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.