Sunday, October 25, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Listens

It's hard to believe, but we are about to wrap up the first quarter of the school year!  I can't believe it.  When I first began teaching in 1998, the first quarter took about a year.  Or at least that's how it felt.  Now, though, that I'm a whole lot better, time just flies by.

Here are the things I've been reading, watching, and listening to from Twitter and iTunes.

If you are looking for some interesting, thought provoking videos, click on this link.  I had a student attending Old Dominion text me and ask for my suggestions of inspiring TED Talks as they have to research some for a class project.  Well, that is right down my alley as TED Talks are some of my very favorite things on earth.  I'll embed my all time favs below.

Here is an oldie but a classic.  This was the first TED Talk I ever watched, so it will always hold a special place for me.  Plus, it's one of the best TED Talks of all time.  I think it's responsible for the actual popularity of TED as a matter of fact.

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Here is one I found last year from Mike Rowe.  Every kid in the country should watch this before deciding on whether or not to attend college.

Meg Jay: Why 30 is Not the New 20.  This is another must view for any student (or parent).

And one more.  This lady is such an inspiration!  It's amazing and certainly puts things in perspective for all of us.


Ever deal with helicopter parents?  Here is a former Stanford dean explaining how helicopter parents are doing their precious children no favors at all.

The former dean notes how the children coming out of high school are more talented than ever, but - because of being so pampered thanks to Mom and Dad - they are incapable of taking care of themselves of campus.  In other words, they lack the vital skill or characteristic of grit.


This one is another interesting read: How Connected Educators Can Transform Schools.

I like to think of myself as a connected educator.  Mostly because of do what Guy Kawasaki encouraged his readers to do: "default to yes."

That means whenever Mr. Zutz or Dr. Jolen or a colleague asks if I want to be a part of something, I say "yes," even though at times I know (I mean I KNOW) it would easier if I said no.  

But "no" won't get me anywhere.  It will just rob me of being forced out of my comfort zone and growing.  Those are things I encourage  (and often force) my students to do in my class routinely.  So why wouldn't I want to model that?

I've written often of this before, but I'll give a brief synopsis of the amazing things it has brought me: I turned down years ago a chance to attend the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English conference.  But several years ago, when we decided to attend as a whole, I leaped at the chance.  That led me to submitting a proposal (along with the help of a colleague) to present at it the following year.  And it was accepted.  That inspired me to submit a proposal to present at the National Council of Teachers of English when it is held in Minneapolis.  Again, I was lucky enough to be chosen to present.

At both events, I encountered new ideas - and maybe most importantly - met other teachers with whom I've been able to build a network of support and idea exchange.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the TIES conference in Minneapolis.  There was no way I was even going to think about turning that chance down.  And it was amazing.  When I asked our technology coordinator if I could go back next year, he said that the only way to ensure that was to present at TIES.  This is the second year in a row that I will be lucky enough to have the chance to present.

Again, the ideas and breakout sessions I attended impact my teaching every single day.

Even at our local level, I have had the chance to be on the teacher evaluation committee (mostly because I had been the president of our local teachers' union), to be part of the World's Best Workforce committee (mostly because of my experience working with the teacher evaluation process), to be part of a committee that presented three years ago at UND to a collection of administrations from Minnesota and North Dakota (mostly because I made connection through my decisions to accept a position as an adjunct teacher at UND) and that just led me to working on two separate inquiry teams (one at LHS and another at UND) to solve a real issue I'm struggling with in my own teaching.

And these are just a few of the opportunities that have led me to meet amazing people and excellent teachers.

I am a far better teacher because of those experiences.  So when I read this article, I could easily relate to the two case studies.  Luckily, at our school we are pushed outside of our comfort zones by our administration and encouraged to try different things and to constantly learn and grow.  I just wish more of my colleagues elected to share their practices in the name of co-learning.


Oh, how I love millennials.  Maybe it's because I am really one deep down inside.

Here is a most interesting article: Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management by Lisa Earl McLoud (author of one of my favorite books - Selling With Noble Purpose) (see what I mean about being a connected educator.  I only know about the phenomenal work of McLoud because of my passion for professional development, which led me to listening to the EntreLeadership podcast, which featured McLoud.  Her Noble Selling Purpose struck a cord with me, so much so that now at UND I require all of my students to write a paper in which they reflect on their noble teaching purpose.)

This article looks at why Millennials are so eager to quit and move on to the next job.  This is something that was absolute heresy for the Baby Boomers.  They, for the most part, were content to just have a job that offered health care and a nice retirement package.  Then they went about putting in their 35 years and retired to Arizona or the lake.

The problem?

Many of them died either just before retiring or shortly after (as was the case with both of my parents).  This showed the younger generation how foolish chasing that carrot at the end of the stick really was.

Better to do work that satisfies us now and worry about that carrot later.  If we ever even reach it . . .

Now, I'm not saying this is the right thing to do.  I'm just saying it's a fact.  That's how most of the students I've spent the last 18 years with tend to view work.

Here is why.  Also, if you're a teacher, ask yourself how this relates to your classroom and your subject.

1.  You tolerate low performance.

Nothing says, this class is a waste of my time, as when teachers cater most of their time to the lower third.  Now, I don't know if there is anything we can really do about this, but it apparently causes the high achievers to tune out.

In the world of business, I think of the CEO who cut his own salary in order to give all of his employees a salary of 75,000.  Apparently, the business is now in trouble.  Why? Because all of his high achievers are demotivated because their salary is the same as the worker who shows up late and just does the minimum.

To this, I respond welcome to how teachers are paid.

2.  ROI is not enough for millennials.

We can talk to our students about how the skills we are teaching them will matter down the road in college, but that is too far in the future for this generation to see.  (I'm not even sure I bought that when I was in high school, though.  So it might be true for Gen X as well).  You need to show them how their work matters now.

Give them work that is relevant and important.  The conflict here is with the imposed standards from the state.  Those standards might be relevant and important, but they are often phrased in a way that doesn't illustrate their importance OR they are embedded in a curriculum that doesn't interest or inspire the students.

3.  Culture is more than free Panera.

If you don't have culture in your classroom, I'm betting you really look forward to Fridays.  I asked a student once to summarize a class that they didn't enjoy.  The student said she had a class several years ago where she got an A, but never once did the teacher do anything extra to show to that student that her work mattered or that the teacher was even interested in her as a person.  Thus, that student - who now has more choice over the classes she can take - will refrain from ever taking another class from that teacher.  

That's what happens when a class is devoid of culture.  Or maybe it's fair to say that such an instance is what happens when a teacher doesn't give a rat's ass about the culture in their room.

4.  It's OK to get personal.

Again, this would drive our school lawyer nuts, but this is why I share my cell phone number with my students.  It's okay to let them know that you're available to answer questions.  Just yesterday alone - and I'm looking at my phone right now - I got texts from half a dozen students asking for clarification or wanting to test out an idea for their essays with me.

Now it's Sunday morning, and I've already heard from half a dozen more - many of whom are former students now at college who have questions or who are seeking advice.

This is also why I try to have a positive presence on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger.  This is why I live by the mantra "Let Your Freak Flag Fly."  On Monday I will get students giving me grief about how my Bengals did this weekend or showing off their newest pair of Crocs.

Our students expect (or demand) more than just to show up and have the information delivered to them.  We might now like that, but it's a fact.  Our success and importance will depend on how well we meet the needs of our students.  Not the other way around.


Speaking about moving from job to job, here is another interesting article that focuses on the same thing.

This looks at how we all may become freelance employees.  Instead of just working for one company or school, maybe we will do that same type of work for half a dozen companies or schools! Now that's both a scary and  interesting idea.

Now this is something I really need to work on: Teaching Students How to Talk Less, and Think More.  Heck, I could use a lesson in doing that, not just my students!

I actually have a copy of the book that Mr. Zutz gave me, Teaching Like a Champion, so I can't wait to delve into that and see what strategies I can employ to get better. For I am guilty of asking a question and expecting students to respond right away, instead of allowing them (or maybe forcing them) to really think about the question (which would cause me to have to develop far better questions) more than I do.


College debt is a serious problem as this article notes.  I love this sentence especially:  The total amount of loans a student takes over four years shouldn’t exceed what he expects to earn in his first year out of college


And finally, the one we all can relate to - What Kinds of Homework Seem to be the Most Effective?

I remember in Composition years ago, a student wrote a persuasive essay on how homework should be limited.  Her reasons were basically that it was difficult to do homework on the bus back from a basketball game.  Worse yet, she had numerous spelling and punctuation errors.  I had to break it to her that if she didn't revise it drastically, she was actually illustrating why kids actually need MORE homework.

Then a few years later I had a student choose the same topic, but this time she chose to focus on how a good share of her homework (and she actually referenced the homework she had brought home with her that night) was busy work - crossword puzzles, end of the chapter questions, and so on.  

Then she did something that was amazing: she acknowledged that she didn't mind do homework.  She knew it was important in teaching her important skills and preparing her for college.  But then she dropped the bomb - and one that resonated with me - she wasn't talking about that kind of homework.  She was talking about the kind of work that comprised most of her homework - which was useless busywork.

That made me stop in my tracks and actually go back and examine what I had been assigning as homework.  And I admit, some of it was simply busywork.  It was just work that I didn't see as vital.  I was just assigning it because I felt like I should assign it.  I didn't give any real thought to it.

I'll never forge that paper.

As a result, now I limit all homework assignments to just work that is essential to having them master something.  That doesn't mean it can't be worksheets (yes, that's for your Frau, if you're reading this!).  Worksheets or "guides" as I call them, are necessary for my struggling readers just as I'm sure their essential for kids struggling to master the essential work skills necessary to learning a foreign language.

What I'm talking about is work that is just assigned to stockpile points for a grade or just to keep the kids busy in class.

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