Friday, May 26, 2017

Teaching Tip #181

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #181

Here is my final personal statement from my WEM admission form –

Describe yourself as a teacher, part 2.  Who and what are you as a teacher?

While I value my why, how, and what greatly, there are two other beliefs that drive everything I do in my classroom. Several years ago, I helped our leadership team devise our school’s core values.  My two contributions were “It’s not about us” and “Our work matters.” 
“It’s not about us” is the most important because I work at it every single day.  I am no sage on the stage as I was when I first began teaching 19 years ago. I wanted to impress the students with all of my knowledge, just as my college professors had done. I learned high school students were not impressed by that.  At all. 
In the years since, I’ve realized that teaching really is not about teachers; it’s all about students.  Moreover, being a successful teacher is about creating the optimal climate for students to discover their talents that may be buried very, very deep.  In fact, the talents may be buried so deeply that the students may not even realize they have any talents at all.  Therefore, it is vital to develop a supportive, engaging, and empowering classroom culture optimal for students to be the best versions of themselves.  This is where my second favorite core belief comes into effect: Our work matters.  And it matters.  Every.  Single. Day.
Last fall I was teaching my annual Tuesday night Introductory to Education course at the UND.  The class featured three of my former students who were now majoring in education.  One student, Ciera, was not completely sure about her direction, but she took a chance and enrolled in my Intro to Education class.  During her junior year in high school, I saw her passion for children and her aptitude for creativity, so I encouraged her to think about being an elementary school teacher.  By the time I had Ciera at UND, it was the third time she’d switched her major.  This particular evening, I invited another former student of mine, Ms. Twistol, who also happened to be my daughter’s first grade teacher, to come in and speak to the class.  As students left for the evening, I saw Ciera eagerly talking with Ms. Twistol.
The next morning I received a call from Ciera’s mother. “Mr. Reynolds,” she said. “Ciera called us crying last night.”  Uh-oh. That is never good, I thought. “We thought something was wrong until she said, ‘Now I finally know what I want to be! I want to be a teacher!’” My purpose as a teacher was renewed: Ciera found her element. 
“It is not about us” and “Our work matters” extend beyond the classroom. I also coach freshmen football. I had a player, Sam, who was injured and couldn’t play.  He wanted to quit, but I encourage him to stick it out.  I told Sam he could be my assistant offensive coordinator, a position invented just for him.  I even gave him his own clipboard and let him add to our playbook. I just wanted Sam to be involved.
Late in the season, we were practicing with only 14 players.  As we huddled to run a play, I had an idea.  “Sam,” I said, “walk over to the sideline and stand there.  You’ll be lined up at wide receiver and run a post.”  Sam looked confused as he clung to his clipboard.  “Just do it.  The defense will never think to cover you. It’ll be an easy touchdown.” The players in the huddle encouraged him.
Sam was wide open for a touchdown.  The team laughed and doggy-piled him in the endzone.
I went about the rest of fall quarter teaching and coaching and forgot all about the moment.  It wasn’t until parent/teacher conferences that I was reminded of it.  Sam’s older brother was in my College Comp class, so it was no surprise to see his parents signed up for conferences.  It was a surprise, though, that all they wanted to talk about was Sam, specifically the moment from practice when he scored a touchdown.
“That play,” Sam’s mom said, “made Sam’s whole year. He still talks about it.”
That moment had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with encouraging and supporting a young man at a critical time in his life.  Our work isn’t just in the classroom.  It is on the practice field, the court, and even in the digital landscape. 
I strive to be a role model not just in the classroom or on the field but also on social media. I want students to see how awesome it is to be an adult. I want students to see the amazing benefits of curiosity, passion, and life-long learning. If students Google me (or my username, “teacherscribe”), follow me on social media, read my blog, or visit my classroom website, they will see someone who has found the perfect integration of work and life.  They will see how much I love being an adult, a father, a husband, an active community member, a life-long learner, and, of course, a teacher.
Students can even see this when they leave for the day when they drive by my car parked just across the street from my room, for the bumper sticker, proudly displayed in the middle of my trunk, reads, “I’d Rather be Teaching.”  Some people would rather be fishing, hunting, or golfing, but there really is nothing I’d rather do than teach.  That is why I exist.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Teaching Tip #180

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #180

Here is my final personal statement from my WEM admission form –

Describe yourself as a teacher, part 1.  Who and what are you as a teacher?

Everyday when I park my car across the street from my classroom, I imagine this scenario: Mr. Zutz, our principal, notifies every student at Lincoln High School that instead of reporting to their regular first block class, they are to go to the classroom where they feel the most valued, inspired, empowered, and challenged.
As I enter Lincoln High School, make my way up to my second floor classroom, and open my door, I ask myself this: Would I have anyone seated in my room?
My answer is simple: there better be a room full of kids.  Otherwise, what am I doing here?
That reinforces my “why,” which is a concept I have honed since I watched Simon Sinek’s iconic TEDx Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Sinek believes leaders and organizations must address three basic issues to be successful: what, how, and why.  Most leaders and organizations, however, address these in the wrong order.  They start with what they do, then go on to how they do it, and probably never even realize (let alone effectively communicate) why they exist. As a result, they never resonate and impact their audience or customers.
Sinek’s concept applies to education.  Schools and teachers often get their what, how, and why in the wrong order and, thus, fail to resonate and impact our students as much as we could.  Educators have a great idea of what they do: Teachers equip students with the necessary skills to earn their degree, so they can be successful in the workforce and contribute to our democracy.  Educators also know how they do it: Most teachers stand at the front of the class, controlling the assignments, and assigning a grade.  Few, however, have any real idea about why they exist: The teachers I had joked about the three reasons they loved teaching: June, July, and August.  Others sought to teach because it was the only path that enabled them to coach. 
Sinek argues, though, that great leaders and organizations (and I believe great teachers) not only inverse the order, but they also clearly communicate their why, how, and what.  I strive to illustrate my why, how, and what to my students every single day.  
My why – I guide and inspire students to discover their elements. One of my favorite books to teach is The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.  He defines the “element” as the point where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.  Robinson argues that when you discover your “element,” you find purpose and meaning.  Suddenly, work – if you are fortunate enough to find a job that involves your “element” – becomes like play.  When you are in your element you are the best version of yourself because you are tapping into your strongest aptitudes and deepest passions.
 I live for seeing students discover their element.  Students often stop by, text, and email when they have finally found their element.  Last summer I received a text from Wendy, a former student interning at a law firm.  She informed me how she had just she witnessed a young female lawyer win a big case for a family. Wendy said while watching this young lawyer she knew she found her element because there was no one she wanted to be like in the world that this young lawyer.  Wendy thanked me for encouraging her to follow her passion for family law while she read The Element in high school.
My how – I’m not just as a guide for my students, but I strive to be a co-learner right alongside of them. When doing my professional development, which includes attending and presenting at several conferences, like TIES, MCTE, NCTE, and our own district’s own Martin Luther King Digital Retreat, I share with my students my habits for preparation and applying what I learned to what we are do in class.  Then while in class, I struggle through all the assignments with my students, modeling the skills I want them to attain.  Recently, I was selected for a Teacher Appreciation banquet held by our senior football players.  At the banquet each player explained why they selected their teacher and how they impacted them.  When Derek, the young man who chose me, got up, one of the first things he said was, “Mr. Reynolds learns right a long with us.  In fact, I think he learns as much from us just as we learn from him.”  When I heard those words, I thought back to my how. I was ecstatic that Derek saw me as a co-learner.

My what – I don’t simply want to prepare students for college and a career.  Instead, I want to help develop remarkable, life-long learners who have been, to borrow a term from Duke’s president, Richard Brodhead, “future-proof,” for I want to help my students develop skills that allow them to adapt to any changes the future may hold. Several years ago, I received an email from Carli, a former student who was on the precipice of applying for the nursing program at UND.  She informed me she had been struggling with writer’s block over a one page, personal statement, which was a requirement of the application for the program. She was emailing me, not to ask for help but to encourage me to keep inspiring students to find their voices. Carli wrote that she finally broke out of her funk when she sat down in her apartment and opened her old College Comp II folder, full of dozens of her high school essays. One essay in particular, a personal narrative on an expertise, caught her eye. Carli recalled how much fun she had writing it because I encouraged her to use her voice and style in the paper.  I recalled her essay immediately.  Carli’s expertise was on “being blonde.” She chose to write the essay in the same random-abstract, mile-a-minute way she talked. The entire essay was one long run-on sentence, but it perfectly illustrated Carli’s expertise. She displayed her wonderful personality with her amazing voice and style. In the email, Carli said she regained her confidence and attacked the one page, personal statement.  She ended the email informing me that she had just received her letter of admission to the UND nursing program.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Teaching Tip #179

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #179

To earn the WEM award, I had to answer several questions in essay format.  Here is one of them that I found particularly interesting.

As a teacher, what is your misson?

3. One of my missions is to catch students doing something right every day.  Then I capture it and share it with their parents (and the community). I want to show the parents how amazing their kids are. During class I will snap a picture of a student giving a presentation or working on a project.  I publish it to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, tagging their parents in the post.  
In College Comp II, we read Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.  At the end, students must deliver their own TED Talk in front of their peers. Last year I had a student who struggled with depression previously. As a result, she did her TED Talk on overcoming depression.  I visited with her parents during fall conferences how proud I was of her for working so hard and totally blossoming in my class as a senior despite her struggles the pervious year.  So when I saw this student doing an amazing job of honestly sharing her personal battle with depression, I snapped a quick picture and shared it on social media, tagging her parents.  Immediately her peers from other classes and around the area were commenting on her picture.  Before class ended, her parents reached out to thank me for sharing the picture and giving them a little window into their daughter’s amazing talk.
Ultimately, there isn’t an assignment or subject I teach that I’m not trying to reach out to parents or the community.  This can be as simple as having students interview their parents about a subject we are studying.  I do this for our film review unit when we watch Jaws. I have students ask their parents where they were when they first saw Jaws.   Every class I get a couple of great stories.  A student said his parents watched it on their first date.  It rained during the movie, and the student’s mom refused to walk across it to get to the car, so the student’s dad had to actually pick her up right outside the theatre!  Other times I will have students share what they are reading for my classes with their parents.  Last fall I had a student share the book Outliers with her father, who is the CEO of one of our town’s largest business.  He told her that Outliers was one of his favorite books.  I invited him to come in and speak to the class, which he did.
Twice a year, I present to our school board, most of whom have students either in my class or in the district, a sample tech-related lesson from my class.  It is important to offer our school board a window into how the teachers are using technology to improve our teaching since the taxpayers spent so much money in order for us to become a 1:1 district.  I also ask my students once per semester to present projects to the school board.  Again, it is important to show the community the amazing things our students do every day in school.   Our local paper covers every school board meeting.  As a result, there have been several stories published about the student projects in my class.  The latest article, entitled “Students Encouraged to Become Linchpins” was from October when the newspaper editor took pictures of my students’ Linchpin boards at a board meeting and wrote about the assignment and the amazing results.
Finally, at the end of my College Comp 2 class, I have my seniors take their final exam via interview format with the Human Resource department at our largest local business, Digi Key.  Students are interviewed about what they have learned in class.  Then I share with the students, their parents, and our administration the scores and comments from the team.  Again, our principal and superintendent have spoken to me about the immense feedback they get from parents and the Human Resource department at Digi Key about the skills the students are being taught.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Teaching Tip #178

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #178

To earn the WEM award, I had to answer several questions in essay format.  Here is one of them that I found particularly interesting.

How do you develop student-developed goals into your classroom?

2. There are a number of ways I incorporate student-developed goals into my classroom. First, my classes craft their own core values. I share the core values of our staff with my classes; we discuss what we liked about them and how we might develop our own core values.  Next, I ask my students to search companies, teams, and organizations they admired to find examples of other core values.  Then using a shared Google Drive document, I had each student devise three core values.  Finally, over the course of two days, we examined all of the suggestions, grouped them into five general themes (facing failure, rigor, acceptance, respect, learning), and finally combined and reworked the student-generated suggestions into five core values: 1.  Failure is essential and inevitable; the key is to learn from our failures.  2. Keep it simple but make it significant. 3. Be open-minded and explore new things: STEP OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. 4. Respect ideas that aren’t your own.  5.  Take something new from class everyday.
This little exercise, done the first week of the year, is critical in helping us forge a remarkable classroom culture.  What I love about these core values, which we display on a whiteboard, is that every time I see a student doing something that embodies a core value, I recognize it and praise them in front of the class.  Soon I have other students recognizing their classmates (and even their teacher) when they meet a core value.  This exercise has become an absolute must in my classes to not just implement student-developed goals but to also help foster our classroom culture.
Another way I seek student input for achievement is through surveys.  A requirement of teaching College in the High School is to administer an anonymous survey at the end of the semester.  Students analyze their efforts as well as my effectiveness.  They offer suggestions that help reinforce the effectiveness of the readings and assignments; they offer feedback on what can be improved to help me improve the course and keep it engaging and relevant.  This feedback is vital in helping me shape my classes.

I also use action research, first developed by Dr. Nancy Dana, to refine my practice and to ensure that my content leads to student learning and academic gains.  I just completed an action research study in conjunction with professors at UND and other teachers and administrators from the area.  My topic focused on how I modified the way I delivered feedback on my students’ essays in order to improve their writing and, ultimately, be prepared for the rigors of writing in college.  In the past, I used to have students turn in their rough drafts. Then I would scawl comments and feedback on them and return them as soon as I could, which sometimes was the next day but often was several days later. This was not effective. The scores on my students’ final drafts proved this.  So since we moved to a 1:1 MacBook Air school, I decided to try something different to give better feedback to my students.  Now, students share their rough drafts with me via Google Drive, giving me editing privileges.  This way I can drop in on them while they are actually writing and give them immediate feedback. Students don’t have to wait a day or two to get their drafts back.  My feedback now is immediate, and students’ scores on their final drafts have risen significantly.  Best of all, once I help students with such basic things as avoiding sentence fragments, fixing run-ons, crafting engaging introductions, and using examples to support their claims, early on in the semester, they more easily master these skills and apply them on their own without having to rely on me helping them as much later in the semester.