Monday, September 25, 2006

Let's take a moment to reflect..... please.....

The idea of TEACHER REFLECTION gets a bad rap on some of my daily blog reads. Some folks complain that teaching preservice teachers to REFLECT is just fluff. They make fun of it. Call it a waste of time. It's identified as something ed professors do OTHER than teach teachers to teach.

Well, it just so happens that lately I've been working hard with my intern on how we teachers ask ourselves questions to assess and change our lessons. With the ultimate goal in mind -- improved student achievement-- good teachers think through the days' events, consider the various layers of learning that resulted from the implementation of research based instructional techniques (of course), figure out what we did well, and most importantly, what we must do to improve our teaching. You know, so student achievement is improved.

What's so fluffy about that?

UPDATE: Check out this article about reflection in the NY Times....

If journalling is just a method for recording the cute stories or heart wrenching challenges of the day, then, yes, I guess you could call that fluff... ie instructionally useless.

But when our thinking promotes/records a process of considering why and how and when and what next... all with the express goal of getting kids' to better understand the material, that's instructionally useful.

In our class of emotionally disabled kindergartners, first, and second graders, teaching kids to work more independently is a big deal. Little Brenda has been balking big time during her math lessons, withdrawing and whining unless she gets undivided one-on-one attention, missing fairly easy concepts (maybe on purpose?) and generally causing a scene. And yet, she comes in each morning, sits at her desk and completes 5 or 6 of the same kind of math problems-- without a fuss and with a high accuracy rate.

Ahh, the perfect chance to reflect.....

I asked my intern... What does Brenda's helplessness at math workshop “look like”? What is it about the two different learning settings (morning seat work vs. a workshop setting with another kid) that is different? How are they the same? What are the payoffs in each situation? And the consequences for non-compliance? Might scheduling be a part of the equation? Any other questions you might ask yourself to get a better handle on the situation?

So ye who poo-poo reflection, I say
don't let the soft-fluffy feeling of the word reflect fool you. Reflection, at it's best, is the hard, unvarnished, critical look at how we actually teach kids will learn.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


It's true I don't loose much sleep these days because of school-related worries. But that hasn't always been the case.... When I started this job in 1989, I dreamt about the kids and their sad stories all night long. Like a heavy weight on my heart, I dragged the burden of their lives with me, asleep and awake.

Experience over time lessens the stress, and I have had to learn to meditate to settle myself. For me, prayer is part of the solution,too. Here is a portion of a prayer/poem I found at this wonderful site:

It is night after a long day.

What has been done has been done;

what has not been done has not been done;

let it be.

My intern is feeling the stress (how could she not?) I pray she soon finds the peace of "let it be".

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Letter to My Intern on the Completion of Day 1, 2006-07

"You marveled today about how much there is to learn. You are right, ours is a sometimes wild, often overwhelming environment where it can be said that learning more about everything is the name of the game!!

This is only day 1, but you couldn't help but notice how delayed in other areas our students are. Many ED kids have such delays. Poor social skills lead to poor learning….. and learning challenges often lead to poor social skills. It sometimes seems like a chicken or egg proposition. Neurological problems can spark both kinds of deficits, as can abuse issues…. It seems endless. Instead, I try to see the child as a whole, identify strengths and weaknesses, and move toward helping them grow in all areas. It’s a challenge, as you got a glimpse of today.

Everyday you will be faced with new situations that will surprise you. You’ll get fast on your feet, become more confident in your own decision making, and feel better about predicting behavior. For example, with kids who tend to overreact and become violent, we know we must be ready to intervene in the blink of an eye. Better yet, we'll learn their triggers and be able to act proactively to avoid some of the acting out. You’ll be learning words to use to diffuse situations (“You wish you could have your turn now?” or “ Are you worried you’ll miss out on a turn?”). You learned the value of stepping in and separating kids today.... trial by fire as they say. Your lessons will come, some dramatically like today, and thankfully, others will come more subtlety.

During our next planning hour, you can begin to read the kids’ social histories; many of your "why" questions will begin to be answered. You’re right, the behavior we deal with comes from somewhere….. and you’ll be interested/amazed/appalled to read the sad stories of loss and hurt many of our kids have endured.

From my perspective as your mentor, you did very well today. You were calm, attentive to the children's needs, focused on doing your best... AND the kids took to you. That is a very, very good sign.
It is only day one. The first step is often the most frightening!!!!!"

Dee, I'll be there every step along the way.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Night Before.....

It's been awhile since I planned for tomorrow, THE FIRST DAY, so tonight I rewrote the plans in full, just like I was cramming for a test. It feels good to get into them; I made the choice to forget all about school throughout the weekend. And that's exactly what I did. No thoughts of morning arrival routines, early assessment activities, playground rules and singing new songs. Instead, college football, dinners out, visits with my daughter the HOKIE, and pony-sized Coronas took center stage.

More tomorrow.... until then, I wish all of you who are also beginning the new year the best of starts. To those of you who have been back for a while now, belated best wishes. Our kids deserve nothing less than the best, eh?