Teaching, Inspiration, and Rock ‘n Roll

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

I started teaching at age 27. Though I thought I was old then, I look back now and see that I was most assuredly still a very young adult. Back then I was very much a self-starter. After subbing in a district for 3 months I managed to get hired on a year’s teaching contract with NO credential based purely on my wit and candor and my ability to speak Spanish and English. In California, this is called an “emergency credential” and it’s rarely done nowadays . . . for good reason. I had absolutely no classroom management skills, apart from being a sub which is vastly different from being the only grown-up in charge of 36 ten year olds for 185 days. Those first 3 years were very tough, but I got by on the inspiration of my twenties. It seems like my thirties have required more strategy than instinct to find success.

Now, 10 years later with a full credential and a Master’s degree, I still often find myself at a loss for inspiration. I never give up though. On those days that I am discouraged and unmotivated, I try and get away from the daily routine. I put aside the lessons I had planned (as much as is possible to stay within my responsibilities) and I focus on the things that I truly enjoy: guitar, art, poetry, reading, songwriting, nature, etc. Then I tap into that wonder I have for those things and bridge it to the material I have to teach. For example: if I have to teach reading data on a graph, I make a graph about the different guitars there are.

I adapt my lessons that day to whatever is really giving me personal inspiration at that moment. All people (even small ones) are attracted to a leader or performer who is passionate about what he is doing. Kids want to emulate that energy. I remember going to see REM in concert in my 20’s and being so drawn in to what singer Michael Stipe was doing onstage. I didn’t understand the weird symbols on the screen or the strange movements he made, like hitting a metal chair with a wooden rod on the off-beats on “World Leader Pretend,” but I tapped into his passion and energy for what he was doing, and when they left the stage I screamed for an encore. It was like a moth to a lightbulb, the lightbulb was passion. The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

Discouragement that saps inspiration is the teacher’s biggest enemy. By tapping into and bridging my passions with my students, I am able to get through those tough days when I have to methodically put one foot in front of the other and keep remembering that I got into the profession to make a difference. With a brief look inward, it works every time.

Opting out of Testing Gaining Favor with Parents? My response

Another educator I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article on this topic. I want to thank him for posting it. Since a comment would have been too long for Facebook, this is my response:

“I think in any profession there are measures that professionals aim for. I have enjoyed the state test as a target most of my 14 year career (I say most because when I first started down in Santa Ana in 1997 it wasn’t yet such a polarized focus). Anyway, I wrote a song called “Get on Board the Standards Train” and did a countdown every year et al. It’s not such a bad thing, you can see it as a sport. When you are running your classroom with that as a corporate goal for improvement, you don’t want parents to opt out. I wouldn’t (and won’t) opt my three kids out because It’s a measurable goal we can celebrate the results of and/or use them to improve given areas. Anyway … I dig all your posts and links so keep em comin’ – just thought I’d give you a perspective where the test is kind of cool and may even be missed. Having said that, I am really looking forward to the transition into common core and the more holistic sort of assessment on a computer that will bring. I agree that the test can produce stress for some kids, that is where the teacher as coach idea comes in. The relaxation of the classroom is just as important as the rigor. A great teacher needs to work at fostering both throughout the year.”

Below is an excerpt from the article that prompted my response:

A small but growing number of local parents are deciding to have their children opt out of the state standardized tests in English and math.

Some parents say they don’t want their children subjected to the stress tied to the tests. Others say they are protesting a school climate they say has become too focused on standardized tests, at the expense of critical thinking, hands-on learning and nontested subjects — from art to social studies.

And some say they don’t believe the tests are even reliable.

“It’s all about the test scores. I’ve seen so much time and so much money spent on this. And they’re not really a valid measure of student progress,” said Chris Cerrone, a social studies teacher who kept his own third-grade daughter home from state tests last week.

via Opting out of testing gaining favor with parents – City of Buffalo – The Buffalo News.

10 Resources for Teachers to Manage Stress

Like any other professionals, teachers get stressed. Here are some links that can help get you back and feeling good again.

I wonder if most people think about teachers as being stressed. I think they do. Ironically, we teachers think it’s not necessary to worry about the health effects of stress? This could not be further from the truth. As teachers, we deal with big stress levels each day. We need management stress training. These levels are proven to cause physical problems like high blood pressure and a slew of other problems touched on in the pages below. As a teacher, I owe it to my family and my students to take my health and stress levels seriously. Prioritizing that can prevent a lot of life complications. These links below are all ones I have read and recommend to you:

Identify Stress – Buffalo Counseling offers this excellent resource for teachers or any other person trying to manage stress.

Empathy and Action for Stress Management – The NEA has put together this “empathetic” and educational page with information and resources about stress management for teachers.

Top 8 Fun Stress Relievers – These stress relievers may be easier to practice – because they’re fun.

Retired Teacher Shares Stress Management Tips – You’d think a retired teacher would know a lot about this topic and you’d be right!

Using Acronyms for Stress Management – An article I wrote a couple years back on personal development but it also works for reducing my stress at work.

Pressure Management for Teachers – An interesting page that focuses on the cause of pressure that is causing stress.

An excellent 8 minute video on this topic:

Time Management for Teachers: Your 7 Minute Guide to Mastering TThe most popular videos are here

Managing Stress to Avoid High Blood Pressure Etc. – This blog page talks about all the many symptoms of stress that teachers are prone to due to the stress of the job. Then it gives tips to deal with it.

Resource Blog for Teachers Dealing with Stress – This well written, close to home, blog gives real life example of stress and offers real solutions.

Recording Dealing with Stress Management in Teaching – This is a telecourse that was recorded and is available as an archive.

Stress management classes are not such a bad idea. Now, go be less-stressed!

My Solution to the Copy Machine Conundrum

If you are like me you have been frustrated many times by a traffic jam at the copy machine. You got your materials together and went to the copy room only to find two or three teachers ahead of you with what looks like reams of copies to make. You sort of get deflated at that point. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you might recall my article on “paperless teaching.” This was a cool concept and one of those that is excellent “in theory.” Unfortunately, the energy required to come up with solutions for paper really wears you down. As a result, it defeats the whole purpose for trying paperless teaching in the first place. I know I am a better teacher because I have some tested alternatives to the copy machine. At the same time, I now know it is unavoidable in our profession. That leads me to my solution.

One excellent solution to the copy machine conundrum is to pick one day of the week to do all your copying. It is definitely a paradigm shift because you can’t be successful “on the fly.” You must get a rhythm and a system to select your papers to copy so each week you have them sorted and ready to hit the copy machine. Of course you will still collide with other teachers but only one out of 5 days right? If you are mentally prepared to wait, it will cause you less stress as well. I have been doing this all year so far and it is going great! What do you think of my solution to the copy machine conundrum?

Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

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Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

Teachers don’t just instruct students or impart information regarding history, math or science. Teachers are also instrumental in modeling behavior and imparting essential life skills for coping socially. As a teacher, you’ve inevitably seen conflict brewing between students or have had ongoing issues with particular students yourself. Conflict resolution can be an important tool in the classroom, not just for keeping the peace and making an optimal learning environment, but as a skill that students can learn and apply to their own lives.

Conflicts between Students
If you have two students were working peacefully on a project together one moment, and the next, you hear arguing, you have several options as a teacher. For the sake of peace and quiet, it might be tempting to jump in and try to quiet the controversy immediately, but it may be better to allow students to work out the problem among themselves and try to find their own solutions. This approach helps them to develop conflict resolution skills without depending on an outside party. As long as the argument is not becoming too acrimonious or disruptive, you could allow the students to try to work it out on their own. If this doesn’t work, you can serve as a mediator.

As a third party, both sides need to see you as fair and impartial. If one party feels that you have a bias, whether this suspicion warranted or not, it may be a good idea to have another party come in and serve as a mediator. In a regular school, the ideal person for this role is a guidance counselor or a substitute teacher.

Teacher and Student Conflicts
It may not be pleasant to admit it, but if you’ve been teaching for any length of time, it is likely that you have had ongoing conflict with a particular student. Before discussing your issues with the principal, you can try conflict resolution techniques to try to nip the problem in the bud. A number of educators recommend learning something about conflict resolution to deal with these kinds of problems. You may pursue ACU’s conflict resolution degree or take some online classes in conflict resolution from Case Western. With or without a degree, you can apply the principles of conflict resolution to your own situation.

First of all, direct communication is important. Make sure that this communication stays respectful and does not dissolve into the student calling you names. You may feel able to handle some unpleasantness, but it is not productive to allow the students get away with the verbal abuse. Both parties should express their positions clearly and be allowed to be heard for an equal amount time. You can then brainstorm solutions that would be advantageous for you and the students. It is important that you accept responsibility if you’ve done something wrong. This does not undermine your authority, but can enhance the respect your students have for you. If the conflicts cannot be resolved by the parties themselves, speak to someone in the administration for third-party assistance between you and the student or a guidance counselor.

When I Was Huge in Teaching

teaching_2007I use that adjective with my tongue firmly in my cheek. On a physical level I’m 5’8″ 170 lbs. I don’t think huge is quite the word to describe my countenance. On a professional level, I’m happy to see growth in my students each year. There are no bestselling books on my resume. The point is, I felt huge one day in teaching. Have you ever done something you were so proud of it felt like walking on clouds? That’s what this day was for me. I’ve never been famous either. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. Nonetheless, on one fateful day several years ago I was asked by my Principal to do an EDI lesson for some noteworthy and unmistakeably “huge” guests. That’s not ironic because as you will see in the other photo, O’Connell and Herb are both about 6’4″. They are hulking guys. This picture is me teaching a lesson to my class for a Daily Press reporter, the Adelanto School Board, many Principals in the district, the Superintendent of San Bernardino County Herb Fischer, and the Secretary of Education for the State of California, Jack O’Connell. It was standing room only! Continue reading “When I Was Huge in Teaching”

Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change

IMGP2724Common Core is the latest change that has teachers and families scurrying to absorb. Yes, it is the law of the law these days, the trend as well. Still, why get bent out of shape over something that is new and eventually, passing. The core standards of California are gone now, as an example. I internalized them along with teachers in the huge state I live in. We made progress toward goals and then they took the goals away. Any time there is change it causes stress. Technology is another thing that is causing millions of teachers to stress. This can, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of a teacher. Do you want to do that to your students? The reality is, rather than focus on the changing landscape of education, you can keep your feet securely planted. There are some things about teaching that will never change.

avstationAsk yourself, “What do I do with my students throughout the year that always works?” One thing I do is an incentive program using trophies. No matter what Common Core steers us toward, we can go there with recognition and my trophy program in hand. I feel stability in that. I have some examples I use with candy, no I do not give my students candy, that help explain fractions. I will still use those. I teach kids to write through the graphic organizer of a hamburger. It works in a stellar way! I see growth in writing when I use this method. It will most assuredly be compatible with Common Core. Instead of letting fear take over and reduce your effectiveness as a teacher, remember you are still there to light torches. Those kids will not remember the standards framework you used to teach them, they will remember how comfortable you were as you took them through the often uncomfortable process of learning. Don’t focus on the new things coming down the pike for teachers, focus on the things you know that work. I feel confident in saying, those things will never change. Common Core and technology will work better for you when you’re professional, self-assured, and confident.

My Comment on Today’s Senseless School Shootings

I was completely and utterly broken when I heard the news about the school shooting today. This is what I wrote on Facebook:
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I elaborate  here. My heart is with the families that lost their babies today, especially the dads. To you I say be strong.

What to Focus on After the CST

Even if it’s only 30 days or so, It can be helpful and inspiring to teach subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. Teach them to sing American History songs for example.

3IsAfter the CST in most districts there are still around 30 days or so of instruction. When so much of the emphasis is on test prep and standards based instruction, then comes the question to ALL teachers after the standards test: “What now.” There are many things to teach once the CST is over for the year. Regular, district curriculum is still required and of course a balance of these things is in order throughout the year. Having said that, as academic instruction continues it can be a good idea to something like a field trip to the public library. This is a great way to get the kids a tour of “academia.” While most searching these days is done on the internet, the library remains an incredible resource the kids should know about. There are so many other things you can teach and do with your class after the CST.

Teaching kids music has a proven effect of increased academic performance. Get some Disney music or other choir based music and teach them to sing. You don’t have to be great at it yourself. Some of the old songs like “Davey Crockett” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” have historical content that you can teach across the curriculum with history. If you have access to musical instruments, take some time to expose them to those. Art or course has value. One type I like to explore with my kids each year is “rip art.” The kids come up with truly talented work when we try it. As you work more art, music, sports, etc. (stuff outside of Language arts and Math) I think you will find ways to embed the academic standards into these areas. Life included academics but that is not all there is to life. Teach them about jobs and nutrition, all the while bringing in what you have taught them in the content standards. The Sky’s the limit. I think it’s a great idea to continue imparting eclectic knowledge after the standards test. It can even be helpful and inspiring to try subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. In time, I hope teachers will be encouraged to teach and be tested more on topics outside of standardized testing. Now for your input: What do you teach after the test?

Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

IAF_CL1_PX01192If you’re like me, you’ve been to hundreds of trainings, most claiming to be the greatest lesson method. Then, you learned they were good and bad but never universal. Have you ever sat down and tried to piece together the best of the best into something that works for you? Whether you have or not “knowingly” done so, that is the role of the teacher … to synthesize a lot of information, create, and innovate. I used to be a huge proponent of a method called “EDI.” In fact, my EDI posts get the most traffic of any posts here on the blog. I am proud to share EDI because plain and simple: it works! A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

1. Learning Objective: I have to introduce what I am teaching and what the students are expected to do in order to be successful after the lesson.

2. Engagement: This is a step I invented. It is what people often call a “sponge activity.” It can be a story, a puppet show, a short video, a game, anything that gets the learner absorbed into the subject matter.

3. Importance: I have found time and time again that when the kids know the value of learning the lesson, they are more engaged and thus learn more and faster.

4. Steps: Everything in education can be broken down to steps. This is often easier said than done. Taking time with the steps is invaluable toward getting kids to meet the demands of the lesson.

5. Guided Practice: Simply put, SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT. Use the steps and model over and over. I learned to play guitar by imitating Dave Sharp on the Alarm albums. I would move the needle back again and again until I knew every guitar riff. Kids are the same today with academics. Show them and then show them some more. Gradually release them to do it on their own.

6. Independent Practice: At this step they should be doing what they watched you do over and over. Make sure they can do it before you let them go on their own.

20120815-140604.jpg7. Small group intervention: There are usually going to be a group of kids who need extra guided practice. Take them to a side table which the whole group is working independently. Just repeat the steps of the lessons for as long as you have time or until they get it, whichever is first.

This is the lesson method I have developed through the years. I would really appreciate your comments of what you think of it, ie; how I might improve it. Thanks for being part of the Dynamite Lesson Plan professional learning community.