Monthly Archives: May 2010

“Blogs to Watch” Award

Philip Cummings, in his blog A Retrospective Saunter, added my blog to his list of “Blogs to Watch.” First of all, thank you, Philip! I am flattered to be part of this wonderful idea of sharing our favorite blogs. As Philip did, I will not share from his list. Go back and look at his and at Jason Bedell’s, where Philip got his mention. This is a “Pay It Forward” kind of award, so the mention on a list passes on the task of making your own list to share.

The following are the rules of this award:

  • Copy and display the picture of the award given to you;
  • Link back to the blog that nominated you;
  • Nominate 10 different blogs yourself;
  • Inform the people you nominated, so they can in turn, continue the chain and spread the word about other great blogs out there.

So here is mine. It is clear that I am a total nerd for learning, so those are the kinds of blogs that I look for.

My Island View by Tom Whitby. Tom has a commitment to education that is founded on years of thoughtful consideration. He is tends to cut through the “easy answer” and pose thoughtful questions that need to be considered.

Teacher Reboot Camp by Shelly Terrell. Shelly just has her finger on so many wonderful things going on in the world of EdTech. There is always something to learn from reading what she has shared.

For the Love of Learning by Joe Bower. I find the ideas in this blog challenge my thinking and make me rethink my practice, always a good activity.

Copy Paste by Peter Pappas. Peter’s thinking about self-reflection changed the way that I conduct my lessons. He has many good ideas for enriching and deepening what goes on in the classroom.

Philly Teacher by Mary Beth Hertz. Mary Beth is an articulate and dedicated teacher who is committed to incorporating technology into the classroom in ways that best benefit the students.

Synthesizing Education by Aaron Eyler. I just discovered this one after listening to a presentation that Aaron gave at edcamp philly. Well-worth the read!

Nebraska Change Agent by Beth Still. Since Beth and I connected on Twitter, she is someone I respect. She is committed to making learning accessible to all students and to helping teachers use technology as effectively as possible.

iTEACH by Andy Marcinek. Andy writes a wonderful blog about the this journey so many of us are on of learning and growing day to day in a 2.0 world.

Sing Imagination by Yoon Soo Lim. This blog is a celebration of life, full of thinking about education, food and living. It is full of Yoon’s wonderful love of life.

Websites of the Day by Larry Ferlazzo. Larry maintains the most amazing collection of “Best of” lists that can be found anywhere. It is specifically dedicated to ESL, ELL and EFL, but I always find new resources. He searches the internet for resources that are reliable.

Too Easy to Unfriend

Last weekend at edcamp philly, a wonderful unconference in Philadelphia, I went to a session that was led by Aaron Eyler.  Aaron was talking about engaging students in tackling the problems of the world. It was a fascinating conversation, but at the end, he made a comment that stopped me in my tracks. He said that one significant problem for students today is that they are very poor at dealing with personal conflict. They live in a world where if they are angry with someone or their feelings have been hurt, all they need to do is unfriend that person. They do not live in a world that forces them to have face-to-face conflict resolution. They can send the message and walk away from the relationship.

We are constantly hearing about bullying in schools these days. Aaron’s comment made me wonder if some of what is going on might be connected to a desire to be friends with everyone, a desire that we all have. Facebook and social media lets you feel like you are friends with hundreds. You can build up your Friend list far beyond the number of people that you actually know and share friendship with, as many middle school students have. They get to feel connected with lots of people, far more than they ever talk to in a day at school. These lists give them a sense of significance and validation, but it is one that is not based on the real give and take of a relationship. It is simply based on a click of a button to accept a Friend Request. But that click and many others provide a sense of connection and worth.

Then, when someone in school, someone who is your Facebook Friend, is unkind to you, or Unfriends you after an argument, the power is amplified. It becomes more than what has gone on on playyards for generations. Kids have always argued and said unkind things to each other, but rather than being forced, often by an adult, to wrestle with the problem and learn strategies to manage conflict, that tension can now go underground. It leaves the realm where an adult is monitoring and supervising and goes to a Lord of the Flies world. Power is in the hands of the student with the most power and social influence.  A student can strike back without having to look in the eyes of their classmate. It is no longer necessary to watch the pain as you cause it. The person you want to harm is no longer present, and the power of past friendship that can heal hurts is muted. Social networks have given an amazing amount of power into the hands of children whose impulses are quick.

How do we help students to learn empathy in this environment? I am not convinced that there are more active bullies in classrooms and schools than there ever were, but students may now have tools that turn what used to be normal adolescent behavior into a new form of harassment.

I wish that I believed that there was a quick solution to this, but I don’t. I do believe, though, that as educators, we need to be aware of the dangers of these tools that we encourage students to use. The ability to Unfriend is a powerful weapon in the hands of an upset middle school student. How can we empower students and also teach them to use their power with respect for others?

First Do No Harm

A colleague told me the other day that throughout her years in teaching, this had been her motto: First do no harm. It has been resonating deeply with me. While I want to challenge the students and lead them deeper into understanding themselves and the topics, it all has to start with doing no harm. The children who walk into our classrooms must be met with acceptance and patience. We simply can not take out our own needs and frustrations on them. There are always issues in our lives that push us away from our best selves, but we have to find the way to leave those at the door when we walk into our classrooms. In teaching, we have to deal with parents, administrators and colleagues, all of whom can wear us down or plain and simply irritate us. We can not redirect those emotions at our students. They are vulnerable when in our care. We are the ones with the power to create or to tear down.

This week in class, one girl was following her standard practice. Before I finished asking a question, her hand had shot into the air, waving wildly in spite of the fact that her seat was in the front row, directly in front of me. I let her answer a few questions but found myself getting frustrated with the constant need for attention. It is May, and I am tired of what feels like a constant assault. I finally said, “Suzie Sunshine (Not really, I called her by name), please let others have a chance to answer the question.”

Her face fell, and she slumped back in her seat. I had not bothered to think about strategies that would support her. I had simply reacted. There had been nothing private and sensitive about my behavior. As I watched her, I was aware of two things. First, that I had not handled the situation with any skill. I had simply reacted without first planning how to get the best result for her and for me. I used my power to publicly draw attention to her. There are strategies to use that avoid that, but I had not taken the time to think them through.

Secondly, she knew that this was behavior that she was supposed to work on, but was clearly finding it a challenge. I needed to think through what was going on with her. What made her act this way, in ways that she knew were outside my expectations for her? When I stop to ask those questions, then I step away from my quick response and see the student more clearly. Then it is possible to do no harm or at least do less harm.

When I am caught up in my lesson or my set of tasks that I want the students to complete, I often find the individual students blurring before me. Each of them is not as important as my precious lesson plan. Those are the days with the potential for harm. It must always be about the students, trying to see them as clearly as possible and meet each one where they are. That has to be our job!

“Suzie Sunshine” saved herself, and me, that day. She started to listen carefully to the conversation, and when she saw an interesting point, she slowly raised her hand, clearly seeking my approval, afraid that she was not allowed to participate. When I called on her, she gave a completely unique interpretation to what the author was saying, one it was easy to praise.

So for the teaching moment, to highlight her successes and hopefully mend any damage, I called her over after class. I explained how much I wanted her best thinking, not simply the thoughts that popped into her head, that the goal was not to silence her, but to deepen her thinking. The quick responses were fine, but they often distracted her from the richer contemplation of the topic. She seemed to understand that. We shall see. In any case, I will continue to watch my tongue and aim for “Doing No Harm.”