Friday, June 14, 2013


I just came across this video.

I love it.  It has a simple premise: we all know educators claim to have high expectations, yet do they ever ask students about their expectations?

Here are 10 expectations of teachers/education:

Here they are -

Relationships -  For this, I'm reminded of a quote our principal is very fond of: "Culture eats strategy for lunch."

I believe that wholeheartedly.  Before you can teach anything, I believe, you have to build a relationships.  If I have a strength, this is it.  I always struggle with starting my classes.  But when I walk around and talk with kids, I don't always have a clear way to start the lesson.  But I do believe I am building relationships when I visit with them.  If I could just find a way to do them both, I'd feel better about how I start my classes.

But the bottom line is building a relationship.  It's not just getting kids to like you, but getting kids to see that you care.  I'd tweak what Rita Pierson said in her TED Talk in my previous post. I'd change it from "Kids don't learn from people they don't like" to "Kids don't learn from people who don't care."

That is one reason I'm so into social media and follow my students on Twitter and give out my cell phone number.  It's not just to remind them of when an assignment is due, but it's also to prove to them that I care and will be there when they need me.  Here are a couple examples of what I mean -

Kaylee was an awesome writer, and I've built a relationship with her over the years by supporting her and being amazed by her writing.  Now as she enters her senior year at Concordia, I was able to write her a strong letter of recommendation for an internship.  I show this to my classes to illustrate that it is my hope that after you spend two years in my classes that we build a lifelong relationship.  And one - as this text proves - that extends into college.

In College Comp 2, the thing I work hardest on is connecting it to other classes, so there is a relationship of knowledge and effort that is shared.

In College Comp, I used to send my expectations home with the kids and have their parents sign them.  Then one time, when KoKo's teacher had us do the same thing, Kristie raised an interesting question, "What happens if we - as parents - disagree with their expectations?  What recourse do we have?"  

When I looked at the form I had been sending home to students, I realized I was giving parents no option to weigh in on what they thought.  

That led me to alter my expectations form.  But this year I tried something different.  This year, I asked my kids to come up with a list of ten expectations that they had of me as their teacher.

Here is my favorite one -

Relevance - Always a tough one.  If you've ever uttered (and be honest here) or have heard a student utter, "When am I ever going to use this?" You've run right into relevance.  Or rather, students questioning relevance.

Because of the relationships I've built and maintain as my students go off to college and then into the workforce, all it takes is a text from me to my past students and my students can see the relevance of most everything we do in class (even works cited, which is where the "When will I ever need to use this?" comes up most often).

Every time I design a lesson or introduce a concept, I first ask myself these things: first, how does it connect to the current pop-culture world my students are surrounded by?  Second, how does this relate to the real world? Finally, how does it relate to the future of my students?

If I can hit on one of those, I can have an easier time establishing the relevance of whatever it is I'm trying to teach.

When students inevitably lament, "Why do we have to read these books that are so old and the characters talk so weird?" I show them this picture a former student took of her reading load for one class:

Here is a Tweet from a former student that I keep to show students that what I put them through in terms of reading and viewing is, in fact, often the same thing they'll get in college.  That's why it's relevant and important.

Time - What I really admire about students today is that learning is a 24/7 activity.  For my generation - and just about every other generation prior to mine - learning was done usually during school or - if it home work must be done - it was done as late as possible.

But not so with the millennials.  They are so busy that they squeeze learning in whenever they possibly can.

Whether it's while they are waiting for a movie to premier -

or whether it's listening to a lesson presented by their peers.

I try to be as flexible as I can with time.  And I like all the aspects of time that the video above addresses.  Too often, I feel, teachers only expect things done on their time in their specific way.  If it's one thing I've changed the most on in 16 years, it's to be flexible with this.  I try to allow students flexible ways to do assignments and flexible ways to illustrate how they have learned something.

Though, I have to be fair, many of my former students believe I should be more "old school" when it comes to this because many of their professors set rigid deadlines with very rigid expectations.

So next year I'm going to have to really work on that.

Play - Now this doesn't just mean mindless play.  Instead, this focuses on exploration. Tinkering. Adjusting. Adapting.  Making meaning.

The assignment that I have that best fits this when I allow my students to teach the class for a couple of weeks when they present chapters from the book (along with the aide from a staff member) Where Good Ideas Come From.

This unit is a culmination of all the writing and thinking skills we've developed over the semester.  It works very well to tie together all of our readings (The Dumbest Generation, Everything Bad is Good for You, The Element, The Dip, Steal Like an Artist, and Linchpin).

I give students a sample lesson plan.  Then I have them discuss the various lessons they have been taught that week in other classes - both the ones the love and the ones that bored them.

Then I tell them that if they loved a lesson, tweak it and make it their own.  If they hated a lesson, do the opposite of it and make something engaging.

Then I give them the traditional Madaline Hunter lesson plan and turn them loose (that is give them plenty of time to explore and tinker and play).

Here is Isaac during his lesson applying a concept from chemistry to a concept in Where Good Ideas Come From.  I can't tell you how much fun it was watching him present his lesson.

And here students are in a mad dash to share ideas as part of another student's lesson.  The smiles on their faces and the laughter was well worth a little sloppiness in my room.

Practice - "Do we get time to engage in deep and sustained practice of what we learned."  If that's all we ever did in class, that would be fine with me.  Personally, I think our department does a very good job with this.  The writing skills our freshmen gain in their Comp 1 course, lead them well into the rigor or Honors 10 and the research paper in Lit & Lang 10.  Those activities really lay a great foundation for the writing I expect of my juniors and seniors in College Comp I and II.

In College Comp II what I try to do is give them the skills and ideas that - hopefully - open them up to all the other great things going on in their classes at LHS.

And, again, it's great when I see that the things we work so hard to impart to our students pay off for them in college -

Choice -  I think this is a strength for me.  I am very open to allowing students to have choice.  Even in my Lit and Lang 9R class, I try to give my students choice over their assignments: can they choose what interests them? Can they choose how they want to demonstrate their mastery of skills? Can they have some say in the direction of the class?

Here is one Lit and Lang 9R class demonstrating how much they are engaged in choosing how to create their blogs and what exactly they want to put on there to demonstrate their knowledge.

Authenticity -  Is learning all notes and answering questions at the end of the chapter? Or do students get chances to apply what they learn to the "real world."

I work hard to try to give my students different stages to shine: including out in the "real world" or at least in front of other adults.

Challenge - Are students being challenged just beyond their abilities so they can continue to grow.  This is a lot of work on the part of the teacher, but students can tell if you're just going through the motions.  I'm lucky, though.  With the classes I teach, they want to be challenged.  Not everyone is as fortunate in that regard.

Application -  apply what you learn to a real world setting.

This is where I try to use surveys with past students to make sure I'm on track with what they are encountering in college.  When I get more students out in the workforce, I ask them for their input as to how I can improve my classes.

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