July Discussion: If you were calling the shots how would you change ongoing professional development for teachers in your community?

If I were calling the shots, I would make sure professional development was relevant and appropriate for the grade level and subject matter.

Too often teachers are forced to sit through a professional development class that does not apply to the subject and/or grade level they teach. One year, all of my high-school colleagues had to sit through a class on tiered assignments. That, in itself, is not a bad topic for a professional development. What made it a waste of time for all of us is that math, science, social studies, English, language, art, music, and PE teachers were all in the same professional development that presented tiered assignments for a 2nd grade literature assignment.

As English teachers, my department was annoyed, but those of us teaching regular English classes were able to apply the basic idea of the assignment to our curriculum. Even within our department though, far too many teachers had no use for a differentiated lesson. Many teachers only teach AP and college preparation classes. There is no room for differentiation for college bound students because colleges do not differentiate their assignments. To tell you the truth, this is one of my biggest issues with the college students I currently teach. Many of them have never written an essay and are completely lost in College Composition. I often wonder how many of those students had differentiated assignments instead of mandatory essays.

Furthermore, if my English Department had a tough time using a professional development class geared towards 2nd grade literature, can you imagine how the other departments felt? It’s no wonder many of them were caught passing notes and playing games on their phones. (Does that sound familiar? No matter who the students are, if you are not giving them relevant and appropriate student-centered lessons, they will get bored and check out.)

In order for professional development to truly improve teachers, they need to have these elements:

  1. The person teaching the professional development must be a teacher. Even people who have been out of the classroom for too long, like principals, counselors, coordinators, etc. will not deliver relevant information unless it is to give the teachers behind-the-scenes information so that they are in the loop. Only experienced master teachers will know what teachers need in order to improve their classrooms.
  2. Each department should have a separate professional development led by people who teach the same subject. The professional development instructor should be able to address all aspects of teaching and courses in that department.
  3. The majority of time allotted for professional development should include time to apply the new concept/skill/strategy to the classroom. If teachers are not given that time, then the day will be wasted. Teachers do not have time on a normal day to realign their curriculum to a new concept. If the professional development is truly valuable, then the majority of the day must be dedicated to lesson planning and curriculum alignment or else it will be for naught.

For more on this discussion, go to CM Rubin World.

May Discussion with Global Teacher Bloggers: What do teachers most want to tell parents?

What do teachers most want to tell parents?

“Effective parenting refers to carrying out the responsibilities of raising and relating to children in such a manner that the child is well prepared to realize his or her full potential as a human being.  It is a style of raising children that increases the chances of a child becoming the most capable person and adult he or she can be.” Dr. Kerby T. Alvy

When it comes to fostering a life-long love of learning, parents are the biggest support for their children.

Here are my top 5 things parents need to teach their children so they are successful in school:

  1. Teach Them How to Talk to and Respect All People: Students who cannot talk to or respect other people will have a hard time in school. There are so many students who are disrespectful to others; it is truly shocking. Having positive relationships in school affects students’ abilities to function in that school. Most issues are avoidable when one realizes it is caused by lack of respect, plain and simple. Teaching children how to respect peers and adults will help them to have great relationships and help them benefit from collaboration with teachers and peers.
  2. Teach Them to Stand Up for Themselves and Others: Obviously, not all children will be respectful and kind to each other; it will be necessary, at some point, for a child to stand his or her ground. Parents need to have conversations with their children about when it will be necessary to stand up for themselves and others, and then give them the tools, words and confidence to say enough is enough in a mature way. Teaching this can be tricky as well. How do we teach our children to stand up to someone without turning into bullies themselves? There is a fine line, but it is necessary to know where that line is. Students who are not afraid to protect themselves and a weaker person have the makings of true leaders.
  3. Teach Them the Necessity of Working Hard: A new trend in student achievement seems to be that even minimal effort should be rewarded with an A (according to some students and parents). If students want A’s, they need to be willing to put in the hard work necessary to get that A. It is unfortunate that parents are supporting this trend because it leads to students only caring about the grade, not the learning. Students who do not value working hard will be susceptible to cheating, which will lead to more severe consequences as they get older.
  4. Teach Them Accountability and Responsibility: Students who are not afraid to answer for something they have done are more likely to make better decisions as they get older. If students cannot admit to wrongdoing for small things, and think they got away with it, the trouble they can cause and get into will intensify exponentially as they get older. Being accountable also means that students know their responsibilities. Students need to show up to class; they need to come prepared with all materials for that class; they need to be rested and ready to learn; and they need to find a way to connect with the material the teacher presents.
  5. Teach Them Failing is Learning: Every self-help book tells its readers: Learn from mistakes. Learn from the setbacks. Yet, the current education movements seem to revolve around the idea that failure is not an option. Failure always has and always will be an option, and people can learn some of the best lessons from their failures.

 

This list comes from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. Pauline Hawkins’ book is available on Amazon as well as directly from the publisher using the link in the right margin.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March 2017

What roles do teachers have in creating kind and compassionate citizens?

Teaching is about investing in our future.

Teachers need to do more than teach content. We are so much more than knowledge transmitters and test proctors. We are human beings that have made it our life’s mission to improve the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

I became a teacher because I wanted to help children/teenagers become the best they could be. I had a few amazing teachers who changed my life, and I wanted to be that teacher for other people.

Teachers 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 the importance of their role, then they may be doing more harm than good. Whether we like it or not, we are role models; we are educational coaches and knowledge facilitators.

When I taught in the high school, I taught the whole child, not just my content area. I love English and everything in the curriculum: writing, grammar, literature and oral communication. But what I loved more was how the English curriculum lent itself to teaching my students life skills, particularly kindness, empathy, and compassion. I believe these characteristics are more important than content knowledge because they will help students become successful in all areas of life, not just in the classroom or with standardized tests.

As a mother, I am also a teacher and role model to my children. I am not the perfect parent by any means; however, I have been raising children for 30 years now; my daughters and stepsons are adults, living on their own, and enjoying happy, successful lives, through which they are contributing positively to society. Ian is thriving and making significant gains in school.

As I navigate through my parenting experiences, I struggle with many of the things parents and teachers are currently dealing with. I struggle as a mother on the other side of the desk with how my son is treated by teachers and students in the classroom. However, my experiences as a teacher have given me insight into my collaboration with my son’s teachers. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that if we all work at behaving as and creating kind and compassionate citizens, we can effectively help our children become happy, successful adults.

As important as it is for teachers and parents to model and teach kindness and compassion, students have a responsibility to engage with this part of their education as well. It is through the daily lessons, contrived or not, that students discover who they are and who they want to be. If we all work together, we will help students acquire the skills necessary to become civic-minded individuals who continue our work in improving the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

Much of this comes from the “Introduction” to my book, Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. I have changed a few parts to focus on the question at hand.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: February 2017

How do we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?

facts-imageFirst, we have to have courses for young people to take that are centered on critical thinking. Most college campuses have an introductory course that stands alone or coincides with a writing class, but until college, most students do not have intensive critical thinking instruction.

In the critical thinking class I teach at GBCC, we read about and practice observation skills, word precision, facts and inferences, assumptions, opinions, viewpoints (and their filters), arguments, logical fallacies, and inductive and deductive reasoning. The most important part of this course is not the tests students take, but the discussions we have as we explore the concepts and share our experiences with critical thinking or the lack there of. What students learn is that they need to read, ask questions, be willing to say “I don’t know, but I’ll research it,” and then actually do it. They learn to spot those logical fallacies and not be duped by them. I tell them never to just believe anyone, not even me. They cannot trust the majority of sources, including mainstream media, because everyone has an agenda.

However, within the constructs of my high school English classroom, I still made sure students received some critical thinking lessons. During research projects, I showed students how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources, where to find those legitimate sources, and how to use them ethically. We also had a number of shared inquiry sessions during classes on the most controversial subjects that didn’t have easy answers. Here are a few questions I would ask during these sessions: Did George do the right thing when he shot Lennie? Who demonstrated the worst behavior in Romeo and Juliet? Who is responsible for the destruction of freedom and equality on Animal Farm? Through these discussions, students learned to listen to each other (regardless of whether they agreed with each other or not), go beyond their own experiences and care about people and/or characters outside of their own bubble, and look back at text support for their responses—all critical thinking skills.

Which brings me to me next point: Students need to read more, and not just for pleasure, but also for exposure to the human condition. Reading diverse texts will arm them with knowledge outside of their limited perspectives. People cannot be critical thinkers when they have limited knowledge and limited experiences.

Finally, it’s not just young people who need to learn these skills. We have far too many adults who are role models for these young people that do not have critical thinking skills. I’ve said it before and will say it again: We cannot expect our children to learn skills the adults in their lives are not demonstrating on a daily basis.

http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: November 2016

How do you as teachers support children who are confused or frightened by events going on in their world?

election-2016As a parent, I had to calm my son down before he went to bed Tuesday night and when he woke up Wednesday morning. His “I’m scared, Mom” was difficult for me to hear because I had to take responsibility for his fears. I made negative comments before the election about Donald Trump in front of my son, and told him I was confident that Americans would not elect a person like that to represent our country. When we woke up to that shocking reality, I realized how I let my son down.

What I should have done is emphasized that the government was set up as a three-branch system to make sure that none of them would have too much power, so our president will always be tempered by two other branches, limiting his power and control.

What I should have done is told my son the truth about politicians: They work for us. They may make a lot of promises and threaten a lot of things, but politicians are supposed to serve the Americans they represent. They are supposed to, but that fact hasn’t actually been true for a long time. And, truthfully, we are responsible for letting politicians get away with serving themselves rather than the American people.

What I should have told my son is that many media sources want money more than they want to be vehicles for truth, so if they can get our attention with fear, they will also get money. We need to be discerning on how we get our information and what we blindly believe without investigating further.

Now, I am changing the conversation to empower my son and college students; I am speaking more passionately at home and in my classrooms about how to take our power back.

What I am now telling my son and students is that we have been given a wakeup call. There is no room for fear in our lives. Neither can we sit idly by and hope for the best. We have to let our representatives know what we want and what we will not accept. We have to investigate what our elected officials are actually doing with the trust we have put in them. We have to make our voices heard and back up our voices with action.

What I am continuing to tell my son and students is that we need to be the change we want to see in the world. If we want equality, then we must treat everyone as equals. If we want kindness and compassion, then we need to come alongside people in need to let them know they are not alone. If we want our voices to be heard, then we cannot silence those who see the world differently than we do, and that includes President-elect Trump. If we want to protect our environment, then we need to stop being wasteful and start supporting renewable, clean energy sources. If we want to feel secure in our beautiful country, then we need to stand up for our rights as Americans; we need to stand up to the bullies on the playground and in our governing houses—not with violence but with knowledge, courage, and solidarity.

Bottom line, as teachers and parents we need to support students and children who are confused or frightened by role modeling equality, kindness, compassion, intelligence, and fortitude.

http://www.cmrubinworld.com/the-global-search-for-education-top-global-teacher-bloggers-children-are-listening

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: October 2016

How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?

flourishIn Martin E.P. Seligman’s Flourish (published April 5, 2011 with Simon and Schuster), he writes about the five elements people need in order to flourish. It goes beyond trying to find happiness:Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end.”

So what are the five pillars and how do we create those elements in a school environment?

Here are my thoughts:

Positive Emotion

In order for our schools to flourish, they need to be a place where positive emotions reside. At the moment, school systems, teachers, and students are surrounded with negative emotions. Most teachers try to create a positive environment for their students, but so much depends on what happens outside of the classroom. If we want to improve that outer atmosphere, we need to make sure teachers are happy and not stressed out over the increased pressures surrounding their profession. If the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Engagement

Students engage when they have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the subject matter, which is a direct result of the teacher’s engagement. I engage with my students because I want to hear and read what my students think about what we are learning in the classroom. The more control I have over the content of my classroom, the more engaged I am, which creates that atmosphere for my students. When reform agencies dictate the content of teachers’ classrooms, engagement diminishes significantly.

Relationships

Even at the college level where I rarely see students for more than a semester, I have developed strong relationships with my students. I also encourage students to form strong bonds with each other because they need to trust each other when they share their thoughts in classroom discussions and essays in writing workshops. If students aren’t talking to and collaborating with each other, they will never build those necessary relationships.

Meaning

Teachers find meaning in their chosen profession; it’s intrinsic to their job description. However, the current educational trends take away that intrinsic process from students: Students’ choices are being stripped away, with most schools buying into the factory model of producing only college-bound students, instead of creating a place where students can discover their own passions and direction in life.

Accomplishment

One of the reasons video games are so popular with children and teens is that they offer a sense of accomplishment as players move through the levels. This element is sorely lacking in today’s school system. In middle school, students can move through the grade levels without passing a single subject. Some parents are demanding that their children are rewarded for little effort. What has hurt teachers in this area is the evaluation system that measures teachers’ accomplishments through a deeply flawed test. No matter what we tell ourselves about the growth we see in our students, if our accomplishments can be stripped away by a flawed test, we will operate from a defeatist position.

As Seligman states, each of these five pillars needs to be present for people to flourish. It only makes sense that they must be present in the school system for teachers and students to flourish as well.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016

paint-brushesHow can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.

Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:

If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and anxiety?

If students were allowed to embrace their creative sides, would they grow up into adults who needed art therapy?

If art is therapeutic, why do we give it so little importance and relegate it to an elective in secondary schools?

Why do parents and educators allow people who don’t really care about their children to make unhealthy decisions for their children?

Why does the very notion of school imply that everything that is taught there needs to be quantified? Can’t we just enjoy learning without testing or assigning a letter grade to it?

Why are math, science, social studies, and English classes more important in a child’s education, than art, music, dance, and theater?

Why do people think that studying the arts is a waste of time and not preparation for college? Why can’t students who truly love the arts immerse themselves in those areas and continue to do so in college?

Why is our society so bent on educating only half the child? Do people not see the damage being done to our children when we eliminate the things that bring them the greatest joy?

 

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: August 2016

diversityHow do you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? 

Acceptance and respect are best taught through example. As a teacher, I set the mood, tone, and pace of the classroom. If I mistreat any student in my classroom, it will give students permission to do the same. That old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” must have been coined by someone who didn’t understand human nature. If we want our children/students to accept those with different beliefs, cultures, etc., then we need to show them how it’s done. The number of teachers who have admitted to rolling their eyes, smirking, and/or belittling students in the classroom that they found weird or culturally different amazes me; then, those same teachers will complain about how nasty other students are to them or to other students. It’s easy to make the connection between the two situations, yet some teachers would rather blame children for the negativity rather than themselves. I know it’s hard to change children’s behavior in all aspects of their lives if their parents are modeling negative behavior, but teachers can impact students’ behaviors within their classrooms.

Not only do I model kindness and understanding in my classroom, but I also share with my students how every child/teenager/adult I have met and worked with helps me to grow. Every person that comes into our lives has something important to teach us. I’m always learning something new because of the diverse people in my life. While being exposed to a beautiful array of cultural differences improves my knowledge, it also improves my empathy—a necessary emotion that allows us to become healthy and connected human beings. Without empathy, we become selfish and in extreme cases, narcissistic and/or sociopathic. When we can look beyond skin color, clothing brand, religious symbols, and chosen paths, and care to hear the stories and see the similarities within each of us, we will realize that we have more in common than we think. Whether we know someone’s story or not, it’s safe to assume that everyone is struggling with something. Wouldn’t it be horrible to add pain to someone’s already difficult life?

The other important thing to teach children/students is the difference between opinions and facts. We are living in a society that believes in the validity of its own opinions. Although everyone is free to have an opinion, it doesn’t mean that every opinion carries equal weight, especially those opinions that have no basis in factual evidence. This is part of critical thinking skills, but it must be taught from the position of compassion rather than pure logic. Some opinions come from inductive and deductive reasoning, and others come from fear and prejudice. Regardless, all opinions are worn like a badge of honor. It is only through patience and informed discussions that we can help our children/students open their eyes to the biases that have formed those weightless, negative opinions. Through these critical thinking discussions, students will remember those role models and begin to practice empathy, learning to accept and work well with people who are different from them.

http://www.cmrubinworld.com/the-global-search-for-education-the-top-global-teacher-bloggers-august-2016

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: July 2016

What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens?

global citizensThese skills, behaviors, and attitudes are so important that I wrote a book about them. My book goes into detail about the specific skills and offers suggestions for parents, teachers, and students on how to cultivate these traits at home, in the classroom, and beyond. For the purposes of this discussion, I put the list into two categories that encompass the necessary skills students need to be contributing global citizens. The one skill that students will need in both categories, however, is a good work ethic. Students will need to have good time management and perseverance whether they are working independently or with a team.

  1. Able to Work Independently: Students who can sit down by themselves and get the job done, no matter what it is, will contribute positively to society. Too many people wait around for help or a leader to give them direction. Students who are proactive and do what needs to be done will have an advantage over those who wait. Independent workers have learned to be problem solvers. They look at complications as problems to be solved, not reasons to quit. In our quickly changing world, students also need to be comfortable with not having a clear-cut answer to things. Sometimes it is through those supposed “failures” that we learn the most, which allows us to become successful. Students who can work independently are able to follow directions and complete a job correctly. Students who can work independently are also responsible for themselves. They don’t play the blame game; instead they know they are in control of their good and bad choices and are more than willing to be accountable. Students who are independent learners will also be curious, innovative, and creative. They are genuinely interested in what they are doing and not afraid to think outside the box to discover new ways to get the job done.
  2. Able to Work with a Team: Students who can also collaborate with other people will be contributing global citizens. Working independently shows confidence in one’s abilities, but working collaboratively shows respect and trust for others. In order to work well in a team, students need to engage in a real way with other people. They do this by being good listeners and communicators when they are face-to-face with their group. They will also read well and write clearly, so they can communicate through email and letters. Working well with a team will require patience for those times when others are struggling and strength of character to stand up for themselves when they aren’t being heard. In a global society, students will also need to be comfortable with and accepting of diversity. Students who cannot respect people who are different from them will find it difficult to find their place in a diverse job market. Finally, students need to accept and understand the differences within other cultures. Our world is getting smaller. The homogeneous populations of the past are no longer part of our realities.

 

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: June 2016

How do we inspire the best and the brightest to become educators?

We have to make the profession a respectable position. Right now, American teachers are scapegoats for everything wrong with our society. This is not true in other countries. How do we bring respect to the profession? This multiple step process must happen simultaneously or at least in rapid succession:

  1. The first step needs to be getting rid of the ridiculous evaluation system based on standardized tests and tied to teacher pay. Master teachers know that their true effectiveness cannot be measured by a test. Recently, a former student teacher of mine wrote 130 letters—one for each of her students—in response to a suicide attempt from one of her students. That kind of passion and dedication to her students cannot be measured by a test. She was the best and brightest in her high school and college, and she was taught by amazing master teachers who did not need standardized tests to prove their worthiness.
  2. Teacher preparation programs must only accept the best and brightest students into their programs. Right now, anyone can become a teacher. Elevating the requirements for teacher candidates will elevate the respect for the profession. The courses in these programs must also be more rigorous and involve more hands-on experiences. If becoming a teacher were more difficult, people who were drawn to the profession would make sure they were the right kind of candidates right out of high school, just like those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Also, the programs that offer quick training for such an important profession must be dissolved.
  3. In conjunction with the improvement to teacher prep programs, teachers must get a competitive salary based on the education requirements for the profession. Teachers need to have a master’s degree and are required to continue their education through professional development courses every year. How many other professionals, requiring that kind of educational commitment, cannot afford to live a comfortable life on their income alone? It should not matter in which community a teacher works: A viable salary commensurate with the education and workload must accompany the profession. Also, in this capitalistic society, money equals respect. When the current response to our profession changes from “I guess you couldn’t make it in any other profession” to “Wow! You were bright enough and dedicated enough to become a teacher!” we will know that our profession finally has the respect it deserves.
  4. There must be a mentoring program for new teachers that pairs them with master teachers so that they can have a solid network to maneuver through the difficulties intrinsic within the profession. Many teachers leave the profession within the first five years because they do not have that support system. They will never become master teachers; they will never know the beauty that blossoms from the struggle. Watching students become successful adults, helping other teachers embrace the profession, growing into a master teacher—these are the rewards that accompany longevity in a profession that builds a community, improves a society, and changes the world for the better.