Interviewing Henry… What We Learn Together is So Much Greater

So what do you think your goal is as a professor now?

“I want my students to be self aware, to help them deconstruct what is going on in the world around them so they can be better citizens. I want them to be gritty, and I want them to tell the truth about what is really happening.”

Tonight I am working on a paper for my Educational Leadership class. I interviewed a dear colleague Henry Aronson. He was witty, passionate and honest in his responses about race, ethnicity and his views on the world.  It is how we learn about each other, we ask questions, listen with the intent to understand, and then when we are truly  lucky, we take the time to analyze how this conversation adds to or changes our view of the world.

This course looks at the concept of cultural proficiency as the basic tenet of American democracy. The focus is on educational settings, identifying and discussing issues of diversity within schools. How can we better understand each other? One of the assignments was to interview someone about their own experiences with differences in culture or race. I had such a great conversation about how we identify with each other, with cultural groups and how that impacts how we teach. Again, more brilliant words from my writing project colleague Henry when discussing his college classroom.

“I’m not here to fix something broken about them. I’m here to fix things about the way they were taught. I don’t think I could have done that if I hadn’t done it with my own bio-community. I don’t see my filipino students as broken. I didn’t see them as lacking. I saw them as their needs weren’t being met. And so as I translate that to my own work with my African American students, it carries over. I don’t see my black students as deficient, instead I ask what is deficient about the way we are teaching? What are we doing systemically that is not allowing them to rise to their potential? They need to meet their potential.

We can all learn by taking the time to have some in depth discussions. Being able to see the challenges and similarities in our classrooms, our lives. Thanks Henry for giving me so many wonderful things to contemplate.

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How Would You Change the World For the Better?

In taking on this summer challenge, I knew it would be difficult to write each and every day. Today the words are tough to find. This morning my students shared their posters about how they wanted to change the world for the better. End violence, free college, no bullying, quit smoking, just a few of their great ideas. Photos can sometimes say it better than words ever could. #dreamstoreality #thefutureleaders #prayforOrlando

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Countdown to Summer, The Joy and the Angst

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 10.38.52 PMWell today marks the final Monday of the school year. This week is a combination of nostalgia and panic, both for kids and teachers. Grades need to be posted, yearbooks signed, and promotion rehearsal begins tomorrow. Where do we stand? For how long? We are due for a heatwave this week, here’s hoping it stays on schedule and won’t arrive until Friday. (We promote on Thursday.) I am not hopeful however, it tends to always heat up when we head outside to our courtyard promotion ceremony.

Mixed with the emotions of today are the continued emotions of so many in the aftermath of yesterday’s attack. All my teacher friends are trying to find ways to open the minds and hearts of our students. Crucial, tough conversations are happening in many classrooms today. We struggle as teachers to find places for students to share their voices, form opinions, question the media, and try to make sense of the senseless violence. There are no answers, but there are stories. If we have any hope of bringing about change, we must create the time and space for students to talk together, or we are doomed to repeat more days like this.

I struggle with what our next steps should be as educators. What is our role in trying to make sense of hate crimes such as this? How do we allow kids to ask difficult questions? How do my Muslim children feel sitting in the light of judgement and perhaps unjust scrutiny? How do I promote questioning and yet provide a safe environment for ALL my students?

I also struggle with the fact that although I am looking forward to summer, I know it can be a lonely and long time for many of my students. They get bored over the weekend, so the idea of eight weeks off without our classroom community leaves a gaping hole for both of us especially ending the year in times like these.  So we make the most of this week together, celebrating the entrance to high school for some, and creating that bridge to next year in room 207.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Tragedy, Another Night of Prayers for Peace

I awoke this morning to the news of a mass shooting in and Orlando night club. The LGBT community lost 50 souls, even more injured. The nation has rallied in a variety of ways, some giving blood, others calling for blood. How do we move beyond these tragedies? What can we learn, and more importantly, how can we begin to live again?

Again we sit as a nation, wondering why the violence and intolerance grows. We wonder what we can do to make things better. Politicians are speaking out, some for the greater good, some for the political gains. And so it goes.

But what will I say to my students tomorrow? What will I say again this year, as I feel that this conversation happens more than it should.  This fall, we sat on the floor of my classroom, in a true lockdown drill. The police pounding on the door, hiding in the dark. The fear, my own and theirs. The promise to keep them safe, my class full of students of different countries, faiths, and languages. It is more important than ever to maintain a safe community,

I don’t have any answers tonight. I have pulled a few quotes from todays newsfeed. I go to bed tonight saying prayers, like millions in our nation are doing tonight. #prayforOrlando #prayforstrength #prayforwisdom #prayforpeace
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Summertime Challenge: Reigniting the Passion for Reflection

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 5.37.29 PMI have decided that pursuing this doctoral dream is probably the most challenging thing I have done in my professional career. I am immersed in the work, the reading, the students, the experience makes me look at education through different lenses. The teacher, the student, the advocate, all which cause me to become even more passionate in equity in education. The more you know, the more you need to do.

But what I miss is this space. I spend so much time on other writing and reading, and oh yeah, that teaching middle school writers thing that I haven’t been able to land here and just write. I had a meeting with a colleague of mine a few weeks ago. Henry shared that he writes every single morning. Every. Single. Morning. He had his journal with him as we were talking, and it reminded me of the importance of putting words to a page, just to reflect on your world and this learning. I miss this space.

So summer arrives at the end of this week. I have a mission to outline and finish at least 30 pages on my doctoral project by the end of the month. Yes, that wasn’t a typo, the end of the month. Most people would say this isn’t the time to take on this space, but I disagree. This space has always helped me focus, to come back to my passions and my purpose. So I am committed to write. Every. Single.Day. Hope you enjoy the glimpse into my doctoral and summer world here on this site.

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Happy Poetry Month: List Making Inspired by Sarah Kay

Today we started our Spoken Word poetry project. We introduced the concept with this TED talk video from poet and artist  Sarah Kay.

Sarah asked the audience to think about three things they knew to be true. Here is a compilation of the some of the things we know in room 207. From here we will continue to make lists, and to eventually write our own Spoken Word poems. Happy Poetry Month!

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.58.37 PM What We Know To Be True

Students have powerful things to say.

I can pull my grades up.

Family is more important than anything because they are there for me every time.

 

One day my dad will cross over into the U.S.

I have a lot of Facebook friends, but only a few real friends.

To be honest with yourself, so you can improve.

My family pushes me to the right stuff.

I used to have lots of friends.

Family helps us grow up, school helps us learn.

I believe in my brain.

My family has got my back.

Soccer is my truth.

I believe that if people truly believe, people will be smarter.

Passion, you don’t find that at school.

Friends are important.

I believe in my dreams.

That my education is important, but there are still things more important.

Beautiful is a strong word, you should know how to use it.

I know I can keep trying to get better.

Teachers do their best to make us understand and to do our best.

I like to play soccer every day, and I like to go to the gym.

Your love makes me stronger and your heart makes me unstoppable.

Soccer is not just a sport, it is passion, it’s my life.

Friends can become your family.

I believe that I would the most successful kid in the world. I would try to help others become proud of themselves.

Be the best, but don’t waste your time proving it.

I believe to be true, you have to think before you can do anything.

Teachers try to teach us everything we need to learn.

Have responsibility for each other.

I know I’m smart, but I don’t try.

It’s time I respect people.

Soccer is my passion, my heart, and my love. Soccer is life.

Success is for everyone!

 

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Reflecting on Connections on a Tuesday Afternoon

Today is one of those days that connect us all.
Another senseless bombing, another splash in the media with sound bytes and video clips highlighting the horror in the world. Too often we see these images, too often we hear the same responses over and over again. Through Twitter and Facebook, news media and Instagram.Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.52.56 PMThe world is brought to our door in images, sound bytes, and rhetoric. We are closer, and yet more distanced. This instant communication is a prize, and a curse. What I know to be true, is that the power of connections and the spoken word are more important than ever. Real people. Real words. Connection.

 

I went and spent the morning connecting with my friend and colleague Henry Aronson. I got a real life glimpse into his classroom. To watch college kids grapple with revision, and writing, and community building.Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.52.45 PM It was invigorating, and to talk about pedagogy and passion over lunch reminded me how important it is to immerse yourself in the day to day life of other writing teachers. That connection, however close, can never be replicated by digital communication alone.

I am sitting in a Starbucks marveling at the way our digital world dominates every space we live in. There are comfy chairs, filled with patrons with their face in a screen or phone. The place was packed when I walked in, and so I stood tentatively by the wall, waiting for a space to open. I sit now, invited by a stranger to join the table. We are screen to screen, headphones in, each engrossed in work, a few whispers into his microphone from time to time that demonstrates he is connected to another outside this space. Together but not connected.

I in turn join a NWP Google Un-hangout, to connect with fellows across the country who are going to pilot a digital scoring session. Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.55.20 PMWe were live for small moments, talking, texting, sharing. That digital connect will be how we spend our time next weekend. On-line with a group of people scoring papers. Looking to compare the effect and affect of working on scoring and discussing writing in a digital way. It is great to think of these new connections I will make, and yet sad that they won’t be in person. The ying and yang of the power of digital communication.

I am off to class soon. My pursuit of the elusive doctorate taking all my energy at the moment. Giving up real face time with family and friends to work on my papers, read assignments, and think doctoral thoughts. So much of learning is in digital spaces now. Digital libraries, on line research sites, blackboard for class communications, and emailing drafts and revisions for a digital response. It’s amazing really, the difference going to school now, than 20 years ago when I last set foot in a real college class. It’s nice sometimes to come and sit here in a coffee shop, sit amongst the noise and bustle, before heading back to my quiet office to write and read again.

So I often wondered why so many people chose to work in public spaces. Now I know. There is something comforting being in shared space. A cup of tea or coffee, music in the background muffling the noises of the coffee grinder, steamer and the register. There is a connection. A human connection although we tend to miss it with our faces in the screen. We still feel the need to be social, to be seen, to have a place to go.  As if to say, I am here.

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It Was Only A Drill: Sitting in the Dark, a Message to the Media

Today I sat on the floor with my 8th grade students, in the dark, in silence, waiting for the police to try to trick us into opening the door. We had a full lock down drill today. We had the El Cajon Police Department walk the campus and review our safety procedures in case of an active shooter, or some other danger on campus. It was a creepy feeling.

One, my period 7 is not known for being quiet. They had warning today, and so did I that we would be conducting this drill. This was the first time we had to sit in the “safe zone” and wait for someone to try to break down the door or trick us into opening it. It felt like an eternity, in reality probably 10 to 15 minutes of sitting in utter silence, listening to the yelling, the foot steps, and the door shake and rattle.It made me realize how scary the world we live in has become. When the police opened the door to announce it was clear, I almost jumped out of my skin. They said we did a great job. I had a sinking feeling though if this was a real emergency, this safe zone wasn’t so safe.

It dawned on me sitting in the dark, in front of my students as 24 big bodies crammed into the far corner of the room, that this may not be the best solution. I thought about if there were really gunman in the building, what would we do besides sit on the floor and wait in silence? We are on the second floor. The mamma bear in me was in full alert today, coming up with alternatives if someday  the worst happened and a lockdown wasn’t going to cut it. We are on the second floor. We could climb out the windows, it on the overhang if we had to. We are on the second floor.  A few could fit in the closet, we could tip desks over to block entrance. All would delay, but not solve the problem. There isn’t any way out except the door, and the windows. It was a sobering thought. This was only a drill.

And my students, some of them from war torn countries who have actually experienced the terror of hiding from gunman. They seemed relieved to know I sat in front, and told them they would have to get through me first if that day ever came. I thought about what that might look like, and it was again sobering.

I hear the politicians rant and rave about gun control and gun rights. Police protection, and police militarization. Should schools have armed guards and metal protectors? No one asks the truly critical question, why are we having to deal with so much violence, or threats of violence today? How can we come together and have crucial conversations about this changing world? Less finger pointing, more listening. Less rhetoric, more planning.

Today was only a drill. Statistically speaking, the likelihood of ever being in that horrific situation is extremely small. I don’t choose to live my life in fear, reactive, or with aggression. I don’t believe in arming teachers or schools, I still believe in the power of words in our classrooms. But I am tired of this topic being a soundbite in the political rhetoric. It’s complex and it’s all too real. When I vote this year, I will be listening carefully to those who run for office. Because after all, we live on the second floor.

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In the Best Interest of Time… We Make Choices

In my crazy busy grad school and teaching life I find that I am having to make choices on how I spend my “free time”.  I have discovered that time is not free, but instead spent by making a series of decisions. With 1440 minutes in a day, how do I choose to spend them? Do I go to the gym or read for class?

In the interest of time

In the interest of time

Do I see a friend or plan lessons? Watch a movie or chat on social media? All of it a balancing act, and I am learning that balanced does not mean equal. No one can live the perfectly balanced life if you are going to pursue your passions. Things ebb and flow, and there are times when one element of your life consumes your time more than others. We all have exactly the same amount of time, it’s how we choose to use it that we control.

Yesterday I took the day to recharge. I spent the morning with the San Diego Area Writing Project Spring conference. Teachers teaching teachers, learning from the best and talking about things that matter most. Yesterday, the take away was the power of language. The opening statement has been rolling in my mind all day and into this morning. Language is not neutral.

The language of equity and access applies to all the work I do with students. As I get my students ready for college and career, what language do they need to access that world? How can I support them? What needs to be clarified, constructed, and explicitly taught so they come to the table with the necessary tools and understanding of how that particular world works? It starts with engaging kids in the day to day expectations of what it means to be scholarly.

This year we have more students struggling to pass classes than ever before. Why is that? What connections need to be made to help kids access the content, and see the relevancy and value of learning in their every day lives? They have one to one Chromebooks with more digital access than ever before. Assignments, grades and even teacher interaction are found in their cyber classrooms and websites. But when left to their own devices, literally, there is little being done outside the classroom in their scholarly digital world. The idea of the flipped classroom model doesn’t work if we don’t scaffold and create lessons that demand student participation both in and out of class. And then there is that crazy element of the middle school brain, which runs hot and cold on whether or not school is more important than other elements that pull for our time. If adults are challenged to manage time, why do we expect our kids to be any different?

So what is one step towards a solution to this problem of practice? I believe it starts with the human touch. We have started a before school tutorial program this year.  The focus of the program at first was to provide academic support to my ELL students, but it has grown to be something more. In observing my kids, they don’t come to raise their grades, they come to be together. They need this social interaction, and guidance on how to navigate this place called school. Many of them are failing, not just one class, but many. They need help seeing the connection between what they write (or don’t) on their planner, and the process of learning. I am coming to see that although it is content support they need, it is also the language and process of being a student that needs our attention and support. That language of school, and the idea of what studying looks like, the elements that need to be put in place so kids understand what and how to study. The language and modeling of what it means to be a learner needs to be explicitly taught, modeled and supported. What I thought would be content based, has become lessons in structure and application.

So for this final trimester, we are continuing our morning program, expanding it an additional day by request of those kids who come in the mornings. And I am committed to teach and model the language and processes needed to navigate this place called school. Does it take a good chunk of my 1440 minutes that I could be grading, planning or studying? Yes. Is it worth it? I choose to believe so.

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Sunday Musings: Digital vs. Digitized, Asking the Tough Questions

 I am surrounded by words, words to read, words to write. I love this video posted on the NWP iAnthology, it is a great visual to the planning going on in my head this morning.

I am getting ready to launch a new unit, and with that comes the uncertainty of where to go next. My students are struggling this year, particularly my 8th graders. I am trying desperately to get them to complete work, pull up their grades, get engaged. I feel sometimes my wheels spin and do nothing but dig a huge hole in the ground.  I know that relevancy is critical this year, more than ever. I have students disengaged from the process of learning. They see it as something “out there”, ownership is not a common thread at the moment. This idea that learning is messy is accurate. Rigor and relevancy, student voice and choice, lead to what measurable outcomes?

But there is something exciting about starting something new. I am enthralled with this article at the moment that Kevin Hodgson shared on twitter.Digital vs. Digitized by Tim Clark. Digital vs. DIgitized. Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.14.20 AMI am so challenged  with our Chrome2Home initiative. My kids have access to devices and we are working toward a partnership with the local internet carrier to make it affordable for families. But beyond access, and perhaps even more important, is purpose. What is the purpose of the use of tech, and if students don’t see purpose, or have interest in the project, they won’t use the tech at home as a learning tool. They chat, watch videos, download game extensions, share with other family members, and oh yeah, do some assignments.  I could give up, but its just a bump in the road. We need to reflect on what we ask them to do, is it digital or digitized? Does it challenge thinking or just add a bell or whistle to the same old practice?

What I have noticed lately is opening our library a few days a week in the morning for tutorial gives them a social place to work together. They use the technology differently, they have that face-to-face interaction and the drive and motivation to use this new tool as more than a video and game player. They seek to work together, face to face and this leads to more productive on-line interactions. Its just a musing at the moment, but I will keep you informed as to how we evolve and digital learners.

When running into a problem with students not being successful ask yourself, what do I need to do differently every student can learn given good first instruction?  What do I need to know to get better?  What support do I need and where can I get it?

I found this from Teaching Tolerance this morning, Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.26.22 AMand it looks like an amazing place to start. I will let you know how room 207 uses this new resource. Teaching Tolerance Plans

 

What do you to break the digital barriers?

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