Monthly Archives: August 2011

Lessons from Irene

Lesson Number 1 – Divert! Divert! Divert!

My husband and I live in a house that leaks, not severely, but it definitely lets in water when there are strong storms. Irene was going to drop a lot of water, which it in fact did, so we went into preparation mode. We came up with some new strategies to handle the pounding that was going to happen. The most effective, Dick’s brainstorm, was based on our rain barrel. He took 4 trashcans, fitted them with faucets and attached hoses to them. He put them under the places around the house where the gutters and downspouts usually get overwhelmed, causing the water to pound into the ground and seep into the house.

As the school year starts, this idea of diverting the water, so that it did not injure the ground and the house, seems like a good metaphor for a new goal. I want to provide my students with skills and new ways of thinking, but I must make sure to deliver them in ways that do no beat them down. The goal is to avoid pounding and then drowning them in a single, “right” way to learn. Instead, I want a classroom that gives them chances, lots of them, as many as it takes to absorb and gain control over new ideas. If provided with time and a variety of strategies, then each student can learn and take in their growth at whatever rate she can. For some, that will come quickly with no sense of being overwhelmed; for others, the learning will need to be defused and diverted to avoid pooling and overwhelming her. By paying attention to each student, to the signs of success or concern or panic, I want to present ways to grow that match each student in the room.

Lesson Number 2 – Never underestimate strength!

In our garden, I had planted an okra late, really late. It is only about a foot tall, and when I heard the news about Irene, I pretty much decided that, after the storm, it would be too beaten down to survive. I just wrote it off, not expecting it to withstand the deluge. It was simply too young and too fragile. But when the rains abated, it totally fooled me. We went to check the garden, and there it was, standing tall and looking like it had grown an inch or two while weathering the storm. What was a day of pounding rain to this little plant!

So that led to Goal #2. I have had students like this, and I will again, ones who look like they will never learn, never survive the rigors of learning, and yet they do. They find the ways to hold on, to take in the lessons and ideas and to become stronger from their efforts. I want to provide a classroom where each student learns how to be strong enough to withstand the challenges of learning. School can teach a student that he or she is a failure, that they can not do what is asked of them. It can take away their sense of power and control. My classroom needs to be a place where students learn strength, where they come away with more power, not with less. That is a hard goal. I am not perfect and will make mistakes, but the goal is still there. I want to make my students able to withstand the challenges of learning and growing.

We must show our students how to dig their roots in deep, so that they can withstand challenges. Even when studying their passions, there will always be times when it is difficult, when they want to give up. So my goal is to prepare my students with the tools and the joy in their learning, so that they will still be standing after their each challenge that comes their way.

Here’s to a great new year!

Nothing Like Teacher Energy

August often finds me feeling overwhelmed with the task of starting back to school. I love my job, and I love the work that it requires of me, but in August, summer has taken control of my life. I am rested and calm. I am making my own choices about what to do each day, with little or no influence from anyone else. I am reading when I want to, going for walks or out to lunch. The days have a gentle pace that is far removed from the energy and demands of the school year.

August brings an ever-increasing drum roll, as the weeks pass quickly by. I often feel unsure about how I will be able to return to completing all of the tasks that I do during each school day. The balls that I know I will soon be juggling are all on the ground, having spent a restful summer with no movement. But now, they all need to get back into the air. I have to remember which one needs focusing on and make sure that it gets the attention it needs without dropping all of the other ones. Reds and greens, blues and yellows, all flashing before my eyes! It feels more than a little daunting!

But this morning, through the power of my PLN and with Facebook as a tool, the energy and excitement of my work began to flow again, erasing the trepidation and replacing it with joy and a new sense of power. First, I saw a posting from @aleaness about using a New York Times article, that was originally posted by Chris Lehmann, as a writing prompt. She was going to make a model for her students, using a photograph of herself. She thanked @doremiGirl for ideas about adding music to the activity. I wrote asking how she was going to do it, and @doremiGirl responded that I could have a YouTube link or QR code, or they could make a movie and narrate over the music. The ideas were great, but it was the sharing with other passionate educators that changed the day. I was no longer alone, preparing for a classroom where I worked in isolation, behind a closed door. I was reminded that I am part of a global team of educators, who support and encourage each other, sharing ideas and new ways of thinking.

While it takes time to share and connect with other teachers, I remembered this morning that it is in fact the life-blood of my teaching practice. I remembered that I am not alone, trying to get all of my juggling balls back in the air, but instead,  I am part of an army of teachers, getting ready to give all that we can to bring a joy in learning and a sense of achievement to all of our students. We are picking up the tasks of our job together and supporting each other’s efforts!

September can be daunting, but it is far less so when I listen and learn from other educators. Then it is simply  the time when I return to doing what I love, surrounded by others who love it as well. So thank you to all of my Passionate Learning Network! Together, we will have another awesome year! I look forward to the work we will do together and to the ways that we will change the lives of our students!

Irresistible Work and Learning

After reading a blog post on Cooperative Catalyst called “Irresistible Literacy,” I got to thinking. The post was about how to create an environment in the classroom that draws students to want to read. It included ideas of how to make the space fun and safe; it would have “touch-screen tables, one-to-one iPads, an entire wall that is a dry-erase board, tile floors that can be used as a canvas for brainstorming,” and more. The ideas were wonderful and creative, and they got me thinking. What can I do to make the work of my classroom and the learning that happens there be irresistible?

I discovered a my new love in the past month, while I was supposed to be resting and enjoying some summer quiet. I started preserving summer vegetables for winter. I found a new joy in canning, pickling and dehydrating, working with the abundance of summer farm stands and our own garden. I didn’t think that I was going to like this process, but we have a wonderful garden, and I didn’t want any of it to go to waste. I had never canned before, so to start, I decided that I needed to have at least one test run, making sauce, before our tomatoes fully ripened. If I was going to make a mistake, I wanted to do it on someone else’s fruit.

I bought a large basket of tomatoes, over 100, brought them home, skinned and cooked up the sauce. Then I canned them, using a water bath method, for dozens of jars – 5 jars at a time, 50 minutes per bath. It was the work of an entire summer day. Real work that lasted the course of a day! And much to my surprise, I loved it. In fact, I found the process “irresistible;” I simply wanted to do it again and again, because the work and the product satisfied me so much. I quickly moved onto pickling and then to dehydrating, experimenting with each one and figuring out what each has to offer. To the question, “How did you spend your summer vacation? ” I will be answering, “Working in the kitchen.”

It was real work, days and days of it, but I learned again and again the joy and peace that comes from doing work that is both hard and fulfilling. I kept making the choice to leave my novel and my lawn chair to instead stand in a hot kitchen for hours, chopping, pealing, stirring and bottling, because at the end of the day, I felt great, relaxed and yet with a deep sense of accomplishment.

I realized that I had found my vision for what I want for my students, “irresistible,” hard work that causes them to learn and grow each day! I tell my students every year that my class will be hard. I mean it. I explain that it won’t be in a traditional way of being hard with lots and lots of homework and mountains of rote learning to climb, but hard in that it will make them think. It will force them to accept that there are no easy answers, that they need to wrestle and challenge their own minds to find the answer.  It will be hard in that the goal is not pleasing me as the teacher; it is not about playing the game of school the best. It is about taking on challenges and learning the process of discovery and creation. I want to create lessons that accept the need for work, because the task itself and its goals are irresistible.

So, the beginning of another school year, “Irresistible Work and Learning” is my motto! Together, my students and I will work hard and learn together!