Growth Seminar

I’ve started a new blog called Hearts Of Their Youth On Flame.  The theme of the blog is unclear at this stage but naturally I’ve been writing about education and coaching.  Here is my most recent post:

Growth Seminar

On a recent post, I attached a link to a video entitled Understanding Talent.  The video is a short animation that describes how people develop talent in a variety of things.  It focused specifically on athletics.  However, the message should be applied to any and all skills that a person wants to develop.  The science shows that talent is something that is developed through hard work and is in no way intrinsic to certain individuals.  Nobody is born to play basketball.  There is no gene for basketball talent.  Those that make it to the top of the basketball world were able to hone their skills through hard work and not some magical stroke of luck that gave them that talent.  

Earlier today, I listened to an episode of This American Life, a WBEZ radio magazine style show hosted by Ira Glass, that focused on a book by Paul Tough called How Children Succeed: Grit, Personality and the Hidden Power of Character.  The theme of the episode entitled Back to School examined the age old question about what students should and should not be learning in school.  Through a series of stories and interviews directly with Tough, one theme was that schools are not focusing enough on teaching students the “noncognitive skills” also known as social skills that truly help people succeed throughout life.

At the beginning of the episode, Glass features a long term study by Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckmen which compared those that simply that dropped out of high school and those that completed high school in the traditional four year manner.  He found that those individuals that achieved high school credit through the GED were not nearly as successful in a variety of ways throughout life including job performance, money earned, college success and quality of marriage when compared with those went through the much longer route of four years of high school.  Heckmen discusses that the GED is established to show that a person who passes this test possesses the same amount of cognitive ability(traditional school skills) that everyone must have to pass high school.  He concludes that the reason for this difference in so many life outcomes is while in school for the thousands of hours over four years required to graduate from high school, students develop a wide variety of other skills that contribute to success throughout their entire life.  These are the qualities that are truly important for someone to learn in high school and not the math or reading skills that we often think are the heart of a child’s education.

After this moment in the show, I was both relieved and troubled.  I was relieved because it gave me a sense of satisfaction that school is in some way important in a person’s life, even if it has little to do with the cognitive skills that they learn.  There was a moment when I thought that Glass was going to reveal that in fact those that took the much less demanding, in terms of hours, GED would do just as well throughout life.  As a teacher, I dedicate my life to the success of children and knowing that there is clear value for students to be in school makes me want to work harder.  However, what troubled me was the fact that nowhere in the curriculum of my school district and I’m guess most others is there a focus on the social skills such as grit, self-control or optimism that are clearly crucial for a person’s ability to succeed both in school but throughout his or her entire life.

When students enter high school in my district, they take a class called “Freshmen Seminar.”  Though I must admit I’ve never seen a syllabus, I’m guessing that it focuses a lot on how incoming freshmen can achieve and gives strategies to reach graduation in four years.  One idea that I know that they talk about is the Growth Mindset.  Students learn what a Growth Mindset is and why it is so important.  They are shown that with grit and determination, they can learn almost anything that they put their mind to.  

My question as a middle school teacher is why are we waiting so long to send this message and what can we do at the younger levels to promote similar ideas?  We spend so much time focusing on traditional curriculums such as Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies. At what point are noncognitive abilities developed for all of our students?  There is AVID, a program for students that help them to develop the academic skills necessary to go to college, but this is not something that is offered to all students.  The noncognitive skills, Paul Tough pointed out based on his analysis of current research, are the skills that people have the most potential to improve throughout their life times.  

When listening to the This American Life episode, I found myself thinking about so many of my students that struggle to control themselves, have behavior and emotional problems and cannot find success in the classroom.  Glass interviewed researchers that discussed what early childhood stress does to a person’s capacity to learn and how that impacts their actions within a traditional classroom setting.  Without knowing the details, I am sure that one too many of my students experience the type of hardship every day that would cause their brains to be unable develop naturally.  As a school system, we must do more for all of our students to learn how to learn and how to develop the personality traits that help to overcome those hardships.  What I am advocating for is more of a focus at the younger levels of a child’s education in developing social skills that will be invaluable throughout a lifetime.  Research shows that if a person understands how skill develops and that talent is in no way natural that he or she is more likely to give greater effort because they believe that those skills are indeed possible for them to learn and not some luck of the draw talent distributed at birth.  What if every 6th grader took a Growth Seminar when entering middle school?  This would be more than just a two week introduction but a class that they went to every single day.   What if instead of reading and math intervention classes established to improve scores on standardized tests, we helped students with developing the essential social skills Tough and so many others in the educational research community advocate?

Change is happening in the educational world but like all change, it is slow.  First it takes academics to share their research, followed by policy change and then finally it makes its way to down to the school districts and the schools.  The road is long and is filled with thorny obstacles much of which unfortunately comes in the form of dollars and private interests.  However, sharing this kind of information at the grassroots level is an important part of change.  Those in positions of power within school districts must begin to see the value in helping our students develop as complete human beings and not simply focus on one aspect of their development. Once they do, our curriculums will begin to reflect the type of complete education that will help young people in every aspect of their lives and not just on challenges that require academic knowledge.  Consider this post part of that grassroots change.  Now I just need to gain an audience.   




New Teacher Diaries: Update from 2 Weeks In

It’s hard to believe it’s already been two weeks.  It feels like it’s been two months already with the number of things that happen every day.  But so far, so good.  Though it’s been stressful, busy, and challenging, I really am loving it.  And honestly so far, it hasn’t been even close to how stressful student teaching was.  I didn’t realize how many lessons I learned during last semester–both about myself and about teaching–until the first week of teaching this year


Part of the reason it’s been so much less stressful has been a new approach I’ve taken to getting things done at night.  Shout-out to Laura from Wheeling for the idea to have a time limit dictate what I get done for the night, rather than a (always unreasonably long) to-do list. Every day after school, I decide how many hours I’m willing to work after school.  Usually that’s about 3-5 hours.  Then I assign a number to everything on my to-do list, 3 for things that are absolutely crucial to do ASAP and would benefit my students the most, 0 for things that I would like to get done, but not as beneficial.  3’s get tackled first, and then I move down.  As I move through the to-do list, as I’m making my handouts and rubrics and finding examples, I glance at the post-it I put on my computer that asks, “How much is what I’m doing right now benefiting the kids?”  Fixing the lines in the rubric so that they’re perfectly symmetrical?  Probably not much.  So that’s when I demand myself to stop and move on.

Even with self-monitoring like this, it’s usually just 3’s that get done.  But guess what?  Even if I just get the 3’s one night, I find that life goes on the next day.

It’s an exercise in self-forgiveness, valuing me-time, and being proactive with stress, and it has been keeping me remarkably sane.  It’s helped me separate work and home in a way I never have in my life.  Given, I have nights where I’m exhausted, I go home, and I flounder.  But in the past 2 weeks, that hasn’t happened more than twice.  And I’m in a better mood for the students  and my co-workers the next day because of it.

Releasing the Pressure for Perfection.

With the prioritized to-do lists has come the necessity to let go of perfection.  I’ve stopped beating myself up for not getting things done.  I apologize to students if lessons don’t go as smoothly as they could have, and I try admit to co-workers upfront when I know things are not going to get done.  I ask for help from other teachers.  A lot.  It’s still hard for me, but I’m working on accepting (and almost expecting…) imperfection from myself.  And guess what.  Life still goes on.  And I’m happier.  And I think I’m still doing an ok job.

I feel like I’m writing a diary of someone going through perfectionist therapy.  I think first-year teaching is just that, actually.

In terms of the actual teaching itself, it’s been great.  Challenging, but great.  Middle schoolers are so much younger than I was expecting, but I’m loving it.  For the most part, they’re curious, enthusiastic, and still have elements of the industrious stage of development.  Given,  there are always exceptions and they also are all 13 and behave as such, but overall, it’s great.

Most of my classes are really good groups and I adore teaching writing–which is fortunate, as it’s 4 of my 6 classes.  I’m so glad I taught Creative Writing during student teaching, because I find myself borrowing so much of what I learned–including confidence.  As for my reading and AVID class, I’m learning as I go.  Though I thought that having 4 preps would be insane, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought.  It helps that I’ve been doing very similar things in my 7th and 8th grade writing classes and that I have point people for each prep to see what others are doing, but I think the biggest difference is that before, I had 2, high school-level, 90-minute preps, and now I have 4, 47-minute, middle-level preps.  Hopefully I can keep the positivity through our first few units, but for now, I’m getting through it.  It definitely could be worse.

More in a week or two.  Off to go relish the 3-day weekend.

You might also like:  The New Teacher’s Survival Guide: Managing the Workload from The Educator’s Room.

The Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Classroom

I was talking to my former MS teacher and she was telling me about this thing called “The Flipped Classroom.” I honestly don’t know how it’s done yet, but I just want to post this anyways for you know… ideas. It might come in handy for certain lessons. My teacher was really excited about it… and I felt the need to share her enthusiasm. I’m guessing that the students will be more active and producing more “work” IN class.

An Open Letter to New Teachers

Out of the volumes of new teacher advice I’ve read and heard in the past few years, I think this tops them. Honest, positive, sobering.

Singing Pigs

Dear First Year Teachers,

You’re about to walk through the double-doors of your first school into your first classroom with your first group of students and take your place, front and center, in of one of the biggest shitstorms of our nation’s political and social systems.

In other words, you’re about to become a teacher. For real.

And anyone who sugar-coats teaching is either insane or a misleading douchebag.

You’re about to be bombarded, overwhelmed, needed by everyone, all the time, right this second, while also trying to learn your job, do your job, get your sea legs,  meet your deadlines and somewhere in there sorta-maybe teach some kids some stuff.  You’re going to be juggling your seating charts, finding your curriculum maps, making lesson plans, learning names, meeting your colleagues, collaborating with colleagues, figuring out schedules, answering emails.  The school is going to give you financial forms, discipline forms, intervention…

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New Teacher Diaries: Pre-First Day

It’s officially within 36 hours of my first day of my first teaching job, and it’s hard to describe my emotions. Ok, actually it’s easy; just crazy anxious.  I’ve been thinking and mulling and reading and avoiding planning and talking about it all summer, and though I’m dreading all the possible ways the first week could go wrong, I’m so crazy excited for the things that will go right.

It’s going to be a crazy year.  I’m switching down to middle school from my high school student teaching placement; I’m in a new town with student demographics that I’m not used to; I have 4 preps; my classes span all 3 grade levels; I have one class entirely made up of ESL students and I’m co-teaching another class with literally every 8th grade student in the special education program at the school–which makes up about half the class.  It’s going to be interesting.

The fortunate part of my situation is that I’ve had the entire summer to attend Professional Development seminars to meet much of the faculty of the school–which I’ve discovered to be incredibly supportive and a truly inspiring group.  Though there are so many new things to get used to, I know that even if every class completely bombs every day, that (after a few teary nights) I will come out at the end of the year such a better teacher than when I went in.  That’s part of the beauty of the profession, right?  I keep telling people that the way I look at it, after this year I could handle anything!  Though next year I wouldn’t mind having fewer preps…

I’m going to try to check in with Pedablogical every week or two this year as a sort of window for those preparing to go into teaching, and a way for me to log my experiences and growth.  Feel free to tune in.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


Some Thoughts on the Writer’s Workshop

I spent fifteen hours over the course of two days last week learning about the Writer’s Workshop(WW).  I was familiar with and possessed a positive view of the term when I was hired as a 7th grade writing teacher in May, but I am even more thrilled about the teaching method than ever before.  Simply put, Writer’s Workshop is a method of teaching people how to write by recreating the experience of real life writers within a classroom setting.  In the real world, nobody is telling you what to write about, how to write it or how much time you should spend on each piece.  Why force a person to write about something that they don’t want to write about?  On a daily basis, students will be given ample amount of time to write and everything that comes with the entire process from pre-writing all the way to publication.  My role will be to support each student throughout the whole process.  I’ve made a list of a few positive aspects of the WW and how it will enhance the experience of m students in the classroom:

-A consultant from a district outside of St. Louis named Kathryn Mitchell Pierce led the first day of the workshop for writing teachers in our district.  She stressed the importance of beginning to build a community from the very first day.  One of the criticisms(see Dressman, Lionizing the Lone Wolf) that I’ve read in the past of WW is the isolation that it creates within the classroom for a lot of students, especially those that don’t have a strong literacy background coming into school.  Pierce stressed that creating a positive environment in which students feel comfortable taking risks as writers is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful workshop.  This starts with every one of the students writing within the same genre and is supported by a healthy amount of sharing of writing within the classroom.

-As the teacher, it is encouraged for me to work to improve my own writing along with my students.  We’ve got to practice what we preach.  Students will be more motivated to write, if they see the adult leading the class working to improve his or her own writing as well.  Writing is a skill and every skill can be improved.  I want to be a model of this mindset for my students and WW gives me a platform to do just that.

-Within the WW, there will less of me in front of the classroom and more of me as conferencer/consultant/confidant/editor/motivator/supporter/helper/shoulder to cry on/kicker in the butt if needed(metaphorically of course!).  The structure of the workshop calls for no more than 5-10 minutes a day of direct instruction from the teacher.  The key is for the students to spend as much time working on their own writing and as little time as possible listening to the teacher lecture.  My role will be to give them tips and information they’ll need to grow as writers but not embellish or become carried away with my lessons.

-Wow, this is the ultimate model for differentiation of instruction.  Within the realm of a genre, each student will be working on a different piece of writing at his or her own pace.  If I’ve got a student that cruises through a piece of writing, great, here is another way that you can explore this genre and improve your skills.  If I’ve got a student that is struggling, not a problem.  Learning is not and never will be a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Since everyone is going at their own pace within a unit, there is no pressure to rush the student through the experience of learning.  Of course, it will be a lot for me to keep track of as a teacher but that is why I’m paid the big bucks!

These are just a few of the many great things that Writer’s Workshop provides for a classroom.  I’d love to read your thoughts below on the Workshop.  I will be posting from time to time on other positives and challenges that I find along the way.



To Put in your Back Pocket…

Here’s the compilation from a few months ago that we, as a group of student teachers, put together as a pump up for burn-out moments in our first few months.  If you’re a new teacher (or a teacher at any point in your career), feel free to bookmark this for times of need as a reminder to yourself of why you push so hard.  Though you may not believe it right now, deep down, you know it’s worth it.  Here’s why:

We want to teach in order to:

  1. Inspire students and ourselves every day (because you can forget that at a desk job).
  2. Explore the world around us.
  3. Change lives by showing students they can do more than they ever thought they could.
  4. Emulate that teacher that we loved in school, who inspired us and who made school matter!
  5. We all remember that one special teacher that was more than a teacher: who knew us as an individual and was genuinely interested in our lives/interests/etc. and who ultimately inspired us to be teachers. I want to be that person for someone else.
  6. Form the student as a whole person, not just teach them content and leave it at that.
  7. Make a difference and change the future…seriously. Even just a little bit.
  8. Get students to believe in themselves. To get excited about knowledge. To get excited about progress.  To get excited about themselves, each other, and what we’re doing in the world.
  9. Let students know that they have DIGNITY and they have a VOICE and that they are IMPORTANT to this world

“They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

–Carol Buchner

Our student teaching goals from the beginning of the semester (…how are we doing?):

  1. To KEEP BELIEVING in myself and my mission
  2. To learn about my individual strengths and weaknesses—and to learn how to best approach tackling those weaknesses
  3. To become smoother and more confident at classroom management
  4. To become proficient, efficient, and confident at lesson planning for any kind of lesson
  5. To incorporate formative assessments all over the place
  6. To create meaningful summative assessments too
  7. To learn about each student in my classes
  8.  To keep a student teaching journal.
  9. “I want to get it–I want to see the in’s and out’s and understand what it means to be a teacher.  I wont be the best and not nearly sufficient in most areas of what teaching fully means, but I want to get it and be able to act on that understanding.”
  10. Remember to balance school and other aspects of life. Yes, teaching is important and needs to be the primary priority, but if you are burnt out your teaching will suffer, so make sure to make time for YOU! Remember, we’re human beings NOT human doings.
  11. Never underestimate the power of being nice! I don’t mean be permissive, but seriously, people always forget how much better you feel when people, especially authority figures (which we will be in 2 weeks), are just genuinely nice to their students and care about them. Sometimes I forget to be nice when I’m in a bad mood/stressed out, but I really want to try to make sure that I keep this in mind. [Long story, but some swim team kids made me think of this because they said that unlike some coaches, I almost always am nice to them, even if I am not in the best mood.]
  12. All the while learning how to focus on what STUDENTS are doing, what they need, and how they’re progressing, and how what I am doing affects those things. If I focus on those things, everything will fall into place.
  13. Don’t forget why we love teaching. Especially when you get frustrated with a lesson/student/teacher/etc, remember that it is just one day of the rest of your career. Learn from those frustrations and try to make the next day better. 🙂

Tips and pieces of wisdom that are never too late to remember: 

  1. For those many times you get some “constructive criticism:”
    1. “There is no such thing as failure–only feedback.”
  2. “They won’t care what you know, if they don’t know that you care.” -A wise teacher
  3. “Know each of your students–even if it is just knowing their favorite movie/song/activity, or one unique thing about them–that changes everything.”
  4. “Simple: Learn Their Names.  Once you learn their names that opens up a window of opportunity to learn who they are as people, which is by far the most important aspect of teaching.  Somewhere in the ‘Teaching Bible’ it must say, ‘No Thy Student.’”—Mr. Alan Newman
  5. “If you say ‘no’, and turn it into a ‘yes’, you’ll be a hero. If you say ‘yes’ and turn it into a ‘no’, you’ll be a villain.” –One wise teacher
  6.  “You have to learn how to be different in an atmosphere that’s been the same forever.  REFUSE to conform to failure.
  7. “Always have the expectation that all students have a normal brain. Never stop pushing, no matter what others tell you your expectations should be.”
  8. “Students only have one shot at their education that will affect the rest of their lives—it’s your job to give them the best shot you can.”
  9. “There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.” -Chanel
  10. Don’t Forget To Be Awesome! – John and Hank Green

A Mismatch of Classic Inspiring Teacher Quotes:

  1. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” –William Arthur Ward
  2. “A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” — Horace Mann
  3. “Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.” –Confucius
  4. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, the excitement, and the mystery of the world we live in.” –Rachel Carlson
  5. “The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.” –John Lubbock
  6. “Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way.” -Marsha Petrie Sue
  7. For teaching English:

“As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”  –Sherman Alexie on writing Young Adult Fiction

  1. “Hard? Of course it’s hard. Its supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it…The hard…is what makes it great” -Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own.
  2. The Young Man Asks Socrates For Wisdom

There’s a story about a proud young man who came to Socrates asking for knowledge.

He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, “O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.”

Socrates recognized a pompous numbskull when he saw one. He led the young man through the streets, to the sea, and chest deep into water.

Then he asked, “What do you want?”

“Knowledge, O wise Socrates,” said the young man with a smile.

Socrates put his strong hands on the man’s shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up.

“What do you want?” he asked again.

“Wisdom,” the young man sputtered, “O great and wise Socrates.”

Socrates crunched him under again. Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five. Forty. Socrates let him up. The man was gasping.

“What do you want, young man?”

Between heavy, heaving breaths the fellow wheezed, “Knowledge, O wise and wonderful…”

Socrates jammed him under again. Forty seconds passed. Fifty.

“What do you want?”

“Air!” the young man screeched. “I need air!”

“When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge.”

Need some more rejuvenation?

If all of the above wasn’t enough, check out these links for more inspiration:

Letters to a first year teacher (applicable to us as well) that was written by 19 teachers. They will make you nod, laugh, cry, think, and re-think.

Taylor Mali’s Slam Poem, “What Teachers Make”

Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on schools and creativity: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Ron Clark: How to Transform Your Classroom Interview 

*Related: Ron Clark wrote a book called The End of Molasses Classes that was a really quick, interesting read. His school is very unique, but a lot of the ideas apply anywhere. He also wrote a book called The Essential 55 with 55 life/classroom rules. Very inspirational, and helped re-shape my priorities in classroom management.

More quotes! Pinterest teaching quote board

General Teaching Ideas

Recently I was able to participate in a developmental meeting with my school’s English department. Here is a PowerPoint presentation I created with some of the most applicable strategies we discussed: Teaching Strategies.

Another important aspect of the meeting was our discussion on the importance of creating common vocabulary across classrooms, departments, and grades. Although this is hard to do as an individual in a school, it was a good reminder for me to check with other teachers to see what words they used to describe common reading and writing procedures. Figure out if you are previewing texts with your students the same way other teachers in the school are, for example. Also discover whether there is already a common process and common vocabulary that you should adopt. Students can be confused when one teacher asks them to write a good “hook” while another says “interesting thesis” and another simply calls it the “introduction.” Deciding on a common vocabulary can simplify things for both teachers and students.

Teaching Vocabulary

In a recent meeting, the team of English teachers that I work with discussed different vocabulary strategies. One of my favorites was “vocabulary paint chips,” which helps students group vocabulary together by meaning – in a fun, visual way! Here is a short video explaining the strategy:

Another strategy we learned about is having students make a bumper sticker of a vocabulary word or important concept. They can try to put the word or concept into a catchy slogan or visually appealing sign. If you are teaching in a younger classroom, perhaps these could be posted on a cutout of the back of a car.

Besides this,  another strategy is having “college talk” sessions where you introduce academic vocabulary.

Finally, there is a folded vocabulary game. We did this activity during the meeting and it was very fun – it feels like a game. To do it, follow these steps:

-Fold a sheet of paper into thirds.

-One one side put a drawing that depicts a word.

-On the inside give a synonym.

-Then, write a sentence using the synonym.

-Finally, on the back, write the word.

Students should try to guess first by the picture, then by the synonym, then the sentence as they unfold the paper. To help this be more instructional and more fun, have the students make their own and test them against their classmates!

Checking Papers for Originality

Just in case anyone runs into a possible plagiarism issue, this may be a helpful FREE website to check.

It is not completely fail-proof but it definitely is a good place to start.  All you need to do is upload the file or type in parts of the essay to check if it matches anything online.  Good luck and hopefully this is not too necessary!