WORKING ON WHAT WORKS These ideas have not emerged out of the ether. My thinking about this approach stems from a program for the classroom, based on Solution-focused Brief Therapy, called Working on What Works (WOWW) developed by Insoo Kim Berg and Lee Shilts. In a nutshell, the program calls on students and teachers to notice and articulate specific actions that contribute to the success of an intervention. Students learn to observe, name and compliment the behaviors that have been identified as positive and nurturing. Two factors come together in this approach which turn out to be especially effective in building classroom confidence and community: First is a focus on strengths—in individual student behaviors, in the class group, in the observable results. The second piece is an emphasis on student input and feedback on their own progress individually and as a group. Taken together, while Working on What Works, students and teachers learn to keep their eyes and ears open for the good stuff: compliments, celebrations, breakthroughs, perseverance and how to share that news with each other. This video provides an example of the program in practice.
Someone gave me feedback last spring that I was ‘slightly negative’ during an interview. Dang. And it was my dream job, too. There may be some truth in that, although another colleague thought I was great. But in fairness, sometimes what others perceive as negativity is my internal dialogue of problem/solution pragmatism. Often I see there is a puzzle or problem and then work through possible solutions. Educators who are eternally optimistic are a joy to know, I just don’t seek them out for problem-solving sessions. But it is time for me to flip to see the positive first–and those moments are like glitter in the room–messy, everywhere, but really shiny and magical.
Life and events can be disappointing and discouraging, so it takes the wise words of one another to recognize and empathize the struggles, and then take action. There is so much to love about this post–please read it, internalize it, and make it happen. Off to write notes for students.
What are some of your #WOWWmoments in your classroom? I challenge you to tweet or post one a week, heck– one a day–I feel better already!
Is anyone going to understand, aside from other teachers, how amazing what happened is? For all the ills of social media, there is so much good. Note to new and veteran teachers: find your PLN (professional learning network) via social media, and expand your thinking and horizons.
Here is what happened: my district uses packaged novel units based on another district’s work, or now a business, called EL or Expeditionary Learning. The program has many benefits, one of which each student (or scholar as they are known in the district) receives a copy of the central text. There are four modules, each with more lessons than is possible, and the intent is to provide some flexibility and professional judgment in the how to teach, but not the what, and the assessments are ironclad. We first taught Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and I followed the pacing guide and time frame and came out of it three weeks ahead of my PLC colleagues. No matter–I forged ahead with more essay and creative writing until winter break began on December 21.
Well, break is over on Monday, January 7th, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is our next Module of Study, titled “Taking a Stand.” Being a Grants/Wiggins fangirl, I am all about the concepts of Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions. But–
…but–To Kill A Mockingbird?
My relationship with the novel is probably typical of a little white southern girl with liberal, progressive parents–I loved it. I loved Scout. I loved the bravery, and the characters, the mystery, the strength, and the suspense. I can’t remember when I first read it if it was a choice or assigned, but I see a wavering fog of memory of some teacher and I connecting over my lightbulb moment of why Mrs. DuBose chose to go off her morphine toward the end of her life. The novel taught me so many things, and I am grateful to Harper Lee for this novel. And to this day, it holds a special place in my heart. However, we paradoxical humans can and should hold two or more truths at once, and over the past year or so (long before I knew I would switch districts and be mandated to teach the novel), many respected educators questioned and criticized this novel. I learned and listened to new perspectives and considerations, many of which hold important truths. Truths about race, racism, misogyny, and injustice masquerading as justice.
I had this amazing professor in college. He was Sri Lankan, teaching the required Brit Lit class from the POV of colonized people. He gave us “Heart of Darkness” and said:— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019
“This book is a racist piece of crap. I want you to read it because I want you to know what a racist piece of crap it is.” We read the book and had amazing discussions, using it as a central text to talk about white gaze and other things. So, teach, but teach context.— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019
I’m just listening in but I do think if you have to teach a problematic text, then you teach it as a vehicle to learn a critical reading process that allows kids to identify other problematic texts out in the world. Because they WILL encounter them.— Jess (@Jess5th) January 2, 2019
When Jess@Jess5th tweeted this –I knew I found the center focus.
The responses received fill my heart. With the deepest of gratitude, I must acknowledge @MrTomRad, @Jess5th, @debreese, @Ebonyteach, @CrazyQuilts, @Caitteach, @ShanaVWhite, @JenniferBinis, @spencerideas, @TheJLV, @ValerieBrownEDU, @triciaebarvia and if I missed anyone, my apologies. You all came to the conversation, and this-this is what I’ll share with my scholars first — we are all learning together, and trying to do better, and ask the big, tough questions.
The plan, such as it is, when we come back on Monday, January 7, in the midst of adolescents who’ve been homebound for two weeks (most of them) caring for younger siblings and doing whatever it is kids do over rainy breaks when resources are limited, and the building expectations PowerPoints that must be shown, is to let them first take and get reoriented, but also–share what happened. How other teachers discussed their ideas, openly and freely. I intend to pair this text with my #projectlit collection, of course, and allow students to find their own relationship with To Kill A Mockingbird along with other paired texts and discussions. I want so much for them.
If you would like the resources and ideas shared, please go to Twitter and follow me, and click on the discussion thread: @mrskellylove
Be centered on what matters to you.
Just wanted to capture a wonderful chat I stumbled onto–good ideas and inspiring to focus on what matters. And: I want to share with students that teachers walk the walk–we want our students to love their reading and writing lives as much as we do.
A few ways students respond to 📚: artwork, poetry, letters to characters, letters to authors, alternate endings, rewriting scenes from different POV, etc. Goal: demonstrate thinking without killing ❤️ of the book! #vatechat
My head hurt all weekend since an odd idea came to me late last week. Did you ever get an off-hand comment that seemed vaguely critical and out of context the only explanation could be it was growing in the background for a long time? Writing is processing, and thinking about how to frame bizarre moments on this rainy Sunday afternoon solved the pain.
The best thing about my PLN is that we all understand that sharing, curating, and responding are part of the culture of being a creative collaborator. There are no egos, no “stay in your lane’s” or titles and job descriptions that prevent us from sharing our ideas and resources freely and kindly. From Notice and Note Facebook page and other groups that share ideas and insights I have made new friends. And–never doubt it that it’s a small educational world after all. A good friend and former colleague who moved back to Florida last year is friends with a teacher who’s become a good professional friend via these channels. You just never know.
But what I do know is good work is good work: the younger teachers I work with, even though I’m not officially in the ELA group/department anymore (insert long trombone sound here) they continue to work with me, and we seek out ideas and resources. Which is why I was perplexed last week. What is expected from a staff in terms of sharing? What if a teacher decides she is not going to share her resources? What if, like I am simply because I’ve been in my building so long, should not be the Keeper of Continuity and Nooks and Crannies Resources? For one thing, that title doesn’t fit on a business card. Quite impractical.
One of the…trends?…I’m hearing and seeing is this idea that more seasoned teachers aren’t supposed to share their expertise. It’s curious and confusing. We, teachers, are constantly asked to wash and rinse a laundry basket full of mixed messages:
Share your resources and time!
Take on a student teacher!
Mentor younger teachers!
It’s not your job anymore, so don’t share!
Keep your advice to yourself!
You’re (fill in the blank: overwhelming, emotional, fractured, walking wounded)
Too many emails
Not enough emails
If you send it, no one will read it
Walk on eggshells
Stand up to bullies
Let her do it
Open your classroom door!
Keep your door shut!
Open your heart!
You’re bleeding on the carpet!
You do it.
Stop doing that.
How do we shut out the static and tune in to what’s essential? How do we enjoy our days at our jobs? Our professional, heavily invested-in, challenging, humanly flawed jobs?
Yes. Shut the door. Temporarily at least. And just listen to students. Whatever the grown-ups are saying or thinking doesn’t matter too much on the periphery. When we work together instead of working outside-in to inside-out, perhaps some authentic professional relationships will grow.
As my cutie-patootie fictional night-elf-turned-demon says, Illidan Stormrage says, YOU ARE NOT PREPARED! And if only I had listened to him when it came to ISTE. But, purpleman, I learned a lot, and had a blast. Now is the time to share the booty and swag I plundered.
Well, one word I heard over at ISTE that I adore is “medium agnostic,” which I’ve been a fan of for a long time. It’s one of those phrases that frames “I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know the name of it” idea. That is good news that our district is turning more medium agnostic — the work is more important than who makes the tools. In that light, KQUE/Mindshift posted this article this morning:
I missed a lot of the convention, but traded it for spending time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I had hoped to meet up some folks from the district offices, but missed texts, etc. and it didn’t work out. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share later this summer. I’ve put the invitation out there, so we’ll see. We all manage our to-do lists and idea files differently. This blog is my way of trying to collect those ideas and ‘let’s try this’ stuff. Need to start using my tags better. Put that on to-do list.
I wish our district would get thinglink for staff and students. It’s interactive: the process of putting one together is engaging and well, cool. I made a point to talk to the Thinglink rep. I tried to get the special 360 deal, but it was being weird. When I have time I’ll write to the company to say I tried to order it with the ISTE code, but it was being buggy. Now that’ll have to wait for next payday, too.
Sigh. Okay. One thing. When I tweeted about ‘both genders’ (boy/girl) being discussed at the Coding/Girl Brainpop information, a Twitterbot informed me that perhaps I meant “all genders.” I appreciated the information, to be sure, and it forced to me to think. However, the information presented was binary: boy v girl. And then this was reported this morning:
The Keynote Speakers
Michio Kaku: Overall, it was pretty good. I think he’s great. Some of the information was a bit outdated for this audience, though.
Ruha Benjamin. I don’t know why I missed her talk, but was greatly disappointed.
Michelle Cordy: I missed her keynote address because I was too busy eating breakfast burritos at a restaurant with my friend. Although the burritos were delicious, wish I could have been two places at once.
I have been playing with Twittercasting, but am not sure I love it. This ‘real time’ live feed video stuff is scary. I could see its application, or ones like it, being used for weekly communication between students and parents. No more “I don’t have any homework.” I don’t give much homework, but usually a continuation of a project that doesn’t require WiFi/internet. When parents ask if their child has homework, the answer is a dodgy no. No more. A quick live-feed cast would have the students sharing with parents what they did that week. Along with Remind, communicating with busy parents may be a lot easier. The goal is to have students take ownership and use metacognition.
Would I go to ISTE again? I’m not sure. Yearly membership is over $300, registering for the conference close to $400, and the airfare, etc. around $450. Am I glad I went? Sure! Next year’s is in San Antonio, and that’s close to my folks! So yes, maybe I will. I’ll certainly be more prepared, and curate with greater efficiency what booths I want to go to, presentations, and who on my PLN list I want to see. One lingering question I have is how did those educators get to the other side of the podiums? How do I better serve my students who are creating amazing things and show what they know? Maybe some of these apps and tools will support their thinking. Besides, it is my job to prepare them, night elf demons notwithstanding.
Back in the day, I used to work in a small but potent marking company designing and executing trade shows for medical conventions. It’s still run by one of my first, and best, bosses. One thing that was always fun about those conventions was the swag –however, most of it was useless to me, not being a doctor or pharm rep, so it wasn’t until we did a booth for the American Booksellers that I got things that I really wanted — and I still have some of those books today. But that was long before I became a teacher. But these past three days, I have been to the mountain, and I am now going to do my utmost to share the treasures I looted, the swag I bagged, and the privileges of pillaging. The only thing is its all digital–and it’s awesome. Yes–I got to attend the NCCE. Aside from leaving my classrooms for three days, and planning on going in on Sunday to get caught up, prepared for my post-eval meeting, reading story entries for my writing contest, fix some posts for another student blog (yet to be publically shared), and update the old grade book, and figuring out what is the first thing I’m going to use from this conference. (deep breath: we’re all busy)
Nutshell View: Here’s Who I Saw And Heard
Chris McKenziechrismckenzie.weebly.com Twitter: @mckc1 Chris’s presentation “Technology in the English Class: Ideas to Support Deeper Learning” showed me that students can write thesis statements that would make the ivory-est of ivory tower professors weep with joy. He showed me that themes and thesis can be taught with depth. He taught me, or rather validated, that my approach of trying to layer technology and not let technology instruction invade, interrupt or eviscerate content instruction is doable. Also, his literature blog in the voice of one “Mr. Cornelius McKenzie” is an engaging way to teach voice. (Sorry, I don’t have a link to this.) And– ultimately– that when listening to a poem, it can be a thousand times more powerful when viewed through Google cardboard.
Thank you, Mr. McKenzie. Brian Clearyhttp://oldbrainteacher.com Twitter: @oldbrainteacher Brian spoke to my heart of my teaching philosophy: the story is the key. How many administrators have the past few years had to cut out science, play, social studies, play, PE, etc. so students could attend double or triple time in reading and math instruction? There was never any need for that, except for the draconian, punitive measure of NCLB. Not going to lie: makes me sick to my stomach. Why can’t every district, building, etc. have innovative librarians that know how to embed reading, science, history, and math at the same time? No more. Look up his website, go to his 90% lessons, and don’t ever tell me again you can’t teach with story telling again. Morgen Larsen @MSLibrarian Lady Morgen is a wonderful speaker, who also spoke to me via my love of ‘whose story is it?’ in history. I knew we made a connection when we understood that we both think Pocahontas got a raw deal. Even in the Disney version. (Or perhaps especially.) She shared the Stanford History Education Group website — amazing source.Leslie Fisherhttp://lesliefisher.com @lesliefisher A force of nature. I am going to spend hours this weekend simply curating those amazing things she shared. Couldn’t download apps fast enough, or sign in or up quick enough. And yes, I have my Leslie lanyard. Or should I say “Lesyard?” No no no….however… We are a Cult of Leslie now. SBA, Now What? @GEMalone The last presentation I went to was with Dr. Glenn Malone–from a sheer data and assessment standpoint, this was invaluable. I appreciate his candor and ‘what we can do’ approach more than I can express. Thank you, sir. He’s the current president of WERA, so I strongly suggest if you want your voice heard in data and assessment, pay attention to what these folks are doing. Twitter The other benefit of the days was buffing up my PLN again – lots of new Twitter followers and follow-ees. Sift through my list to check them out: @mrskellylove Okay all — I’m tired. It is Friday night. I turned 52 this week, and am feeling it. Yes, my birthday was spent at the NCCE, and for sure — I receive some great gifts. Thank you all!
John Spencer is one of my first, and lasting PLN colleagues. I read his words carefully, and it was he who over the weekend told of the sad news about Joe Bower. Otherwise, I may not have known, because over the years I’ve pruned my PLN down, and now I realize too far: growing this network again to sustain and provide professional oxygen must be my personal mandate.
During my own journey, sometimes I didn’t understand what Joe was trying to say, or understand how powerful his words are. Perhaps that is one of the cardinal tenets of educator reflection: if you feel uncomfortable, look closer. Stay mindful. I went to read his words again, and now seeing his intentions with clearer eyes, and how he was a guardian and paladin for children is even more profound.
Come on old brain, learn some new tricks! Is it possible to re-program a brain to think differently, not focus on the negative, but wash away shameful thoughts and quickly suture confidence? Hope so. Remember, there’s no such thing as overnight success, people! I have faith–I’m a writer, after all. Whatever that means. (Maybe I need Journalist Inner Voice, too?)
The other day I had a gift of an opportunity to discuss ideas for next year: it was a good chance to listen to new directives and possibilities. My local professional circle is characterized by folks of immeasurable generosity, new connections and long-time colleagues. I have been attempting to do planning now for next year, anticipating and adapting for students’ needs. I have a lot of questions about new directions, and am desperately trying to sort out the most important things. But me and my big mouth. Unfortunately, I wrote something in an e-mail that was too strident in tone, and I wish I could have the chance to say it differently, because what I was trying to say matters. Because I said it in a matter-of-fact way the perception (and understandable) may have been that I was being petulant and stubborn, not action-oriented. From that point, what got lost, because of my own stupidity, was the potential for a great discussion about the bigger ideas. I mishandled it, and made it worse. Talk about the alarm bells going off! There isn’t a homunculus personified emotion representation for how it feels to feel ashamed at allowing the conversation to veer off into personality ditches. Where is the “Beating Yourself Up” inner voice?
Here was the big idea: there are solid concepts, enduring understandings, and pedagogical foundations that transcend change. A few examples may be the concept of Name, Voice, Identity, Social Justice, History Repeats, Monomyth Studies/Archetypes, Storytelling Over Time, etc. These themes in the Humanities are transformative for generations of students. The time and place, however, for these deep discussions about instruction is something I need to work on, big time. But what steps to take, which direction to go?
As we shift toward focused, skill-based conversations about instruction and less about the means of delivery, I know I’m blessed–the empowerment of teacher choice and autonomy is huge, and that message was clearly communicated, for which I am grateful.
Keep in mind, the standards are helpful in guidance, but not necessarily these ‘big view’ ideas:
Before we myopically fixate on any set of new standards, teachers and administrators would be well served to remind themselves two things about the new standards: (1) teachers who religiously follow them are being asked to do things that are not in the best interest of our students, and (2) these new standards will one day be ushered out the door to make room for the next generation of “improved” standards. When first introduced, new standards come with a certain gravitas— a gravitas, however, that is unlikely to persist. One study, How Well Are American Students Learning? The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, notes that “standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in.
Gallagher, Kelly (2015-02-28). In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom (Kindle Locations 157-162). Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Most of the time I am in the role of listener. I listen to directives, agendas, targets, and translating subtext. (Translating subtext is a skill I wish I could shed, however. Blessing in the classroom when I’m listening to a student, a curse when I recognize others are not synthesizing or integrating concepts, or I’m failing at communication.) I am the receiver of others’ decisions and discussions, and no longer at the local ‘big kids table.’ And that is totally okay.
Choosing time and place is tricky. It was a great discussion about logistics and philosophies, and that’s really important. I listened, and listened deeply, to the bigger message. It’s possible, and perhaps preferable, to keep those big idea conversations in my own head as I clean out the mental teacher clutter. I am an ambivert, and need processing time. However, that internal monologue at some point needs to be external: I love my partnerships and collaboration, and am so grateful for PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). So the take-away: not all conversations should be about the means of delivery of instruction. This is where a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a lifesaver.
Ah, but what a gift that is: I am free to create on my own, and collaborate with whom I choose. One of my passionate PLN connections has, and will forever be, with the National Writing Project. I can’t wait for the first of two workshops starting tomorrow. I have things to pack my lunch, and extra snacks! (I might even write myself a note to put in my lunch bag: they’ll command, “Make Me Proud!” and “Make Good Choices!”)
PSWP Writing Workshop | One of the pillars of the National Writing Project is that teachers of writing should write. In this class we immerse ourselves in the writing workshop, focusing on ourselves as writers. We spend time writing, working in writing groups, sharing craft lessons, and reflecting on our writing process. Genre for your writing is open; craft lessons focus on memoir, article writing, and fiction. We welcome anyone who teaches.
PSWP Reading and Writing in ELA and Social Studies | This class focuses on language arts and social studies content and how to approach the new thinking and skill demands of the Common Core. We explore strategies for teaching students to think, read, and write in English, social studies, and/or humanities classes. This engaging class is inquiry-based, hands-on, and practical.
This past June, one of the nicest things an exiting teacher told me was to keep her on my ‘tech tips’ e-mail list; she loves those tips, and wanted to make sure she was still included. No one pays me for those, and oftentimes I thought they were either annoying folks, or being sucked into a vacuum. This local PLN heartened me greatly.
There are hundreds of potential PLN connections, from politics, to social studies, authors, researchers, science, math, current issues to history. Caution: once you fall down this rabbit hole it’s tough to get back out. But you won’t want to–it’s a safe place to discuss big ideas. And the coffee is just how you like it.