The Educator's Classroom

Join me as I explore education. As a passionate educator, I am determined in helping prepare students for global competitiveness!

I am currently a Director of Gifted/ELL Education. Although these two groups may appear as divergent as any, they are two populations of students who need extra services in order to be successful students, and more importantly citizens of our world. I am always looking for ways to provide all students with opportunities for them to find their individual success.


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If you had a surprise of extra Title III (ELL, Migrant, Immigrant) money, how would you spend it??

  • Buy computers to aid in classroom instruction and learning since there is currently only 1 computer available per ELL classroom.
  • Support family education to help these families understand the educational system and the importance of having a quality education.
  • Provide a TA to assist a teacher with higher than normal caseloads.

I’m looking for some advice here…  if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear about them.  I’ve also thought about a combo approach, but unfortunately there is not enough money to do all three well.  So…

What would you do?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about shifts that are needed to accomplish real change.  I don’t necessarily believe that people aren’t ready for change, but I wonder if those in positions of “power” are ready, willing, and actively approaching the change that is needed. 

During our last professional development day we discussed a piece of “student assessment” that we have been using for the entire length of the program’s existence.  As we split into groups and began reviewing the questions we were supposed to discuss, it was noticable that we were not discussing whether this was still a valid, reliable form of assessment, instead it appeared that the questions were leading and trying to tell each teacher what is a necessity on that form of assessment.  As we came back together I felt it important to bring up the fact that the questions appeared leading; that perhaps we need to change our way of thinking and this 20-25 year old type of “assessment” may not, in fact, be the most reliable.  Others agreed, that perhaps we need to revaluate how we “assess” and agree on our levels before we can move forward.  The problem lies in the person(s) who are the administrators…  they helped create the original levels and “assessments,” and to them, we are already doing what is great.

But…

Aren’t we in trouble if we think we’ve already achieved excellence?

Shouldn’t we always be striving to change and do what’s best for kids?

If something isn’t working for the students, parents, or teachers then why are we doing it?

Having high expectations of yourself and your students is important.  Expectations help propel us forward and keep us working towards new levels.  If we hold low expectations of ourselves, not only will it affect what we accomplish personally, but as a teacher or leader our students/staff will also pick up on that and their ideas of us will be diminished.  Holding low expectations of our students/staff is detremental… it tells them you don’t believe in what they can accomplish and infact holds them back.  High expectations are so important!

A few months ago I visited a school and noticed that the students were talking out of turn, didn’t respect each other, and could be heard saying “I don’t want to do this because I don’t feel like it.”  There could be multiple reasons behind this… I’m sure.  But as I spent more time, listened to the teachers discussion, observed in the classroom, and even taught a lesson, I began to notice that the teachers held low expectations of what their students could accomplish.  These low expectations did not transcend the academic walls as the students were very smart and the teachers expected quality, high-level work in this arena, but had very low expectations because they were smart about their behavior.  One teacher told me that they couldn’t raise their hand because they were so smart.  I heard from another that they couldn’t sit on the carpet at any grade level because they are so smart they just don’t know how to do it. 

After hearing these comments, I decided it was time to challenge them: your expectations about their actions and interactions within the classroom are too low.  My students are also gifted, but they sit in multiple locations, take turns talking, raise their hands, and take a vested interest in their projects.  This happens because the expectations we have within the classroom are those that contribut to a learning environment where everyone is respected.  The expecations are high, but the students appreciate the respect felt and dealt.

High expectations are crucial…

"I AM" Boards: Students first drew and painted a self-portrait. Then they came up with 10-15 words that described themselves, put them in colorful fancy fonts, and the added those in top. Loving how they are looking and the pride students are taking in this project!

To end out our study of archeology, students participate in a simulated excavation.  Students first have to use their skills to excavate properly.  Then they create a map to scale.  Once an artifact is found they measure and map it.  Finally they must analyze the artifacts uncovered and use information to determine what the culture was like and also the time period of its existence.  No easy task, but no complaints to end the school year this way either. :-)

I strongly believe that we, as educators, have a huge responsibility on our plates.  I try to, not only, help my students understand various concepts, but also help prepare them for life and the adventure that they will partake in outside the classroom walls.  This year I tried something a little different, to assist with this and to help with the classroom culture and climate.  What I tried seems so simple looking back on it; I’m shocked I didn’t do this before…

At the beginning of the year I talked with my students about the image that we are always portraying.  It doesn’t matter if you think people are watching or not.  People learn a lot about you from your one-on-one interactions, group interactions, and those instances when you think no one is watching.  We must always be cognizant of the person we are presenting… People are learning about us.

Therefore, in my classroom when I had a moment appear where the students started to talk and I was patiently waiting for quietness to continue the lesson, I waited and as it quieted down I simply said, “Are you teaching me what you want me to know about you?”  It only took two times of this interaction before the situation reappeared and this time a student said, “Hey guys, she’s learning about us!”  With that reminder from the student, the class demeanor changed.  I was shocked because something that I hadn’t given a lot of thought too when discussing with my students, was making a difference.  From that moment on when someone behaved in a way that did not demonstrate good character, another student would ask the person if he/she wanted us to learn about him/her what was being demonstrated. 

One small phrase and discussion made such an impact.  I will continue to use this within in my classroom and hope that this thinking and mentality will continue even once they are no longer part of room 24.

The other day I was sitting in my car when Jason Mraz’s new song, “I Won’t Give Up” came on the radio.  Although the intent of this song has nothing to do with education, that is what I started thinking as I heard it…

It’s a hard time to be in the field of education… Teacher job satisfaction has plummeted from 59 to 44 percent, according to the Washington Post (http://goo.gl/kkxtq).  It is harder and harder to stay positive when we are constantly being questioned on our methods, when professionals in the field hold little clout, and when keeping the whole student in mind is forgotten.  I’m not going to lie; I have been swept up in this negativity from time to time.  I’ve questioned my role in the field of education.  I’ve wondered if I can do what I intended when I started.  I’ve worried that I’m not going to be able to help my students in the way that can to prepare them for life.

That’s when it hit me with this song and a few events of the week between past and present students…  I have a deep passion and love for working with students.  I love seeing a student light up when he or she finally understands something for the first time or when a new risk is accomplished. I absolutely relish in the moments when a past student visits to share that, yes they did learn a lot in my class, but more importantly they fondly remember the way they felt entering and exiting it every week.  I savor the work that I do with colleagues as we challenge ourselves to reinvent the experiences within our classroom.  And I appreciate those that came before me to pave the way in this field, keeping what’s right for students at the forefront of every decision.

Yes, there will be times when this field gets rocky, but it’s important to push through and remember the students that we are helping, remember the impact that we are making, remember that no matter what we will always strive for what’s right for students. 

To that effect:

“I won’t give up on us
Even when the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up”
-Jason Mraz

I am struggling…  I truly try to reach every student in my classroom and help each student move from where he or she is to a new place of growth and learning.  This means that I’m constantly reinventing what I’m doing to meet the individual student’s needs.  I constantly push my students, trying to help them realize their true potential and understand the amazing feats they can accomplish, even as a 4th grader.  But as of late I am struggling with a student and I’m unsure of how to help her…

In my fourth grade classroom my students accomplish often what they didn’t realize was possible.  Most of my classes create entire 7 ½ minute documentaries about a specific archeological topic.  This is no easy feat as they plan out the 8 week process to meet their individual group needs, research using multiple sources, find and contact specific subject experts, set up interviews, film footage, find copyright free/royalty free/creative commons images, record voiceovers, and put it all together in a matter of no more than 16 hours.   At the end of this process most students comment that they never thought they could accomplish what they did and they beam with pride as their videos are shown to parents and at our local history museum.  Another group of my students has taken on the role of educating others via social media, one piece being a short video podcast.  The video podcast process is similar to the documentary without extensive research and with a shorter film.  Understanding this plays into my struggles with a particular student.

This one student continues to choose to not follow written or spoken directions when given.  Doing this makes the entire process that much more difficult for her.  She doesn’t utilize the checklist provided, even when reminded, and has a hard time communicating with her partner.  She also wants to check in with me for everything… at one point telling me she could not find pictures about her topic… bones.  She is constantly trying to take the easy way out and whines that this project is too hard.  The thing is, she is demonstrating this behavior in every class… telling one teacher and myself that she just doesn’t want to think.

This is where I’m struggling… I know she can do this work and that it’s not too hard for her, because when I finally tell her that I won’t help her if she won’t help herself, she can accomplish her task.  The thing is that I want to help her… I want her to understand that challenge is a good thing and to embrace it.  I want her to fail and realize how sweet success is.  I want her to be proud of her accomplishments after a tough project because she did it all by herself. 

So, I’m refusing to do her work, I’m letting her struggle…  but I don’t know if I’m really helping her… I’m struggling as she struggles to find confidence in herself.

So I’m wondering:

What do you do with this type of student? 
How do you ensure that they experience success and see the joys of doing their own work? 
How do you help them to realize the joy in a challenge? 
How do you help prepare them for life and the ability to work on their own?

The other day as I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge another teacher whom I have the utmost respect said, “I have to admit that I had a hard time coming to work today…” Of course I couldn’t let it end with this, so I asked for elaboration and an explanation. She went on to say that she has begun to question why she’s doing certain things in her classroom. Is there a real, valuable connection? She said that after this many years of teaching and constantly changing and evolving, she’s wondering if she’s providing students what they need to be successful. She expressed a desire to collaborate to really think through her curriculum and several of us piped up to offer any assistance we could.

After several minutes of personal reflection, I told her that although I know it’s hard when you start questioning what your doing in your classroom, it’s also refreshing to hear that reflection and thinking are always occurring in order to make the learning experience better. To be a quality teacher, you’ll always be reflecting, questioning what you do… Teaching is not stagnate and requires collaboration and reflection.

Do you have these moments?

How do you work through them?

How do you ensure you are always doing what’s right for the children in your classroom?

Students learn from MIR Captain, Craig McLean, about the Titanic and his 2003 expedition. They emailed and setup this interview all by themselves! Proud moment!