14 Steps to Make a Great School Even Better

Can we do better?

I have worked in some really amazing schools. This fact gives me optimism in my students’ future and the future of the planet.

Alas, the school year is over.  I have had the time to breath and reflect on how we as a learning community can do even better.  The following is a personal body of thought upon making elementary schools not only brain-friendly but “human-friendly.” 

  1. A focus on Project-Based Learning. Read about the benefits of project-based learning here
  2. Each student composes music. Read about the effects of music on the brain here.
  3. The Arts… every day. View an inspiring news report here
  4. Life skills are not expected, but taught. UNICEF defines life skills as “psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are loosely grouped into three  broad categories of skills: cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself, and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others.”
  5. Neurology Training: Teachers have a basic understanding of how the brain works. One of my favorite brain books is here.
  6. Maker Culture: Students create, disassemble and reassemble their own technology. Check out Maker magazine here.
  7. Teach kids financial literacy. Read 10 Steps to Teaching Your Kids to Become Entrepreneurs here.
  8. Chess tournaments. Check out the effects of Chess on the child brain. Chess is the “anti-Ritalin.”
  9. Poetry Matters: Poetry is all over the school. Read about my poetry heroine here.
  10. Classes are smaller: Class size is 16 kids per class. From my experience, this is the ideal class size for teaching 21st century students.
  11. More planning time:Student workweek is 4.5-days. Teachers workweek is 5.5 days.
  12. Balanced curriculum decisions: Curriculum is developed by children, parents and staff
  13. Stress is confronted: The CDC report on the dangers of toxic stress on children here.
  14. A shift in professional development. I believe that teachers are to choose more of their own avenues for professional development.

 

13 Questions for Parents of Homeschoolers

Mom Tested Family Approved Homeschool

Mom Tested Family Approved Homeschool (Photo credit: Simply Vicki)

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
Rabindranath Tagore

“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”
Ray Bradbury

 After attending TEDxHK, I have thought a lot about teaching practices, and curriculum, During the conference, Dr. Jadis Blurton challenged me to think about what learning that is done at school could not be learned online. Blurton writes” the great need for educational reform is coinciding with technological solutions and innovations.” She spoke about the fact that in fifteen years time, “educational leaders in schools will not be controlling the reformation, “so we educators better think about the value we add as institutions and professionals.”

Each day, I think deeply about what value I am adding to my students’ lives. I occasionally wonder if I am better suited to teach students through online teaching sessions using SKYPE or Google Hangout.

With this in mind, What about the parents that have already decided to offer an education to their children from outside of the classroom? These parents can give teachers a body of knowledge and experience. I feel teaching professionals would be wise to listen to parents of homeschooled students.

Below is a list of questions that I have for parents of homeschool students:

  • Are you presently satisfied with your child’s academic growth?
  • What lessons do you want your child to learn that they do not learn in a regular school environment?
  • What are three things that you look for when making curriculum decisions?
  • What would you want in an ideal online teaching service?
  • What are your first thoughts when you think of an online school?
  • Is homeschooling convenient?
  • What help do you need?
  • How is each learning day structured?
  • How do you give social and emotional learning?
  • How do you collaborate with others?
  • What teaching tools are most effective?
  • Who are your educational mentors?

 

 

  • Could I speak with you online to discuss this issue further?      My SKYPE address is barrymernin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Today: One Teacher’s Perspective from Hong Kong

 

 

OUR FUTURE IS YOUR OLD AGE

OUR FUTURE IS YOUR OLD AGE (Photo credit: infomatique)

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

Stephen Hawking

 

 

 

Today, knowledge is everywhere.

My international school students access educational videos, tutorials and simulated learning. They realize early on that I am not the end all, be all, and that they can just as easily, and more creatively, find knowledge on their own. Why watch me struggle with an answer when they can easily go to http://www.Brainpop.com?

 

Essentially, my traditional professional life has ended and is not coming back. Just last week, our school’s librarian (another profession on the ropes?) passed out Kindles for the teachers. My students already have mastered eBooks and are waiting for me. I have ridden the waves of educational technology and even I am having a difficult time keeping up. I foresee the day when my classroom is devoid of any books whatsoever. (Perhaps within the next twelve months!)

 

My students have little need for traditional learning. They beg to use Google docs and back channel websites such as TodaysMeet so that they can collaborate and learn together. They beg to play math games online. Who am I to stop them from learning this way? They demand that I let them learn in learning pairs or trios.

 

Everyday, supervisors judge me on how engaged my students seem. I know that the students are trying to focus but oftentimes they wait for me to stop talking so they can go back to learning their way. I do not blame them in the least.

 

It is scary how fast their world is moving. Due, in part to this, my confidence in my teaching ability is low. I remain optimistic about their future and I do see tangible positive results. However, my days as a teacher are dwindling; at least, the classroom teacher that I have always recognized.

 

When I was their age, Cape Cod was a journey. My students give each other tips on how to deal with jet lag.  I used to memorize world capitals, while they visit them. At their age, I was reading Encyclopedia Brown; they are comparing the internal and external traits of the many characters in Harry Potter. I helped my teacher thread film into a projector. They are creating brain-friendly presentations and asking me how to embed video. When I was ten, I didn’t even know the meaning of the word, “embed.”

 

Each teacher and parent is struggling with change. What gives me hope is curriculum development. Curriculum is best when it rewards innovation and collaboration to solve real problems. I see a near future where curriculum builds on the students’ energy and wish to make their world better. I see schools changing to fit the needs of students and not our misconceptions of what they need to learn. I have been able to give my students snippets of Challenge-Based Learning. During these times, I never once need worry about student engagement.

 

Essentially,teaching is redefined each year. I accept this as fact and give up thinking that traditional teaching practices work.

 

Am I the only teacher that feels this way?

 

 

 

 

 

What is my Personal, Plausible Future in Education?

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell
Buddha 

I offer you greetings, from Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, on this Sunday afternoon. From today’s twitterverse, I read about how to plot my future in an uncertain world.  Living overseas, contract-to-contract, I write. I highly recommend that you follow the work being done on fastcompany. They force one to think deeply. Read on:

 What unique value do you bring to the world?  

Belief in myself is secondary only to my belief in others.

First of all, how does one answer this in complete seriousness? I do not think that I bring any”unique” value to the world. People tell me that I am “beyond outgoing.” I trust parents.  I believe that attention disorder is wildly overrated. I believe that standardized testing, in moderation, is an excellent teacher’s  friend. I believe that parents and students should evaluate teachers, each year.

I am optimistic in the future of education and have experienced drastic changes for good since I started earning a paycheck. I believe that teachers matter. I believe that empathy cannot be taught by lecture but through experience. I believe that kids want a structured learning environment but demand to laugh and have a lot of fun, as well. I believe that it is harmful to tell a nine or ten-year old that she has anything wrong with her ability to learn.

I believe that you cannot teach effectively when you are sick or pushed to exhaustion. I believe that we all need help to live a meaningful life. I believe in “kid language” and that sometimes peer tutors are the most effective tools in getting students to learn.

I believe that confidence is what I offer my students more than anything else and that classroom teachers cannot overemphasize  impacting real confidence among students. I believe in honoring and not fearing  “tiger moms ” for each successful person has a mom that has fought hard. I believe that “koala mom’s” deserve equal consideration and perhaps listened to even more actively.

I believe that there is little chance for a classroom teacher to  compliment a kid too much. There are just so many good things going on.

What is my life’s purpose?

My life’s purpose is to help others. For me, I try to do this through teaching. I try to do this by inspiring others to teach. I try to do this by working hard.

What is your personal, plausible future?

Hopefully, my future will be largely what it has always been: optimistic, focused, and in the moment. I am too old to think any other way.

What is your vision and plan of action?

To be determined!

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:

Rethinking Education

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

After reading Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richared Halverson, I am left with many more questions than answers. The following is a sample of my written notes from the margins of my copy. I highly recommend this book.

We have experienced the knowledge explosion. The dust settled. Can we evolve, adjust and survive?

Have computers extended the human mind beyond the limits of even the finest teachers?

Is technology disrupting local community building?

Are today’s schools mostly knowledge factories where one attempts to learn what “very esteemed thinkers” believe necessary to prosper?

Will we build schools that respect the students’ innate curiosity and need for solving real-life problems? Will we change only when we start losing our client base?

Will we create an environment where we celebrate failure as a sign of pure learning?

Will we allow students to roam freely between learning spaces? Will we trust students to take control of their own learning?

Can we create schools that create organizations and systems that enhance, rather than stifle, innovation?

Am I part of the problem?

Can we recognize and celebrate all that we are already doing to satisfy our students’ far-reaching demands?

Will we allow parents and students back into curriculum development and implementation?

Are we teaching all students successfully? Can we afford to let our students live a life of confinement until they leave high school?

Can we name and end the barriers of learning?

With improved educational leadership, can the need for classroom management be a thing of the past?

Can all teachers be allowed to inspire?

So many of my students are competitive, scared and lacking confidence. Am I allowing my kids to make the most of their time in the classroom?

Can we continue to teach curriculum that we know is out of sync with what students need to know?

Can we create a system that respects students right to question and investigate their own answers?

How much of my work day is bureaucracy of one form or the other?

Why is school attendance still compulsory? Why can’t kids learn from home?

Why are kids graded by age? Never, in the past year, have I been in a room filled with fellow forty-five year olds.

Why are teachers’ editions of textbooks still used in school?  Why is so much of the school day dedicated to tradition, behavior control and consistency?

How come students, parents and teachers do not write report cards collaboratively? Why aren’t all students on an Individualized Education Plan?

Why are Middle and High Schools such pressure cookers?

Can we accept that students are much more tech-savvy and more understanding of the adult world than we are wiling to believe?

Can we pay teachers to pursue their own personalized learning?

Can we allow for more project-based curriculum?

Can we accept that a culture of lifelong learning is what we all need to survive?

Can educational gaming and simulations become more of the day-to-day instruction and not a distraction to avoid at all costs?

Will alternative certificates and “badges” replace standard issue, high school diplomas?

Is High School already an anachronism?

Again, I urge all to read this book.  Your students will thank you.

Reference:

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology. New York and London: Teachers College Press

  

Image from Google Images