Personal and Professional Goals for 2014-2015

“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”Kristin Armstrong

 
A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.Nikki Giovanni
 
 
 
As part of my growth as an educator, I am to develop some goals for the current school year. This is a process that I always take seriously. As I have now finished my third week as a teacher in Amman, here is where I need to improve:

Classroom Management:  I need to adapt to my new school’s culture. So many of my habits that work with East Asian students do not work here in the Middle East. Here the students talk all day, every day. There is never a truly quite moment. I need to adjust my practices immediately before I lose control of the class. I plan to carry out team meeting times where the students are able to come up with their own solutions to their problems. Too much of my time is fixing petty problems. It is imperative that I allow the student’s to find their own way.

Team Dynamics: This is my first go round as a team leader. We are most definitely past the honeymoon stage. My colleagues are mourning their former leader who left for his native New Zealand. I am making tons of mistakes as I learn the ropes. My colleagues are patiently tolerating me. This needs to change. My boss is helping me get through this stage. His work is greatly appreciated.

Learn Conversational Arabic: The Jordanian people are amazing. I must learn to speak with them in their own language. This will open so many doors for me. Hopefully, I will earn some respect among the people here. I remain stunned by the beauty of this nation.

Enhance the culture of literacy school wide: We are a bilingual school. Students spend a good part of each day studying religion, Arabic and Jordanian history. My contact time with my students has been halved. This, along with higher class size, greatly impairs my ability to adequately teach a love of reading and writing. Thankfully, my students are turning on to good books. It is exciting to push literacy in this school yet I need not push too hard, too fast. I have already met a few teachers that are sensitive to change.

Stay connected: Educational Technology at my school is severely lacking. This is a serious challenge to my craft. My goal is to override the school’s tech system wherever possible. I will be talking to the Head of School next month and I will spend this time pushing for more laptops in the classroom. In the meantime, I will continue to use google documents for collaborative planning. I will continue to use Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to connect with the teaching world around me. I hope to continue blogging. 

Yoga: I started doing yoga on the first day of summer vacation. Awaiting the arrival of my son, I was exercising daily. Yoga helped me with my strength, flexibility, balance and self-esteem. I need to get back to working out before school. This however would mean that I had to wake up at 5:00 AM. This is perhaps, one goal that is out of reach.

Make my wife and child comfortable: Watching my newborn son and wife bond via SKYPE has been wondrous. As they prepare to move to Jordan, I need to do what I can to make their transition as smooth as possible. My wife is slowly gaining confidence for her move as she sees how relaxed and happy I am here. I aim to help them wherever possible. Thankfully, Amman has been very easy for me. Hopefully, my wife will feel the same.

Inshallah!

The fruit and nut stands are too cool.

The fruit and nut stands are too cool.

I still miss my Hong Kong students though.

I still miss my Hong Kong students though.

My noodles have been replaced with hummus.

My noodles have been replaced with hummus.

My tea has been replaced with lemon mint juice.

My tea has been replaced with lemon mint juice.

My kid is gonna love learning to walk and talk here.

My kid is gonna love learning to walk and talk here.

After Hong Kong, the fresh air NEVER gets old.

After Hong Kong, the fresh air NEVER gets old.

Parent Teacher Conferences in the Expat Classroom

“Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.”
Marcelene Cox

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/parenthood.html#x4eg8khIErga18FI.99

“Raising you kids was the best time of my life…I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Jean Mernin (my mom)

Photo on 2012-07-19 at 22.06

 

Parent Teacher Conferences are coming up again at my school. It is a make or break time in year of a teacher. Living overseas can add an altogether different cultural dynamic to the scene.

The following is my latest body of thoughts on parent-teacher conferences in the international school classroom. If you are overseas or thinking about becoming an expat teacher, I sincerely wish you luck. I hope this is helpful:

 

1.    Parents are evaluating you as much as their child’s academic work. Be organized, present and relaxed. Be yourself. Your professionalism is your selling point. Be ever-professional.

2.    Listen to parents’ fears. The older I get, the more I truly listen to parental fears. Parenthood is an overwhelmingly emotional experience. Allow time for your parent to share what scares them.

3.    Focus on emotional, academic and social growth. I try to balance my discussions equally among these three areas. This helps in keeping the talks positive.

4.    Take notes and quickly respond, through email or telephone, to questions to which you do not have immediate answers. It is more than all right to not have an immediate answer to a parent question. Write it down and get back in due time. This makes for excellent public relations.

5.    Offer tea and crackers. Helps keeps the moment moving forward. Every culture appreciates tea!

6.    Dress well and tidy up your desk. I habitually have a stack of papers on my desk. There is no problem in that. However, make sure that your desk is as organized as possible. Judgement is happening whether you like it or not. Might as well accept this fact.

7.    Be ready to speak about anything but do not overwhelm the parents with a checklist of items on which to talk.  If I can get each parent to recognize, accept and acknowledge one area of specific improvement, then I have made a true accomplishment. Be realistic and make sure that your student goals are attainable.

8.    Differentiate your conference with individualized goal setting. Truly, your yearlong goals are well-instilled by now. Use the conference time to discuss what success will look like.

9.    Offer more time at a later date. This is crucial. Regardless of how well I think the conference has gone; I always offer to spend more time to meet during specific office hours. This helps me develop a solid reputation as a professional educator.

10. Be honest, always. Obvious advice but not always heeded.

11. Over communicate before and after the conference: One of my teaching partners always writes an email to his parents explaining his philosophy and his plans for the conference. This is good practice. I always write personal thank you emails to each parent.

12.  Be ready for little ones: Toddlers always find their way into the conferences. Welcome them and have crayons and paper ready. It helps put the parents at ease and focused on the matter at hand.

13.  Enjoy the moment. I happen to love chatting up parents. Tell them all the good things that you see and reassure them that they are on the right track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Fantasy Reading Unit

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Maya Angelou

 

Mary Ehrenworth has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College. I first learned of Mary from her work with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.. I heard Mary speak a few years back on the magical power of literacy in transforming the lives of middle school students. I found her to have a bit of magic herself.  When I realized that she co-wrote Constructing Curriculum:Alternate Units of Study, I knew I had to take a more active role in developing our school’s 4th grade Fantasy Reading Book Club Unit.

Simply put, Mary is one of my heroes of literacy teaching.  If you teach literacy, you should follow her.

From Mary’s writing, our fourth grade teachers are able to teach readers to appreciate that it is ok to find a bit of empathy in villains and recognize the struggles for the protagonist.  She instructs teachers to celebrate the heightened complexity of characters and to acknowledge that we all struggle with good versus evil. This unit is powerful and my students are dripping with excitement to start their book club conversations.

Mary pushed me to realize that not only is it acceptable to teach fantasy to my students, it is wise. To wit; ““Fantasy has been a force for good in literacy” On Harry Potter, Mary writes:” Who wouldn’t love a book that has MILLIONS of children to read.” On the art of teaching: “The best things we can do is to put books into the hands of children….and let those books teach.”

Mary has helped me teach my students that experienced readers take extensive notes to deepen the engagement and to extend the book chat conversations. She helps me to acknowledge and celebrate the different ways students use a pencil to track the actions, thoughts and feelings of the hero. Mary helps me teach “those habits that let you prepare for your book club discussions.”

Mary’s work helps me connect with my students. She instructs me to push research in making up a professional sports team and then compares that work to the research that a writer needs to merge all her characters into a meaningful fantasy.Mary understands the complexity in a classroom setting: “Getting to know a new class of children each year is like getting to know characters in a book.” This quote alone makes me realize that this unit is right for my students

Next week, my students will begin their fantasy book club discussions. Today, as I took notes on their reading work, I realized that many of these kids are profoundly different readers than they were at the beginning of the school year. I am immensely proud of their growth. Alas, I realize that I am merely a conveyor of the wisdom of many fine educators.

Mary Ehrenworth is one such master educator. I am deeply indebted to her work in helping me inspire nine and ten-year olds to read.

 

Mary Ehrenworth

Mary Ehrenworth

 

Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of Study

Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of StudyRelated articles

Why I Teach.

Man at Work

Man at Work

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.Andy Rooney 

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck 

I taught in Maryland, Singapore, and Japan. I now teach 4th grade students in Hong Kong. In 1985, I enrolled as an elementary education major at Bridgewater State College of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. I have continued to earn a paycheck as a teacher from August 1990, to the present. Until now, I have never seriously considered doing anything else, but teach.

Initially, I merely wanted to help struggling kids find success in the classroom. As a senior in high school, I was an intern for a classroom of learning-disabled, elementary-aged children. I knew I had found my calling within the first week of my internship. I have lived a life of learning and teaching ever since.

So many inspired educators, inside and outside the classroom have affected the way I practice my craft. As a public school student, I learned to value all teachers, regardless of their ability. As a teacher, I teach my students to value themselves and acquire habits of life long learners.

To be an effective teacher, one must model kindness, compassion, organization, intelligence, flexibility, collaboration, an understanding of educational technology, a belief in one’s ability, trust in your teammates, and perseverance. I expect school leaders to offer and house a brain-researched, structured, engaging, differentiated curriculum.

My first day as a teacher was nothing short of a disaster; my Mid-Atlantic based students had little idea what their New England teacher was saying. Still, I talked way too much. My lesson plans were highly organized. Alas, I was painfully unsuccessful as a manager of time. My Boston accent was very thick. My students giggled a nervous laugh every time I tried to communicate. I had little idea how mentally exhausting the job would be.

Today, I am much more relaxed and confident. I seek the advice of administrators and specialists less. Rather, I independently investigate how the human brain actually acquires knowledge. For professional development, I greatly rely on Twitter and my professional learning network. I make the time to read professional trade books more than ever.

My best advice for new teachers is to live conservatively, so that you liberally develop your craft. Demand more from you than anyone else could ever demand. Work hard. Inspire others to believe in themselves through learning.

Teachers, all over the world, why do you STILL teach? How has your teaching practice evolved? What factors are competing with you from doing your best work? Best of luck as you continue your journey.

Do well.

 Reference:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_teacher.html#uq72kxGKtOewvemU.99

Related articles:

Spring Breakdown

First day of Student Led Conferences are over and I am happy to report that the parents and children were generally very happy with the results. Alas, I have to admit that Spring is upon us and I am have to adjust my teaching practice to accommodate to my current situation. The students are all lovely children, however I need from time to time pause for off task behavior. I still will value their personalities. I just need to keep my sanity and offer a more brain friendly environment that does not interfere with my teaching philosophy.

The following is a body of thought on how I hope to make the necessary classroom management improvements. I hope they prove helpful:

  • Discussion- It is time for me to have a talk with the students about “March Madness” and how this time of the year brings out the hyperactivity in children. I will talk with them about it each morning for two weeks.
  • Smile (even more) I find that this helps.
  • “Let go of the reins.” The kids are more developed and independent than they were in August. I will give them their deserved space and choice.
  • Meditate at home. I tried to schedule this at school but I am simply too busy. Teachers will understand what I am talking about.
  •  Brain Rules: I will check my copy of Brain Rules by John Medina for tips on coping with stress.
  • Library visits:I will encourage more library visits and errands. ( This tip is from Dr. Michael Thompson) Watch this documentary video!
  • Ukulele/Chess Lessons– I may offer lunchtime uke and chess lessons in return for more engagement and class time focus.
  • Banana dance: Whenever the students are sitting too long, we do the “Banana Dance” Basically, we get up and dance as silly and stupidly as humanly possible. If the kids only knew I stole this idea from Chris Elliot.
  • Brain Breaks: These look encouraging.
  • Be happy. Keep your problems at home.
  • Inspirational Quotes: Last year, we had a kid bring in an  inspirational quote to share then post on the door. Amazing how this renews a sense of community.
  • Future Focused: I plan to constantly talk about their future.
  • Make note of our remaining days together. This will help them stay on task to get the most of their time left together.
  • Plan shorter intervals of teaching, longer intervals of student thinking.
  • Dojo: I usually abhor behavior reward systems but Dojo looks like it might work.
  • Watch Ken Robinson’s video at home: This animation is good as it gets in reminding me of the overwhelming amount of distractions in this generation of kids. I gain new insight each time.
  • Review the class agreements from the beginning of the year and let the kids make new ones.

 

Teachers; What do you do to combat boredom in the classroom?

Please share your thoughts. I am always looking for new ideas.

Related articles

Student Led Conference Week- A Letter to Parents

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”Lao Tzu

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dear Parents,

This is my favorite week of each school year and a somewhat notable week in the life of your child. This is the week of student led conferences (SLC).

I have just finished up my plans and we are a go for a marvelous week of learning. We will together celebrate social, academic and emotional growth in your child. I am proud of each student and I look forward to our continued learning.

We highly value differentiated instruction. That said, each child in our class is intelligent, thoughtful, witty, kind, caring, soulful, hardworking and optimistic.  Each is learning to lead and make a positive impact in society. All are reading and writing daily. This keeps me ever hopeful for their future.

My role during the conferences will be to facilitate the discussions between you and your child. I will also spend a little time with each of you conversing about the remaining school year and summer goals.

Each year at this time, I remind students to share their love of learning and not any particular test score. I remind them to share their personal growth and not their “rank” in the classroom. I remind them to celebrate all that they are. Please help your child in this endeavour.

Teaching, for me, is a sensitive and complex profession. It always has been. I work best when I remind myself that the students in my keep will remember little of my day-to-day instruction. Instead, they will remember the habits, both good and bad that I have taught them.  I am positive that I have instilled more good habits than bad and I am positive that your child has benefitted from our partnership. Your child is receiving a world-class, international school education

Enjoy your conversation with your child. Have a great week and see you at SLC.

Questions or comments are greatly appreciated.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/antoinedes121261.html#gqxFdF4pTJIGKLth.99

Book Clubs in the International School Classroom

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

One of the cooler trends in elementary education is the push to book clubs. My readers’ workshop class has children that love the printed word. In 4th grade, my primary responsibility is to not get in the way and to share my mutual love of books. I do not take this lightly.

I was fortunate to attend a literacy conference at my school where Maggie Moon spoke of her thoughts on book clubs. Maggie is a former NYC schoolteacher and educational consultant from The Reading and Writing Teachers Project, Teachers’ College. She now works as an educational consultant with international schools. She is an invaluable resource. My fellow teachers  and I love her work.

Maggie promotes the liberal use of book clubs in the classroom for they help enhance reading, collaboration, and conversation skills. “When students talk, they provide a clear window to their comprehension,” says Maggie,” as well as strengthen students’ passion for reading good literature.”

Maggie spoke of her goals for elementary-age book clubs. She mentioned that teachers allow students to make title choices. The groups self-manage their groups. The talk should grow new thinking. The groups will increase reading volume and stamina.

Maggie spoke of the role of teachers during a book club conversation. She coached us to lean in and prompt the students to ask specific questions to keep the conversations flowing. She instructed us to model and to highlight the specific traits of a successful book club. She spoke of the teacher as the person responsible for students to become proficient members of book clubs. She spoke of the need to reflect on the conversations so that you can fine-tune your future teaching points.

In my classroom, I have watched my students conduct advanced book talks. They read, read, read, annotate, and then talk. The groups are messy at first but with time they settle into routines that adults would be happy to emulate. My first years at my current school left me agape at what my students could do as readers, thinkers and conversationalists. Now, I take their achievements in stride and push them constantly to think even more deeply. I owe a great deal of thanks to the  many folks such as Maggie Moon for pushing me to strive even higher as a literacy teacher.

They have renewed my passion for teaching.

References:

Moon, M. (2013, March 03). Maggie Moon LinkedIn. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/pub/maggie-moon/3/490/2a8

Related Links to check out:

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/book-clubs-reading-67.html

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/reading-together/go-clubbing-book-clubs-kids

https://pinterest.com/pin/88805423872839139/

http://www.teachhub.com/student-book-club-guide

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/books.html#CsQCIwuS2jfp1HSk.99