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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What's Your Classroom's Story? Why Every Teacher Needs A Class Blog

Everyone has a story. A path taken, opportunities missed, regrets from mistakes, and wonderful triumphant moments - In education though, it moves from every person, to every class. Every class has a story. Each teacher has his/her way of creating a unique and wonderful culture. This is especially the case in elementary school, where those 20-something kids are in the same class all day. Relationships are built, successes take place, and amazing things happen each and every day. So I have to ask, why aren’t more teachers sharing their stories?

At Christie, each teacher has a class blog. Why would we do this? Why would I ask such a thing from each teacher? Wouldn’t there be pushback? Wouldn’t they ask questions like: Who is going to read this? Why would anyone care what I have to say? The short answers...To share our stories, to increase transparency, some, yes, yes.

I would be lying if I told you that when asking each staff member to have a blog (updated weekly I might add) they all cheered. However, they all signed up...hesitant? Maybe. But here is the thing, we need to share our stories.

There are two things our teachers blog about: Classroom activities/learning, and the teacher’s personal learning along the way. Two parts...equally important for our parents, colleagues, and community.

Blogging our Activities/Learning: Miracles happen daily in schools. Students who never thought they could succeed do, teachers who thought the bar might be too high see students reach it, educational risks are taken, students make mistakes and learn from them, and kids build a self-efficacy that will last a lifetime. How can we not share this? How can we keep this to ourselves? Not only does blogging allow the sharing of ideas, but also the stories behind them. Teachers at Christie share activities taking place, lessons coming up, ideas for home, and pictures of great products along the way.

Sharing Your Learning: Having a PLN and utilizing Twitter is a great way to grow professionally. However, by blogging about their learning, teachers offer a transparent moment with other teachers, parents, and even students about their lifelong learning journey. “We want to create Lifelong Learners.” How many times has that phrase used in education? Yet how often do we model this? Blogging opens the door to not only learning from others, but also sharing our personal journey.

PLNs are the new PLCs - but that only works when you share digitally. PLNs are only successful when you are sharing your learning, as well as taking in the learning of others. At Christie we are willing to share, willing to try something new, and willing to step outside our comfort zone...and here is the best part...we are sharing this journey along the way.

So why does every teacher need a class blog? To share their classroom story, and to share their personal learning with others.

Make no mistake - Every week may not bring a literary work on a professionally epiphany that has changed the course of education as we know it...but it will deliver a small piece of the class journey. One week might simply say: This week we reviewed area and perimeter, wrote a story with the letter C, and learned how to get a boiled egg into a glass vase using a match… While the next week might bring a story of how a class came together to help a classmate through a difficult challenge. Both are important, just in their own way.

Miracles are happening, children are learning, wonderful moments are taking Christie, we want to share these moments. It’s as simple as that -

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Teaching Challenge

There is no question that teaching is a challenging profession, teachers today are asked to education 20 to sometimes 40 students at a time, while making sure that each child is seen as an individual. David E. Kelley created a legal drama that aired on ABC from 2004 to 2008 called Boston Legal. During the third season of the show, Shirley Schmidt (played by Candice Bergen) gave a closing argument that tells the challenge of teaching quite well. In the episode, a teacher was being sued by a child’s parents because the child died of a nut allergy while the teacher used her cell phone in class. According to the episode’s transcripts, Shirley Schmidt used the following closing argument:

Lawsuits are about allocating burden. For example, we want our cars to be safer, so we hit the manufacturers with a judgment that makes it more cost-effective to install the airbag. The problem here, as Ms. Bixby correctly states, is we have more and more special needs kids going into our public schools, combined with an unprecedented escalation in auto-immune diseases, autism. The peanut allergy alone has doubled in recent years. So, who do we heap this responsibility on? Who else? The teachers. The average annual starting salary for a teacher is $32,000. For that, we ask them to teach, police, provide emotional and social guidance. In some schools, they actually have to clean the toilets. Now, let's throw in healthcare.

This teacher, she works 65-hour weeks. In addition to her actual classroom duties, she teaches sex education to the older kids, she teaches a standardized test the school mandates in order to qualify for funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. She spends another ten hours a month meeting with parents. She supervises extracurricular activities, goes on overnight class trips, cleans and disinfects toys, coaches. She teaches fire drill safety procedures, healthy eating habits, she's certified in CPR, first aid, and food sanitation.

She is so overextended that when her own father had to undergo a life-threatening medical procedure, she couldn't be at the hospital. So she called on her cell phone to see if he had lived. Which he hadn't. She then turned away from her students, so as not to traumatize them with her grief, which as a teacher she was expected to internalize.

She has no savings ... no house. And today she's being sued because, without her knowledge, one of her students snuck a bite-sized candy bar containing traces of peanut into her classroom. Now she's being publicly blamed for the death of a child whose parents had the means to implement a multitude of safeguards. They implemented none of them except a teacher. Is it any wonder half our teachers are quitting the profession outright within five years? Never mind who's going to handle the epi-pen. Who's going to teach?

Wow…When I first heard this I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just sat there on my couch, my mouth dropped open in amazement, because an hour long legal drama made a pretty decent argument. Shirley Schmidt is right; the list of responsibilities placed on teachers continues to rise, and when asked in an informal manner, fellow educators provided the following expectations/titles placed on them by their community leaders and families: Caregiver, support system, parent, guardian, advocate, identifier of educational needs and the solution for those needs, special education specialist, language barrier breaker, mind reader, counselor, nurse, a shoulder to cry on, an answer for every question, and so much more.

Teachers are asked to educate a room full of children, while at the same time making sure that each child’s individual needs are met. This by no means is a simple task, and requires teachers to have a strong understanding of all grade levels within their subject area. For example, in an average sixth grade language arts classroom, the reading level of each student can range from as low as kindergarten to as high as college. Remember, teachers are called to reach all students, so although the textbooks provided are created for an average sixth grade student, the material may only reach the needs of 40 to 50 percent of the students. Add this to special education needs, second language learners, behavioral issues, and different home lives, and you have the typical daily challenge for a teacher, and that is just one subject.

The weight of our future it placed on the shoulders of educators, yet there are still teachers being called “glorified babysitters.” The challenge is there for all teachers, no matter the school, the numbers of students, or the curriculum provided, the challenge is there. Teachers are asked to do nearly the impossible... The amazing thing? We strive to do so each day. Why? Because what we want more than anything is for every child to be successful. Every child to reach his/her highest potential. Every child to dream big and own his/her own learning. The challenge is there...but we are ready to reach it.