Regardless of your view of math and science, you NEED to watch The Martian, starring Matt Damon. A little language in parts, but very well acted and a great example of how a variety of subjects and skills are connected and work together.
As a teacher, one of the most challenging tasks is describing to students the importance of learning math, science, history, social studies, language arts, etc. They do not easily see how connected and useful these topics are to each other in real life situations. While this movie is fiction (so far), the principles are foundational and clear.
Parents, it is hard, by try not to tell your children, “I was never good at math (or science, or reading, or spelling), so you’re probably not going to be good at it either.” Or some version of this: “The reason why you’re not good at this is because I wasn’t.” Or, worse, “Don’t worry if you don’t understand algebra (or some other subject). You’re probably never going to use it anyway.” Often what we speak to our children, though it may not be a true/ factual statement, becomes truth to them simply because we said it. We can stunt their development and view of themselves and their abilities before they even have a chance to explore these skills on their own. We create individuals who find it hard to see the possible because they’ve heard us say it’s impossible for them. So they just don’t try at all; they become discouraged; they begin to dislike school, learning and and never get an opportunity to learn that failure is a stepping stone to success and growth.
The last lines in the Martian, Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney says: “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, any questions.”
Teachers and parents alike need to encourage the importance of learning to our children. Remembering though, it may not be linked to a particular grade or test or assessment score. Real learning, true learning sparks an interest in learning more things regardless of the negative emphasis we falsely predict it will have on their future. Keep encouraging thinking and their ability to be resourceful and creative with what our children are learning. They will surprise us every time!
A couple times I’ve told Ellis that the tower he was trying to build wouldn’t work, stating that it was going to fall because one of the pieces was smaller than the others. I can remember him saying, “yes it can mommy.” And the little three year old, at the time, proved me wrong. I’ve stopped speaking limitations over his building and engineering skills since then.😊
I am married to a Canadian. My husband Michael was born in Canada. His parents are Canadian, and even though he was raised in Michigan, he ended up attending university (or “attending college” for those of us from the States) in Toronto, Canada. He is a U.S. citizen, but is also just as proud of his Canadian background.
Prior to us meeting and dating, I rarely heard any mention of “Canada” in any way. After we started dating and especially since we’ve been married, we hear our Northern neighbor mentioned seemingly all the time in movies, tv shows, the news, conversations we hear in grocery stores, etc. He delights in pointing this out to me. The list of Canadian accolades he gives, about once or twice a month, range from famous comedians, actors, tv shows, poutine (a.k.a “a heart attack in a bowl”), butter tarts (especially his mom’s), Maynard’s Wine Gums, Tim Horton doughnuts, sense of humor, cleanliness, politeness…The list almost endless. He says to me, “It’s a Canadian thing…you wouldn’t understand.” To which I reply, “Oh I wouldn’t, eh?” 🙂
Recently, my husband and I went on visication (a visit and a vacation) to Ottawa, Canada to spend some time with our oldest two children (my stepdaughter Anjelika and stepson Kaleb) and granddaughter for several days. This was the second time we’ve visited them since last summer and the longest amount of time that I’d been there, so I was able to absorb a lot more, ask different types of questions and learn new ways to observe the city, the culture and the country.
The last night we were there, we all attended a very cool holographic light show at the capital’s Parliament building. Anjelika had been a few times, and I was eager to see it as well. To put it simply, it was not something to merely just see, but to experience. It was spectacular! The entire face of the Parliamentary building was carefully illuminated to tell the story of a nation, a land, a people. Spanning eras of time, territories and historical highlights, the lights, sounds and images of the presentation drew this South Florida girl into wanting to learn even more about this mosaic Canada claims to be.
No nation is perfect, because imperfect groups of people make up and create nations. And Canada–where guns are prohibited, where many still leave cars and houses unlocked, and where the preservation of natural resources is a priority–is no different. It’s had its share of wars, territory disputes, racial discrimination, and other types of disparities like most other countries. And I’m sure it continues to have its own set of problems. But toward the end of the light show, one theme struck me as a common chord running from this young country’s inception to present day: Canada’s goal is to be a community. A community that promotes and represents peace.
Google’s dictionary defines community in several different ways. One is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. Another definition is “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. As with many countries, there are many different types of people in this Canadian community. In fact, you don’t have to go too far in Ottawa to notice the diversity of Canadians from the First Nation (Native Americans), India, Lebanon, Thailand, the United States, Africa, Haiti, China, Italy, France and other European nations. (I’m sure I’m missing others as well.) And given the history of the vast country, both French and English are considered to be the official languages. While it is not a perfect place, as no country is, there seems to be an agreed upon ethos that governs how people interact with each other and work together. There is a framework with an intentional focus on building community, because community-building does not just happen on its own.
So all of this got me thinking about what a community is or can look like…in the classroom. The last few years at work, our principal has been clear that the first two to three weeks of school, we teachers are to focus solely on helping our students understand the classroom procedures, norms and expectations. Many of us use Kagan-type of activities or other team building strategies to get the students to connect with each other and with their teachers. The aim is to create a classroom embedded in community, not content. I know to some, this sounds very backward and anti-productive. Besides, don’t kids go to school to learn content? Isn’t that the point?
Teachers want students to learn the content, of course. But teaching is changing. The classroom is extending outside of the four walls. The student experience is varied, diverse. School, as I knew it over twenty years ago, is morphing. We don’t want students to regurgitate facts and pieces of information. We want students to become thinkers, teachers, developers, strategists, communicators, inventors, problem-solvers…We want individuals who will be community leaders. But how can this happen if they never learn how to be in community with their peers, with people different from them or with people with different perspectives altogether? Learning to discuss issues with each other and disagree respectfully. Developing camaraderie and collaboration. Finding common ground and building consensus. Sharing ideas, listening to opposing opinions and translating concepts. When these characteristics are present in the atmosphere of the classroom environment, a community develops…A community infused by learning, led and developed by learners.
I woke up the last morning in Ottawa, still mentally engaged by this community concept from the Parliament presentation. My mind was racing with new ways to infuse community into my own classroom this upcoming school year. It wasn’t a new idea to me. But it has given me a new awareness of just how important this is for students and teachers alike. What we see in the classroom, either resembles or will shape the world on the outside.
One of the last lines in the presentation asked “If Canada was a body part, which would it be?” One citizen replied, “The heart. Canada would be the heart.” When I consider all of the ins and outs of all that occurs in schools, the lifeblood of learning starts with the connections made between and among all groups involved who are aiming for common “attitudes, interests, and goals”. It starts with the community.
This will be my first official year as a certified instructional coach. I received my certification in May after nine months of training sessions and coursework. Though it was a lot of work teaching full-time, while wife-ing and mommy-ing once I got home each day, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my training and looking forward to incorporating my learning as I coach and teach in the upcoming school year.
Having said all of this, there definitely is some apprehension and mild anxiety as summer speeds its release of my days, passing the baton to fall. (Well, let’s be real. I live in central Florida. “Fall” is just another term for “summer” fighting occasional sniffles.) In a matter of a few weeks, I’ll be packing my lunch, bringing the kiddos back to daycare and giving my husband a quick peck and hug before we drive to our places of work. The more I think about it, the more the butterflies’ wings start fluttering inside me, seeking an escape. Yep, I’m excited, nervous…and a little intimidated.
I have been re-reading Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coaching to refresh my mind and help me focus on what is key in coaching. One statement he makes about coaching is pretty powerful: “A good coach has high expectations and provides the affirmative and honest feedback that helps people to realize those expectations. A good coach can see something special in you that you didn’t know was there and help you to make that something special become a living part of you.”
The phrase, “something special” reminds me of my first coaching interaction. However, I wasn’t the coach, or the teacher. I was the student. In particular, I was a ninth grader trying out for the varsity basketball team. Coach Slade was known to be a tough, but good coach. Being on his team meant you really had the desire to work hard, to win, to be a great basketball player and team player. I made it to the last round of tryouts, but he needed to make sure of one thing before he was fully convinced. He told me right before the tryouts that day, “I want to know that you can hustle. After practice, I’ll give you the nod if you’re on the team.” Oh man! No nerves that day, huh? I remember that practice very well. I remember running the usual layup drills, dribbling drills, passing drills, wind sprints, etc. I remember feeling that I’d pass out at any moment. I remember trying not to look his direction every time I dribbled by or made (or missed) a shot. And I also remember that I hustled. I knew what was being asked of me, and I gave it all I could. I wasn’t perfect yet, but I was better than I previously thought I could be.
In the end, I received the “nod” I wanted from Coach Slade. But more than that, I received the nod I needed from myself, for myself. I gained confidence with every step from that practice on. My coach had carefully, skillfully but firmly tugged on a hidden cord of confidence he saw glimpses of inside of me. He shed light on it, untangled it a bit, tested its strength, and placed the unattached end in my hand…Not only did I have primary access to the cord, but I’d play a major role in joining it to others (teammates, for example), increasing its usefulness and flexibility, and extending its reach and impact.
While instructional coaching is not entirely like team athletic coaching, I believe the essence of both is the same: identifying and developing ability, skills or talent to empower and improve the lives of others. So many teachers pass through hallways of schools year in and year out. Sadly, many do not have a coach. Well-meaning peers, yes, but not a coach. Many are not aware of what’s expected of them.They did not or will not hear the code word “hustle” and will completely miss the purpose for their work. Others lose heart, never catching a glimpse of the nod of encouragement or recognition. And still some are misdirected, misinformed or miss the boat completely. These too need a coach to help guide them in a way that best suits their abilities.
Another lesson to be learned from this is that teachers play a major role in how they develop their ability to facilitate learning for students. They are holding the loose end of the cord, but some are not sure what to do with it. And why is this so critical?
It’s because of all that the “need tos” that come with the teaching territory.
Teachers need to:
- Have the know-how and use resources to deepen their professional insight that may wane from time to time.
- Delve into creative strategies and ideas that complement solid educational research.
- Correct any oversights and habits that may inhibit student learning.
- Relinquish those comfortable but sometimes unproductive strategies to which they may be clinging.
Good teaching incorporates a reflection of its practice. However, teachers need to know not only how to reflect upon their practice, but also how to incorporate what they’ve learned in a tangible and useful way for the benefit of the students.
WIth all that’s expected from teachers today, they need individuals who will:
enable and empower creativity,
help highlight and repair errors, and
Teachers need a cord detector, a cord whisperer, a cord revealer. They need someone to help them see that “something special” cord, often hiding inside. They need someone who will tug on and pull those cords that have the potential to connect with each other and to create a community of both teachers and students …a strong network of lifelong learners and learning leaders.
Teachers need a coach.
So this is the hat I will soon be gladly wearing…coach. No, I won’t be wearing a cape. (“No capes!”) Instructional coaches are not perfect and are not heroes. At least I am not. There’s a lot of work ahead, a lot of discoveries to make, and some steps to retrace, I’m sure. But when I am able to see one cord start to connect with another, my confidence too, will grow while the butterflies are put to rest.
“If they never remember your name… would you still teach? Would you still strive to create dynamic, engaging, student-centered learning experiences in your classroom? Would you still go out of your way to find your student in the cafeteria to give him a pat on the back for his improved behavior and insightful inquiry during class that day?”
“If they never give you credit…Would you still seek to connect with, encourage and rejuvenate your colleagues and peers?”
“If they never really respect your title or position…Would you still sit down with a frustrated new teacher to help them get through their first year?…”
The last couple of weeks, these questions have risen to the forefront of my mind, swirling around and around as I ruminate on dual roles as both teacher and instructional coach in the coming school year. The answer to these internal inquiries is a definite Yes. However, the reason behind the Yes is best given by a friend of mine who recently tweeted “Your gifts and talents are as unique as your fingerprints. Leave your mark.” That’s it, I thought! That perfectly explains the Why behind the Yes. It’s about imparting a legacy of life on to other lives. It’s about bestowing your impression, your likeness, a piece of who you are on the world so that it becomes woven into our collective history. We were designed for this. We were made to extend our reach, to touch a hand, to move a heart, to shape a mind…to uplift a soul.
I had the chance to visit the Sistine Chapel during my high school chorus trip and our tour through Italy. It was my first plane flight and a trip I’ll never forget. Books, encyclopedias, the history channel could never have prepared me for what I saw with my own eyes looking up at the ceiling and Michelangelo’s magnificent masterpiece.In every brushstroke, in every shadow, in every contrast of color, in every defined detail, the chapel is littered with the artists’ fingerprints. Every crevice cries out, “I have a gift for you! Look around. I’ve left something just for you. Take it in…all of it. Let it inspire you, shape you, stir you, and remind you to leave your mark so it can keep going. Share the best that you have, the best of you. Be the ceiling someone needs to look up to and see with their own eyes.”
I am so struck by this notion, even as I write. I am called to do many things: be a wife, a mother, a witness, a friend. I am also called to share who I am with others outside of my circle of comfort. It may be gladly received and reciprocated, and it may not.
It is said that Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He was more of a sculptor than a painter, and at the time desired to finish Pope Julius II’s marble tomb (which is ironically quite unknown). He dedicated four years of his life in an awkward, contorted standing position to paint what we travel many miles to admire and revere. As teachers and educators, our task is often to plow under harsh conditions…to prepare and sow into the young, be it intellectually, socially, psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. While we do our work with expectancy, we are aware that the crops yielded from our toil–as it seems at times–may not be easily visibly overnight (or many nights). And still… We take another step. We awaken the next day and do it again. We are a precious and unique breed of people.
We see potential in our students…masterpieces in the making. We spur them on to higher heights and unconquered territories, for at the core of every true teacher, we believe our students can achieve more than what they know. We press them to “go the distance”. We show them by our at-the-door greeting, through our firm but fair classroom rules, through our relentless assessing and re-assessing of each and every student, and by our continual care that each voice is to be heard and respected. We repeat over and over again: “You are worth so much! You have so much to give…so much to share.” However, we often only see our students without really seeing and appreciating what lies below the surface of ourselves: our gifts, our skills, our talented DNA designed to be inherited by those within our grasp. We sometimes brush these aside, preferring to remain quiet and content in our comfortable cloaks that fit us just right.
This is not a “toot my own horn” teacher talk. No. Teachers shape the teachers and thinkers of tomorrow. Our task can be daunting. Periodic discouragement will come. An attitude of learning and humility are prerequisites of the job description. But I challenge you to listen and absorb the words of hope and inspiration you daily give to the ceiling-watchers in your care. Leave your mark. Imprint the hallways, walkways, desks and chairs with the essence of what made you choose and be drawn to such a noble calling in the first place. Mark up the conferences, lecture halls, meeting rooms and seminars with your wisdom, creativity, techniques, passion and skills.
Share your insight.
Invent new ideas.
Interact with new friends.
Enhance the community.
Sing. Write. Dance. Draw. Laugh. Grow. Run. Mold. Learn. Read. Teach.
Whatever you do, Leave Your Mark.
(Thanks to Val Brown for giving me the why behind my answer unbeknownst to her.)
I sometimes forget how nice it is to just sit in nature, without an agenda or schedule and take it all in. God’s wonder underneath your feet…resting…unmoved by a “to do” list or a timeframe or anything really. Today, I sat just outside my front door, in our butterfly garden and relaxed. Not too many cars heading in and out of the neighborhood, no airplanes zooming overhead. Just me and the Sabra, our Lab. I rarely do this and when I have the opportunity, this type of event would not typically pop into my mind to do.
I looked over at Sabra and I understood a little bit more why she likes to come outside. It’s peaceful. She just sits in the grass, sometimes gnawing on a stick or two or three. But today, after gawking and trying to rundown the exotic looking bird we discovered in the road, she just laid down, look around and entered into a state of just “being”… just because.
I need to do this more often. This “being” just because.
The message at church this past Sunday was about taking time out to enjoy the world around us. We are always rushing and going and hurrying, often without a true destination in mind, or at least one not really worth all of the energy and stress to get us there. The saying goes, “live like today was your last day”. While there is much truth to this: We don’t want to leave this life without being able to say that we accomplished all that we set out to do. But how many times is our rush, rush, gotta go mentality hindering us from kicking our feet up on a lawn chair in the back yard with a good book and a nice cup of chai tea? How many times are we missing the never-ending gurgling sound of the creek or the lap-lap-lapping of the waves upon the shore of an unknown lake where a family of ducks have come to play and greet you? We can miss those “small” things that can mean so much… things that can tickle and warm your heart in a place you’d forgotten was there.
I am behind my personal schedule for today. I took time out to take a picture of our flowers and uncovered a picture of myself that I’d like to see more often… a playful peace, inviting me to wander a little bit off schedule a little more often.
Envision being in a mine field. Everywhere are potential explosions just waiting to go off. A single step could trigger a cataclysmic chain reaction and you’ll suffer for the misstep. It takes careful and patient observation to figure out the best path to successfully get through on the other side, gaining confidence and invaluable experience with every firm and proper placement of your foot. This potential “danger zone”, this minefield is the middle schooler’s mind. Just like any good surveyor, our task as teachers is to be vigilant observers and map makers, discovering the best route to take, or better yet, the best route our content should take to successfully reach them amid their periodic quirkiness, their constant questioning of seemingly unimportant and surface-level content, their desire to be your equal combined with their desire to be your friend and your child. Yes, a minefield. There is no better description for this phase of development.
They can be a daily cause of frustration, doubt, entertainment, confusion, wonder, laughter, introspection, irritation, curiosity, challenge, ingenuity, flexibility, craziness, yelling, silence, foot-on-the-floor tapping, humor, enjoyment, prayers, creativity, frowning, smiling, gratefulness, and enjoyment. They are probably the best thing for a teacher to experience at least once in his or her career.
It’s a hard row to hoe, but we aren’t tending the field alone. I have gathered a few tidbits of insight on my middle school journey. I would not trade in this journey for anything…Besides, who would have guessed I’d become a mapmaker in the progress?
For those of you who are about to take the first step on this journey or you’ve been trailblazing the path ahead of me many years before I began, we are a special find. Be encouraged as we keep mapping out the path of the middle school mind.
I was a high school teacher before I taught middle school, so my slant has always been to prepare students for college, for the “real world”. I emphasized study skills, responsibility and accountability, somehow hoping to inspire and ignite that innate thirst for knowledge and learning that each person has. However, regardless of how passionate I was teaching about science, or life lessons, I often felt as though I was spinning my wheels in quicksand, digging myself deeper and deeper, quicker and quicker into the abyss of futile fervor of giving knowledge and information to the generations behind me. Why aren’t they as excited and passionate about learning as I am? Why do I care more about their grade than they do? Why don’t they study? I don’t get these kids? Don’t they know how important their education is? Question after question, and still no answer. Only frustration. And that was while teaching high school.
The transition to middle school was an eye-opener. As I think back on that first year, I had no idea the differences between the two different secondary levels was so vast. I felt as though I might as well be teaching elementary students. That is how big the gap felt. It’s not as though middle school students are babies or inherently childish; but there’s a lot going on in these semi-children, semi- adolescent-wanna-be-adult individuals. They are a science fair project in and of themselves!
It did not take me long to figure out teaching these preteens would be more challenging, as it were, than rocket science. So we, the brave, the bold, –the “crazy”– middle school teachers face a dilemma: “How do we teach the required information to students whose development is in such transition and hormonal change and activity?
The “old school way “: Teacher lectures, students write, students learn, teacher tests, students may or may not “make the grade”. Teacher feels helpless. Teacher appears incompetent. Teacher questions her call, desire and ability to teach.
Somewhere within that first middle school year for me, the shift began. The shift in the education field, as well as, at our school. Our principal Dr. Howell began challenging us to get the students working in groups in the classroom. Meet them where they are and guide them upward toward the standard, and they’ll “get it”. Incorporate more hands-on, less lecture. More student-centered, less teacher-centered. Bit by bit, the ideas came. Buddying with other teachers on this venture improved the outlook more and more. I shared a little, they shared a little and the pot of knowledge grew exponentially. Challenge the kids more. Have them come up with a lesson to teach their peers or demonstrate to the class. Become a facilitator for learning, not a disseminator of information.
See my earlier frustration is one many teachers feel. I’m working so hard and they still aren’t getting it! Could it maybe be that we’re working so hard that they feel they don’t have to? We are trekking to a destination on the map we chose. We’re making the route. We’re walking in the dust, sleet, heat and snow, making the trail, pointing out landmarks along the way, sweating, freezing, laboring, suffering…when all the while, the students– the focus of our venture– are riding on our backs for free! Their clothes are spotless, their shoes unsoiled, their bodies are fresh and relaxed, and their minds are uninspired, unchallenged and unmoved.
Our egos as teachers are always on the line… but more so within ourselves. We have degrees, we have knowledge in our content area. We have the skills, the know-how. We want notoriety for what we know and what we do. These are normal human desires, but when they inhibit the whole reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, we need to hold them in check, re-focus and re-direct our knowledge, skills, and know-how in a more useful, practical and positive way so that real, deep, sustaining, anticipatory, “on the edge of their seat” kind of learning can occur.