I was recently sent this amazing video made from a commencement speech title “This is Water.” The speech, given by David Foster Wallace, which was hardly known until it was discovered by The Glossary a few years after David had passed away.
In the beginning few lines of the speech, Wallace describes two young fish swimming past and older fish who says, “Good morning boys, how is the water?” The two young fish swim on and eventually one asks “What the hell is water?”
I’ve watched this video about 5 times now, and have discussed it with friends, co-workers and relatives. Now I ponder to myself, as a principal… if this is water, then what is education?
Let’s get the conversation started…. Tell me… what is education?
Our school recently participated in the annual state testing of students in grades 3, 4 and 5. I noticed after the first day was complete that we had a lot “free” time in the afternoon. Not to mention, there were a fair share of kids who ended up in my office for discipline related issues that emerged from…. you guessed it…. “free time.”
Considering the fact that the actual assessments were only about 90 minutes (at the most) I was a bit dismayed at the lack of structure after the testing. I heard a lot of comments such as “they need a break,” “this testing is overwhelming,” and even “these kids can’t take anything more today.” I sent out a blanket email detailing my expectations, and highlighting what I valued. This whole situation took me back to my first year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson about how we can do better.
I was finishing up my first marking period and I had to get my grades finished. In order to accomplish this task I put in the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about fall, Halloween or anything other than keeping the kids occupied so I could get my work completed. I needed time. My mentor, a fantastic, passionate teacher who I admired, asked me about the movie I was showing. I told him that I really needed to get my grades finished. He was understanding, but then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “I really hate it when my son comes home and tells me that he just watched a movie in school. I really think, as educators, that we can do better than that. These kids can watch movies anytime, we should be able to do more.” That was like a dagger through my heart. Ouch. He was right. We can do better.
Since that time I have never showed a mindless movie, and refuse to allow it as an administrator. I firmly agree with my mentor…. we can do better. Sure, kids can watch movies that are connected to the curriculum, or even parts of movies but we should always make sure that what we do is connected. We should always be raising the rigor, extending the line, raising the bar. Always! We can do better!
So what happened the rest of the week? Honestly, I saw more engagement, projects and even more of what I had seen before we started the assessments. I had to have some conversations with teachers about my expectations and why I feel so passionately that we need to continue to send the right message to the students, parents and community. I know some of the teachers were not happy with me and I understand. I was there before and I am so thankful that someone challenged me to keep the bar raised high! We can do better!
You have no idea the power that you possess. You make kids BLOOM!
When I think of teacher appreciation, I start by thinking of my second grade teacher Mrs. Levin. Second grade was tough for me and I almost didn’t make it through. Yes, I actually had to go to summer school in order to pass into 3rd grade. I missed a lot of school that year, chose not to wear my glasses, had trouble focusing, rushed through assignments, did silly things to end up on the bench and was an overall pain in the (you know what).
My second grade class (I’m back row second from left)
Despite all of that, Mrs. Levin cared about me and was patient with me even though I probably let her down very often. Reflecting back on second grade, I realize that she taught me a lot more than just Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science, she taught me to believe in myself. Had it not been for Mrs. Levin, I would not be where I am today.
The down side of teacher appreciation is that you may never hear or know the impact that you have had on a student (in my case I never told Mrs. Levin) but you must realize that you too have made a difference in the lives of children…. There is someone, somewhere who truly appreciated what you did for them (or their child)…
Here is a video I had the students at RM Bacon make to show appreciation to their teachers while they are still here! The message of the video is quite clear… Students like teachers because they are nice, help them learn, and support them…
Part 3 of the ongoing series where students are solving the achievement gap issues at RM Bacon….
Cooperative learning requires patience
During our 3rd week we had the students spend the entire day steeped in cooperative learning. In preparing for this, we thought a lot about how we teach kids to work cooperatively as opposed to just having them work on an assignment in close proximity. Cooperative learning is difficult… especially when you combine students in grades 3, 4 and 5 who may have never worked together prior to this program. Honestly, how often can adults say they really work collaboratively? (that’s another blog for another time).
We spent the first part of the morning teaching the students how to work cooperatively. We made sure that they understood that everyone in the group needed a responsibility We taught them how to honor brainstorming ideas. We taught them group consensus tools (thumbs up, down or in the middle). Everything had to be voted on and the students had to learn the art of consensus. For instance, in one group the discussion boiled down to one question… How could they get Timothy from thumbs down (he opposed it) to thumbs in the middle (he could live with it). Ironically, it was Timothy’s own idea that he eventually couldn’t live with and the group had to re-work their plan. Frustration! Tears!
Cooperative learning is not always fun
All three groups had tears. It was difficult for students to truly honor ideas, plans and even concerns regarding their projects. Even though we modeled cooperative learning and facilitated the groups, we still had struggles. The students became very frustrated with each other, some felt left out…. all of the kids wanted to give up at some point. We stayed with them and helped them through the struggles. After seeing the frustrations evident in each group we all looked at each other and said ‘they need a break.’
During the break, we took the kids outside for some fun team building exercises. Although it was a simple activity, the kids loved it. They had to get a ball around the circle (without giving it to the person next to them and they could only touch it once). We modeled manners (which actually helps the students understand the pattern of the game). Anytime they passed the ball they had to say the person’s name. Anytime they caught the ball they had to say “Thank you” and then the person’s name. As the students figured out the pattern, they were able to add in multiple balls and one team were able to have 7 going at the same time. Success!
The second half of the day went much better. Eventually the groups were able to able to plan their PBL projects. One group chose to do an imovie, another group chose to do a dramatic song, and the 3rd group chose to do a classroom skit. Next week we begin filming!