Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Global Education and Skills Forum

A week ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The forum was run by The Varkey Foundation, whose message is "Changing Lives through Education."  Sonny Varkey, owner, believes in a "great teacher for every child."  And he truly works to get that message through.

In 2015, I was a top 50 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.  I then became an ambassador for the Global Teacher Prize, although I will be the first to admit, I have been a lousy ambassador.  I wasn't really sure of the Varkey Foundation, feeling that what they really wanted was media coverage for their organization. I have since learned differently.

You see, the Varkey Foundation believes that teachers are important, they matter.  They want the world to know how important teachers are to the lives of children and the success of our world.  So they set up this Global Teacher Prize to be like winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  The award ceremony and conference were beyond amazing - top speakers, heads of state and country, famous media people - all became part of the show.  And all there to honor teachers.  Here are some of my exciting events throughout my four days of the conference.

1. I got to speak with, work with, hang out with, laugh with some of the most amazing teachers from around the world.  There were 120 finalists at the summit preceding the conference, teachers who were already chosen as the best in the world, who were brought to Dubai to do powerful work around helping other teachers become Global Teachers.  I met teachers who have started schools in areas where most children don't go to school.  I met teachers who are using every tool they know to bring different cultures into their students' world.  I met teachers who work in the most remote areas of the world and teachers who work in the busiest cities in the world.  And all of these teachers are in a group I am honored to be part of.  I hope to grow up to be just like them someday.


2. I made new friends.  Like Janet Hayward, from Wales, who is me with an accent.  She is "lovely."  Like Ray Chambers, one of the top ten finalists, from the UK, who is the tallest person I have ever known and has the funnest wife ever.  Like Andrews Nchessie, from Malawi, who speaks Chichewan, a language used in Laugh with the Moon, which I am reading to my fifth graders.  Like Santhi Karamcheti, from Bangalore, who runs a school for children with special needs so they don't have to stay home and not receive an education.  Like Mareike Ha from Germany, who pushed me right out of my comfort zone. Like, like, like.  So many to think about. So many to connect with.  My life has changed for meeting all of these amazing people.

3. I heard talks from Thomas Friedman, Bear Grylls, Sudhguru, girls who escaped from the Boko Haram, Andreas Schleicher, Arne Duncan, Geoffrey Canada, etc.  So many great speakers.  So much to learn and think about.

4. The food was incredible.  The little serving dishes they used to pass around food was so cute.  The gold covered chocolate strawberries were over the top, The Michelin star Italian chef who ran the Italian Soiree night gave us all amazingly tasty food.  It never seemed to end.  We had breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, dessert at every course.  Whew.  I wanted to try everything and I think I did.

5. The celebration of teachers was spectacular.  The night of the award ceremony, we began by being serenaded by Andrea Bocelli.  Then Bear Grylls parachuted onto the beach and ran onto the stage to introduce the astronaut from the International Space Station who, through video, revealed the winner. Congratulations to Maggie MacDonnell.  Then we were walked out onto the red carpet that was lined with children and their parents chanting,"Teachers Matter." They were high fiving us and taking selfies with us.  I never felt so appreciated. The night ended with an amazing band and dj playing great music while we ate and ate and ate.  

This was truly the highlight of the week.  Here in America, teachers are so vilified, so hated.  To be appreciated with such verve was too much to handle.  I cried my way through the red carpet.

I might never have an experience like this again.  But I am proud to be part of the ambassador program.  The Varkey Foundation does amazing things for children around the world.  And there really are people in the world who think teachers are important.  It's easy to forget that back home.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

An Open Letter to NYS Commissioner of Education Elia

Dear Commissioner Elia,

I am a veteran elementary school teacher, having just completed my 30th year of teaching in 2015.  I am now a teacher for the gifted and talented students in my school, as well as the lead teacher for PLTW, our new science program.  I have won multiple awards for global projects, co-written a book on blogging, and teach classes on Universal Design for Learning, Project Based Learning, Responsive Classroom and using Web 2.0 tools.  I work hard to keep the learning fresh, becoming a Google Certified Innovator, an Edmodo ambassador, and a BrainPop Certified Educator, among other titles.  

I am telling you about myself to let you know that I love what I do, love working with children, love helping other teachers, and take my profession very seriously.  I truly believe that my purpose in life is to help make the world a better place and I am here to help children learn how to make peace, work cooperatively, and feel that their lives matter.  I have always felt that, in elementary school, our main job is to help students learn to love learning, love school, and love themselves.  Curriculum comes second.

I work on Long Island, in the Herricks School District.  It is a high stakes district that always tops the lists of best schools, highest scores, etc.  And I know, working in Herricks, how to help my students reach those heights, while still loving school. Until testing time.

This past week, we gave the NYS ELA test to 300+ 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students in our school. We shut down programs and classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in order to accommodate the requirements of the students testing.  You see, this year, in order to make things "less stressful" for our students, you chose to make the test an untimed test.  The results were scary and very stressful. Let me explain.

First, the test itself is stressful for children.  There were questions on the fifth grade exam that I had difficulty answering.  Teachers were debating the multiple choice answers, since there were many that had two choices, one being slightly better than the other.  If teachers have difficulty with the test, imagine how the 10 year old children felt looking at these questions.

Also, the children, on day 3, were asked to write two essays.  Two!  Who writes two essays in one day, much less one right after the other?  Couldn't we figure out if they could write well after the one essay they wrote on day 2?  Did we really need a third day to figure this out?

Second, the test is useless.  Teachers cannot use it to revise their instruction since we don't get scores back until August or September, when we no longer have those children.  And when we do get the scores back, they are meaningless, since we no longer have the test to see what the types of questions were.  And, you decided (rightly so, in my opinion) that we would not use this test to assess teachers. So, if the test does not inform instruction and does not assess teachers, what is the point?

Third, the timing.  When we had 90 minutes for this test, it was stressful and difficult for some children to finish.  But they mostly did ok.  With an unlimited time, we had children working for over 4 hours!  There were gifted children who are notorious perfectionists, writing 4 page essays and spending an hour on just the planning page (which, incidently was left out of the test).  There were special education children who would get stuck on a question and just stop, waiting for inspiration. And, with unlimited time to do so, would sit for 30 minutes doing absolutely nothing but worrying.

So what was my role this year?  Since I am no longer a classroom teacher, I did not have a class to proctor so I filled in where I was needed.  I proctored one day for a fifth grade teacher who was out for the day.  But mostly, I spent my time with the children who worked beyond 2 hours.  You see, after 2 hours, I picked up all the children who were still not done and brought them to my room to complete the test.  This allowed the rest of the class to move around, make noise, and relax. On Thursday, the two essay day, there were so many children taking more than 2 hours that we filled up two classrooms with those students.

In my room, in the meantime, I had children crying because they couldn't answer questions, worried because they were taking so long, upset because they were missing lunch and recess to complete the exam.  This was not "less stressful" by any means.  Less stressful might have been cutting the test down to two days or giving the children more developmentally appropriate questions to answer or giving the test at the end of the year, after all the curriculum has been taught, instead of in April, so the teachers have to rush curriculum to get children ready, or not giving this test at all and finding a better way to evaluate learning throughout the year.

Commissioner Elia, I am hopeful that things will change next year.  This is not what I became a teacher for.  I work hard to make my students love coming to school.  Nobody loved coming in last week, not the students, nor the teachers, nor the administrators, nor the parents.  I am hopeful that, since you claimed you would opt your own children out, you understand the ineffectiveness and uselessness of the NYS ELA test.  Please reconsider this test next year.  There has to be a better way.  Ask teachers.  We know how to evaluate our students and our teachers.

Sincerely,
Lisa Parisi, teacher

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Starting Over

This year I started a new job.  I'm still a teacher (not sure that will ever change) but now I am no longer a classroom teacher.  My new position is two-fold.  I am the teacher for gifted and talented 4th and 5th graders in my school and the Lead Teacher for PLTW, a STEM science program.

I started training for PLTW (Project Lead the Way) last year.  This program was designed for high school and middle school students.  This is the first year they are bringing it to the elementary school and my district signed on. 

What I love about this program is that it is a project-based learning program focused on engineering design.  It uses iPads and other technology to teach children how to think, plan, design, and follow through on activities surrounding engineering, biomedicine, and technology.  It is my job to help the teachers learn how to use the program and how to use PBL.  This mostly means helping the teachers learn to let go and let the children be successful.  It is very exciting to see it all come together.

The gifted program in district is a pull-out program that is being entirely revamped within the next few years.  For now, there is one Gemini teacher in each elementary building and we are planning humanities lessons and activities for our students, designed around the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

So what has all this change meant for me?  Lots of learning, lots of laughs, lots of tears.

1. I am so grateful to be out of the classroom and away from all the testing.  I had gotten to a point where, after 30 years, I just couldn't do it anymore.  I felt guilty having to give the tests, guilty planning for them, guilty taking away time from more important activities, like connecting with online classes.  I am just glad not to have to think about it anymore.

2. I have a much more open schedule than ever before.  I see each group of students twice a week and the rest of the time is set aside for PLTW.  This means I do not greet children as they walk into the building and do not let them go at the end of the day. It means I do not take much work home with me on the weekends. It means I have more time to walk into classrooms and see what everyone else is doing.  It means I have more time to give assistance to others.  This I love but it did take some getting used to.

3.
I do not have my own class of children.  Yes, I work with my Gemini students and see them each week.  And, yes, I use Responsive Classroom still and we are a community.  But it isn't the same as having your own class.  I miss that.

4. All of the children in the building know who I am.  This I love!  I have been in all the classrooms, watching and assisting with science lessons.  The children get excited when I walk in - "Are we doing PLTW now?"  And I get lots of hellos in the hallway.

5. I get to visit kindergarten when I need a break.  Kindergarten has to be the hardest grade of all to teach.  But, oh those children are so wonderful.  I walk in to hugs and stories and tugs to come to their area and see what they are doing.  I love when I walk in and a random child comes to me to tell me about his new puppy or show me her boo boo.  It's a nice break from the chaos of dealing with two new programs in district.

6. I am learning to be a team player with a team I have never worked with before and who are not in my building.  It is very much like being a team member in an online collaboration.  You always have to be thinking about the other members of the team but, ultimately, you are on your own.  Very strange.  This is the most difficult for me to deal with.

7. I have been working much more with administration.  This is very new to me.  I am the liason between the teachers and the administration with regard to PLTW.  And, while I have always had a good relationship with my principal, I am learning some new things.  I am learning more about the big picture in the district.  It's no longer just about my kids.  Now it's also about PR and parents and other teachers and the Board of Education and, oh yes, the kids. I keep them in the picture always.

8. It's hard getting global projects going.  I don't see my students enough to work on a project so I "borrow" the students from the class next door.  I have been dragging my colleague and friend, the next door fourth grade teacher, into projects.  So far she has done postcards from around the country, has started blogging, and is starting If You Learned Here.  I love that she is willing, even as she worries about the timing involved in it all.  


It hasn't all been easy but I really do love this new job.  Next year should be much easier.  And, for now, I am enjoying the ride.  What are you doing this year that is new?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year, New Challenges


Each time January rolls around, we all start thinking about our New Year's Resolutions.  What are those things we will do to make us better?  Lose weight? Exercise more? Be more patient with the children? Read more? Spend more time with family? Say no more often? 

This year, I thought long and hard about what I wanted my resolution to be.  And I couldn't come up with anything.  It's not that I think I have hit perfection.  Far from it.  It's just that I feel like each resolution is just an empty promise...something I should be doing every day but don't, can't, won't. Or I am already trying my best.  

So what does that mean for me now? I think this year I will try to come up with challenges instead of resolutions.  Why?  Resolutions, to me, are so final.  "I am resolved to lose weight by next week!"  And if I don't?  Well, I guess I can't be trusted with my resolutions.  Challenges will allow me to try, fail, and try again.  Challenges will allow me to change direction as needed.  Challenges will allow me to recognize that life is still a journey.  Challenges are pliable.  

So...in the spirit of the new year...here are my New Year's Challenges.


  • I am going to challenge myself to learn another language.
    • The more global I become, the more irritated I am that I only speak one language.  I feel it is very self-serving to assume that everyone will be able to communicate with me in English.  And, yes, this has served me well to date.  But enough is enough. This might not happen this year but I will begin.  
  • I am going to challenge myself to make peace with those I struggle to understand.
    • I am faced with certain people who create drama every chance they can.  I am going to try to understand their need, in order to help me be more caring and accepting when faced with the drama.  I tend to avoid drama at all costs.  But I cannot always avoid these people so I must learn to understand and accept them the way they are.
  • I am going to challenge myself to be more satisfied with my life.  
    • I find myself constantly comparing my life to everyone else's.  Not my personal life, but my professional one.  Should I write another book? He did.  Should I apply for another award?  She did.  Should I join another organization, participate in another twitter chat, run another class?  They did.  I am going to really only choose those items I WANT to do, not choose items in order to out do someone else.  Teaching isn't a competition.  It's a calling.  I need to stop feeling like everyone else is just passing me by.  And I will begin as soon as I finish my ISTE award application.
  • I am going to stop telling myself I am a failure if I don't meet a challenge as quickly as I hope to.  Challenges are trials.  Try and fail.  Try and fail.  Try, try, try.  


What will your challenges be for 2016?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What is Challenge?




I had an interesting conversation with my college age daughter yesterday.  I was on the phone with my sister. She was telling me about the math course my brilliant-in-math nephew is doing in Florida. The course is all online and, as he masters concepts, he moves on.  Apparently, he keeps getting all 100s on his tests.  My sister is very proud.  I said, "He needs to be challenged more."  That's when my daughter, Ali, jumped in, saying, "Why do teachers always think students need to be more challenged?"


After we spoke for a while, I realized she and I weren't talking about the same thing and that made me realize that many teachers probably think the way she does. In her school world, challenge means work.  More challenge means more rigorous work.  I used to think this way.  If a child was getting all 100s on tests, give that child more work.  But now I know better.  I think.



So let's talk for a bit about the Zone of Proximal Development.  The ZPD has been defined as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers." (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
If we think about this ZPD, we should be teaching children in the middle zone.  The inside zone is too easy for them.  That's where they get all 100s and don't learn anything new.  And the outside zone is the place many of us want to be with children.  But this learning is too difficult.

Ali explained to me that she didn't understand why she had to read a book and then write an essay about it.  Why couldn't they just have a discussion and enjoy the book?  Why did it have to be more "challenging?"  
I explained it this way.  If her college English professor assigned Dr. Seuss books, she would be learning nothing.  The challenge is in the books that are assigned.  The professor has her reading books that have new vocabulary, new ideas, and new styles.  The assignment itself might be in the zone or not, depending on what it is. 
I used to give reading assignments that had children look up every word I thought would be new. Then they had to use those words in a sentence.  I had them answer endless questions, both literal and interpretive.  Many of the questions I had them answer on paper were the exact questions we discussed in reading group.  What was my goal?  I'm really not sure.  I thought it was to see if they understood the book.  But I think it was really to make sure they read.  

So how do I give assignments that are challenging without being out of reach (rewrite the book, making the minor character the major character) or too easy (name all the characters in the book and list them in alphabetical order)?  

Some ideas:
1. Run a book club with some classmates about the book.  Be sure they understand all the symbolism you learned about while reading.
2. Have a book discussion in Edmodo about the chapters you read each night.  Write about the parts of the book that surprise you.
3. Write an essay (yes, an essay) explaining whether or  not this book should be used in class as a reading book.
4. Write a book review.  Would you recommend this book?
5. Tell me the next book to read since I loved this one.

So how about assessment?  Think carefully about the last time you worked on a book with a group. Did you know, from your discussions, who understood the theme and who didn't?  How did you know?  Was one child so involved in the book that he came to group and overshadowed everyone with his discovery about what the title really means?  Did one child start a conversation that led to a disagreement?  Who opened their books to prove their side?  And what did you do about the child that just sat there during the whole book club saying nothing?  Maybe that child is too shy and needs support to be drawn out.  Maybe that child has difficulty formulating her ideas quickly enough for a conversation.  Maybe she didn't read the book because it was too difficult to understand.

Now we get back into the zone.  How can we be sure we have the quiet child in the zone?  Ask her to write a book review.  Contact the author and see if she can have a conversation about the book with the student.  Is the student more motivated?  Ask the child why she isn't joining the conversation.  If you have a respectful environment, she will know she won't get in trouble for saying she didn't read because she didn't understand what she was reading.  Then you can try an easier book.  Or give her a reading partner.  Or be her reading partner until she is vested in the story.

Do I have to give her a test on the book?  Not really.  I know how to keep her in the ZPD so she will continue to make progress in school.  

And as for my nephew, hopefully, his teacher will move him into more challenging lessons on the computer so he can move out of the middle zone and into his ZPD.  He deserves to make progress, too.  And I hope that soon, my daughter sees challenge as something positive, not something a teacher "makes" her do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Life with Pooh

When I was around 5, my mom bought a whole set of Winnie-the-Pooh books for me and my sister.  I loved those books.  For some reason, I started with Now We Are Six.  This book, along with When We Were Very Young, is a book of poetry.  I'm not sure why I started with poetry.  Maybe because it reminded me of nursery rhymes.  But I read that book to shreds...literally.  Mom bought me another copy a year later.

I memorized the poems.  I started with "Wheezles and Sneezles."  I loved the play with language, the attitude of Christopher Robin when he got better.  "And the look in his eye, seemed to say to the sky, Now how to amuse them today."  That was so...edgy...for a child who tried very hard not to break any rules. 


Every time it rained I opened up to "Waiting at the Window,"a poem about two raindrops racing down the pane.  I imagined the raindrops on my window were just like John and James.

Eventually, I moved onto the stories.  I don't remember anyone reading them to me.  I just picked up Winnie the Pooh at the beginning.  It was the first book I ever read where I found myself.  Piglet was the frightened little girl who tried so hard to be brave but really needed others around to help her.  Christopher Robin was the smart girl who could solve all the problems in school but just wanted to play outside with her stuffed animals.  Rabbit was the worrier, always concerned about what others think.  And then there was Eeyore.




Eeyore was so me it was scary.  How could anyone really know how I felt?  Eeyore always saw everything as gloomy and against him.  That was me.  The world was against me and no one cared.  And I walked around sulking and no one cared.  But, every once in a while, Pooh cared about Eeyore.  He cared when Eeyore needed a home.  He cared when Eeyore had a birthday.  He cared when Eeyore lost his tail.  I had my Poohs also.  My mom, who didn't seem to see much, was always there for the really hard times.  My sister, who was too busy to really pay attention to her younger sister, let me sleep with her at night and protected me from the bullies in school.

As I became an adult, Winnie the Pooh just stuck with me.  I carried the books to college, to my first apartment, to my house.  I bought a new set for my classroom.  I bought a set for Ali when she was born.  I have read the books to my students.  Second graders love the books for the characters.  Fifth graders love the books for the hidden jokes that the younger children don't get.

So I decided to finally get a tattoo.  I always imagined myself as very radical...crazy.  Wild hair, tattoos, riding a Harley, going into a bar and asking for a shot of whiskey.  But I am still that girl who doesn't really like to break the rules.  I hate whiskey and would never take a shot of it.  We had a bike, a Honda, not a Harley, and I was always terrified we were going to be hit so we sold the bike.  The craziest thing I do is get my toenails painted blue and green.  I am over 50 and way too conservative.  So I went for it.  A tattoo.  Nothing radical.  But a way for me to keep Pooh with me always.  

I thought about getting Eeyore.  He is most like me.  But I am not that little girl anymore.  Not mostly. Today I am more like Pooh.  I will be there for my friends and my family.  I will think about them.  I will care about them.  I will treasure them.  Pooh is also simple in his ideas but they are the most brilliant.  I think I am like that.  My ideas are not complex.  But they are fun and engaging.  


Today I am Pooh.  So it is a Pooh tattoo I got.  I will always remember feeling like Eeyore but I don't want to be him anymore.  I want to be Pooh.  The tattoo will remind me of that everyday.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Staples Teacher Appreciation Week



Hi Friends,

Staples contacted me to ask if I would help them promote their Teacher Appreciation Week.  I have never done this before but I will willingly promote a company that I use often and love. And Staples is one of those companies.  


From August 2nd to August 8th, Staples is celebrating teachers with a Teacher Appreciation Week.  During this week, they offer teachers "40 percent back in Staples® Teacher Rewards. Teachers can use the Staples Less List, the back-to-school 110% Lowest Price Guarantee and Extreme Deals to save even more. For this week only Staples Teacher Rewards members can purchase a customizable Staples brand teacher planner for only $24.99 (regularly $39.99) with discount code, online only. 


Teachers can download their 40 percent back in Staples® Teacher Rewards coupon and find information on the customizable Staples brand teacher planner at www.staples.com/classroom

To sign up for free Staples Rewards membership or for more information about the Teacher Rewards program, please visit StaplesRewardsCenter.com."

In the meantime, I am offering, thanks to Staples, a $50 gift card to be used anytime at any Staples, including online.  I figured I might as well learn something from this so I will give it to the person who gives me the best answer to the following:

How do you help create an atmosphere of caring and respect in your classroom at the start of the year?  

Whoever gives me the best idea, in a comment, will get the gift card.  Please be sure to leave your name and some way for me to contact you in the comment, or link your comment to your email account.  For the rest of you, you can all take advantage of the deals offered during Teacher Appreciation Week.

The winner will be announced by Monday, August 3rd.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wrapping Up the Year

This year, my 30th as an elementary classroom teacher, will be my last.  I am moving into a new position next year, very happily and very nervously. Next year, and hopefully for a few years beyond, I am going to be part teacher of the gifted and part Project Lead the Way Lead Teacher.  But more about that later.


While wrapping up my classroom, passing over my supplies and hard work to a new, incoming fourth grade teacher, I have been thinking long and hard about this year.  It was a difficult year for me and I am trying still to figure out why.  Was it the combination of students?  Was it the extra stress put on educators in New York and the US? Was is learning to work with a new assistant (who was wonderful)?  Was is just feeling done?  Or was it a combination of all of these?


My students:  I love them.  I really do.  They are funny and caring and hard working and apathetic and lazy and loud all at the same time.  This class was such an enigma.  I ran my Responsive Classroom program as I always do, but it didn't take like it always does.  During meetings, my students fooled around, then stopped, then forgot the rules again as soon as something else funny happened.  The rules never stuck.  They did learn to be more empathetic.  But not always.  If someone was sad, they would crowd around and help out.  But someone drops papers on the floor? Step on them as you head back to your desk.  They had fewer recess problems than the other classes on the grade but it doesn't mean they had none.  The same class that worked so hard to raise almost $4000 in two weeks for Nepal and the Kibera Slums would call each other names at recess.

Effort never really hit its stride either.  They would work so hard during projects, doing research, setting up a plan, coming up with ideas.  But the actual projects always just fizzled out.  When I pushed for due dates, they rushed to complete the assignments and the projects came out rushed. This confused me because the understanding of the concepts was there.  Just the effort to put all that understanding into a cohesive project to teach others didn't always work. Usually the projects are amazing and I have to push to get the content understanding in.

Extra Stress:  This is, by far, the biggest reason I am leaving the general education classroom.  I hate what I do to prepare these students to take a meaningless, unfair state test.  And I do very little, ultimately.  But still, the pressure from administration, from parents, even from the kids, was more than I can handle anymore.  The fear that, thanks to our Governor, we will all lose our jobs within the next two years was too much.  The fact that unionized teachers have become the Enemy of the State is beyond anything I can take.  I truly believe that what I do is important, powerful, and necessary.  I do believe I am changing the world one child at a time.  I am not the enemy.  I am so grateful I will not have to give state tests anymore.

New Assistant: This wasn't so bad.  I did have a new assistant this year although she was only new to me, not the school.  She is hard working, caring, and absorbs everything we do. It did take some time to get used to working as partners, deciding on roles, etc. but it worked.  Still, I wonder if I held back on some global projects due to knowing that the help would not be what it used to be with my tried and true aide?  Maybe.  I'm not sure.  It would be great to blame this all on someone else but...I can't blame her. She brought a whole new side of learning to the room with her artist background.  She took some simple projects, like creating a book page for a project and turning it into an Eric Carle-like portrait of the class. How can I blame her for that?

Feeling Done: I did, many times, feel done.  When I would go to colleagues with great ideas and would get the same, "No time, " answer, I felt done.  When I would open my email in the morning to another testing email with 10 or 12 responses, I felt done.  When we had another meeting to talk about testing, I was done.  When I got lost in all my emails and missed deadlines for projects I wanted to do, including my very own Global Book Talk, I was done.  But always, just when I felt I could do this no longer, my assistant would laugh with me about something the kids said, or I would get an email from a teacher on the other side of the world saying she saw my work and wants to join in, or I would get called into the principal's office so she could share something wonderful that a child did for her, or a kid would come up to me in the hall and tell me she hopes I am her teacher next year, or.....   Something always pulls me back in.

And maybe that's why I keep teaching.  And maybe that's why I am so excited about my new position.  I get to keep working with children but I also work with adults. And maybe it wasn't such a bad year afterall.  I did get to go to Guatemala to keynote.  I did get to present at Learning and the Brain, in NYC and spend time with by friend Donna Roman.  I did get to run two Global Book Talks and skype with the author of one.  I did get to run a very successful round of quad-blogging.  I did get to work on a social studies project with one of my fifth grade colleagues and a health/science project with another.  And I did get to hear from my kids that I am their favorite teacher ever.  And don't tell me they all say that.  I know they do but I like to believe that, for me, it's real.  ;)

Here's to ending my 30 year career on a high(?) note.  And here's to a new career, a new opportunity, and making it work.




Saturday, March 14, 2015

Responsive Classroom





In my district, once a month, we have two hours of professional development.  The district sets it up and it is usually based around a new program or testing.  This year, they decided to go in a different direction.  For three sessions, teachers rotate between three different classes.  One is on iEARN, one is on Second Step, and one is on Responsive Classroom.  I am running the one on Responsive Classroom.  

I have been using this program in my classroom for about 7 years now.  I went to the level 1 training, purchased and read most of their books, and have continued to attend workshops as they come up.  I feel very comfortable teaching others about the program and have run several courses in district to do just that.

I'm not going to get into the whole philosophy here.  Suffice it to say that RC is really about using specific language and behavior to help the children learn to be more responsible, independent, and caring.  And it works.  I have worked with some very difficult children who, while still struggling with behavior, have learned to adapt more easily to others, work with their classmates, and take responsibility for their actions.

The biggest drawback to teaching about RC is that, one of the most important times of the year to establish the program is in the first six weeks of school.  That's right...six weeks.  Not the first day.  Not the first week.  Not even the first month.  But the first six weeks.  What teacher has time for that?  When I went to the training, I fought against it the entire time.  And, when I show others, they do the same. 


What RC has done, and what I finally understand, is that you don't establish this program in a vaccuum.  You do continue to teach, address your curriculum, and prepare for all that is necessary in school.  But you do it with the language and methods of RC.

You might, by this time, be asking why I am writing about this.  I don't get paid by Responsive Classroom.  So why am I promoting it?  You see, running this professional development has really made me think about my kids...and my successes and failures with them.  And I realize that, for all the failures I feel every day, there are far more successes to recognize.

Just this year, I have:

Juan (all names have been changed) - This is a child who is difficult to be around.  While he has a kind heart and means well, he is very self- centered and is unaware of his personal space with regards to others.  Up until this year, he really hasn't had any friends.  In my classroom, I have watched him try to socialize and have finally started to see others socialize with him.  

Just Friday, while we were cleaning the room, Juan came back from one of his many bathroom trips (he needs the breaks).  He walked over to me and, very sadly, sad that a boy in the hallway told him he has no friends. He then told me that the day before, at recess, he had gotten some children in trouble for cheating in a game.  I said, in my usual "Let's not make this a big deal" tone, "What does he know?  Don't you have any friends?" 

He said, "No."  

Just as I was about to cry, Sonya, who is always in everyone's business, comes over and says, "I am your friend."  

Then Melissa chimes in and Tom comes over and, jokingly says, "Hey, Juan.  What about me?" 

Soon all of the kids were telling him to ignore the boy, who is turns out isn't really nice to any of them.  "Stick with us," they told him. "We are your friends."  

Juan smiled, went to help clean up, and, at the end of the day, gave me a hug before walking out the door.  

Cindy - This is a girl who can barely be heard when she speaks.  We have talked often about assertion but I so rarely hear her voice. Recently she started raising her hand to answer questions but still doesn't talk much besides that.
Monday, I was trying to give instructions for our next lesson.  Someone was talking.  I turned around to let the child talking know that she was being inconsiderate to me and her classmates when I noticed it was Cindy.  I just stared at her.  She was helping Wallace, who had been very confused during our last lesson.  He wasn't ready to move on so she decided to help him.  I never did tell her to be quiet.  I just asked her to move out in the hall with him.  

Sonya, Josey, and Jill - I had my data meetings this week.  This is when we sit with all the special area teachers - reading, math, etc - and discuss who is being serviced and how is it working.  What I was happy to hear was that, the same thing I was seeing in class, was being observed by the special area teachers.  These three girls had gone from children who just moved along, waiting for all the wisdom to just seep into their brains, to girls who took learning seriously.  They have become hard working, caring, enthusiastic, active learners.  And their math and reading scores have improved because of this.  I was thrilled and proud.  RC strikes again!


When I headed off to the professional development session on Thursday, armed with some of these images in my head, I guess I finally got across the idea that spending six weeks at the beginning of the year really does make the rest of the year easier.  And it really works.  

I have been getting messages from the teachers since, - emails, FB messages, phone calls - just to let me know how valuable the PD was and how excited they were to try it all.  And, the biggest compliment of all, one very normally disgruntled teacher told me this was the first time she had been in a worthwhile professional development session.  

Maybe more teachers in my district will adopt RC.  I hope so.  I love watching kids grow in character.  And, in the meantime, I'm heading back to class to help Juan learn more socially acceptable behavior to help him keep his friendships, help Cindy learn some leadership skills along with assertion so she can demonstrate her talents to the whole class, and keep the girls motivated to learn.  I really do love my job!


Saturday, February 28, 2015

EduDay with Google in Guatemala

I am sitting in a hotel room right now in Guatemala just thinking about how I got here and what I learned.  It all started with Emily Roth, of Our Global Friendships.  Emily sent an email to us asking us to send pictures for her 
husband's company, Pixsell.  They were having a conference in Guatemala and wanted to display all these classes around the world.  As an aside in the email she casually mentioned that if any of us were willing, we could go present at the conference, all expenses paid.  I, adventurous person I am, jumped at the opportunity.  

Everything happened so quickly and, before I knew it, I was writing a keynote, my first, and preparing a presentation about connecting with Google drive. Plane reservations arrived, information about pick up at the airport, confirmations about the technology set up, and I was on my way.

What I didn't realize was how amazing and important this conference really was. This is what is says on the Pixsell website: 

"At Pixsell, we seek to improve the world through technological innovations.  We challenge the impossible with our technological expertise and a commitment to deliver constant value to people and organizations."

Sounds very...yeah.  But I spent time with Pixsell these past few days.  Luis Bolanos, Emily's husband, and his partner and founder of the company, Joseph Tanpoco, really believe they can change the world.  They put technology into the hands of educators in countries that have very little.  Guatemala is their fourth country.  

Guatemala is a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people I've ever met.  But 2/3 of the children live below the poverty line.  Children often work instead of going to school.  Here is more:


  • 75%: The illiteracy rate in many rural areas of Guatemala
  • Two-thirds: The proportion of Guatemalan children living in poverty
  • $4 a day: The average daily earnings of a rural, Guatemalan family
  • Nine out of ten: The proportion of schools in rural Guatemala that lack books
  • 60%:  The percentage of entry-level jobs in Guatemala that require computer skills
  • 79%: The percentage of Guatemalan middle- and high-school students who lacked the opportunity to learn to use a computer prior to the arrival of our program
  • One out of ten: The proportion of rural Guatemalans who attend middle school
  • 1.8: The average number of years an indigenous Guatemalan woman stays in school

So when they decided to come to Guatemala, they set up this technology conference, EduDay with Google at Guatemala, to introduce the power of Google to educators and the government. They sent out 200 invitations and 500 people showed up.  Most came with no computers.  Many traveled far to get here.  All were excited, skeptical, and enthusiastic.  This all happened because of Pixsell and one lone Google Certified Teacher with an action plan.  Michelle Urdiales is the first person in all of Central America to be a GCT.  Her little action plan was to bring Google to Guatemala. She and Pixsell pulled off an amazing feat!
So what did I see here?

1. A renewed vigor for the excitement of learning.  The educators I met and spoke with were excited to try all of these great ideas. 

2. A whole new level of PLN.  Michelle, Luis, Joseph, Marybell Rodriguez and Jocelyne Perreard, GCTs from Mexico, Pablo Barrios, the publicity guru behind the whole day, Otto Diaz and Mario Estuardo, part of Pixsell, and David Deeds, ex-pat extraordinaire.  I spent so much time with all of these people and was made to feel very welcome and very much a part of it all.  We will be in touch always.

3. Marvin, our tour guide for climbing the active Pacaya Volcano.  This father of three has such a love for his country and for the volcano that it was hard not to get caught up in it all.

4. Rene, our driver, who stayed with us, helped us, carried bags, translated conversations, found a bank to get Quetzels and went above and beyond anything he was supposed to do.

5. A new appreciation for all I have and all I can reach through technology.  Without my PLN, without Google, without support from my district and my family, none of this would have been possible.  

I admire all the people I met.  They are better people than I, living what I know I cannot, working hard against incredible odds, to make things better for others. I am grateful to have been able to spend a few days in their company and happy that I will connect with them all for a long time to come.