Do students have choices everyday? Does everyone’s work look the same? Is the final assessment the same for every student? What is the ratio of words spoken in class teacher/student? Who asks the questions? Who makes the decisions? Who owns the learning in your room?
(I originally posted this on May 14, 2014. Four years later we still need to concentrate on working with each other to improve our instructional strategies and make the work that we ask students to do more engaging and relevant!)
Engagement, as a condition that exists in the classroom, is not always easily defined. To steal a quote from Justice Potter Stewart when describing something hard to define: “I know it when I see it.” There is a certain energy in a classroom of engaged students. There is movement, chatter, discussion, disagreement, and no one person is the center of attention. We can say all we want about student centered learning, but until we realize that students want to be in charge of their own learning, we are going to have a hard time engaging them. Do not get me wrong, we have to guide, persuade, sell, and curate their direction, but learners want to be actively involved in the lesson. So many times I walk down the halls at school and notice the varied degrees of active student learning. When students are not passively listening or completing desk work, they are much more involved….engaged. I can watch the same student in various classes and see the difference an active classroom has. The engaged class is not waiting for the bell to ring, they are disappointed that it does. The challenge for teachers is to make the content available in an active exercise. In an engaging classroom students interact with information, resources, each other, and perhaps the world at large instead of being dependent on a text or the teacher for their learning.
Photo courtesy of Roobee’s Flickr Photostream
I can remember listening to students talk about what they did in class on a particular day and hearing the phrase “we just took notes.” As a social studies teacher that was like a shot through my heart. I worked hard to make lessons interesting! I Looked up anecdotes and researched my subject (in the days before the Internet mind you!) in order to try to make it interesting. So hearing students make it sound like all we did was JUST take notes was a shot through my heart. I took it personal. How could they make it sound so perfunctory? Why? Because it was. I liked to talk about what I knew, but only a small portion of students in my classes liked to listen to me talk about what I knew! Teacher centered instruction tends to be the least engaging style. Even the best lecturers do not hold the attentions of crowds (or students) for a long time. There is a reason the ignite sessions and TED talks have become so popular. Good instructional models use lots of different learning activities that can incorporate many learning/skill enhancement opportunities that both include the content area as well as soft skills needed for everyday life.
Photo courtesy of Carl Mikoy’s Flickr Photostream
Next Blog…..The day I stumbled onto an effective unit plan of lessons
A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.
– John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)
(This is a rewritten post from several years back)
After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at Morrisonville CUSD #1. The following are a few of the things that came to mind:
- Risk—Of course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
- Destination—Sometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare our young people for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a school system where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
- Doldrums—Defined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
- Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.
What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!
Photo courtesy of Alejandro Groenewold’s Flickr photostream
“A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
I am sure the entire Paris area knows by now, it is with mixed emotions and a lot of excitement that I announce my resignation from the position of director of Paris High School. I have accepted the position of superintendent of Morrisonville Community Unit School District No. 1. My last day in the office at Paris High School will be June 30, 2017.
It is hard to know exactly what to say about a decision to leave a place you have loved to work for the past 28 years. Paris High School is a place where I have worked alongside some of the best people: the kind who made me a better person everyday. It was a place where I knew my own children were safe and challenged to become their very best. I do know that I have been very blessed by my decision to come here to teach back in 1989.
The experiences I have had here are invaluable! I was lucky enough to work for The State of Illinois’ first cooperative high school and be a part of a team that oversaw the design and construction of an amazing new campus. Every day I was able to work with outstanding people who really cared about students and did their best to challenge and engage them in innovative ways. I had the incredible support of a great Board of Education and cooperating superintendents. BUT…best of all, I was entrusted with the safety and education of some of the most amazing young men and women! I will miss you all very much!
The decision to leave here was not an easy one. For many years I have had held the credentials to be a superintendent of schools and have had the goal of eventually becoming one. Now that my children have finished their public education, my wife and I have decided it is time for me to pursue my goal of working for an educational community as a school superintendent. I am excited, and even though that excitement is tempered with the thought of leaving the only location I have ever worked as an educator, I know it is the right time for me to go. I will never forget the wonderful people that have supported my family and me, you simply are the best!
There will always be a part of me that bleeds orange and black!
I have been troubled the past 24 hours or so. I have this feeling that there is an important lesson from experience to be taught to a group of young men and women, but I am not sure I am the one to do it, or if the principle I think is important is valued by society today. I am willing to admit that I am of a generation that is pretty far removed from being young….(see how I have to admit to being old?) but I am sure that what defines excellence and being a winner has not changed. We watched the Patriots come back from a record Super Bowl deficit to earn their fifth world championship ring of the current era. That is a phenomenal accomplishment! They have become the penultimate example of winning and excellence. I want that same excellence to be a goal for our students and student athletes. Winning is an attitude. Winning is a work ethic. Winning is dedicating both mind and body to TRY to do what it takes (ethically) to be successful and reach a predetermined goal. I have never seen a winner that spends more time talking about why they don’t win than talking about what they need to do to get better. Winners do not spend more time and energy talking trash than giving their opponent a tenacious opposition between the lines. Above all, a true sportsperson is about competing at a high level and making themselves and their team mates better each time they have the opportunity. Great competitors do not always have the winning score on the board at the end of a game, but their opponents know they had true competition and respect the effort. Spectators at games should also work to encourage their team to do their best, applaud them when they do well, and encourage them when the team needs a lift. If a spectator feels the need to show up an opponent, put in the work, pull on the uniform, and do your talking between the lines!
(Lesson No. 1)
Sitting here on a Saturday morning following a week of protest, turmoil, and violence has me in a deep state of reflection. Why do we turn on each other? Why do people that have so much more in common than differences chose to see only the differences? From the nastiness of our presidential campaign rhetoric, the gratuitous violence in entertainment, and the real violence on our streets, one does really wonder at times about what in the world are we headed for. Our family’s experience over the past year and half has allowed us to see the other side of human nature, thank goodness! Once people in our community (and beyond) found out that our son was gravely ill, the outpouring of care and concern has really lifted us. The efforts of so many to help comfort us will never be forgotten and has played no small part in the fact that our son is still with us! There have been so many things done on the behalf of my family that there is no way I can begin to think about them without being overwhelmed by the compassion showered upon us! There have been fundraisers, meal trains, hats passed in church, gift cards, monetary gifts, shoulders to cry on, dishes washed, clothes cleaned, school tasks completed…etc!!!! The list could go for paragraphs! Complete strangers have sent us care boxes, the community held a bone marrow donor drive. The town in which we live gets run down a lot, both from those from the outside and those who live here. I will tell you this, there is has never been a more generous place in my life experience. I am completely humbled by the efforts of this community! Thank you! I can only hope I can pay forward your amazing kindness. There is hope! Humankind has a great capacity for love and generosity and this place is a great example of that!
Picture courtesy of Darren Tunnicliff’s Flickr Photostream
Be a bone marrow donor!
Yesterday I wrote in my post “Where Have I Been?” about my child becoming quite ill in October of 2014. The post was written with the assumption that most of those who would read it already knew how he was doing presently. Sorry to those who have an interest in this story but were left wondering about his status. For those of you who know the story, you are excused from reading further. My wonderful spouse has written a much more cogent and readable blog about our experience called Blessings in Disguise. If you have not read the musings of my wife Marianne, I suggest you should! My purpose here is not to talk about his journey through a medical nightmare, but to try to apply the lessons learned and share the thoughts that streamed through my conscience during his many days in the hospital. For those that are curious, here is a very brief synopsis of what he has experienced. He was diagnosed with an undefined immune disorder in which his natural killer cells did not function normally in 2012. Which means when he gets sick, HE GETS SICK! Not really sick more often, but out for long periods of time when he does get sick with what was usually a bronchial infection or pneumonia. When he became really ill in October of 2014, he was initially diagnosed with meningitis, but when no infectious agent was found, he was diagnosed with neuro-sarcoidosis. When the normal treatments to combat sarcoidosis did not make him better, further investigation found a MAC infection in his lung. Which came first? The MAC infection or sarcoidosis? We will never know. He responded well to treatment of the MAC infection. He felt good enough to finish his senior year and give a speech at commencement while graduating with highest honors. In the Fall of 2015, he started school at one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate engineering schools. He was able to complete one quarter of his freshman year. On the third day of the second quarter he called and said he could not catch his breath, and walking anywhere was next to impossible because he was so fatigued. He was admitted to the hospital and after several weeks of medical testing, he was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. He was given a round of chemotherapy to put it in remission. The team treating him scheduled a bone marrow transplant to generate a “new and healthy” immune system. The transplant was three months ago. He is home now, recovering from the transplant and the effects of the chemotherapy that was used to “kill” his defective immune system. The good news is that he is (knock on wood) making progress towards recovery. He has good days and bad but his recovery looks very good according to the doctors. We have hope! (next….I promise I will start talking about the kinds of lessons that can be taken from an experience like this!)
Presentation and resources for my ROE 50 Administrator Academy on November 6, 2015