Saturday, April 30, 2016

Our recent experience with fraud

If criminals put 1/8 of their brainpower to something worthwhile, we would have a cure for cancer and an end to all wars.

The past few days have been harrowing. It started with a call to my son from our credit union's fraud investigation service. When we travel and use our debit cards, they usually call and make sure it's us making purchases in atypical places. I appreciate this service.  Since my son had just traveled back to school from IL to VA, I assumed they were calling about the charges on his newly activated debit card. [Note: The previous debit card was just deactivated as a precaution due to compromised information. This is not unusual, and is a safety measure. It also adds to the bitter irony of this tale.] So, I encourage him to call, feeling that it will be a check in.

It wasn't.

In the last week a variety of charges had been made at a Wal Mart near Indianapolis, each a little over $100, totalling almost $500.  $500 of his McDonalds-minimum-wage-job money.  $500 of his hard-earned money for books and incidentals at school.  HIS money. From the kid that, if you needed $100, he would give it to you.  The money has been recovered.  The feeling of being robbed?  That will linger for a lifetime.

Now, these criminals are quite smart.  So this blog post is more about providing fair warning to others.  Lessons from this situation:

1. It is believed that the criminal(s) skimmed his card at a gas station pump in Centerville, IN.  The local manager sent a person out to check the pump.  This person returned about 2 minutes later, saying there was no skimmer at the pump.  My husband spoke with the district manager, who took this VERY seriously.  They have complaints of fraud from 3 people that come down to that same station.

The pump was one that was fairly far from the entrance, yet still under camera surveillance.  The gas station pumps are also open 24 hours, even when the store is closed.  They are reviewing camera footage with local law enforcement.  He said that, having dealt with these things quite a bit at his level, he goes in and pre-pays for pumps that are that far away from human eye. Good advice!

2. The local WalMart management was marginally helpful.  Higher management assistance needed to happen.  They are scanning their cameras and working to determine what occurred.

Our first question was, "How can these purchases be made without his card?"  Apparently, the magnetic strip can be scanned, and a new card can be made.  Many times, they are made with a stolen pre-paid card, and criminals program the card to take money from the scanned account.  Then they sell the card for less than its value.  So a warning to those who might buy cards for less than their face value.  This might be a scam.

3. If you use a credit or debit that does not have the fraud alert that ours did, check your statements carefully.

All for now.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 19 and 20

Chapter 19: Re-write the story you tell yourself about teaching

This chapter is one of the best ones in the book for what I needed to hear right now in my career.  Watson discusses what she calls "flip[ping] the script."  This corresponds well with another book I'm reading.

Watson focuses on our inner voices and what we tell ourselves about teaching.  I feel that this is true of pretty much everything in life.  She suggests positive affirmations of the things that are going right and well.  She offers many examples on p. 240-241 of negative statements we might say, new stories we can tell ourselves ("flip the script"), and new habits we can practice to make the new story come to fruition.  This feeds in to the problem-solving gene of mine.

I will say however, for those teaching with others who are struggling, we want to tiptoe carefully.  Exaggerating the positive can be as damaging as focusing on the negative.  Too much Pollyanna makes colleagues want to punch you if they are not in that space.  I think our job is to embrace our own journeys and support those who are having a rough go.  When they are ready, we can feed them little bits of sunshine.  

Chapter 20: Innovate and adapt to make teaching an adventure

The beginning of this chapter made me think of my colleague and buddy, Emily.  Her first couple years of teaching were spent at my school.  We always talk about things being an adventure, especially when we are faced with not so fun things.

I like that Watson stresses reflection.  We do so very little reflection as a practice in our profession.  We just seem to move on from one thing to the next because it's in the curriculum.  I usually go through curricular content slower than other teachers because reflection is a huge part of what I do.  If the students did not get the material, my teaching was not successful.  Why would I want to just move on if I screwed up?

On page 248, I felt like she was mentioning my resume.  Taking on different roles and responsibilities has definitely been a huge part of my career.  I agree with her point that we need to keep giving ourselves challenges.  This is definitely true.  My latest challenge has been to "flip the script" I have told myself about teaching science.  I have embraced NGSS before I was told to, and I have focused my PD this year on bringing the new science standards into my classroom.  It has definitely been a challenging yet fulfilling change.  I feel like this is what she reinforced on p. 251: "Don't just stand still and brace for impact.  Run toward the changes in education.  Be an innovator.  Be the one who looks at a difficult situation and figures out how to make the changes work to your benefit and the kids'."

I paused when she said, on p. 249, "you will never be happy as long as you insist on knowing what's going to happen in the future."  She was referring to the anxiety of the unknown and constant changes.  She also ends the chapter with an excellent point about rolling with "mandates."  We as teachers are SUCH rule followers.  If we are being told to do this, we must do THIS.  I have even worked with colleagues who have "tattled" to administrators when others were not teaching EXACTLY from a book as we were told to do.

I am not a robot.  My kids are not all the same.  I am a diagnostician.  I have to see where they are and take them from there.  Canned programs are not intuitive.  We owe it to our students to be intuitive to their needs and plan for them as individual learners.  Perhaps if others worried about their own students as much as they worry about what's going on in the classrooms of others, they, too, would have time for true differentiation.

I said in the beginning that I was not sure how I was going to like this book.  Now that I am finished I can say I VERY MUCH enjoyed reading it.  It helped me a great deal through some of the hardest months of school. I now have some practices, skills, reminders, and validations that will carry me through.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 16, 17, and 18

Chapter 16: Connect with kids and gain energy instead of letting them drain you

This is, in my humble opinion, the #1 reason many of the teachers who want to or do leave the profession do so: the drain.  Again, I return to the people who claim they put as many "hours" in as teachers do in a week.  Fair enough.  The number of hours may be the same.  Are they breathing deeply trying not to scream in the face of a small being in front of them?  Until the next small being needs undivided attention?  And the next question: would they even begin to be able to handle it?  I believe and acknowledge that each job has its annoyances.  Truly.  But our "annoyances" are supposed to also be our raison d'etre.  And that is where the rub is.

I consider myself a "lifelong educator," as Watson uses the term on p. 196.  And I highlighted this very important point she makes: "After all, if you don't enjoy the kids, what's left?  The meetings? The paperwork? The testing? The kids have to be your greatest source of enjoyment as an educator."  This point resonates.

I enjoyed her discussion of Morning Meeting on p. 198.  It made me miss my advisory time at the junior high level.  I have become so embroiled with "getting in" all the content I can, that I have forgone the importance of that first part of our day.  My kiddos are jumping right into a math review sheet at that time.  Maybe I need to spend more time making that time a time for renewal and reset.

On p. 199, Watson suggests making a connection with 5 kids a day.  What a great idea.  I am sure I have heard it before, but it's amazing what one forgets after many years in this business.  I really liked this one. She offers a printable that will help in keeping track of connections.

I was really inspired by the idea of thanking students who do the right thing, as addressed on p. 202 and 203.  We have Mustang Money for reinforcing good behaviors, but, you know what?  I often forget to hand it out when it would benefit students most.  I give a "buck" to students for coming to school, because I sincerely am thankful for their presence.  After that, I need to become more conscious about focusing on those who do as they should, day in and day out.

On p. 205, I loved the idea of wrapping a child's desk for their birthday.  In fact, I enjoyed many of her suggestions for birthdays, because they did not necessarily involve huge, icing-laden cupcakes and craziness.  Having the student's picture as the background on the desktop, or whatever the student might like, is such an awesome idea.

I, like Watson, need my lunch time.  I used to try to get to extracurriculars, but I need my family time.  I need to be present to the people who lose so much of me to school.  So, at this point in my life, that is not happening.  I feel no guilt in that.

Chapter 17: Choose to love kids most when they act most unlovable

Watson makes some of the most important points of her book in this chapter.

  • Control the environment.  You cannot control the attitudes of a child.
  • Choose to raise yourself up instead of letting the kids get you down.
  • Don't take behavior as a personal attack.
    • "I have to consciously remind myself that children who are disrespectful, obnoxiously attention-seeking, or totally indifferent are not necessarily acting that way toward me." p. 214
  • There is a difference between off-task behavior and misbehavior.
    • When kids do "kid" behaviors at the wrong time, we must respond differently than when there is a conscious choice on their parts to misbehave.
  • On. p. 218, Watson states what my whole building knows to be true.
    • "The key to solving behavior problems is to figure out which unmet need the child is attempting to address, and then help him or her meet that need."
    • "Always make it your goal to respond in love."
  • She mentions the 2 x 10 method of working with problem behaviors in students.
  • Watson wraps up the chapter with my favorite mantra.  My friend Jessie and I have said this for years:
    • I can do anything for nine months.

Chapter 18: Be truly present and look for the light bulb moments

On p. 225, when Watson mentions, "When you're fully present with kids, you process interruptions and unwanted behaviors differently in your mind and attend to them rather than your own agenda," it reminded me of something that happened in my room the other day.  A colleague was telling me something.  A student came up to us.  I addressed him to see what he needed, and she sent him away, asking for him to "not interrupt and give us a minute."  I reflected that I must be giving her some idea that the students are not the main focus of my room.  I am NOT saying that students should not learn when to interrupt and when not to interrupt.  Trust that I spend a great deal of time working with them on that.  Truth was, she was not telling me some pressing information, and I really did want to attend to the child.  It reminded me that it is important for all adults to recognize the culture of our rooms and that the children are the reason we are there.

Same thing happens when my phone rings (either the vibration of my cell or my actual class phone).  I tell the students that THEY are the most important thing in the room, not the phone.  And I mean it.  Watson's points about being fully engaged with the kids are great reminders.

On p. 230, she admits to enjoying "having" to be at the copier, as it slows her down a bit and lets her have time to think.  I am like that at copiers, at store registers, and the like.  I enjoy things that make the world stop.

She ends the chapter with something that I realize I believe, but some teachers do not.  "Your work is important. Ultimately, whether someone else tells you that or not is irrelevant," p. 234.  Such truth.  I find that others who need our boss to acknowledge their importance are constantly scrambling for her acceptance, and, in the end, becoming colleagues we would rather not have.  We must believe in ourselves and our work.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 13, 14, 15

Chapter 13: Build in periods of rest throughout your day

Before the start of the school year, I got a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, also known as something NO teacher should have.  It feels like you have rusty stakes in your heels as you walk.  I was not sitting down at all. I was working out and getting my room ready, averaging about 14K steps a day according to my Fit Bit.  That sounds reasonable to some, but not after a 5K/day summer.  Teaching with plantar fasciitis was almost unbearable.  I had to wrap my feet to do my job.  I'll repeat that one: I had to wrap my feet to do my job.  I don't know that others outside teaching understand its physical toll.  They'll say to me, "I work 12 hour days, too."  Oh, did you?  On your feet all day?  Because it is HELLA different at a desk.  When I say all day, I am including my lunch, which I was using as an additional prep.  I don't want sympathy, just acknowledgement that this is a job unlike others.  I believe a nurse might completely understand.

This chapter needed to be written, and I am glad Watson included it.  Every teacher knows that feeling when the admin pops in and you are sitting down or not enveloped in a fascinating lesson.  I had a parent walk in this week when I was sitting, and thought immediately of this chapter! I agree that permission is granted to sit.  Trust me, I have seen plenty of admins do it, too.

I liked the idea on p. 161 that, if you must sit, bring some of your "lovies" to a table with you.  In the rare cases when I must write an office discipline referral, it takes a while. There are also times when I must speak with colleagues, like the principal and the nurse.  I could be more mindful of sitting at these occasions, too.

Great ideas abound on p. 162.  I can't stress enough her "comfortable shoes" suggestion.  After having surgery to fix my foot after 10 years of teaching, I had to give up the heels and trendy shoes.  I also miss having a mic.  When I had a hearing impaired student, I had a mic, and it was a huge bonus.  Reading this made me think of researching for a cheap mic.  The culture of the students I teach can sometimes be loud, and a mic would help a great deal.  This one looks like an option.  I just ordered it, so I'll let you know!

Chapter 14: Construct a self-running classroom that frees you to teach

This chapter reminded me of this article I read about a decade ago during math training entitled, Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say.  I was also reminded of my NGSS training this summer in which we we were shown and reinforced the importance of using Talk Moves. I am constantly being reminded that the less talk I present to the students, the more thinking they do.  It comes down to what Watson says on p. 179, "Don't steal the struggle."

I am a huge fan of routines.  This is fortunate since I am the mom of two boys with ASD.  Routines keep us sane at home.  It is the same in the classroom. At the start of the chapter, I kept thinking how good these suggestions were universally, but how imperative they are for students with special needs.  Routines help students with special needs merge into a general education setting so much better than chaos.

The Ask 3 Before Me reminded me of my student teaching, where I had my very first complaint to the principal from a parent (yessssss, those who know me are laughing aloud).  Yup.  Student teaching.  A kiddo went home and told his mom I would not answer his questions.  Basically, he did not want to ask his peers, and the little sucker went home and asked Mom who asked, Why do you not ask your teacher?  See where that went?  I thought I was being empowering!  I thought I was making him think!  Oh yeah, I was making him think all right.  I was making him decide how to manipulate adults to get what he wanted.  Go me!  It is imperative that we explain to students (and parents?  and administration? and co-teachers/aides?) why we are doing these classroom management techniques so that there isn't intentional and unintentional undermining of our fantastic strategies.

The last thing I was made conscious of in this chapter was the ever-present teacher question, Does that make sense? Do we ever really give students time to think when we ask that? Sometimes we ask while they are processing, so they have no idea what to answer.  Other times, they ask us just to get us to stop talking.  I think that question might be recycled by Plato.

Chapter 15: Motivate students to take charge of their learning

If there's anything that I would say is close to my "vision" for teaching, it is placing learning in the hands of (sometimes resistant) students.  I have been having a hard time with the idea of student-led conferences, which I once loved, for the sheer time involved.  I wish that the system would acknowledge that, to do conferences well, using the word they love, "integrity," we need more than one day.  I do not shy from putting in extra time.  Far from it!  I just get agitated when the time something should take is underestimated by those who control scheduling.  I just wasted a week on conferences that I did not need.  I needed more time in October, but there is an insistence on having a day in February as well.

So, I shall focus on what is in my circle of control now that I got that out of my system.  I can say that I try in my everyday to hand things over to the kiddos whenever I can.  This chapter was a good reminder to persevere.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Unshakeable: Chapters 10, 11, 12

Chapter 10: Uncover the compelling reason for every lesson you teach

I find this easier to do with the younger students.  I have only ever taught one high school course, but I do recall there was a syllabus and there were things that were on common exams.  It did not matter whether they wanted to or not, or whether they knew why, the students HAD to know the material.  The better you know the curriculum (I only taught that class one year), the better you can facilitate a "why" conversation.  I pulled the "why" into the class conversations that year when I could.  Perhaps if I had taught it for more than that year, I could have gotten better at this.

I have disdain for our reasoning ever being "because you will need it for..." [insert class, or grade].  It might be true that you need your math facts for future algebraic pursuits, but you could also use them to figure out if you have enough money at a store or if you got the appropriate change back when paying a clerk.  I have always appreciated a bigger picture, although I KNOW I have probably said students will need something for future school endeavors.  It is my last resort.

On page 128, Watson states, "When we truly believe in the purpose of an activity, we enjoy teaching more and do it with greater effectiveness." I can't tell you how many times I have had that conversation.  I recall when CCSS rolled in, administrators/consultants were saying that some teachers would have to give up their preferred units because they did not fit the grade level anymore.  I thought to myself...why?  Why would you ask someone who is teaching their own "passion project" to give that up?  Kids know when we love something.  My teaching partner loves Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli.  I do not love it.  If he loves it, he teaches it well.  If I hate it, I teach it poorly.  We have to allow for teachers to be human--to be great at some things, and not-so-great at others.

I appreciated Watson's shout out to metacognition in this chapter as well.  Get the students thinking about why they are thinking.  Amen, sister.

My greatest takeaway from this chapter was on page 129 when Krissy Venosdale was quoted, "Posting a target before teaching a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it's opened.  Post a question.  Bring curiosity and thinking back to the classroom!"  Sounds like a good change in the Plato Teaching Evolution Timeline!

Chapter 11: Create curriculum "bright spots" you can't wait to teach

This chapter was mentally exhausting.  I get what she was saying.  But, man.  Talk about work.  Yes, when you get lessons that are terrific, you can reuse them.  And yes, I try to be a pretty exciting teacher.  But 4 different subjects (if you count ELA as one big area) and millions of targets make it hard to have a ton of "bright spots."  But I hear her.  The subtitle for this book was "ways to enjoy teaching every day.."  Watson did not promise these would all be easy or effortless.

I appreciate her delineation of 21st Century Skills to include: Life and Career Skills; Information, Media, and Technology Skills; and Learning and Innovation Skills (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity). I am not sure I have heard them specified in this way before.

I like the idea of creating daily bright spots.  For example, on Thursdays, I co-teach social skills lessons with a colleague.  I look forward to that every week, because she lead teaches and does a marvelous job, and we get to discuss skills that are relevant to our kids and their future (and current)  success.  

Chapter 12: Incorporate playfulness and have fun with learning

Did anyone else read this chapter and have this picture in their heads?

Fo shizzle, Ms. Frizzle.

I really do have a great time when I teach (most days), mainly because I am a nutcase.  I am not sure I could work with adults all day after spending 25 years being a goofball with children.  On page 149, Watson mentions the risk of looking like an idiot.  If you have any intention of having a long career in grades 4-8, you better embrace that risk.  Students frequently look at us (and many times laugh at us) as if we have lost our minds.  Good times.

A shout out to KLew.  You know I thought of you and Jayme when she wrote about integrating music!  Every time I teach the Northeast in Social Studies, I burst out into Alicia Keys and JayZ's Empire State of Mind.  You're welcome.  It stays in my head for days.

We definitely have dance and movement breaks in my room.  I am intentional with them, as we have a really long morning.

Transform yourself into a different character and use different accents made me think of my buddy Maureen who pulls out her Irish accent, or when I pull out East Coast JoLynn on my babies.  We have a lot of fun with that. Humor is most definitely celebrated in my room.

I will say this chapter touches upon some things I don't think are comfortable for everyone at every grade level.  It made me laugh when she mentioned puppets.  Sometimes, when I am feeling my class is not listening, I will create two little puppets with my hands and have them talking to each other about, "Why Mrs. Plato is talking when no one seems to be listening?"  I keep up this skit until I have a room full of curious, partially scared, it looks pretty nuts when I am doing it.  I get my point across (and I chuckle to myself as well).  Success!

There was another day I remembered when I read this chapter that went SUPER well.  There was a student in sixth grade who just would not be quiet.  So, I decided that I would proclaim that day Aaron day.  I made a sign with his picture and wore it around my neck as a necklace that read, "It's all about Aaron!"  I also included a heart on my sign so he knew I was being playful and not a raving bi&%#@.  The other kids thought it was so funny that they wanted their own days as well.  This child is an adult now, but I still remember how humor saved my sanity, his self-esteem, and, well...that day.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Unshakeable, Chapter 7, 8, 9

Chapter 7: Do your part to create a positive school culture

Ah, my love language.  School culture.  It is so critically important.  I recall reading about school culture in my grad classes and getting fully behind how critical it is that we cultivate a comfortable place for working and learning.

For some of the administrators for whom I have worked, cultivating school culture has been low on the priority list.  For others, it was higher on the list, but there was little understanding of how to ferment the necessary elements.  I agree with Watson that teachers often need to make this happen themselves.  It is possible, because it happens with my colleagues.

When you teach students with abundant, intensive needs, you can get pretty emotionally beaten up. I understand when Watson said, "You have the right to seek out other teaching opportunities..." but in reality, that might not be a viable option.  I have tried. When in your 40s, it becomes harder, as you make a great deal of money for the profession, and some positions require a large pay cut. If you have taught for a district for a long time, some administrators are not willing to take you on, particularly if you are a strong leader and threaten their sense of leadership and self-worth. Politics abound. Going outside the profession is also hard, as other options see a teacher's skills in only one particular way, and do not see the skills can carry over in other ways.  I have had several teaching positions in my career. However, that seems to be stagnating.  Lucky for me, I am pretty happy where I am.

I agree with Watson that the teachers can take charge of school culture. My colleagues have "Pig Out" once a month, which involves an all-day grazing fest.  We have also instituted an "I Noticed board," as well as writing notes of encouragement to each other.  We have a "Pride" committee that does something special for the staff each month.  I try to give verbal compliments, or at least a pleasant smile and conversation, to colleagues whenever I can.  A smile and "good morning" to the custodian who has been there since 5 AM clearing snow off the sidewalks goes a long way.  So, with that part of the chapter, I felt a great deal of validation.

The first part of the chapter that discussed conversations served as reflection.  I think I am involved in all kinds of conversations.  I will say, when I cannot supersede constant negativity, work seems like a chore, and it's harder to be happy about teaching.  On page 95, Watson mentions being "mentally and emotionally on guard around negative colleagues, especially if they have a tendency to blindside you with hurtful comments...Keep negative co-workers at arm's length and don't value their opinions enough to allow them to hurt your feelings."  Not sure if my feelings get hurt or if they just piss me off.  But I know of what she speaks!

Chapter 8: Take charge of your own professional development

This chapter was preaching to the choir.  I love good PD, and I seek it out often, especially in areas where I feel I need some development.  Watson makes a good point that we must be in charge of our prof dev. "If you don't take the initiative to increase your teaching motivation, who will?"  Amen.  Two Master's degrees and NBPTS certs later, I have a clear prof dev addiction.

Teachers always seem annoyed at SIP days planned by others, as they typically miss the mark for what is needed.  Truth is, each person has a different need.  I have a dream SIP day that involves teachers choosing their own paths and proposing how they will spend their day.  Not just having workshops available, but truly letting everyone propose their day.  Who knows?  Maybe I should propose that?

I appreciate how she included social media as a way to develop professionally.  I have definitely seen Pinterest as a "player" in this movement.  I have found some fantastic ideas there, and I use it for business and pleasure.

Chapter 9: Let your vision define your value and measure of success

This chapter really made me think.  A vision is definitely an important thing to have.  I kept asking myself, "What IS your vision in 2016?"  I think it has changed over the last 25 years.

Several years ago when school choice was in full swing, I read an e-mail from my superintendent regarding the schools that had to offer "choice" to their parents.  Mine was one of them.  There is no way to explain how degrading that felt to our staff, particularly to me. What added insult to injury was that he noted that the district would do everything they could for the schools that were getting the additional students.  That actually caused tears, and I am not a crier.  Despite the fact that I knew we were being placed in an unwinnable situation--that standardized testing was never going to show the successes in our school-- it was such deep and public humiliation for our teachers, for our kids, and for me.  Logic was not winning over emotion.  Clearly, trying to meet the unattainable goals of ESEA ("No Child Left Behind") took over any reasonable vision I should have had at the time. Watson indicates a truth on p. 121 that I learned the hard way: "You cannot allow other people's actions to determine whether you feel good about your work, and recognition cannot be your primary motivation for working hard."

On p. 119, Watson shares the thoughts of a teacher in Milwaukee: "If I don't do my job, I'm sentencing these kids to either a prison sentence or a death sentence. Without an education, most of them have no hope of a better future. That knowledge is what drives us to do what we do.  It's about the vision." This is true of the situation in which I currently teach.

I appreciated her idea of having an articulated class vision. That can definitely anchor much of the conversations we have as a class.  I envision cutting it in vinyl and posting it on our whiteboard so we can see it. I like having the students play an active part in creating the vision.  We have a school code, yet it remains vague and forced on the students. This will definitely be part of my professional reflections in the coming months.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Unshakeable, Chapters 5 and 6

Chapter 5 Go the extra mile for families (but don't take forever to get there)

I know I was inadequately prepared for dealing with parents.  I began my teaching career in 1991, and I believe this was when the parenting shift was in full force.  Perhaps you have seen this cartoon?

I was more prepared for parents that acted the way I was raised.  If I got in trouble at school, I got in trouble at home.  It was my responsibility to get the best grades I was able, and it was my fault if I did not.  If I was going to be in activities, that was fine, as long as my grades did not suffer.  Then, something had to go.  Man, that pendulum has swung!  

I recall drafting a letter of resignation through tears in 1997 when I was about nine months pregnant.  The parents that year were ruthless.  I had been hailed by them when I taught their kids in sixth grade, and crucified (pardon the pun...Catholic school) by them when I taught the same students in seventh.  They were very social, so I knew their social gatherings had a moment or two of ripping me apart.  I was in my sixth year of teaching, five of which occurred at that school.  They were relentless.  They did not care why I was doing what I was doing, only that their children were not getting As.  And they made that very clear. Looking back, I was young and did not handle the situation the way I would have now.  But I truly believe they would not have picked the battle now.  I mean, one of them wrote me a scathing note the day I was to leave to have my baby.  Seriously.  I can't make this stuff up.  Luckily, I had a very supportive principal and great colleagues who told me standing firm was worth it. I am much stronger now in a lot of ways.

I always hold students to high levels. I realize that some of them can/will reach them, and some of them won't.  If it's a true learning disability that keeps them from achievement, I am in constant contact with their caseworkers to be sure I am accommodating their needs and modifying when appropriate. However, I learned something too late for my 27 year old self to benefit.  For a teacher to be successful with parents, you MUST LISTEN with empathy.  My younger self was listening to try to win them over to my point of view.  That is not what they were looking for.  I have learned to listen, to validate, to clarify, and to thank.  I have learned that a smile and pleasant tone will always help.  I have learned that you can talk an irate parent into being calmer, but you MUST LISTEN first. This mantra has served me well for years. 

I agree with many of Watson's points in this chapter.  Getting parents on your side, creating two-way communication (NBCTs unite!), being sensitive to the cultures which you are teaching, and taking the offense instead of the defense are all great, effective strategies.  Making parents your allies, your partners, takes solid commitment, and the time spent early in the year is worth it.

In my current employment, it is hard to get parents invested on the school end of things.  Some were not successful themselves, some do not want to hear bad things, some truly do not have time due to work schedules, and still others are dealing with abuse situations...substance, domestic, emotional...and are in crisis.  School is the least of their priorities.  Understanding that and loving on their children is vital.

Chapter 6 Learn to say "no" without guilt and make your "yes" really count

Oh my goodness. This chapter is so tough.  When you are a young, non-tenured teacher, you think you must say yes to everything and make a good impression.  We call it being "voluntold" when an admin comes to a newer teacher asking them to lead something or be active in something. You definitely do not feel like "no" is an option in those situations. You get into the "yes" habit, and saying "no" becomes very hard.  

One thing that struck me as interesting in this chapter was the idea of parents signing that they have read and agree to your policies.  Well, Angela, what if they don't agree?  For example, my son's high school had a late work policy I abhorred.  If something was late, the highest grade possible was a 50%.  Man, I cannot tell you how much that policy, and its effects, made me want to scream. I wonder if she offers parents an option that they read the policies, but disagree with some of them.

I liked her point on page 82, "Your job is not to treat everyone equally, but to treat them equitably," meaning some parents will require more of your time and resources than others for very good reasons.  We must differentiate our time use with parents similarly to how we differentiate instruction.

Watson's suggestions to soften the blow of "no" are really good.  In fact, the "I can't say yes" option on p. 88-89 is one I plan to try Monday with one of my students who gets irate when "no" is said.  She wraps up the chapter with a point it took me years to realize: 

When you start to feel guilty about saying no, remember what you have effectively said yes to. Saying no to a colleague means saying yes to time for relaxing that evening.  Saying no to a student's parent means saying yes to time with your own children. 

Unshakeable, Chapter 4: "...the kids are the most important thing..."

I decided to break my posts up for this week's reading, especially after reading Chapter 4.  This chapter is one I wish I had many years earlier in my career.  The title: Determine how to do what matters most and let go of the rest.

When in college, I had a vague idea of how to do "academic" lesson plans. I believe there is a place for these plans, but it was not made clear that I was not going to be able to sustain my well-being if I planned every lesson this intensely. A teacher can definitely think in this manner, but writing it all out takes an enormous amount of time in one's week.

What we did not discuss was prioritizing, which is the theme of this chapter. I believe it might be the early destruction of too many teaching careers.  I hope it's being addressed better now, but I doubt it.  As I am embarking on another student teacher's journey, this chapter reminded me that this is a topic I must address.

I see teaching as a marathon that one never finishes. I used to think there should be a feeling of being finished. Early in my career, it was not unusual for me to pull all-nighters in an attempt to get everything done. The last time I did so, three months later I was looking at a home pregnancy test and panicked as to the idea of not caring for my physical health at his earliest stages of development.  Luckily, that baby boy is in college, but it was a wake up call that this craziness had to stop.

Watson recommends a prioritized to-do list.  Some of what she mentioned reminds me of Seven Habits training, especially the subheading, Urgent and important aren't always the same.  It reminded me of the four quadrants Covey uses in Habit 3. That book was a game changer for me, and probably saved my life when I read it. Theme: not everything is of equal importance.

I find writing down my tasks to be very important. I am at my best when I write them on Post-Its or cute note paper and toss the Post-Its when I have completed all that is necessary. There's something about physically throwing them way that assists in the great feeling of getting them done.  Plus, Post-Its are mobile.  If something is an urgent action (as in something that must be done at the end of the day before the students leave), my colleague and friend, Maureen, places the Post-Its on her door so she can see them as she leaves her room.

I like the question Watson recommends to ask: What would happen if I didn't do this task?  I have a task on my list that I have placed lower in priority that is now gaining importance on my list because it is time-bound in nature. I have said to myself all week, "You don't need to do this now."  However, this weekend, it is top priority. Pushing it lower allowed me to get a great deal done that needed to be done.

Her recommendation about grouping similar tasks together is an interesting one.  I think there is a limit to that.  I used to be mainly an ELA teacher.  Grading a group of student writing at one time was NEVER mentally acceptable for me.  In fact, it drove me nuts.  I did not feel I was fairly grading student papers when I kept pushing through just to get the task done.  So, I think this depends on the task one is considering.

Watson makes a great suggestion when she discusses celebrating accomplishments.  When she said, "Celebrate yourself the same way you'd celebrate a student who persevered through a dreaded task..." I immediately thought of how many times a week I do that very thing for kids.  I must start doing it for myself!

I agree with Watson 100% when she states, "...the kids are the most important thing, and the work is secondary."  Ultimately, I don't care of my room is decked out like an apartment or if a bulletin board is in seemingly urgent need of being changed.  I need to be sure I do what is needed for the teaching of the students FIRST.  The rest is icing.