Thursday, September 29, 2011

We Have It All Backwards

When the solution to budget problems becomes to bring in new unexperienced teachers because they are cheaper - we have it all backwards.

When decisions that affect our children on a day to day basis are made only at the government level - we have it all backwards.

When teachers performance are closely tied in with test scores created by test companies that making millions of dollars in profit off of their tests and programs - we have it all backwards.

When administrators try to build trust and collaboration but then take away the time to do it so that we can teach more - we have it all backwards.

When teachers try to restore discipline by setting more rules - we have it all backwards.

When we give our students even more homework to cover all the stuff we didn't have time to cover in class - we have it all backwards.

When we blame technology for not being the magic pill to raise test scores - we have it all backwards.

When we buy more stuff for our schools rather than raise teacher salaries - we have it all backwards.

It is time to go forward not backward.

I Am the Solution

With every footstep I take down our long hallways, every time I walk past a door filled with noisy children learning,  I hear, "I am the solution."

With every meeting, every set-back, ever promise fulfilled or spoken, I think "I am the solution."

With every child's dream shared, with every hope delivered, those visions conjured, and faith fulfilled, I believe "We are the solution."

I could be the problem, and some times I am, but I would rather be part of the solution than working against it.  So I remind myself to be part of the solution even when I don't want to be.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Need Your Help

This week I was astounded by the news that I am one of 10 finalists nationwide in the Great American Teach Off.  While I am humbled, excited, and certainly shocked, I now need to make 5 videos, 90 seconds in length each by Wednesday the 28th of September (!), answering these questions:

-How am I an innovative teacher
-What I'm doing to make a difference
-Best teaching tops for teachers across America
-Endorsement from a parent or peer
-What I would do with $10,000 for my classroom 

While some of these are easier to make, I need your help with one of them.  Some people tell me that I have helped inspire them to change something in their room, whether it is to get rid of your desk, join the Global Read Aloud, get your students blogging or other things.  If you are one of those people, please consider taking a picture of yourself holding a sign where it says what I inspired you to do, your name and where you are from and email it to me (psripp at gmail.com).  I may then use it one of the videos.

So something like this (courtesy of my amazing students):

You don't have to be super creative, just write it in sharpie and hold it up.  I cannot tell you how much this would mean to me and my kids as the grand prize winner gets $10,000 for their classroom.

Thank you!


I am Nothing Special - Why Are Teachers Afraid to Share their Successes?

Even in the staunchest of schools, teachers celebrate their students.  Whether it is through formal rewards, which I am not a fan of, or informal recognition, which is more my style.  We celebrate achievements, goals, and recognize our students for the incredible minds, people, and human beings they are.  Teacher brag about their students in the lounge, and to their families.  We are quick to share the funny things they and highlight the amazing ideas they concoct.  We blog, we film, and we sing their praises to those that will listen because we think they deserve it.

So why is it that within teaching, if a fellow teacher or a teaching team receives recognition we have a harder time celebrating it?  Why is it that we often see other's achievements as a knockdown to our own abilities?  Why is the competition so fierce among teachers to be the one recognized that we cannot celebrate the successes we all have?

I work in a school with incredibly talented people, who have amazing successes every day.  You walk through our hallways and you will see the excitement in classrooms, you will see innovation wherever you go and teachers striving to do everything possible to reach each and every child.  I have often written about the incredible people I work with.  And I wish we celebrated it.  I wish people were recognized just as much as we recognize our students.

So administrators and fellow teachers; what do you do in your building to celebrate everyone, and not by handing out awards?  How do you recognize the achievements of all of your staff?  Where do you start your celebrations?  It is time we stand together and and decide that one person's success is a whole school's success and that we are only as strong as our team.  Educators should not be afraid to share the great things they do, they should be yelling them from the rooftops.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Often?

In the time of rush, rush, rush, we often forget that the kids need time to breathe.  As we spectacularly plan our days to make sure we cover every single last bit of information, we often forget to ask whether the kids are with us or not.  So when it comes to learning goals we expect the kids to all know on our set day for checking, except they don't, and then we wonder how we failed.

Yet kids learn at different paces, and often one child may be ready while the other is ready the following week.  How often do we take the time to spiral back and double-check whether something is secure later?  After the test?  After the project is handed in?

How often do we ask that child whether they actually know it now, or even knew it then and just couldn't find the words?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Student Blogging Resources to Get You Started

I love that I get asked a lot about student blogging because it is something I am passionate about.  I often find myself sharing various posts, letters, and lessons that I have created, which means I have to find them first.  So to make my life easier, and perhaps even yours, here are my best resources on the why, the how, and the do on student blogging.

I am sure I forgot something, so if I did, please let me know.  I hope this is useful to you.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Know Your Place

I once was told to know my place.  And much like our students are asked to conform, fall in line, sit down and be quiet so we can fill these empty vessels with our knowledge, I was so hurt that it took months to recover. Funny now really, because I do know my place.

Sometimes it is that of an expert, most of the time it is of one who soaks up knowledge from the incredible people I learn with.  My place is in a team that is not afraid to speak its mind but does it with kindness and honesty.  My place is among the students because it is created by the students, for the students, and about the students.  My place is where dreamers dream and believers continue to believe.  It is one of positivity, humility, and passion.  Change, vigor, and failure.  My place is ever evolving, sometimes it goes in a straight line and other times it spirals back.  I would not want to change the way my place shapes me.

So when someone tells you to know your place, tell them that you do.  It is wherever we can teach and learn the best.  Wherever our dreams take us and wherever our imaginations go.  I know my place; do you know yours?

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Kids Are in the News

This ran in our very little local paper yesterday, so cool....


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Um So Like OK - Twitter Can Be Kinda Like High School But Then Not Really

I'll admit it, when I first joined Twitter as an educator, meaning to connect with other teachers and not stalk celebrities, I was terrified.  Thoughts of "Will they like me?" "Will they be  my friend" "Will they ask me to join the conversation?" haunted my days as I tried to maneuver through the Twitter world.  People just seemed to know each other, to have inside jokes, and ongoing conversations that just seemed, well, closed to people like me.

Flash back to the one year I did in an American high school, super geeky awkward me trying desperately to fit in with all the cool kids hoping that being foreign would at least give me some street cred.  Yeah not so much when you look like a boy with a penchant for hawaiian shirts and bowl cuts.  Fast forward to joining Twitter and terrible clich├ęs of standing in the lunch room holding my tray hoping someone would take pity over me and you can see where I am going with this blog post.

Except, I am not.  Twitter isn't like high school but it certainly would be convenient if it were.  If this were high school I could whine about people not talking to me or being unpopular because in high school it did really seem like it was out my control.  But on Twitter, not so much.

You see Twitter is what you make it.  If you want to join a conversation, jump in.  No one has to invite you, no one has to scoot over to make room for you, just start tweeting.    If you want to join a group, ask to join, no more initiation or introductions needed from a cool kid.  And if you can't find a group that fits you; start your own.

Twitter doesn't care if you are having a bad hair day, which I happen to have a lot of.  Twitter doesn't care if you have stains all over your shirt from your 2 year old daughter giving you hugs.  Twitter doesn't care who you are friends with or all the geeky obsessions you may have.  Twitter doesn't care.  And neither do the people you connect with, except perhaps in a good way.

So from this awkward ex teen to the next, don't be fooled into thinking that Twitter is like high school.  That is just too easy to say.  Instead jump in, sit down to someone and start a conversation and be patient.  We are all just trying to help each other out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Get To Teach

Every night, driving home I think of how lucky I am.  I get to teach 25 incredible students and be a part of their journey.  Sure my bag is heavy with books and things to do, but I get to teach.

I get to teach those kids that teachers don't know everything.
I get to teach those kids that their voice matters.
I get to teach those kids that what we do in school is real life, not something we may need when real life begins.
I get to teach those kids that together we are stronger and that every person matters.
I teach them about failure, and hope, and inspiration, and daring to ask a lot of questions.
I teach them to trust themselves, their opinions, their inferences, and that they too are experts.
I teach them that life has started and it is time for us to live it.

So when the day ends and my daughter gives me her long awaited hug, I don't take my good life for granted.  I cherish it, I embrace it, and I celebrate it because I get to teach.


Monday, September 12, 2011

What You Look For You Will Find...

When you set out looking for something chances are you will find it.  As Frog and Toad search for spring just around the corner, they find that after they turn enough corners, spring is, indeed, right there.  So shall we find what we are looking for if we just keep on searching.

As educators we should remember this lesson; whatever we look for, we will surely find.  So ask yourself; what do you look for every day?  Do you look for teaching to the test, lazy students, and parents that just don't get it?  Or do you look for curriculum opportunities, learning from failed attempts or wonder, and people that want to be part of your team?  I know what I search for.

We get what we look for.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Go Ahead - Convince Me on SmartBoards

This summer all of the elementary classrooms in my whole district were given SmartBoards. Now mind you, I already had a projector and document camera in my room which I used to no end and absolutely love. I even had a remote that I could use to click on stuff. But no, we were given SmartBoards anyway.

I am positive person and I try to keep an open mind but for the past couple of years I have not really been excited about IWB's in general. I think they lead to a teacher centric classroom and truly are not all that engaging for the students once the novelty wears off. And yet I know there are many of you out there that swear by your IWB. So for this student-centered classroom teacher, show me why. Share with me why you love them so much. Share great student-centered, inquiry based lessons that works so well on your IWB. Please convince me because this tool is in my classroom and I would love to be persuaded of its value as more than something that I can click as the teacher.  I already know of Smart Exchange and all of those sites, I don't need sites, I need actual tested real-life lessons and stories.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Students Create Their Vision

As promised my students created their own vision of our classroom journey.  I loved to see how many of them shared ideas and also how they worked together as a team.  I can't tell you how many times the word "family" was used when they discussed their vision.


Pass the Blame

In the education debate surrounding us a lot of blame gets passed around.  Employers blame colleges for not teaching students workable skills.  Colleges blame high schools for not preparing the students.  High school blames middle school for not setting them up to be hard workers.  Middle schools blame elementary for not setting the foundation right.  And elementary, they blame the parents for not being engaged or involved, for not setting high enough standards.

It is time we stop the blame game.  The time and energy consumed by it could be used to fix and change the system rather than just complain about it.  Our world will never be perfect and neither will our classrooms.  So let's use that time, energy, and emotion put into playing the blame game and do something about it instead.

If you need someone to blame, blame me, I can take it.  And then move on and focus on what is most important factor here; the kids.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Technology Does Not Make the Classroom Succesful- the Teacher Does

It appears that technology is sweeping the nation as the answer to the "broken" education system in America.  Everywhere you turn school districts are touting their Interactive Whiteboards, their iPads, their one to one systems and anything else tech related.  Since I am techie myself, most people assume that I think this is a good thing.  Well, you're wrong.

I love technology and more specifically integrating it into my curriculum.  So my students blog to create writing portfolios, learn how to write for a specific audience, and document their learning.  We also journal every day in a notebook using that great tool; pencils.  My students create wordle's on our computers to watch for main ideas or overused words.  We videotape science experiments so we can post them for parents to ask us questions.  We use computers to do our research.  We participate in the Global Read Aloud so that we can share a book with classrooms around the world.  We project videos that boost our understanding, and yes, we even have a SmartBoard.  But the thing is, this doesn't mean anything if I don't know how to properly use the technology and then pass that on to your students.

You can stick a SmartBoard on any classroom teacher's wall and then claim that they are 21st century.  Well, guess what?  They are not.  Unless they know how to use the tools provided all you are doing is dressing up a dog and passing it as a circus horse.  The race to be more 21st century seems to be clouding the judgment of districts everywhere.  It is not about the tools, it is about the teachers.  So yes, some technology is phenomenal and does help student learning, but all tech is not created equally.  So it shouldn't be judged equally.

So when test scores don't rise even though a district is heavily tech integrated, people tend to blame the technology.  "See it isn't working."  And yet, the technology shouldn't have been part of that equation really.  I don't care how many computers you stick in a room, if a teacher is not facilitating them properly, or the wireless is awful, or they are outdated etc then they wont make a lick of difference.  The teacher is what will raise test scores, that is if we ever have enough time to actually teach in between all of the tests we have to give.

The truth is there is no simple answer to create a successful classroom.  You need to have a teacher that is invested, students who know that their teachers care about them and that they are in a safe environment.  You need administrators that actually trust their staff and engage them in discussion.  You need parents that are invested in the classroom as well.  And yes, computers make my classroom work better and I would say that classroom computers are a must-do investment.  But everything else? It's nice, but not absolutely necessary.  So perhaps we should be investing in teachers, raise their salaries so they don't have to work 2 jobs.  Stop cutting their benefits so they don't have to look for a new job.  Rather than investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into technology that may or may not get used.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Students Share Why the Internet is Like the Mall

My students decided to share thier conversation on why they feel the internet is like the mall and how we can set safety rules to follow:
At the mall,
  • We don't talk to strangers because we don't know them.
  • Don't go to random places because you don't know what will happen there, it may be inappropriate, a virus, or dangerous.
  • Don't follow strangers even if they promise you candy.  This means don't click on pop up links.
  • Don't agree to meet strangers outside of the mall.
  • Go where you are supposed to go.  
  • Don't be fooled by how nice something looks. 
  • If you end up somewhere you shouldn't, just leave.  On the internet close out the window or hit the back button.Check out where you are going before you go there and make sure your teacher/parent approves.
  • Don't give out personal information, first name only and no address.
  • Ask for permission before you go somewhere new.
  • Don't believe someone is a friend of a friend.
  • Don't share your password.
We hope that this helps you have the same conversation with your students.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Secret To Success

I get asked quite often what my secret is. How I get them to listen. How I get them to behave. How I get them to like school, to blog, to share, to work hard. People ask me what ido that is s different, what is it that promise these kids so that they work so hard.

I guess it is time for me to share the truth; there is no secret. I don't have a trick. (And it is not because I get the special class list with all the nice kids, although I happen to think all of my kids are nice.). But I believe in those kids. I believe in their desire to learn, in their ability to learn, and in the adventure of learning itself.

I believe it is their time to be in the spotlight, their time to talk, their time to discover. I believe it is my time for quiet, for planning, for guidance. My time to be excited with them, to be a little goofy, and to be sincere. It is not my time to fill these empty vessels because they are far from empty when they come to my room. They are not clay to be molded or slates to be written. They are children with dreams, ideas, and so much desire to explore that I have to step out of their way at times and just watch and learn.

So there is no secret, far from it indeed, what I do anyone else can do. The question is just whether they want to or not.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

So What Do You Do on the First Day of School?

Friday it happened. That wonderful, magical, nightmare inducing first day with the kids. It went fast, in fact, besides the occasional hunger pang from not having lunch until 12:30, I didn't notice the passing of the day much. Just a blur and then done.

So what does a teacher do on their first day? We laughed a lot. We also spoke a lot. I led some discussions but the kids did most of the talking, sharing, and deciding. We discussed rules but not in a traditional sense with me setting them, rather we discussed what they already knew. What types of rules are helpful for a classroom? Why do teachers set rules? Do we need them posted or do we know them by heart?  In fact, I wrote a whole post on the rules discussion we missed.

But we also worked on clerical stuff like lunch magnets, popsicle sticks, pencil cup name tags and where in the world do you put your lunch box.  The kids asked questions, dispelled myths about their teacher - for some reason they say I am fun and I don't know where they have that from.  They also tried to figure out what the 10 pictures below meant to their teacher.  They all thought I liked to collect china and liked to kick rocks.

And then we connected, we opened up and we just came together.  I shared how nervous I get before the first day of school. I shared how excited I was and how I couldn't wait to learn with them.  I shared how we have one word that shows us as a class and that word is represent.  We live up to that word in whatever we do.

I challenged them in the Bloxes challenge, which if you haven't tried this with your students, you should.  We spent time with the other 5th grade classrooms because we believe that we are on this grade level and that all of the kids are our kids.  And then the end of the day.  How to dismiss, how to remember everything, and already sad to say goodbye.  These kids snuck into my heart faster than I had thought possible and I am thankful for them.  I get to be a part of their life this year; what a gift.  One student said it best at the end of the day as I waved goodbye, "Thank you."  And I wanted to say, "No, thank you."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Do We Need to Set the Rules? Or Do Kids Already Know Them?

Photo Courtesy of Bloggertone

Yesterday was my very first day with my 24 new 5th graders.  I don't know who was more nervous; me or them.  As we got settled into our new tables, 23 sets of eyes on me  (one child is still on vacation) eagerly awaiting what this teacher would share with them I asked; what is the first thing teachers usually talk about on the first day of school?  Hands shot up and one child blurted out "Rules!"

It's true, isn't it?  One of the first things we welcome students into our rooms with is indeed the discussion of rules.  Walk into almost any classroom on the first day of school and somewhere on the agenda is a discussion of rules or an explanation of the rule poster that is already on the wall.  As some of you may know, there are no rules posted in my room.  And yet the kids knew that rules had to be discussed.  They knew it was important, they knew that in fact it is one of the first things we choose to welcome students with.

The room got really quiet, the kids were waiting for me to list the rules but I didn't.  Instead I asked them whether they knew the rules?  A couple of kids nodded.  "Again, don't you already know the rules of a classroom?"  More nods.  "Isn't this your 6th year in school?"  All nodded and starting to wake up a little.  "Do you need me to explain the rules or can you tell me what they are?"  With this, the buzzing started.  That little bit of chatter that kids get involved in when they start to see the light.  "We know the rules, I know how to act, we can set the rules...."

So I told them to discuss rules at their tables; what works for a classroom, what type of environment do we need to learn in, what do you need, and the kids took it from there.  They all brainstormed and then shared their ideas and guess what; they knew it all.  How to respect, how to work, how to be a community.  We discussed fidgeting which in my book just means the teacher is boring or you need to get out of your seat.  We discussed interruptions and blurting out, how to be safe, how to be nice (You don't have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be nice to them).  And then we decided that we didn't need to discuss anymore because we all knew what the expectations were.  In fact, they decided we didn't need to post our discussion because our rules are going to change and that maybe they shouldn't be called rules but rather just expectations.  And with that our expectations were set and for now I don't need to spend anymore time discussing them.

I gave my students a voice and let them lead and they showed me they already know.  I am so excited for the rest of the year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lie to Me A Little

Note:  This post is not because I am down!  This post is written to all of those administrators and teachers that focus on the negative instead of the positive.  I choose to focus on the positive no matter what is happening in the world.  Therefore, if someone thinks the world is awful I am hoping they can "lie to me a little" and not share their negative world view.  I hope that clears everything up.

Dear Administrators,
Yes, I know the economy is dreadful. Yes, I know that teachers are under attack. Yes, I know that we facing a crisis, whether real or perceived. But could you? Would you? Just please, lie to me a little.

You see, I just started school and I want to believe. I want to believe that I make a difference. I want to believe that what I do matters. I want to believe that I inspire, that I push, that I challenge. I want to believe that I am changing the world.

So don't just tell me your gloom and doom. Don't just share the policies or the changes. Inspire me. Tell me you believe that this will be the best year ever. Tell me that you believe in us as teachers. Tell me that you believe that together we can make it happen. You don't have to believe it, but tell me nonetheless.  Because I believe and so should you.

So if you need to just lie to me a little, I will take care of the rest.

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