noble profession of teaching to once again be about helping each of our students to grow and learn and live up to their fullest potential.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Technology Access to Access the Technology

Blocked * Access Denied* Blocked * Access Denied* Blocked

This afternoon I walked into the teachers lounge and saw a new poster on the wall explaining what a great 21st century teacher does. The poster had ideas like using blogs, web 2.0 tools and much more related to integrating technology in your teaching. As I read the poster I smiled because these ideas really are terrific. A poster like this in the lounge must mean that the principal was in agreement. The crux is that you have to have technology access to access the technology. My experience is that there are many good intentioned individuals that have made decisions that hinder access rather than assist in this endeavor. Without true technology access, it is nearly impossible to be an integrated 21st century school.

Computer labs in schools are one place that teachers would like to bring their classes on a regular basis. With so many classes wanting to do this, scheduling your classes to work on a project becomes a nightmare. In many school districts bandwidth is a huge issue and downloads of any substantial size are too taxing to the network. In other schools decisions are made to block sites and web 2.0 tools that have the potential to put our students in possible danger. Digital cameras and software programs that classes need are financially or physically out of reach.

The solutions are not easy or inexpensive. In an ideal 21st century school, students and teachers alike could have the tools that they need for learning in this ever changing world. For now, many teachers would settle for access on the web to the sites and web 2.0 tools that their students should be taking advantage of.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A new beginning

There are lots of opportunities in our lives for a new beginning. Some of the opportunities are happier than others - New Years, our birthdays, new job, move to a new house, birth of a child, marriage, death of a loved one... The one that I look forward to each year is the start of a new school year. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation.

This summer was full of fun and relaxation. I read books for pleasure, kayaked with my daughter, husband and friends, walked many miles while pushing my dog in her stroller, and went on a wonderful camping trip to northern Wisconsin. I had the pleasure of seeing the Shakespeare play "Midsummer Nights Dream" with my family in Spring Green. I went to see Dark Knight in the theater. Life this summer was pretty nice.

In the back of your mind you are always thinking of the school year that is upcoming. I had a wonderful class this summer titled "Web 2.0 tools for the classroom". It was one of the best classes that I have had. I had a new intel Mac with Leopard and I installed Pixie 2 software on it to get ready for this year. I was never far from my computer and my online PLN (personal learning network). I explored new websites, discovered podcasts and looked at online programs that might be of interest to me or my fellow teachers.

I had health problems this summer with the discs in my neck. I discovered chiropractic care and had a session of accupuncture. I had a professional therapeutic massage. I did neck traction on a daily basis. The pain I felt was always on my mind and affected everything that I did. It is exhausting and disheartening. A part of you is always holding back. For a woman that has "action" as her middle name, this has been a difficult thing for me.

Part of a new beginning is looking back at how you have done things and deciding what you are going to change as you go forward. I have made the decision to not let my pain stop me in my every day life. I have also promised myself to not get stressed about wanting things to be "ready and working" for the staff at school and "be responsible" for things that I have no control over. This is of course easier said than done. I am trying.

I started school over a week ago. My principal called and asked if I wanted to get computers ready before the staff started at one of the schools I work at. I jumped at the opportunity! Of course I could not "fix" everything. The things that are not in my control I am letting go of. The scheduling of my classes for this year has not gone smoothly like I anticipated it would last spring. I am learning that the little and large frustrations of working in a school district do not go away just because you wish them too. On a good note, the first staff day back, our school district hosted 5 other districts for a presentation from Dr. Leonard Sax concerning the gender differences in the brain and how it affects students learning. His presentation turned upside down many of the things that many in the audience had learned in college about boys and girls. His knowledge as a doctor, his credibility in this field of scientific brain research and the recent knowledge gained by using MRI scans on young students made it clear to his audience that we need to think about our students differently. I loved that our district shared in bringing a world renown presenter to central Wisconsin. It was a fantastic speech and one that I hope will make an impact on our thoughts and actions in the classroom. It had the power to change how teachers teach.

Change is necessary for all of us to move forward in our lives. An ending occurs and has to happen for a beginning to start. I am a lucky to be given the opportunity each fall to start anew.