When Its (Not Quite) the End of the Year

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Yeah! The end of the school year is soon upon us! Which also means you feel frazzled, your kids are spent, it’s just in time for state testing, and you and or a close friend is leaving school a couple times a week wondering how you’ll get through tomorrow.

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I take a lot of comfort on days like that by centering on a few things I know about God and I know about myself. Whether I have a great day or a wretched wreck, God has me right where he wants me. You may have seen Jeremiah 29:11 quoted on Instagram or someone’s living room decor –

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (ESV)”

and you may have thought, “Yeah! I’m gonna start winning!” Welfare, future, hope…these are all good things that we want, right? So true, but I also don’t believe this is always a promise that tomorrow might be rosy. I read this, think about my own children, and sit on, “…I know the plans I have for you…” When I take toys from my boys at bedtime because they won’t go to sleep, my 5-year-old sometimes tells me, “YOU JUST WANT TO BE THE TAKER!” Its funny, because its true, but only in the sense that I know its good to all the sleep you need, and I’ll do what I need to in order to help my boys get there…to understand that I value it and that it is for their “welfare” (to quote Jer. 29:11 again).

Besides remembering that whatever hardship I’m going through is God ordained, I also like to dwell in the Psalms that teach us how to ache to God without losing hope. Psalm 42 came up in my reading plan today, and I found myself wanting to highlight the whole thing… Check it out (emphasis my own):

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation[c] and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,`
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

 

“I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” I think the longer you’re in education, the more realize that your “favorite” students, or the ones whose memory you hold dearest, or the ones you take most pride in were relationships that felt really difficult a lot of days. They’re the relationships that take a constant renewal of forgiveness on your part. Countless counseling sessions with any of your friends who will listen.  I’ve found that I’m most consistently able to draw on hope for those relationsihps, or for a season of a difficult class because I know that (a) teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and that (b) whatever the outcome with that student or class, I know God’s at work in me, and that eventually “I shall again praise him.”

“ALL THAT BEING SAID….HOW AM I GOING TO GET THROUGH TOMORROW, CHUCK?”

You know what, that’s a good question. Here are some things that I try to keep myself interested in class as that gas gauge nears E and it’s not quite time to review for finals.

  • Throw in a new project. Maybe you’ve gotten into a routine of lecture/practice/lecture/practice and your kids are showing diminishing returns. Throw in a wrench and change things up
  • Change your seating arrangement. Seating totally shifts perspective, right! This might solve some other classroom environment problems that were cropping up, too.
  • Change YOUR routine. Do you usually get to school early? Stay with the late crowd after-school and prepare for the next day then, instead. (or come in extra early if you’re usually walking in with the kids). Go for a walk around the building during your plan time.
  • Try a new website or teaching strategy for that lesson that you’ve done a billion times.
  • Spend a day talking with your students. Maybe you just need a class-wide relationship building reset.
  • Have 2 more units/chapters left for your curriculum but really only time for one of them? Have your students do a little previewing and then let them choose how they finish out the year.
  • Go ahead, start reviewing for your final now! (And still introduce the new content you’ve yet to do). We all know that a spiral style review is going to be more effective than a week-long cram at the end, anyway!

You can do it – finish strong, educators!!

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Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

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The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.

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MY RESPONSE:

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I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?