Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reaction to Teachers: Staying Positive in Trying Times

Blogger Heather Wolpert-Gawron wrote an interesting piece that shares an anecdote about how she observed one of her colleagues burn out on teaching. This is too real a problem in many schools- I saw it in my previous position, and am fearful that one of my colleagues in my current position is undergoing the same sorts of changes. Of the strategies that Wolpert-Gawron offers, I think the most critical, (at least for me) is knowing your own limits as a teacher. Too often, in an effort to be a good employee, I've seen teachers say "yes" to tasks that probably stretch their abilities and time management skills to the limit- I too, have been guilty of taking on things that probably didn't get the full attention that they deserved. However, it is very empowering to be able to say "no" once in a while- not for selfish reasons, but because I'd prefer to do a few things well instead of many things adequately. I think it has increased my job satisfaction overall- I feel more proud of the work I do when I manage my commitments in such a way. This, along with Wolpert-Gawron's other tidbits, are useful advice in trying to keep our collective heads above water in this difficult profession.

References: H Wolpert-Gawron. (2013, September 30). Teachers: Staying positive in trying times. Retrieved from

Reaction to Planning For Engagement: 6 Strategies for the Year

     I am currently hosting a student teacher, and this experience has done much to confirm my hypothesis; many teachers don't really have "classroom management" problems, rather, they have "engagement" problems. When students aren't invested in the work they are performing, there will, of course, be an increase in disruptive behaviors. And so, when sorting through my feedly account, I came across an article highlighting just that-ways to increase engagement in the classroom.
    Of the strategies discussed by Joshua Block in the blog post, providing authentic assignments and allowing students to present and perform, I think, are the most powerful. Firstly, I feel that students need to see that their work can be connected to real-world tasks- therefore, I often engage them in tasks that real historians will do. I don't necessarily teach the American Revolution through textbooks, instead- a rich variety of primary sources offers the the details I am hoping for students to acquire. By analyzing these primary sources as historians do/did, students gain a much deeper understanding of the topic than what a textbook might provide.
     I am also a fan of allowing students to present their work to people other than When possible and appropriate, my students engage in gallery walks to provide both affirming and adjusting feedback on the work of their peers. Knowing that their peers will evaluate them often pushes students to succeed at the task- they don't want to be the student that receives only adjusting feedback! Both strategies, I think, are key to increasing student engagement.

References: J Block (2013, October 1). Planning for engagement: 6 strategies for the year. Retrieved from

Reaction to Richardson, CH 2/3

     In chapters two and three of his book, Richardson discusses the pedagogy behind using blogs (like this one!) in the classroom, and provides practical strategies for doing so. It's certainly an inspiring read, and got my creative juices flowing regarding how I might implement blogs in my own practice. I envisioned a classroom where each student maintains their own blog and performed virtual "gallery walks" to provide feedback to the authors of an individual work. A truly paperless classroom that eliminated turn-in boxes and homework excuses. A shining example of how technology can be used to enhance (and eventually replace!) what can be done in a brick-and-mortar classroom...

     And then my enthusiasm was quickly dampened by the fact that due to the demographics of my student body, many of them would not be able to establish or maintain a blog from home- a reliable internet connection is understandably low on the list of spending priorities in some of their households. Establishing blogs using school-provided technology isn't an option at the moment either- we have a lonely laptop cart that is fought over tooth-and-nail. Many of my students do possess smartphones, but I'm not currently aware of any reliable, free blogging app that might be suitable for our purposes. What suggestions do you have, readers?

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reaction to Richardson: Chapter 1

This post is written in reaction to Will Richardson's book "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms." A full citation is offered below.

    Will Richardson takes care to point out that as the digital revolution has progressed, the field of education has been "very, very slow to react (pg. 6)." He goes on to state that this has left the traditional K-12 school and its teaching philosophies at odds with the way that its students now think about learning. If we're honest with ourselves, we can conclude that Richardson is right in his remarks. It is evident when students groan at another worksheet, complain at the weight of a textbook, or rebel against a cell phone policy. They know that there are other, more interesting ways of learning; they have by and large not met the educator who is willing and able to facilitate them.
     To that end, while I would love a school with a 1:1 student-to-technology ratio, I think a better substitute would be a "bring-your-own-device" policy for schools that are unable to provide technology. In one of my previous positions, I had students use twitter (during instruction!) to post and respond to questions, and later revisit topics of conversation. Apps such as Google Drive and Edmodo allow for students to collaborate, research, and publish assessment pieces in a way that is more familiar to them- all of which can be accessible, even in rudimentary forms, via a smartphone. Unfortunately, many schools still see this personal technology as an evil, and do what they can to outlaw it. Such policies run counter to the way that our students are motivated to learn, and I think that their education is left wanting because of it. We should be in the business of meeting students where they want to be engaged; not dragging them kicking and screaming to a classroom.
    And so, when possible, I will make a commitment to embrace these technological tools in my classroom. I believe that it can only make me a better instructor, and my students more successful learners.

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reaction to "Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools" by Elena Aguilar

"Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools" by Elena Aguilar

     Recently, while scouring my newly created RSS aggregrator (a neat tool in and of itself) I came across an opinion piece written by Elena Aguilar (link above). That this piece even exists is evidence enough that school is not always a happy place for some students- this can be for any number of reasons, and is not the focus of the article. Instead, Aguilar offers seven strategies that can help teachers and members of the school community increase happiness, and by extension, improve the culture and climate of a school. While some of these strategies are admittedly geared for elementary students, there are a few that I would like to highlight for possible use in a secondary classroom.
     One strategy that Aguilar offers is to "get outside." She offers the following logic- "Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin -- the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain -- which connects us to the natural world." Oftentimes, I find my self anxious about being cooped in the school building for an entire day- it is certainly natural that students might feel the same. Therefore, where safety and comfort permit, I would find it beneficial to conduct parts of (or even an entire) class outside. Many of the same tasks accomplished in the classroom (reading, writing, and speaking) could just as easily be accomplished on the soccer field's bleachers or under the shade of a treeline. The weather might also be useful as a teaching tool- discussing Washington's time at Valley Forge might certainly be augmented by a brief exposure to the cold. Expanding the learning environment outside of the four walls of the classroom can certainly have benefits for student learning and well-being.

     According to Aguilar, students may also find it beneficial to "move your body" for this reason- "Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away." Truly, having experienced the longest of all possible staff meetings and professional developments, I frequently appreciate the opportunity to move by body- students should be afforded the same opportunity during our lessons. Not all kinesthetic movement has to be learning-related in my opinion- sometimes, it's just helpful to engage in silly songs or dances to help expand students' comfort zones and build a more cohesive classroom environment. In my experience, these moments have also helped to refocus students, and sometimes leave them wondering when the next "wiggle break" might occur.
     Of the remainder of Aguilar's ideas, I don't know that I'd much want to incorporate them into my classroom. However, these two simple sorts of activities can certainly be useful in improving school culture and climate. I am fortunate to have an administration that supports these, and students that welcome the opportunity. I will continue to use these skills in my educational practice.    

Article Citation: Aguilar, E. (2013, October 10). Simple ways to cultivate happiness in schools. Retrieved October 15, 2013 from