Each week I try to attend Aaron Hogan’s #teachermyth chat. It is uplifting and fun to meet weekly with my twitter friends. Currently the topic is around reflection and this week he has challenged us to talk about something we learned this week and write about it and share so here goes.

Basketball Observations

I am on the coaching staff of our high school basketball team. I mostly fun little errands and sit and visit with the kids while on the bench and make sure they are doing ok. I don’t know much about basketball and last week a player even said, “I won’t disagree you don’t know anything about it but at least you don’t act like you do.” LOL I seriously just laughed. Great moment of honesty and something we could laugh about. But now let’s get to the learning.

So currently I think we are 0-7 this season. Last season our team was built on a very strong group of grade 12 students who went on to win the Zone championship two years in a row. This year we are young, we have had different set backs but the boys keep playing the boys keep smiling…most of the time.

I saw a tweet the other day that said

As a coach this comment from @Saints head coach Sean Payton rings so very true, “Where you have a problem is when you feel like your expectations for a player exceed his own.” This is the dbl challenge, 1st see the potential in others 2nd help them see it.

My Dad a very seasoned coach tweeted this out and it struck me in what he added that the challenge is to see the potential and then help them see it. If I could wave a magic wand and let this young team know the potential I see in them and have them believe it I would. While I am sure they appreciate my words they also know I know very little about basketball so my assurances that they are great and that we are getting better every week might be falling on deaf ears.

But this is what I have learned.

I need to keep letting them know that I see their potential until they see it in themselves. We don’t give up on helping our students or in this case our players see their potential. I am honoured to get to sit with the Magrath Zeniths every week because they are hard workers that despite adversity are keeping their heads up. Like a forging fire we will come out stronger and if these great kids realize their potential while we are at it then the struggle is more than worth it.

Oh I also learned a couple plays…kind of. That is a pretty impressive feat.

This morning I got up and like many saw the video clip of the teenagers circling a first nations elder in the United States as he demonstrated with a drum near the Lincoln Memorial. The boys are seen mocking him, smirking while invading his space trying to intimidate. This man, a veteran of the Vietnam war, was not intimidated by these boys as they chanted build the wall (this speaks to their idiocy) he just continues to demonstrate unmoved. Do you know what else seemed unmoved? The adults in the background, perhaps teachers, perhaps chaperones, they just stood there…doing nothing.

Kylene Beers posted a response and brought up the point of the importance of books. Books with diverse characters, books that build empathy, books that challenge how we think and change us for the better. I have been challenging myself to read more books outside my genre of choice fantasy. I listened to The Poet X, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, All American Boys, Anger is a Gift over the last few weeks and just finished Harbor Me and read Ghost Boys. All stories that provide me a different view. A view of characters unlike me that deal with issues I never have had to face but they changed me. They helped me to see how much is at risk if we do not help our students develop a sense of awareness that they need to care for others. That we all are responsible to Harbor those in need, to have compassion, empathy and provide shelter from the ideas and people that send a message that the “other” is not worthy of basic human decency.

Last week I did a BHH exercise with Mama by Jaqueline Woodson. I had students share their thoughts after reading and many made connection and empathized with the character over his loss but a few made comments of maybe his mom was a drug dealer, maybe he is from the hood. It gave me the opportunity to ask where these ideas come from and they shrugged. Maybe it is the media, popular music, I don’t know. What I do know however is their experience has not been informed with anything but stereotypes, and until now it hasn’t been questioned.

I am building an inquiry project over the next few months and truthfully if it goes well I plan to create a course. We will be looking at the injustice of the world, through issues that effect all of use but my hope is that we open some windows, let in the light and increase our understanding. Form plans on how we help others see that there is more that brings us together than separates us. We start small, articles, short stories and picture books but we are going big. I am excited about the idea and after today and seeing the look on those teenagers faces I know that I need to do more to insure that no students leave my room thinking that differences are permission for disrespect, that celebrating diversity will create a better future for an ever changing world.

It is our job as teachers to help our students navigate the trials that are put before them. We can’t stand in the background hoping that things will just work out. We most certainly can’t stand by while they huddle around a Veteran and harass them.

After the comments that came from reading Mama I started slowly and put different picture books in my students hands. Some more diverse than others. They read them and in groups discussed their thinking. Monday the work continues as we look at how seeing ourselves matters and why seeing others does as well. I am uncertain if this is the best route to go but it is a start.

I am certain I can’t just stand in the background and hope for the best.

Yesterday I was asked how I keep speaking out and standing up for the practices that I feel so strongly about. How I continue to work for what I think is right while there are other voices yelling we as a profession need to step backwards. How I speak against the quick fixes and programs that I know are not going to serve my students in the long run and really how I deal with those who do not support me.

The answer is simple.

It is just too important not to.

The world is changing faster than education can keep up with it and yet we are still, in some groups, pushing the ways of worksheets and computer programs that promise big results but only deliver dissatisfied kids who start to resent school or at the very least don’t see the value or point in doing the work.

When I am asked why I keep doing what I do I think about this awesome Notice and Note connection to a piece on child labour.

The student, as we discussed a question a peer brought up about how a small, skinny child could be perfect for any type of job that required such hard work, responded with his comparison to guardians of the galaxy. This type of thinking is fantastic, fun and engaging. It is current to what the students are talking about and the conversation brought about more ideas and thoughts from the class. I am not getting this from worksheets, there is not going to be a choice d on a stupid AR test that has to do with being good for thieving. How is this not valued over the easy? How is this conversation and conversations like it not the ideal we are in search of over compliance to responding a certain way?

My second reminder of why I do what I do came as my students asked to listen to music and I joked I would turn on my podcast. I laughed when they said we should listen to it and told them no kid needs to hear episode after episode of their teacher ranting about AR. One student asked why I dislike AR so much and a very quiet student shouted out, “Because it is stupid!” I was at first surprised, then I told her to write it down.

If this is not enough… What is?

I received a wonderful thank you from a parent the other day for just helping their child see they were a person not a level. This is why the work is so important. This is why I keep working to find ways to engage my students in work that is worthy of them.

We need to keep speaking up for our students, working to improve our practice and their experience because the alternative is they are not prepared for what is to come.

I started the new year off strong. Podcasts, Blog posts, book plans… and well like all things life gets busy. I have barely had a chance to sit down and plan let alone write for pleasure. I set a few goals for myself this year and one was to put the TV away on weeknights by 9 so I can read. Aside from the nights that I am basketball past 9, this has been going pretty smoothly. I think it is a great idea to set a writing plan and so here it goes.

I think writing plans for me have always been focused on setting a schedule, “I will write a post a day for (insert year)” but somedays I have nothing to write. This morning I tried multiple drafts at a blog post but nothing felt right. Luckily I have a lot of options when it comes to writing.

I realized that blog posts might not come every day. That I might not feel inspired to write my book or draft a few paragraphs as mentor texts or even send out a tweet but I will likely be inspired to do one of these things and I need to just act on it.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the connections to teaching here. The fact that we so often require our students to write, often in some contrived way and then we are shocked when inspiration fails them. I want to provide them with more options, more opportunities to discover their own writing styles and voices as I too continue trying to find mine.

So my plan? To write when I am inspired, to take time for my book and experiment more with writing styles. #letswrite2019

Tomorrow is back to school from Christmas break and I am nervous just like every back to school. Not nervous because I am worried it will go bad or that kids won’t be excited, more because I am. I love the return to school after a break, I love getting to see my students, ask them how their break was, listen to their stories and share my own.

It was disheartening to see all the posts, all the memes joking about how sad teachers are that they are returning to work, even sadder that they were coming from teachers. In the past I have done the same and never really thought about how it came across until I saw it so much tonight be it on Twitter or on Facebook.

I think we have a right to be excited for a break, for time to relax because heaven knows we need it. Teaching is not a 9-5 job it requires time outside the classroom in so many different areas. All of these extras build up and we need a break at times and we deserve it. That said our students deserve teachers that are not posting memes about how sad they are they have to great them in the morning. Their parents deserve teachers they know are just as excited to see their kids in the morning as their kids are excited to go because trust me, even if they don’t say it the kids are excited. We play a big role in their life and they have missed us.

Have fun tomorrow, and the day after and the day after. We have the best job. Share that as a meme if you have to.

For some reason it is loud. Adjust your volume.

#nomoreAR

My friend Mary Howard delivers beautifully written passion rants when topics cause her distress or worry or anger on behalf of students and teachers who might not always be able to speak for themselves. I love her rants and the fire in the words she puts on the screen.

I started blogging years ago with different iterations of this blog. But I too tend to focus on rant worthy topics when I write. I would suggest it is cathartic to get the thoughts out and then I started the podcast on occasion, another way to put my voice out there.

Last week Julie surprised me with a trip to San Diego and one evening while the air was crisp and we were out in the awesome courtyard hot tub we were talking about teaching and she mentioned the hot-button topic of Accelerated Reader. To give some context our division has had schools, including my past school, using Accelerated Reader for years. As a new teacher, I was commanded to use it and didn’t know better. As I travelled to other schools in my own teaching journey I found much of the same and because of what I saw, kids reading and answering test questions, I even suggested my new school dive in. After all Julies school had what appeared to be a very successful program that seemed to have the school enthusiastically involved in reading. But appearances can be deceiving.

A one time mentor in my early literacy journey pointed out an article that spoke to the negative effects of AR and programs like it and asked me to read it and provide my thoughts. At the same time, I started to notice the defeat in some of my students as “point award days” approached. At the time I was a 6th-grade teacher and I asked one of my students one day why he was so frustrated and he broke down. He did not think he could ever make it to the prizes that are “cool” because the books he was allowed to read were boring and never worth enough points. This small eye-opening moment made me pay closer attention to the culture that AR and its point-based incentive system was doing to our reading culture.

I immediately stopped pushing AR at all in my classroom. We had fun self-set challenges. Things like the 40 book challenge from Donalyn Miller adapted to fit different students needs. We did draws for books as students finished books. We talked about books and we read more than ever. Students actually reflected on what they were reading and realized that reading is the reward. No more were they taking idiotic knowledge and recall tests. They were sharing their books with book commercials and writing about the characters or the conflict or the theme.

It was more work for me, without question, but it was worth it.

Back to the conversation around AR. Julie mentioned that while our division no longer supports AR (YAY!) there are still teachers that like it and use it, I was so confused. After countless discussions and posts from Colby Sharp, Pernille Ripp, Donalyn MIller. Books written about creating a culture of lifelong readers by the same as well as Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Todd Nesloney, Travis Crowder and the incomparable Kylene Beers all speaking about the harm Accelerated Reader and other computer-based online reading “programs” do to developing readers. And yet people still defend it and even celebrate it.

I raged for a moment and then sent out a Tweet.

I didn’t think it would do much but in the days since I have had plenty of responses and as I retweet them with the #nomoreAR hashtag there is a pattern. Teachers that are speaking out are not doing it on behalf of themselves they are doing it on behalf of their students and more specifically their students who struggle to read already and are then forced to operate within a system that limits their choice and opportunity to grow as readers.

Just one example

You don’t have to believe me or take my word for it. Ask the kids. AR (run “correctly” or not) destroys reading culture. No author has ever written a book with the dream that it will one day be stripped of its soul and reduced to a handful of multiple choice questions. No teachers ever entered the profession hoping to have their students mindlessly clicking answers on a computer screen after finishing Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds a hauntingly complex story which AR has reduced to a 4.3 Book Level and a 2 point score for getting all the right answers. No student sneaks away to a quiet space to fall into a book with the aspirations of taking a test after. Reading is not meant to be a competition, books should not be the subjects of points, labels and levels in our student’s eyes. They should be adventures, tales of triumph and sacrifice, fun, light, or whatever the reader needs them to be.

I understand the appeal of AR and programs like it. The neat data, the spreadsheet print outs. What I don’t however understand is the boastful ignorance of doing harm when the information is out there.

I have decided instead of just fighting about AR I will actively work to reverse the damage it does, I will speak up and I will share the voice of my students past, present and future. It can be my penance for putting students through this program before I knew better.

Today to wash this terrible AR induced feeling off me I went to the University bookstore and bought picture books. Beautiful, touching, funny, heart-wrenching, lesson teaching picture books and I came home and read them all. I will bring them to school and share them with my students, work on concepts and just appreciate the beauty of the stories inside. One story, The Remember Balloons, is all about a boy and his Grandpa and the balloons we all have that hold our cherished memories. As the Grandpa and boy share their memories slowly throughout the story the grandpa starts to lose his balloons, they float away, they get mixed up with other balloons and one day they are all gone. This analogy for Alzheimer’s hit me pretty hard. My Grandpa Gilson, the greatest storyteller I ever knew passed away after being lost to the disease. The lesson that this story taught, that his stories are not lost, that I heard them enough that I can tell them myself that they are now my balloons is not something AR and its tests can ever replace. The conversations in a classroom about theme are not something a racecar board in the hallway celebrating the strongest readers while the weakest are left in the dust can ever reproduce.

The myth that AR helps readers is just that a myth. I hope that people continue to work to build up literacy without depending on the crutch of glorified multiple choice test. Trust yourselves teacher friends but more importantly trust the books. They contain the lessons.

Today as we walked along the ocean watching a little seal follow us bobbing up and down we probably changed our plans for the day 3 or 4 times. We have been driving around so much we just wanted a chill day. We went to the mall and while I checked out the greatest comics and collectibles store ever Julie looked up things to do in Carlsbad. We ran to a Walmart and then changed plans and went for lunch. The. We were off to check out an old mission. The church was like some kind of art exhibit, very different from my church experience but beautiful. We walked the grounds and then decided to run to the pier in Oceanside. We saw little kids catching mackerel and other people trying to. A huge pelican landed right beside us on the ledge of the pier. Dolphins were swimming out a ways popping up and down. We then hit up the tide pools in Carlsbad before hitting up the farmers market and some great BBQ that we ate watching the sun go down. A full day full of adventure that was completely different from the day we planned at the start. Small changes throughout the day that cumulatively created a wonderfully relaxing day. A day we would have missed out on if we stuck to a predefined plan.

I think about the school day and the number of tweets I have read about New Years resolutions around school plans and “sticking to them” better. I can’t help but wonder why? Why would we allow ourselves and our students to be stuck to a plan informed only by a curriculum when there is so much more to a day than that? I think it is important to be planned, I love to have a good basic skeleton for the day. I love more to be moved, pushed or directed by my students.

I am planning this term to look more into inquiry. Letting my students build their learning based on what they wonder about. Providing a question or a framework but allowing them to see where it takes us. I have tried it before to mixed results. But now I have examples and friends from the twitter world to support me, to help me be valiant as my #oneword2019 proclaims. Living a purposefully flexible life can be scary but the possibilities that could be are really exciting.