Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

A Taste of 1:1.

Yesterday we rolled out some ChromeBooks for my third graders, and let me tell you something: it was awesome.

LP's so excited that she decided to strike a pose

LP’s so excited that she decided to strike a pose

I’ve read about the benefits of 1:1 technology and I’ve often pondered its possibilities in my own classroom, but yesterday’s ChromeBook rollout got me way more excited than I thought I could be.

Watching my kids engage with technology in a meaningful way makes my heart palpitate with joy. Here’s how I plan on using our new technology:

  1. Google Classroom. If you haven’t used this, you should (I’m using it with third graders, so it can basically be used with anyone). Now that each student will have access to a ChromeBook every day, I can start holding all students accountable to turning in work on Google Classroom. I can also start pushing out more assignments, rubrics, and reminders out using this program, knowing that every child will check it every school day during class. Love making the moves toward a paperless classroom!
  2. Google Forms. This is going to make exit tickets, feedback, and perception data so easy. I’ve used Google Forms for exit tickets before in the past, but having limited computers has made it a little more time-consuming than I’d like. With no computer-sharing, I don’t have to worry about kids logging on and off and back on again to fill out a two question exit ticket. Praise.
  3. Differentiated Instruction. I can have some kids watching videos, others reading articles, and still others collaboratively writing on a Google Doc. This is going to benefit my kids as they work on projects especially, so that they can work at their own pace and continue to extend their learning by watching some sweet flipped videos to teach them how to use various programs. They will have autonomy in the research process and really take ownership of what they’re learning. They’ll have the opportunity to choose what medium in which they’d like to present their information. All of the real world experiences are making my brain spin.

The kids will also be able to use the technology for regular reading practice, using programs such as KidBiz3000 or RazKids, and they will also continue to use their Gmail accounts to communicate with their book clubs, but y’all — this technology means so much more than just day-in and day-out practice.

It’s 11:30pm and I’m still awake because I’m thinking about how much my kids will benefit from this technology. The way I see it, this will only enhance the learning that’s already happening, and that is absolutely exhilarating to think about. It’s 11:30pm and I’m so excited to go to school tomorrow because I can’t wait to watch the endless teachable moments unfold before my eyes, because these moments aren’t even about me teaching them, but these kids teaching each other.

Look at these kids helping each other. #comolosjefes

TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK #comolosjefes

If y’all don’t know what magic is, this is it.

That hand clap, though.

That hand clap, though. Heart: full.

Representing.

A few weeks ago at my last Kenan Fellows Professional Institute (which I blogged about here), all we discussed was educational policy and advocacy.

This was me the entire two days:

Yep, just like that.

Anyway, I really took what we learned to heart. There was a session about learning about your legislators and building relationships with them, and I jumped on that STAT. I tweeted at my school district’s representatives and was, within the hour, drafting an email to them both about coming to visit my classroom.

Within the hour.

Needless to say, I definitely didn’t expect a response so quick, especially with an election looming in our near futures.

This past week, I had one of the representatives come, and it was so great. He came in, interacted with the kids, and asked me some questions while the kids were working independently. He inquired about an online bilingual reading program I had my kids using, as well as my interactive word wall for my kids to add sticky notes with questions about space. Our email correspondence said he would stay for an hour, but he stayed for a little over two.

Rep. Meyer showing students a 3D paper airplane model of the forces of flight!

Rep. Meyer showing students a 3D paper airplane model of the forces of flight!

I was so happy to have him in my classroom — he saw some incredible learning happening. We bridged English space and flight vocabulary into Spanish, and y’all, my kids came up with 81 words about space and flight for this bridge.

EIGHTY-ONE.

I explicitly taught about ten words with hand motions and pictorial representation, and these brilliant babies shot out 81 words at me. UNREAL (they remember EVERYTHING YOU SAY TO THEM).

The representative also saw students creating diagrams to match a text they read the day before (we’re learning how to use nonfiction text features as supporting details to a main idea and were focusing on diagrams that day) and work in collaborative groups to compare and analyze the similarities and differences between airplanes and rockets (which ends up helping them with the completion of their end of unit culminating task).

As he was walking around my room talking with my students, all I could think was, “There’s no way this could get any better!”

Well, if you can believe it, it did.

The kids were pouring out the door for recess after compliment circle, and he asked me if we could debrief what we did in my classroom those last two hours.

HE ASKED ME TO DEBRIEF. ON THE SPOT. ON HIS TIME.

Taken aback, I answered, “Of course!” (I promise my voice wasn’t like three octaves higher when I replied) and we sat down for half an hour before I had a parent-teacher conference come in.

Y’all, this man asked me some of the best questions I’ve ever had an observer ask me about my classroom. Granted, this representative has some education background and context (his wife is a teacher and he used to work for my school district on the equity team), so I’m sure others wouldn’t have the same caliber of questions, but he inquired about specific students and gave suggestions based on his equity work with students in our district. He told me that he loved the high level of vocabulary in the classroom, that he thought the relationship-building practices and management I use are both strong, and he was supportive of the community pieces we have in effect for this unit. He shed light on ideas for keeping my students accountable for their learning that I never considered before, and I plan on implementing those in my classroom this quarter. He even asked me about my Kenan Fellowship and encouraged me to look into other programs like that for next year to better my practice.

As he left, I handed him a thank you card (because 1 – that’s classy, and 2 – I’m sincerely grateful for his time and support). Within the card I offered my contact information and my desire to meet with him again to discuss bilingual education and policy, and anything else education-related if he ever needed input on something. I’ll send a follow up email at the end of the week to continue to further cultivate the relationship.

Friends, our policy window is OPEN, and it’s open now. I hope this motivates you to reach out to your state representatives in the House or Senate (or both!) — show them your classroom, what you do, how your kids learn. Get their ears before the NCGA goes into the long session in January, where they’ll set a new budget for the next two years. This is a partnership; no one can do this alone and fix the problems in our educational system singlehandedly. We need lots of hands in the pot for this one, and what better way to get the ball rolling than with inviting the people making the laws into our classrooms so they can see those laws played out!

I feel fairly confident in saying that lawmakers don’t necessarily know the extent of issues we educators have. We educators know that larger class sizes are a problem, but a lawmaker who hasn’t stepped into a classroom since (s)he was in school doesn’t understand what that looks like from the front of the classroom. If you invite that representative into your classroom, (s)he will learn very quickly that a first grade class size of 30 is the most absurd thing EVER (because honestly, you can only tie one kid’s shoe at a time while your TA monitors bathroom breaks…if you even have a TA..which is a completely different issue!).

It sounds scary and intimidating to contact lawmakers, but y’all, it is SO worth it. Put the fear away and understand that you’re doing this not just for your kids and their education, but for YOURSELF. You are contacting that lawmaker — that representative, that senator — so that you can be an active citizen and stand up for something in which you believe (at least that’s how I explained it to my kids — with hand motions from our last government unit and all).

Research and reach out. Be encouraged; the policy window is wide open and ready for you to climb through!

PTSD: Perfectionist Teacher Stress Disorder.

All my life, I’ve been a perfectionist. When I was about five-years-old, I had to see a doctor because I was getting these headaches at school. While talking with the doctor, he asked if we could play a game; we tossed a ball back and forth, and every time I dropped it, I apologized profusely.

Every. Single. Time.

He said I didn’t need to apologize, it was okay, it was just a game — yet I still said I was sorry for dropping the ball (literally and figuratively).

As I got older and started getting homework, I wanted to make sure my homework was completed to the fullest. As soon as I got off the bus and into the house, I was at the kitchen table doing my homework, because that was the responsible thing to do. My parents would help me with my homework when I needed assistance, but my dad would always help me with math. Now, you should know that math was my LEAST favorite subject in school as a child, and that’s saying a lot because I LOVED every little thing about school. Math was hard for me, and my dad would help me but never just give me the answers. In hindsight, this, in my opinion, is best parenting practice, but it wasn’t a favorable choice when my eight-year-old self was lying in bed with tears in her eyes because her homework was incomplete.

Y’all, I can’t tell you how many devotionals my dad and I did during our evening prayer time that revolved around Matthew 6:25-34.

My strong perfectionist preference dates back to childhood and continues today into my young adulthood, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Blessing: I LOVE my job. I do my job, and I do it extremely well. I am thorough in my planning, and I pour hours of my days after school making sure everything is ready and high quality for my kids. I adjust instruction based on student needs, I analyze student data to inform my instruction, I’m very particular about formatting my anchor charts and SmartBoard files, and ultimately, I just care a great deal about my job. Teaching is more than just a job to me, and I take every ounce of this profession to heart. Those children are my top priority, and I will do everything in my power to give them the best dang instruction I possibly can, all while getting to know each one of them individually throughout the process.

Curse: I LOVE my job (yep, curse, too!). I love my job so much that it’s part of my every thread of life. I don’t think this is necessarily always a curse, but when I’m doing so little in my personal life to counteract the work part of my life, then it can be worrisome. Because I care so much about these kids and the instruction I deliver, I have a very hard time turning my brain off from school-related things. It’s *very* hard for me to go to bed at night knowing something didn’t get finished or isn’t ready for the next day (sounds a little reminiscent of a few paragraphs ago, doesn’t it?).

Many days, I don’t mind that I work as much as I do — I love that God put this passion in my heart to educate, and I’m so blessed to know that this is the calling He has for me (this is a manifestation of His Spirit — how humbling and exhilarating!); despite this, it can still be discouraging at times when I step back and see a to-do list that seems never-ending, like there’s no slowing down in sight.

After talking with my dad about this earlier in the week, I realized something. I realized that maybe, just maybe, God knows what He’s doing better than I do, and that MAYBE I’m working like I am because I’m able to work like this in this season of my life. I’m young and single and still learning about how to be a great teacher, and I have nothing but this passion driving me. Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay that I’m working so hard, so long as I’m not making teaching my idol. I know I’m working for a greater good, for God’s glory (Colossians 3:24-25), but the importance of my personal health should still be a priority. I’m looking for equilibrium between loving my work and doing personal things that make me happy, like write or read or play music. My course of action?

  • I need to set boundaries on school time and me time. I need to pause and understand that if everything doesn’t get done, it isn’t the end of the world, and it’s okay to have fun when it’s a school night.
  • I’m finding more things that I don’t HAVE to do and I’m delegating that work to my TA, which I think will end up being really helpful. I showed him how I format my SmartBoards, and he’s going to try to make those on Tuesday’s teacher workday, copying and pasting from my plans.

I also have realized that finding balance is not easy, especially when you love what you do. The professors I had in the School of Education always would tell us that it was most important to take care of ourselves so we don’t burn out, but that’s SO much easier said than done. I am very cognizant of the fact that I need to keep my mental/physical/emotional health stable, but more often than not, if I have to choose between finishing a school-related activity or doing something for myself like play guitar, I almost ALWAYS choose the school-related activity.

Essentially, I’m still working on this whole professional/personal life balance, and sometimes I wonder if teachers are ever truly able to achieve that.