Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: July

Writing stillWhat are several real ways you have seen bullying reduced?

The only way to reduce bullying is for parents and teachers to take an active role in teaching and role modeling respect for other people to the children in their lives. Most “bullying” is due to a lack of respect for another person, plain and simple. Teaching children how to respect their peers will render bullying nonexistent. Bullying has become pandemic in the classrooms, on the playgrounds, and throughout social media; that is why I devoted many chapters in Uncommon Core to respect, kindness, compassion, happiness, apologizing sincerely, picking good friends, and standing up for themselves and others.

When parents are proactive in teaching and role-modeling respect, teachers have very little work to do with those students. One of my favorite students was a young man who was smart, respectful, and friendly to everyone:

He never associated with students outside of school who were making bad choices, but he was always kind to them. I asked him one day how he was able to be friendly with all students without getting caught up in the teenage drama that seemed to be rampant at school. Without hesitation, he told me what his mom taught him: “It’s nice to be smart, but it’s smarter to be nice.”. . . The smartest thing parents can do in every aspect of their lives is to be kind to others and model that behavior for their children. (Chapter 6: Teach Them to Respect Their Peers)

Another adage I use with my son (I also use it in my classroom) is to “Honor the untold story.” Ian doesn’t have to be friends with everyone, but he must be respectful to everyone:

I remind him that we cannot know what another child is going through or why he or she is acting, dressing or saying the things he or she is saying. There could be a lot of pain in that child’s life and saying something mean will only exacerbate that pain. (Chapter 6)

Children also need to know that there’s a big difference between wanting to be friends with everyone and picking friends wisely. Wanting to be popular will lead to bad choices and disrespecting other people to achieve that popularity:

Unfortunately, the unwritten social rules in school teach children the art of self-preservation – children figure out quickly who not to upset, how to stay under the radar and with whom not to be friends. . . . Once someone wants to establish his or her power in a peer group, he or she will find a weaker child to belittle. If more children were taught at home to stand up for weaker or more innocent people, we could end bullying in schools. The only reason a bully has power is because other people let it happen. (Chapter 11: Teach Them to Stand Up for Others)

The anti-bullying programs in schools will have little influence on students if the adults in their lives are not teaching and modeling respect.

For other responses to this month’s discussion go to Huffington Post

or CM Rubin World

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: June

What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?

One of my former students asked me questions about my teaching experiences for a college class she was taking. One of those questions was “What encourages teachers to become leaders?” My answer to that question as well as a few others formed the introduction to my book Uncommon Core because these questions are important ones that all teachers must answer before and during their teaching careers.

“Being a teacher in itself is being a leader. We stand in front of the classroom and help a room full of people discover the beauty of knowledge, and discover who they are and who they can become some day. If teachers are not embracing their roles as leaders, then they are wasting their time in the classroom. Leadership means that we cannot be government puppets; to do so would be a mockery of knowledge itself. We also cannot be puppet masters of our students; we educate them so they can think for themselves, not to think the way we think. We lead as role models; we lead as educational coaches and knowledge facilitators; and when we see injustices in the world, we need to lead by example and take action.” (Introduction vi)

Regardless of public opinion or government criticism, teachers are leaders and we need to embrace that fact. We should also know what type of leader we want to be. Early on in my career, I chose to put the “power and control” type of leadership away, and become the type of leader who serves her followers–her students. I provide opportunities for my students to discover where they fit in, what their niche is, and to discover their own leadership abilities.

Another key element to this type of leadership is a genuine care and concern for those that we are leading. The old adage “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care” is relevant in the classroom and any leadership position. I have worked with some highly intelligent teachers, but they looked at teaching as a way to demonstrate their knowledge, not as a way to empower students. With this mentality, students could care less how smart that teacher is. Most students despised those teachers because refusing to show kindness, compassion, and concern for those students turned teachers into talking heads, not leaders.

Besides classroom leadership, teachers need to take leadership positions in educational reform. Only a few teachers are involved in these discussions. If educational professionals took leadership opportunities, we would see positive changes in education creating better environments for students and teachers. Speak up in school and at board meetings; write letters to state and federal officials; opt your children out of state tests and boycott proctoring those exams that rob our students of time, money, and resources that should be used for edification, not data collection. Teachers should not be afraid to stand up for what they know is right; after all, we are the experts.

To read the rest of the discussion from the other Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers go to

Huffington Post

or

CM Rubin World

 

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Uncommon Core Book Trailer

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: May

What are the quick ways to combat teacher stress in a classroom?

The problem with classroom stress is that it rarely comes from being in the classroom with the students. If teachers are experiencing stress with students, those teachers might need to rethink what they have chosen as a profession. I get rejuvenated in the classroom; interacting with my students gives me energy and reminds me why I have chosen to dedicate my life to education. I know there are those few students who can get under our skin and make teaching a little difficult, but that should be the exception, not the rule. With those few students, a respectful conversation will usually be all that is needed to turn the behavior around.

Stress normally comes from outside the classroom. Government mandates, state evaluations based on standardized tests, administrators putting pressure on teachers to teach to the test, parents being unreasonable, other teachers creating unnecessary drama, no support from parents and administrators for a disciplinary issue, overloaded classes, which makes grading papers and tests that much more difficult–these contribute to professional stress.

In order to combat these issues and for teachers to have peak performance, teachers need to have some sort of exercise regimen. A daily walk before, during, or after school can do wonders to relieve stress and pinpoint the elements creating stress. Running, weight lifting, yoga, and kickboxing can also release the stress built up throughout the day. I received great advice as a new mother: The best thing I can do for my child is to take care of his or her mother–me. This applies to teachers as well. The best way to be fully engaged in the classroom is to take care of the teacher; we need to make sure we are healthy and balancing work, play, and exercise.

The other important activity is to talk to a trusted colleague about the issues that are creating stress. I don’t recommend telling anyone who will listen, but teachers need to have at least one person to vent to, which is sometimes all that is needed, or brainstorm ideas with to solve problems. Teachers who complain too much or to the wrong people just end up creating more stress for themselves and for other colleagues.

Teachers also need to plan fun days for students. Letting students be creative individually or in groups can relieve stress for everyone. Let them draw, write skits, create musical numbers, or make a video that pertains to the lesson or unit they are working on; it will always bring laughter and joy (two proven stress relievers) to the classroom.

Finally, regardless of the teacher’s expertise, writing about the problems can help as well. I often don’t know what is at the heart of my stress until I unpack my feelings on a piece of paper or at the computer. Once the issues are laid out in front of me, I can better plan out my next steps.

To read the rest of the discussion from the Top 12 Global Bloggers go to the Huffington Post or CM Rubin World.

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Uncommon Core: Book Review by Dennis McCarthy

 In Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System, Pauline Hawkins shares stories from her 11 years of experiences as a high school English teacher to help parents and students prepare for the American school system.  The tales range from the touching and uplifting to the surprisingly poignant, and they encompass the full spectrum of teen-age students:  the bullies and bullied, the confident and shy, the producers and drifters.  Hawkins forcefully connects with the reader—as she did her students — by laying herself bare, showing her vulnerability, honestly recounting her experiences, good or bad, and imparting what she has learned in the process.

All throughout Uncommon Core, Hawkins astutely takes a holistic approach to education, attempting to nourish each student’s particular abilities, pushing some, comforting others, and always with an eye toward creating fully functional, stable, independent, educated adults.  Many chapters show how difficult a task that can be.  High school teachers must do their best to enlighten while constantly facing the stormy dramas of teen-agers – trying to instruct in a hurricane of angst, passion, defiance, boredom, depression, fear, and bewilderment.  Hawkins’ mission, indeed that of all teachers and parents, is complex and delicate, requiring patience, kindness and psychological insight.  As Hawkins shows so clearly, it is so much more than rote-memorization lesson plans for standardized tests.

Soulful and wise, Uncommon Core is an important read for all parents or teachers who want to prepare themselves or their children for the current public school experience.

Dennis McCarthy, author of Here Be Dragons: How the study of animal and plant distributions revolutionized our views of life and Earth (2011) and Thomas North and the Shakespeare Canon (2015/2016)

      

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: April

“How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?”

Guest blogger: Karyn McWhirter

As a teacher of Advanced Placement students and students preparing to be in Advance Placement classes, I may have a different relationship with high stakes testing than many other educators. Since a central goal for my AP students is that they acquire the tools to pass the AP test at the end of the year and get college credit, much of my classroom time is dedicated to preparing them to meet that goal. However, I would not invest my time or theirs completing practice essays and evaluating them if I did not think that those writing tasks and the ones they will encounter on the national exam were not authentic, valuable thinking and writing tasks. I never feel as though I am balancing preparation for the test with teaching and learning; they are one in the same. I am not teaching to the test; I am teaching analysis, argumentation, and communication, and the test asks students to demonstrate those things.

If teachers feel that they are wasting time preparing students for high stakes tests, then the assessments themselves are probably to blame. Authentic assessments engage students in critical thinking and communicating. They incorporate performance tasks and have relevance to what students learn in class and to the world. If an assessment is not a quality thinking/communicating task, then giving it to students is a waste of time. When teachers are forced to use class time teaching test material and formatting that is not educationally authentic to protect their jobs, the purpose of assessment has been lost.

The reality of education at all levels is that many high stakes tests matter to students and to professionals. How do students get accepted into undergraduate and graduate programs? SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT. How do professionals obtain licenses to practice? Professionals of all kinds (lawyers, medical professionals of all kinds, teachers, technicians, and engineers to name a few) take certification and licensure exams. If we do not prepare young students to face high stakes exams with confidence and skills, then we are doing them a disservice. Are we over-testing most students these days? Certainly; but by swinging the pendulum in the other direction and abandoning tests and test preparation in the classroom, we leave students unprepared for some challenges they will face.

Many educators feel enormous pressure surrounding the high stakes of some standardized assessments because the results affect teachers and schools but do not always affect students. Truthfully, all learning is high stakes. What our children learn in their K-12 classrooms and beyond shapes them and ensures their futures (and ours). We need to spend classroom time engaging students in learning and activities that prepare them for the multitude of experiences they will have academically, professionally, and personally. We need to spend our classroom time shaping students into productive, happy contributors to society and future world leaders. Our assessments need to match these needs and support our teaching. If they do, there will be no balancing act to speak of.

For more on this topic, go to CMRubinWorld or Huffington Post

Karyn McWhirter has worked as an English teacher and yearbook sponsor at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, CO for fourteen years. She has taught all levels of students and courses from basic skills classes to Advanced Placement. She has served on traditional and online curriculum design teams, technology integration committees, and participated in, as well as taught, professional development related to inclusion and co-teaching of students with special needs.  She was selected Liberty High School’s educator of the year in 2008-09. She holds a BA in English with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she also obtained her teacher education. She earned her MAT in Humanities from Colorado College.

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How to Put Yourself First and Still Love Someone

By guest blogger: Thomas Fitzgerald

F.L.Y.I will start with two truths: You will never be able to meet all of the needs of a single person, and no single person will be able to meet all of your needs. You should not view these statements in the negative; they are only meant to make you pause and reflect.

The information I present to you was learned the hard way. I am by no means a relationship expert. In my twenties, I dated a woman who was obsessed with proving herself to her friend. She spent so much time and energy doing things for her friend, but her efforts went unreciprocated. She told me that, one day, her friend would realize everything she had done and they would have the friendship she felt she deserved. This never happened. The notion that a person would toil away in obscurity to finally have her efforts recognized is romantic, but foolish. It would be wonderful to have someone sweep into our lives understanding everything we needed and, fulfill those needs, someone who just “gets us.” Sometimes we meet these people, but you could spend a lifetime waiting for them to come.

I was no better. In this same relationship, I did everything I could to make my girlfriend happy. Whenever there was a problem, I tried to fix it. I went so far as to propose to her because I thought that would make things better. Even after our engagement, I still could not seem to make her happy. My female friends told me what a great boyfriend I was and how much they wished they had one like me. If that were true, why was I unable to make the woman I loved happy? In my mind, that was my job. You work to make the person you love happy, and she will do the same for you. That is how it works, right? It was years after the relationship ended that I realized I was wrong. You cannot make someone else happy, nor can someone else make you happy. Others can only help us be happy. The weight of the responsibility for happiness rests on the shoulders of each individual. As much as I tried, there was no way to make my girlfriend happy unless she wanted to be happy. I had been so consumed with this Sisyphean task that I had completely neglected my own needs.

In all relationships (with friends, family and romantic partners), there is normally a natural ebb and flow of time and energy satisfying the needs of each person in the relationship. A problem arises when this give and take becomes unbalanced. This may happen abruptly or slowly over time and is not inherently malicious. Life is a process of constant change, and humans, over time, change behavior from conscious to unconscious. The things we do for others start to become automatic. Behaviors that once required our full attention to perform require less conscious effort and become routine, similar to the way our drive to and from work becomes automatic; you may find yourself in your driveway at home with no memory of the time after you left work. In a relationship, the comfort we find in the unconscious routine we have developed can be taken for granted. Our unconscious behaviors stay constant without the conscious thought required to take notice of them or change them, while life does not. When the things we have come to expect are no longer available, we may not immediately detect their absence. This leads to a feeling of being unfulfilled, and the source may not be obvious to us. The obligations of life take precedence in our conscious mind: You are aware of what needs to be done at work and home and of the needs of others because they are being constantly communicated to you. Your needs and desires may become drowned out in the cacophony of everything in life that seems to demand your attention. Eventually you may find a gap between what you give to the needs of others and the attention being given to your own needs, which creates a deficit in your mental, emotional, and/or physical energy. Like a battery, if we expend our energy without being recharged, we become drained. You need to receive as much as you give. The deficit between give and take can be tolerated, but not indefinitely. You must find a way to recharge and ensure your needs are being met and will continue to do so. This is not a guide to becoming egocentric and selfish; it is a method to obtain self-awareness and to stop being selfless in an unhealthy way.

“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.” ~Barbara De Angelis

Perspective

The first thing you will need is distance from the constant needs that are draining you of your energy. This can be as literal as removing yourself from the people making demands on you or as simple as finding some time to quietly be by yourself. You need perspective. The old saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees applies to an inability to understand a situation that you are in the middle of. To be understood, a situation requires an objective viewpoint and enough distance and time away from the situation so that you are not influenced by its circumstances. You need to be able to view yourself without the influences of others. Often we become what we do. People view us by what we provide to them and others. You need to be free of this influence so you can see yourself, unbiased.

Introspection

Next you will need understanding of your personal situation. In this time of distance, you must reflect on what you give, what you receive, what you want, and what you need. The definition of the words “Want” and “Need” are specific to each individual. I will define “Need” as something that you must have and “Want” as something that you would like, but it is not essential to your peace and happiness. It may seem like looking for the missing piece of a puzzle without knowing what the picture even looks like. Take your time and be patient with yourself. Self-awareness is not immediate and may take more time if you are usually more concerned with the world outside of yourself. The key to unlocking the door of self-awareness is introspection, looking inward. There are many processes of introspection, but they do not have to involve meditation or guided questions to greater self-understanding, just take time to think. In an environment without distraction, reflect on how you feel, without guilt. What you feel is honest. Don’t be concerned with being angry with someone you love. You feel that way for a reason. Your emotions are legitimate; leave yourself open to them because they are trying to tell you something. Once you have allowed yourself to feel, think about why you feel that way.  This is the point at which you may start to understand which needs are no longer being met, and how they came to be unfulfilled. If you are feeling lonely, maybe an intimacy in one of your relationships has dwindled or may even seem non-existent. Friends or family may no longer be nearby, or you or your significant other may have become busy with new obligations and have less time to spend together. Even after you feel you have come to understand your need, keep digging. Continue to think about how you are feeling and why. Think about what changes might fulfill your need. You may even come to understand that what was making you feel a certain way was not as important as you believed, or something you thought was inconsequential is critical to your peace of mind. Two points to remember: Emotions are not rational and reason has no empathy. Consider that what you feel is a symptom of an underlying malady, and reason is the method to diagnose the cause of what afflicts you. The problem is that reason and emotion come from two different places and both are necessary to understand ourselves. Self-awareness requires repeated introspection; a process of feel then think, feel then think, until you reach a point where you recognize an emotional response without being overwhelmed by it. Then you can investigate the root cause of a feeling with both reason and emotion.

Communication

After coming to understand what it is that you need, you must communicate that need to yourself and others. If you do not ask for something, you have no right to expect it. You must first be honest with yourself. You have at this point come to an understanding that something that you need is missing. Now believe it. Don’t tell yourself, “It’s not a big deal” if it is, in fact, a big deal. It has bothered you enough to get this far in the process. It matters. Next communicate your needs to others. Tell your friends that you want to hang out more. Tell your family that you can’t make it to a holiday gathering because you have something else that requires your time, even if that something is you. If all of the overtime at work is taking away from your time with your family, talk to your boss. You don’t have to be demanding, but you may be surprised at how understanding he or she may be. Your boss might not give you time off but, he or she may have a greater appreciation of the time you are giving to your job. Make sure you use tact when you communicate your needs, help them understand what you think and how you feel, and listen to their feedback. If you are calm and clear when you communicate your needs, you have no need to feel guilty for asking. It will not always be about asking others to fulfill your needs. Communicating your needs to others (and yourself) can just be informing them that you need something and your plan to meet that need. Know, however, that you may be the person who has to meet your own needs.

A single cycle of these steps may not be enough to ensure that your needs will be met. More than likely it will be repeated multiple times, and it should.  Your life and needs will change as will the lives of those around you. Something we want may fade with time or become a need we cannot be without. Without stopping to assess your needs regularly, you may find yourself with another deficit that requires balancing. Spend as much time considering your own needs as you spend on the needs of others. Putting yourself first ensures your needs are met, that you are healthy of body, mind, and spirit.  When your needs are being met, you will be better equipped to meet the needs of others.

Thomas is a current student and future writer (if he listens to my advice, that is). His process analysis essay on putting yourself first was so well done that I had to share it on my blog (with his permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

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