Saturday, April 4, 2015

Have a Great Day

I have a student currently iny class- let's call him Bobby. Bobby is a student with significant learning disabilities, and he is a student in our school's ILC, individualized learning center, only he attends the Writing Lab class I teach for students who struggle with writing.

Usually when I have students like Bobby in class the other students are awkward with them. It's different with Bobby, though. My students in this class include him in everything they do. I have to say it gives me hoe for my students who struggle. 

All too often my Writing Lab  students try to act hard until the moment they realize they are in a room with people just like them- people who have significant struggle for a lot of different reasons. 

It began with a girl in class who asked him to participate in an activity on the first day. Since then he has not only been included, but they ask his opinion, students workshop with him on their writing, and they include him in their laughs.

My favorite part of every day, though, is when he leaves my class early to go back to the ILC  to gather his things in order to catch his bus at the end of the day. One time only the big football player in class participated and yelled at everyone, so now everyone makes sure they yell a big hearty, " Bye Bobby- see you tomorrow!"

Friday, April 3, 2015

Daughter of the World

My grandparents, who met working at a leper colony in Panama in the early 1930s, used to tell me, "Molly, you are a daughter of the world. You must take this seriously and give back." I believe this is why I went into education; it was inevitable. It was the most tangible way I could see to give back to the world and try to make it a better place than it was when I came into existence.

Teaching NWP Colleagues how to Twitter
Thanks Katrina Rene for the photo.
But our role as educators has changed tremendously in the last five years. In the age of Common Core, no matter how we feel about it, we must figure out how to teach the skills that will help students gain access to learning in our content area. For me, this means reaching out to other educators to share my own learning and hopefully learn something from the people I come into contact with.

My work outside of the school day mostly involves the National Writing Project and its affiliate, the Denver Writing Project. The writing project has trained be to be a teacher consultant, a person who can take my own learning and teach other teachers, and also learn from them. Through this work I have been able to learn about how to implement the Common Core through the work I did with the Literacy Design Collaborative. I have received opportunities to meet amazing educators from around the country, and I have been able to create great professional relationships with these people.

The power of the work outside of my school day is that I have a network of teachers from across Colorado (where I live) and most amazingly from across the country. I pull from these teachers to learn what is happening where they live. There are days that I get discouraged about what is happening in my school or my district, and they reassure me that it is happening in their workspace as well.

There is power in a group of people who want the best for their profession. There is power in knowing that there are people outside of my immediate experience I can draw from when I need help. There is power in moving beyond our buildings to see different ways to accomplish goals. This power to create a place for teachers to talk really does make me a daughter of the world, one where we help and take care of one another.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Networks and Newsrooms

A year and a half ago I sat in the newsroom at the high school where I teach with my good friend, Tina, our eyes red and swollen from crying from the news that one of our beloved former students had died. It was sudden - a seizure and a stroke on a city bus on his way to classes at his college.

I had dinner with Kenna a month earlier where he told me about his dream to become a civil rights lawyer to fight for gay rights. He was a black gay man who was the arts and entertainment editor on his school newspaper and he was active on his college campus in his quest for LGBTQ rights on campus.

Kenna's Memorial at CU
As Tina and I sat in the newsroom that September we began making a list of the people who Kena knew so that we could inform them of his tragedy. We started with the kids who were on the newts with him. Then we thought about who those kids knew to remember who his core group was. Then we started thinking about teachers and we went through the same process. Finally, we talked about all the students from the University of Colorado who were posting on his Facebook site. The net was wide, for sure.

Kenna...We Still Miss You
Our conversation that day landed on the fact that we doubt that Kenna knew the impact he had on all of these people who were posting their heartbreak on Facebook. People who decided to come out of the closet because of conversations they'd had with him. People who lived authentically because of the work he did on campus. People who were inspired by him to stand up for themselves. People who were inspired by him to stand up for themselves. The heartbreak felt endless because of the impact he had on those he came in touch with.

And I don't think he ever even realized the reach and the impact he had on others...that is the true heartbreak.

But will we ever know the impact we have on others? Those things that stand out to us are probably things that we needed and were ready to learn at that point in our lives, so the people who taught us most likely won't have the same reaction we have. It really is a beautiful circle of teaching.

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Gates Foundation to talk about networks. The idea goes that we can solve the problems of education if we get a group of people together who do great thinking about solving problems. There are some amazing groups out there that are gathering these groups of people, one of which I was privileged to represent at this meeting, The National Writing Project.

I can't even tell you how many times the writing project has inspired me and touched me and helped me push my thinking. I'm not sure the people who push my thinking even realize how much they have impacted me. I mean, really, why would they? After all, in their minds I would imagine they think they are just doing their job. But to me, their thoughtfulness and willingness to work with me has kept me in teaching. It has added inspiration to my teaching.

I feel like I'm at a point in my career where I want to begin to give back because I have been given so much.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Are you an island?

Yesterday I sat in a room at the Gates Foundation where I listened to my new friend Ian Simoy talk about how the experience of teaching can be isolating and make educators feel like they're living on an island. Then someone remarks how he really is an island; Ian lives in Oahu.
Me looking crazy with Ian Simoy
and Joan Hurley

But Ian does not manifest island-ness. No, he is connected and networked with educators from across the country.

I began my own teaching career 1994 in Nepal in the Peace Corps working in a tiny village cut off from the modern world. In all ways I was the proverbial island Ian spoke about yesterday. But being alone in a village where I had to make it or break it gave me the fortitude to understand that my experience there depended solely on me.

My failures were completely mine. My successes were too. My life-changing epiphany came when I realized that I could bring other people into the success I was trying to create for myself.

This is when I began listening. Listening to my villagers, listening to my family members. Yes, I needed to listen to get the language down, but I have brought this home with me.

Listening to people about their experiences has brought me to every great teaching epiphany I have ever had. I never imagined when I began my career I would still rely on this epiphany that took me so long to learn: that I must listen to others, especially when they feel passionate about something. It might lead some really great places.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Grace and Growth

What I Picture When I'm Dancing
The last couple of months I have attended a Zumba class at my gym. The first time I went, I couldn't believe how these people could shake their money-makers. Then it dawned on me that maybe I could too. I practiced. I practiced while cooking dinner at home. I practiced during my off period, just shaking from one side to another. Shaking that booty whenever I had the opportunity. I wanted to be one of the women I watched during class who made movement and grace look effortless.

While I have a deep belief in the growth mindset, that we humans can work hard at something to manifest it into reality, I have been frustrated with my progress. Am I getting better at dancing? Well, my husband says I no longer dance like Elaine Benece, Jerry Seinfeld's uncoordinated side kick in Seinfeld. But I still do not move the way I envision I want to.

In fact, when I'm in class, I create a vision of what I am doing with my body, my limbs, that when I look into the mirror does not match my mind's eye. During the salsa portions of class I picture my arms gracefully swaying from side to side to counter balance the movement of my hips in graceful swirls, while my feet move quickly from one point to the next, constantly switching back and forth in seemingly one movement.

Elaine Benece Dancing in Seinfeld Episode
I make the mistake of looking in the mirror
 though, and this is not what I witness. It is more like my body is moving, but it is neither graceful nor is it any kind of movement that looks like it goes together. In short, I struggle. I work at it, and I still continue to struggle. I am getting better, but nevertheless, I continue to struggle.

The way I feel about Zumba is the way I imagine my students who struggle with writing feel about their writing. They struggle with it. They work really hard at it. The seek help to become better. They have a belief that they will grow and become better at it. But they continue to struggle. It is a frustrating cycle for sure. Each year they look in the mirror of state and national testing. Each year they see that they are not meeting the moving standard. Each year they come back to the fight to become better than they were before.

It is for this reason, that although I find Zumba frustrating, I continue to work at it and grow. After all, growth does not always happen to the timeline of others. Sometimes we have to pay close attention and celebrate those small victories. Celebrate those places where we are growing and not lose sight of the tremendous learning that is taking place.

My students will continue to write. And...yes...I will continue to practice shaking my booty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Photobombing

I am in day three of my school year. Last year, I had the great opportunity to attend the NCTE conference. Jeff Anderson and his colleagues gave an amazing session about Transcending Your Teaching. One idea that has stuck with me is the idea the notion of not letting anyone photobomb our teaching. So far this year there has been a lot of photo bombing potentially happening in my classroom.

What sticks with me and how I transcend outside influences in my classroom is when I am sitting in front of my students conferring and teaching with them. It is their struggles with writing that help me be a better teacher. I teach students to improve their writing. This is my mission as a teacher.

Wherever their skills are, whether I meet them in my AP Lang class or my Writing Lab class, I will move them as writers. They will improve their writing, for this is what I do. This means that I transcend whatever comes at me. I talk to students to help them come to a place of comfort. I meet with students to push them beyond what they previously knew was possible.

Nothing will get in the way of this mission.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Salute to my Students This Year

I work to help my students become better writers. Where ever they stand in any given moment as writers, I will move them to become better, to be more persuasive, to add more power to their writing than they did before they came to me. That is my sole mission as a teacher, and I deliver.

When people do things to get in the way of this mission, not only do I feel frustration, I feel anger. I feel that there are enough things in the world getting in the way of children. I feel there are enough people in the world who put obstacles in front of kids, especially those who struggle. I will not be one of those people.

Here's a salute to my students this year, for despite what anyone has said or alluded to them in the past about their writing skills explicitly or implicitly, they will improve.