EdCamp Iowa 2017

Attending EdCamps always fires me up and gets me excited about things again. I love the unique setup where teachers are directing the discussion, deciding what topics they want to be addressed, deciding which conversations they want to be a part of. I love how most of the sessions aren’t lectures, they’re discussions. Conversations. Multiple perspectives and not just one teacher who is “dispensing knowledge”.

edcamp
Love my DCSD coworkers!

Several Davenport Schools teachers hung out at Eldridge’s EdCamp this weekend and it was awesome. The things I’ve found myself thinking about the most since Saturday are the words of other teachers in the sessions I attended…

 

“No matter how good you are, everyone can get better.”

This came out of a session on teacher leadership structures. We were discussing the different models we all have at our schools and talking about how if you have the right teachers in the leadership roles, the structure doesn’t really matter. This comment kind of summed up everything.

For the teachers in official leadership roles, you can still get better. You can collaborate with other teachers in or out of the leadership structure, you can observe other teachers and seek out feedback.

For new teachers, the teacher leadership structure seems to work very well and they take advantage of the designated teachers in leadership roles to get insight on their teaching naturally. They want the knowledge others have to share.

For veteran teachers, some of whom react negatively to being asked to observe or get coaching from coworkers, it’s good to acknowledge that teaching should not be an isolated endeavor. We all have things to share with each other. We all have something we’re really good at and something we could work on, and it’s time to admit that. It’s time to admit that we’re better together.

 

“The most important thing about you as the teacher is not the grade you give them at the end.”

The session was about preventing teacher burnout, and how sometimes you have to let go of grading every single student project in great detail. The idea, though, came up again and again throughout the day.

What’s important about us as teachers? Why are we there?

We aren’t grading machines. We aren’t there to put a percentage value on our students.

We’re there to help them build a set of skills that will help them to successfully interact with their world. To show them strategies and expose them to information. Not to give a grade.

 

“Change is like moving a cemetery, you have to move one body at a time.”

We all laughed at this, but it’s incredibly true, especially in the transition many of us are making to standards based grading practices. We talked a lot throughout the day about pushback from parents and students. Parents who get upset about not having class rank, or valedictorian, or perfect 4.0 GPAs. How do we explain to them that we’re trying to reorient the entire system to be about understanding and learning instead of about points? How do we explain to them that we’re removing all of the goals and achievements that students have worked towards for literal decades and replacing them with descriptors of proficiency in content?

It’s tough to break traditions of 100 years.

How do we explain to students that assignments are practice, that they aren’t “getting credit” for them but are building towards understanding of the content that they can show on an assessment? How do we build the intrinsic motivation to get students to complete tasks and assignments if we aren’t giving points for them? How do we reorient their thinking to help them understand that they should do these things because they will help them get where they want to be at the end?

You have to move one body at a time.

Change one thing about your grading at a time.

Reorient their thinking one tiny piece at a time.

Maybe you’ll get a few students on board one year. Their parents the next year.

Half your students the year after.

We will get there eventually, and it’s tempting to rush because we know that it’s a better practice for learning and understanding. But if we move too fast towards something new and totally different…everyone gets left behind.

 

“Struggling students are everyone’s students”

Simple as that. Students who are struggling (with mental health issues, learning disabilities/IEPs/504 plans, attendance, outside of school things, motivation…) do not “belong” to the special ed department, or the counselor, or the BD teachers, an interventionist.

They. Belong. To. Us.

Every school should be working to educate every student. Not just the ones who want to learn. Not just the ones who stay in your classroom all day and never get pulled out for interventions or counseling sessions or supports. Every. Student. In your building.

If you can do something to help any student in your building learn…why aren’t you?

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#5goodthings

It’s been…a week. I think it’s been a week for a lot of teachers across the country, but it was just, you know, one of those weeks at Mid City. A ton of our teachers sick, students restless, we’re in the bottom of the winter attendance pit, etc. Next week is going to be a rough one for some of our students and our staff as well, as it’s the birthday of our student who was killed this summer.

I need some positivity.

 

Katie Cotugno is a YA author whose works I have never read. (They’re on my infinite to-read list…) My friend Tedi however, who is a 6th grade Language Arts teacher on the other side of the state, is very into her. She often shares with me Cotugno’s comments on twitter, and participates in what has become one of my favorite twitter things – #5goodthings.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like – on Fridays or on whatever day you’re feeling down about things, post 5 good things in your life at the moment, to remind yourself of the ups when it feels like you’re drowning in the downs.

I’m making it my Friday opener for the students today, and so I thought I’d blog about mine to participate as well. Plus, like I said, I need it today.

 

  1. 2nd place at trivia 3 out of the last 4 weeks
  2. My Algebra 2 class and their penchant for calling each other “sweet dolphins” and their genuine love and care for each other
  3. A student coming in first thing this morning to show me pictures of another student’s newborn baby, born yesterday
  4. Snapchats, instagram posts, and tweets from 5 Seconds of Summer being back in the studio working on their third album
  5. Coworkers who will go out with you after school and just have an hour long vent session with no judgement

Seek Justice. Love Mercy.

A lot is going on in our world right now.

It kind of feels like what we have been debating recently is the relative worth of different types of human beings. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that perhaps my strongest belief is that we are all worth the same. I read the news and see things that are happening, and then I walk into my classroom and see my students.

 

I love my students. Some days, it feels as though the love that I have for them is causing me physical pain with how it wants to leap out of my chest and take over. It’s very hard to watch things happen that feel threatening to their abilities to be fully themselves. I walk into my classroom and want to wrap all of them up in a big hug and never let them leave – keep them in the safe space within our school walls that we have created together.

I can’t. I can’t keep them in this safe bubble that we’ve built. They have to go out into the world, and every day our staff of teachers and case managers and counselors try to build their resilience, their intelligence, their resourcefulness, their courage, and their sense of self so that they can leave our school and find success.

The news lately has been making me feel sort of hopeless. We can call our representatives, we can attend protests, share social media posts supporting the equality that we want, but then it feels like there’s nothing else we can do but watch it happen. Watch as decisions are made that will take away the freedoms and rights of certain types of humans.

“Courageous” by Casting Crowns came on the radio as I drove home from church on Sunday. The end of the song has a refrain that comes from Micah 6:8, phrased in the song as:

Seek Justice.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly with your God.

 

Those words struck me hard. I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head all week. No matter how hopeless a fight seems, we are called to seek justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly.

Teaching is its own form of this. Every day in our classrooms, we are fighting to create a future made up of compassionate, intelligent, resilient and resourceful humans. We are showing our students the importance of seeking justice, of standing up for what is right. Of loving every person you encounter, no matter their actions towards you. Of giving every life the same value.

To all the teachers who have been weary lately: you are heroes. You are fighting the good fight and striving to do what’s right, and what you are doing still matters. It’s important. You’re making a difference. Keep going.