Sunday, March 25, 2018

Training the brain

Plans, adjustments, differentiation...  A recent professional development reminded me that reflecting on everything is what makes a difference.  A well-planned lesson is a necessary start to achieving student mastery; however, once the lesson is over, the reflecting and refining and revising play another necessary part.  These reflections aren't just useful for students, but for us as a team of professionals.  I've never thought of teachers as teaching on their separate "islands," but rather as a collection of like-minded colleagues with similar goals, dreams, hopes for the children they serve.  By thinking critically about our lessons, we are training ourselves to reflect for the good of the students, which then leads to a collaboration of various ideas within our teaching departments.

With collaboration sometimes comes differing views.  Someone told me that "none of us like everyone we work with," which made me pause and think, "sure, but in this profession, liking or not liking a coworker shouldn't matter; what matters is a similar vision for the students."  In these times where disagreements and differences of opinions stop us short of constructive criticisms, ongoing discussions, and meaningful debates, I plan to critically look past differences, and uncover solutions, just as I would encourage students to do.

These trying times have affected our youth in ways that many of my colleagues are struggling with ourselves.  I've come to process it by training the brain with "growth mindset":

I realize this a gross simplification of complex issues, but maybe it's a start to having tough conversations.  This could lead to recognizing perspectives, brainstorming solutions, and attempting those solutions.  Maybe by modeling this communication pattern for our youth, they can start to build each other up, instead of tear each other down.

My middle school released 17 balloons to remember each victim of the Parkland shooting.

At home, we are consciously practicing critical thinking together.  The boys (10 and 8) have made comments about the world, of course with some influence from their friends.  We openly discuss what their opinions are, and we as parents try our best to present the facts before they make a conclusion.

For example, Jesse one day had an honest question about Trump's wall.  We had a discussion about what walls physically do, and what he thinks the purpose of it would be.  We guessed how much it would cost.  He replied, "A fortune!"  We then Googled the cost and estimated efficiency of such a construction.  We then asked what other ways we could try to solve this issue.  Jesse said some of the billions of dollars could be spent on helping the poor.

Another example of practicing critical thinking is when reflecting on their day: "What was something that made you proud today?"  Or we'd pick from this list, instead of the old "How was school?"  where the critical thinking often disappears in a one-word response like "Good."

Visiting Oklahoma University
Even more, just as in the classroom, we discuss books, movies, tv shows, song lyrics and when we get there, social media.  The more we arm our youth with ways to constructively analyze what is presented to them, the more they can make sound judgments and conclusions, and maybe not end up swallowing Tide Pods.

When someone makes a statement that we don't immediately agree with, we may feel anger, confusion, disgust.  Let's read and learn with our kids.  Let's encourage them make the choice to figure out the ways to use critical thinking skills to not just stick with "let's agree to disagree." Training the brain is an interesting way to #buryboyswillbeboys.

P.S.  Even though "This is Us" is fiction, so many connections and parenting nuggets!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Slowing down

Home visits are a powerful thing.  I know, I know.  I have not gone on nearly as much as I want to, especially since we have no child care of our own AND we have no breaks with our super busy after-school lives (see previous blog post).  Home visits are where teachers come into students' homes for a brief glimpse into their world outside our 6 hours of learning (more here).  One of the most interesting insights is when teachers ask families, "What are your hopes and dreams for your child?"  Makes me stop and think about my own family.

One day, as we were paying the monthly bills on-line, Jesse sat nearby with a Pokemon card in one hand, a Pokemon toy in the other, and sadly stated, "It must be hard being an adult."  Yes, it truly is.

Jason, though, seemed to take the other perspective. At a restaurant recently, he wanted to order from the adult menu.  "Sure, go for it." A small but proud grin surfaced.  Waiting the 15 minutes to get seated, thoughts of, "Wow, time is flying" and "So when did he become this little man?" flooded.  Our table was ready.  Jesse, 7, tore open the kids menu, grabbed a crayon, and started working on the activities.  Jason, 9, peering over ever so slowly, saw one of his favorites, "Hidden Pictures." He looked at me, searching my face for "approval" to go back to the kids menu.  Smile.  "Of course, I'll ask for a kids menu."
Kids meals from Mikuni

We go to Mikuni a lot. Yum!
Don't be in such a rush to grow up, kid!  Aside from the all the 'fun' of being a grown-up is being accountable for the overwhelming task of raising another human being.  We were lucky to have examples growing up of a you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-mind-to attitude. Thoughtful, observant little people are depending on us to show them how to act in this crazy, cruel world.
Our hopes and our dreams are that they will "be the change they want to see in the world," that their journey of happiness involves selfless thoughts, that they slow down and appreciate the good things that life has to offer, that they reflect on their experiences, that they enjoy and remember their childhood.  If we practice with them a growth mindset, positive outlook, opportunities for trial and error, the power of words, maybe, just maybe, we can bury 'boys will be boys.'

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Speaking up and speaking out

Don't complain if you're not going to do anything about it. Solve your problem. Don't be a bystander.

In the classroom, a lot of learning happens, but also a lot of whining happens.
  • I don't have a pencil. 
  • He touched my shoe. 
  • She made fun of the way I write.  
  • He laughed at me.
  • This is hard.
  • I'm not good at writing.
Well, children, speak up.  To that person.  To yourself.  Figure out how to get past the problem. I respond by going to "growth mindset" (Google, read more here or here) and pointing to my classroom wall.  Students rephrase or ask a question to help themselves.

Image result for growth mindset
(Image from Google; variations of this are found in classrooms at our school)

At home, the boys can get under each other's skin.  The two of them mostly get along, but living with, playing with, sharing a room with, breathing with one another 24/7 is not always high-fives and hugs.  Jesse, being the younger, tries to play this card often: "I'm telling!" We hear that, and automatically say, "tell HIM, not us."  Tell him to stop ____; tell him you don't like that; tell him you'd rather play something else. Oh, and use a calm voice while you're at it.

Their out-of-town sleepover without us was our "test" to see if he could handle his brother being a "big bother" instead of "big brother." And the result: he's not there YET lol.

Jason with long hair when he became a "big brother."

We're glad Jason is one to speak up.  When a classmate said, "I can't run. I just can't do it!" and was about to give up, he and his friends cheered her on.  With encouraging words, she did it.

We're also glad Jesse's learning "growth mindset" strategies in his own classroom as well.  He even showed me the youtube video they watched found here.  We constantly talk and use language that helps him connect to different situations.
After Jesse's first round of frustration, Dad helped him aim.
Winning came from not giving up (and from our wallets lol)

There's always someone who plays harder than you, who runs faster, who writes better, who wins more.  If you're giving your best shot, then we're proud of you. If you speak up when something goes wrong, we'll back you up.  If you act with authentic kindness, we'll love that you listened. #buryboyswillbeboys

P.S.  more on growth mindset here

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Choosing love

It's hard to "love" 12-13 year-olds. They roll their eyes, they mutter under their breath, they start using cuss words, they say things without really thinking..  Over all of that noise, I tell myself they are really just kids trying to find their place in the world.

A lesson is so over once the kids are not emotionally involved.  It takes a good eye to try to make real-world connections with some of the concepts we're expected to teach.  Blogger Jessica Lahey notes that "to help students learn, engage the emotions." By either connecting to the concept or the teacher, learning happens.

In the classroom, I've been called "Mom" on accident on more than a couple occasions.  The more I think about it, I'm okay with being a mom-figure.

At home, a different set of mom-moments are everywhere:

  • Messy house, check
 (Jesse even named our couch "the laundry couch")

  • Drawings on the fridge, check

  • Accomplishments they're proud of, check


  • Framed memories, check

  • Mothers' Day presents, check

Physical evidence of a home that is filled with love.  As parents, we purposely provide experiences rich in learning.  We want our boys to use their emotions, test out their wishes, play with ideas.  My husband's advice for a new mom, my sister:

"Enjoy it all! Give her more experiences than she can handle!

All the extracurricular she wants! Be there for everything! Try to give her everything! Cherish all of it. Make yourself available to her! Tell her you love her all the time! Hugs everyday! Let her sleep with you until she's maybe 10yrs old (lol)! Drop her off at school! Help in her classroom! Laugh with her and at her! Let her laugh with and at you! Make her a daddy's and mommy's girl! Kids are our greatest inventions!

Make sure to always want to spend time with, teach, encourage, and love her! They grow too fast and if you miss any of it, you'll regret it! Jesse just woke up right now and is explaining (in his words) "that the short hand is approaching the 7 so it's still 6 and the long hand on 5 so it :25" Kids are the best! So forget "yourself" and give it to her! She'll need all the help she can get in our crazy world."

Making the world a better place starts with family values.  The proof is in the human beings that we are raising.  Bury boys will be boys.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Adjusting for life's unexpected (or expected) curveballs

In the classroom, a teacher can have the most fabulous well-planned lesson-- researched, corresponded to Common Core standards, technology components embedded, multiple intelligences accounted for-- but, many times, ad libbing is just as important.  Having that lesson and objective in mind, of course, is key to great teaching.

When students are assigned a US state project, and hands shoot up volunteering to research Mexico (from two different people in two different classes!) or Las Vegas (!), the need to back up and go to their level is essential. Or, on the flip side, if students say that this story needs to be turned into a movie, questions like, "How would you change scenes to make it more entertaining?" or "Why do you think so?" helps build their critical thinking skills.

Adjusting the lesson for an unexpected question, or for more background knowledge, or for a need to simply say it a different way makes those imaginary lightbulbs in the air flicker brightly just a little more.

Just like at home, when something needs to be clarified, it is handled as soon as it comes up.  The longer kids wait to have the correct information, the longer their synapses are firing at the wrong nerves.  Jesse lost his first tooth recently, literally lost it.  He had the prior knowledge that he HAD to have the actual tooth in possession so the tooth fairy would exchange it for money.  Tears came, panic set in.  People at my house at the time had an understanding, and we all frantically searched the floor of every room.

After searching and not finding, we came up with a different plan: to write a letter.

We adjusted his thinking so that the next time he lost his tooth (which was the next day), and if he literally lost it again (which he did), he'd know what to do.

We're also lucky that we have coaches in our lives who are constantly adjusting the way the boys learn.  Here, Jason's coach gives him and a partner an extra challenge as they've already mastered the dribbling drill.

Whenever there is a need, adjusting the plans accordingly almost seems common sense.  But it does take some reflective thought, some action.  Our boys are surrounded by positivity that I'm sure they will bury "boys will be boys."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Being a teammate

Teams. Cooperation. Participation. Engagement.  Work.

As I start the new school year next week, I want to commit to a theme: teamwork.  I want students to know HOW to work in a group, WHY it's important, and WHAT to do if something doesn't go the way it's expected.  Of course, they will need to be held accountable for their individual goals, but I want a feeling of collective ownership in the class.

One of the ways I was thinking of introducing this is with "Lessons from the Geese."  In one of the *yawn* countless professional developments I've attended, this one stuck with me for some reason.  It goes like this:

I want the class to use more "we" statements, rather than "I" statements.  I want them to get somewhere together.  Celebrate each other's successes.  We'll see how it goes.

At home, our different personalities sometimes clash.   It's been nice to help the boys get started in the morning, instead of focusing on just MY rush to work.  By the time the alarm goes off, older brother is ready, willing, able, downstairs, setting the table, changed, and so on.  BUT, the younger brother likes to take...his...sweet...time.....
Okay, so he DID put his socks on....

If you've read some of the past posts, we're trying really hard to stay positive, and not do the yelling and the pressuring.  Little brother broke down last week wailing, "Why am I so sloowwww?"  I wanted to chuckle, but he was so genuine.  I bent down to his eye-level, hugged him, and said, "Some people take their time, and that's okay.  But you know what? You've got your brother, your dad, and me to help you out!  We're a team."  As soon as I said that, his shoulders relaxed and he continued on the morning routine.

It made me think of how in teams, people count on each other, and good coaches teach that.  Teammates work together to get to their goals.  It also makes me think that coaches have such a profound responsibility to help instill this value.  We're so lucky that we've encountered so many committed coaches (of course, there have been some of the others) that helped the boys improve their skills.

Jesse gets a pass from a teammate (Coach Dad taught them about transition offense)

Jason takes the shot after great passes from teammates (coach taught them to look for open teammates)

Hopefully, the boys will encourage and help their teammates, whether the team is their family, classmates, or even strangers.  And we want them to be thoughtful especially when encountering a situation where we may not be around to remind them.  Bury "boys will be boys."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Speaking positive words

Manners are constantly challenged by everyday actions, social media comments, Vines, vulgar's everywhere!  In my classroom, there is no room for put-downs.  "Please" and "thank you" are words taught and used. Tier 2 academic vocabulary outweighs tier 1 everyday common words, slang included.  It is extremely difficult to enforce these ALL the time, but I'd like to think that I try to set up the atmosphere that is safe for the students to speak out without the fear of chastisement.  Middle school is a tough place.  My certain demographic for the last couple of years have shown me that these kids are really sensitive under all that tough exterior.

Our own kids are showing some qualities of spoiled brats, so we need to pause (#grandparentswillbegrandparents).  They recently received 'unbirthday presents,' and first reactions were not mannerous.  We did not like what we saw.

In raising two boys, we've tried to envision how we want them to be as grown men.

Here's our experiment: Invert negatives into positives.

  1. Use the word "hate" less.  Jesse: "I hate these headphones!" --> "I like the other headphones better."
  2. Nix "annoying."  --> Be specific.  "It's too loud."
  3. Change "boring." --> What IS fun?  "I like doing the math page instead of the writing page."
  4. Don't get so angry when you lose a game.  --> "Maybe I'll use Eye Brawl next time."  (Jesse was about to throw something at his brother for beating him at Skylanders.  I had him take a breath, and he came up with that on his own!  Yay.)
  5. Get "anger" out of the control room.  'Inside Out' was SUCH A GREAT MOVIE!  We are constantly revisiting our emotions, and now that the boys have a visual, they can communicate their feelings so much better.  

They even created another emotion, Awesomeness:

This parenting advice article made me nod my head to myself.  #6: "Don't catch every fall" is a philosophy that we've used since the boys were babies.  But they do need guidance.  The boys are lucky (or unlucky mwaha) that summer is learning time.  Learning to be positive.  Learning to be nice.  Learning to be gentlemen.  Bury "boys will be boys."

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Accepting that THERE ARE NO BREAKS

Oh, sure, teachers have "vacations" and "time off."  NOT THE CASE.  A good teacher works at school, after school, at meetings, at home, in the car, in their dreams, during "breaks"...  It's taken me a while to try to separate work/home, and I think I've got a good balance, but, no, there are no breaks.

My hubby gets an earful of "this" meeting, or "that" test, or "these" grades, or "those" students.  My computer never truly sleeps as it searches for articles or video clips that will help students relate to the next unit.

What do teachers really do?  This video is clear: Teachers make it happen.

At home, THERE ARE NO BREAKS.  Children are big, ticking alarm clocks that go off at random times.

The plan was 2 kids, 2 years apart.  Ever since the oldest could walk, we noted their interests.  Now, at 8 and 6, they can handle up to 2 activities at a time. Those 4 activities sometimes fill 6 out of the 7 days of the week.  There was a good 4 weeks where our schedule went like this:

Monday--baseball game
Tuesday--baseball practice/rehearsal
Wednesday--basketball practice
Thursday--baseball game/rehearsal
Friday--baseball practice
Saturday--2 baseball games, basketball game, support cousins at their games, rehearsal




As we chugged along eating fast-food dinners, sleeping in until the last possible minute, adding miles to the cars, I realized that this busy life is THE life.  The life that we are choosing together.  We want to provide opportunities for the boys to discover their passions.  The above may look like over-kill, but these boys are enjoying every single minute.  School has not suffered, no stresses or tears (well, maybe the occasional whining), but overall, this is turning out to be a crazy, fun time.

Finding the balance between quantity and quality is a goal.  We want to make sure that they are learning sportsmanship, improving skills, building friendships, all the while not feeling like we're forcing them to.  We're lucky that we've come across some good coaches/directors who have similar values.  It really amazes us how these adults can have so much passion for their trade and it truly does make an impact on our boys.  So commendable that these people have families, jobs, responsibilities of their own, and take the time to help other kids be their best.

Through all this madness, how do we the parents keep our sanity?  Sneak away once in a while, of course.  An older couple with kids once gave this advice to a friend: take time as a family, as a couple, and sometimes by yourselves.

Up next...

Summer approaches, the rigid work hours and school bells pause, but life doesn't stop. 
Play will be supervised, meals will be prepared, rooms will be cleaned, writing/art/math will be practiced, camps will be planned, personalities will be shaped to bury "boys will be boys."