Saturday, February 21, 2015

No More Squinting

A couple weeks ago, I took my oldest son, Alex, to the optometrist. Over the past few months, my husband and I have noticed that he has been squinting quite a bit, moving closer to objects, and his teacher reported that he always moves to the front of the room to see the board. He has always been, as one teacher has coined for us, “a mover and a shaker”. As he learned to read, he physically pulled himself closer to his work in order to focus. He passed every eye screening with flying colors in the past. So, while his eyesight waned, he built strategies to see, strategies that were similar to his coping skills from the past, but elevated so we knew we had to do something about it. After I took him to the eye doctor, we found he needed glasses. Alex was ecstatic! He thought this was the coolest thing to happen to him!

As we waited for his glasses to come in, Alex grew increasingly anxious. Every day, he would ask, “Did the eye doctor call about my glasses yet?” We would tell him no, and off he went with his strategies to get through his day.

Then, the phone call came. He could hardly contain himself as we drove to pick up his glasses, and on the way in, he nearly knocked me over! While he was excited once the new glasses were put on his face, I could sense something was not right. His excitement suddenly became reserved, putting on a show that he liked them, but a mom can sense it was not quite what he had expected.

By the time we got home, which is only a 5 minute drive, those glasses had been on and off his face at least a dozen times.

“Alex, is something wrong with your glasses?”
“Can you see better?”
“What looks better to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You need to wear them to see better, ok? Leave them on.”

After 30 minutes of this, I decided we needed a different plan of action.

“Alex, take off your glasses. Now, read this.” I held up a book, and asked him to read the title.
“I can’t see it.”
“Ok, now put your glasses on. Read it.”
And it was magic! His face lit up, he read the title with ease, and then said, “Ok, Mom, I get it.”

During his first full day of wearing his new glasses, I could still see him squinting, moving closer to objects. He would play with his glasses, still taking them on and off throughout the day. And by the end of the day, he looked a bit defeated again, despite celebrating his ability to see the clock and the board without moving closer.

“Alex, this is a big change for you. And it will take time. But trust me, it will get better. I promise.”

Today, he wears them most of the day, and there is no more squinting. His face has become accustomed to the feel of glasses, and he no longer questions why he needs to wear them.

My son’s adventure has reminded me of many things in our educational world. We all have many strategies that we use on a daily basis to get us through it all. When checked, we find that there is a change needed to do something more efficiently or even a change in how we go about our lesson. Change is going to happen, but it is often very uncomfortable. We question it, try to remove it from our lives, but it still comes back to us, yet in many instances the change is a necessary improvement. Change comes with an adjustment period, and if we don’t see this through, the change will not stick and we will be back to our old strategies once again.

Whether it is new standards, a new framework, new curriculum, new devices, new tools, or new instructional strategies, these will all feel uncomfortable to start, and we will question why we even need these changes. However, these changes are necessary for the betterment of our schools and our students. We make these changes so that our students may grow and learn in the way that THEY learn and grow. We do not teach the way we were taught, as this is not best for our students. So, we teach with new strategies and tools, methods that will feel uncomfortable to start. Yet, we must stick with it, we must persevere, because in the end, we will help our students be their very best.

We do not need to squint any longer. Open your eyes through new lenses. It will change us and our schools for the better.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Good Teaching is Good Teaching

I consider myself a young educator. I have been a teacher and administrator for a total of 13 years - 8 of those as a middle school English teacher and 5 as a principal. I have worked in many different buildings and in two states. Every day I feel fortunate for the different experiences I have had, as these experiences, within different schools and in different roles, have led me to be the educator I am today.

In all of my experiences and my own learning, one thing has held true.

Good teaching is good teaching.

It doesn’t just happen at particular times or when a principal stops in the classroom. It isn’t focused on an observation. Good teaching happens any time of the day because it is focused on the kids.

Good teaching is facilitating, fostering a love for learning in a way that meets the child’s needs and interests. It is about the kids and their growth, their learning, their application, their desire to inquire. It is not about a score on an rubric or a test. It is not focused on an end-of-the-year benchmark. Good teaching empowers students to think for themselves, develop their skills at their pace, not the pace of what a standardized test says. Kids learn at different rates and with different tools, and good teaching celebrates this in our children. We celebrate all children, no matter what their background or learning style. Our responsibility is to all children, and this is why we do what we do.

You see, I believe in learning.

Every child can learn.
There are no boundaries, no limitations on the power of learning.
We aim to instill a love for learning in children.
We want to allow students to ask questions, be inquisitive, seek answers, create, and collaborate.  
Good teaching fosters a belief in learning and exploring, not just completing a worksheet or reading from a textbook.
Good teaching is reflective, because none of us is perfect, and we should all aim for more and better the next day.
Good teaching is not about doing “what we have always done”, but it is tapping into the interests and abilities of those students sitting in front of you in that moment, and building from there.
Every child learns at different rates and in different ways, and good teaching understands this and allows that child to move at his/her pace, feeling confident and not compared with others around him/her.
Good teaching is the way this particular child needs to learn, not the way I was taught.

The world of accountability, rubrics, and standardized tests are not going away. But I am not going to allow this to rule what I do and how I do it. If we believe in learning, then we must rise above this and maintain good teaching, the way we know it needs to be done.