Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sometimes A Great Notion Comes Again

In a post I wrote earlier today (Sometimes A Great Notion), I talked about the positive impact something as simple as a Twitter hashtag can have on our profession or, more to the point, on the perception that many seem to have about our profession. The question I asked in that post was "What would happen if we focused less on all of the negativity aimed at teaching and teachers, and, instead, started focusing on the positive aspects of our career?"

After I finished writing that post, I decided it was time to read for a bit. So I plopped myself down on the couch and grabbed my book, The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. After about five minutes, I came upon the following passages:
"What we think of ourselves and of the world makes us who we are and what we can be. This is what Hamlet means when he says, 'There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.' The good news is that we can always try to think differently. If we create our worldview, we can re-create it too by taking a different perspective and reframing our situation." p. 81
"In the nineteenth century, William James became one of the founding thinkers of modern psychology. By then, it was becoming more widely understood that our ideas and ways of thinking could imprison or liberate us. James put it this way: 'The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. ... If you change your mind, you can change your life.'" p. 82
Both of these passages describe how an individual can make positive changes in his life by simply changing his outlook. This may seem too simplistic to you, especially if you're thinking you have to be willing to work harder in order to make changes in your life. While that may be true, I would suggest that before you can make any kind of changes in your life, you have to first believe that change is possible. And that's where, for many of us, a new outlook would be most beneficial.

But what would happen if in changing our perspective we also managed to change the views of many others? What if thinking positively about teaching could change not only us as teachers, but all those who make decisions about us and our profession? I know you may be rolling your eyes at me right now, but, honestly, what have we got to lose? Nothing!

"What have we got to lose?" That's negative thinking. The question really should be: "What have we to gain?"

So, how can you add a more positive outlook to your career? Care to help me figure this out?

Sometimes A Great Notion

I am constantly amazed at the level of awesomeness that comes out of my PLN on a daily basis. Occasionally, something that seems like a simple idea turns in to something awe-inspiring. At a time when so much negativity is aimed at our profession, Nick Provenzano decided to focus on the good that we as teachers do. His recent blog post, #SchoolDidAGoodThing, describes his idea of having people on Twitter talk about the positive aspects of their own education using the hashtag #SchoolDidAGoodThing.

I wonder if Nick had any idea what his idea would lead to. People talking positively about their education, and sharing some inspirational thoughts in 140 characters or less. Looking through the hashtag stream, not only can you get a sense of why so many of us became teachers, but you can also see quite clearly what an amazing impact we can have on the children in our lives. Even if we don't know it.

How many students have come into our classrooms just needing to be seen by someone? To be recognized as a person of value? A person who has great potential to do good in this world? But if there isn't anyone in their life to see that and point it out to them, what happens to that child?

I begin each school day by greeting my students at the door, looking into their eyes and saying "Good Morning!" What do I see when they look back at me? Do I see the student who aces every test because school is too easy for her? Do I see the student who rarely does his homework? Do I see the student who doesn't always have a lunch because mom and dad are so wrapped up in getting divorced that they've forgotten they still need to take care of their children?

Of course not. What I see when I greet my students each morning are young people who want to be treated as people with tremendous potential. They want to know they are cared for first and foremost. "And, hey, if we can learn some stuff too, that'd be cool."

I'm sorry if I've gotten a bit off track here. But reading through the #SchoolDidAGoodThing hashtag has me thinking about why I became a teacher in the first place. I've been struggling this summer with whether or not I should remain in the classroom. Teaching is an unbelievably hard job, but it is also the most important job I've ever had. I've faced a lot of negativity in the last year or so that has made my job even harder. I wonder what would happen if I focused only on the positive aspects of my job during the next year. How would that impact me as a teacher and as a person? And how will it impact my students?

And that is why Nick's idea is such a valuable one. It has people focused on the positive aspects of our profession.

A week or so before Thanksgiving each year, I have my students start keeping a gratitude journal. Each evening they have to write down three things that they were grateful for from that day. I explain to them that the theory is the more you focus on your gratitude, the more things will come into your life that you can be grateful for.

And so I ask you: What would happen if we focused less on all of the negativity aimed at teaching and teachers, and, instead, started focusing on the positive aspects of our career? Perhaps it seems too simplistic to you. But haven't you ever noticed that sometimes the greatest ideas are truly simple?

If you'd like to see the impact this idea is already having, be sure to read Nick's update, #SchoolDidAGoodThing - Follow Up. And then, if you are on Twitter, add your thoughts on how school was a positive thing for you and use the hashtag #SchoolDidAGoodThing.

Please join us!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Think Outside The Search

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Google search class led by Dan Russell at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. This was actually the second time I'd taken the class, and even though it was held the night before I was to get on a plane to head to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, I'm definitely glad I went. I got a lot more out of the class the second time around, perhaps because I was better able to keep up as I already had some background knowledge (hmmm...isn't that what every student needs?)

After an evening of learning, one thing was abundantly clear: we need to teach our students how to search! Do you have students who insist on typing their entire question into the Google search bar? Do they even include the question mark? Or do they just go straight to Wikipedia? [Not that there's anything wrong with a starting point.]

So I'm adding to my summer to-do list creating a lesson or two for my seventh graders on how to search the web. Fortunately, Google already has some lessons created that we can all use as a jumping off point.
You can find more lessons and other goodies on the site that was shared with us during the search class:
And in case you haven't seen these, here are some handouts and posters for your classroom:
Have you seen A Google A Day yet? It might be a great way to encourage students to use better web search skills. Each day Google offers a question that can be researched by students. You could even make it a game where the first student to find the correct answer wins. The trick is to use the best search terms possible. Here are some tips to share with students that I picked up during the Google search class:
  • Before you type anything, think about what you would expect to find on the site you're looking for. Choose keywords that might appear on that site.
  • In choosing keywords to search with, start with the simplest terms. If that doesn't get you the results you were looking for, try using synonyms of your search terms. 
  • Try using specific terms if you know them, but be sure you've got the words right or you could be sending yourself on a wild goose chase.
One of the best tips we can share with our students and with other teachers is how to find a specific term on a long webpage. The Find command will help you quickly find exactly what you need on a page. Try using it on a lengthy Wikipedia page and you'll quickly fall in love with Control-F (PC) or Command-F (Mac)!

As many cool tips as we learned that evening, I think the biggest reaction from the class came when we discovered this:

That's right! You can now search for recipes! Not only that, but you can narrow your search down based on ingredients, cooking time or calorie count.

Move over, Betty Crocker! Here comes Google!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Graduation 2011

As a middle school teacher who works with eighth graders, one of my responsibilities is to present the social studies awards to our graduating class. Rather than just dive right in to listing the names of those who excelled throughout the year, I take the opportunity to say my "official" goodbye to the students I've worked with for two years.

It's never an easy task to say "goodbye" to students you've grown quite fond of. But, this year was even harder. I knew as I spoke these words that I would not be addressing a graduating class again; I will no longer be teaching eighth graders. Perhaps I should be thankful that next year I won't have to stand up in front of hundreds of parents, grandparents, students, faculty and staff, and share my personal thoughts.


After graduation, a number of parents and several of my co-workers asked if they could have a copy of what I said to my students. I was more than happy to oblige as it made me feel wonderful that I had managed to touch a few people. Of course, if I was willing to share my words with my school community, I knew I would also want to share them with the members of my PLN.

The following is from our eighth grade awards ceremony, June 3, 2011.

Good morning, Eighth Grade!
 I would like to share a passage with you that I found recently. A little reminder for you as you leave us:
"It’s so important to surround yourself with the right kinds of people when you are striving to live a meaningful life. We cannot always choose whom we walk with on our paths in life, but whenever we can, it makes everything easier, more joyful, and so much more productive when we choose to spend our days with people who bring out the best in us, see the best in us, and believe the best about us. Seek people who make you want to become a better person, the kinds of people who are focusing on positive and good things in life. It will inevitably rub off on you and before you know it, YOU will be the one that others are seeking out because YOU are leaving everyone better, happier, and more hopeful than they were before you found them. You have SO MUCH more influence than you know."
 [as quoted in Tales of the Revolution: True Stories of People who are Poking the Box and Making a Difference by Seth Godin]
I can honestly tell you today, that because of all of you, my world has been a better, happier, and more hopeful place. And, as hard as it is to say goodbye, as much as I will miss you, it is time for you to go. You see, there is much work to be done, and you’re ready to begin it.
Former football coach Lou Holtz once said, “I can't believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary.” Today, we say goodbye to 36 extraordinary individuals. I am so proud of each and every one of you. I know that each of you will do great things. I expect nothing less.
Our theme this year was Imagination. I would ask you today to imagine the future you want for yourselves, and then go out and make it happen. And remember, who you are and who you will become are not defined by what others may say. You create that definition every day of your life with every choice you make. So, choose wisely, my friends.