Take a moment to watch this commercial. It is worth the minute it takes to watch it... you cannot help but laugh at something you see.
I told you it was worth it. What did it make you think about? Maybe it is because of what we will be doing this week and in three more weeks, but I could not help but think about each of you and the STAAR test.
Melissa McCarthy is doing what she loves, protecting the environment. You are doing what you love, teaching students. You became an educator to help students to succeed, to gain an education, to have the tools they need to succeed in life and to live a better life. We all did. I know that is why I became an educator.
Just like Melissa is trying to help the whales, trees, ice caps, and rhinos, you are trying to help your students. And just like Melissa being beat down by the very things she is trying to help, sometimes it feels like we are being down by the politics and constraints that surround education. I know there are times that I feel that way.
When you feel that way I need you to Keep Fighting and Please Don't Give Up. You are making a difference in the lives of your students. Even when you do not see it, you are making a difference.
You are ALL Education Heroes!
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Next week middle school students in Texas are going to be taking the first round of STAAR tests. For those of you outside of Texas, the STAAR tests are the public-school state assessments for the state of Texas. Over the next few blog posts I am going to show you just how disconnected the STAAR test is from the actual teaching and learning we practice each day at my campus.
I am fortunate to have a staff of teachers at my middle school that have embraced my challenges of thinking differently, challenging the status quo, doing what we need for our kids and not to prepare for a state assessment. I have teachers that wrote grants for flexible furniture in their classrooms and teachers that just bought their own flexible furniture and, thus, have changed how teaching and learning looks in their classroom. Their classrooms no longer consist of desks and rows but instead of flexible seating options with tables, chairs, high seating, low seating, exercise balls… well, just see some examples for yourself:
What do you think? Do those classrooms look like rooms that you would want to learn in? How about your child? Do you want them to learn in classrooms that look like these? How about asking your child what they prefer? See what they say… which rooms would they choose?
What do you see in these classrooms?
I see choice, options, comfort, collaboration spaces, movement options in these classrooms. I see rooms that are conducive for student learning and risk taking in their learning. I see rooms that students equate more to being at home and less like being in a cold space for learning. I see teacher stations that allow for collaboration and conferencing with students
With the STAAR test coming, we are forced to change what our classrooms look like currently to administer the test.
Desks must be in rows, only 2 students per table with a divider between students, and teachers are not able to help students but instead only read instructions to students. The walls in the classrooms must be covered to prevent students from being able to look up and be inspired by a poster on the walls during a writing exam. The hallways must be free of anything helpful or inspirational while they are in the hallways waiting quietly to use a restroom. Students are not allowed to talk to each other in the restrooms if they are still testing because they might talk about their test. Today I had to go to a big box hardware store and purchase 25 tables to bring into these classrooms so that we can administer the test.
I hope you see that we must change the layout, function, feeling, and purpose of the daily learning spaces to take high stakes state assessment exams. These exams are purported to demonstrate a student’s knowledge and mastery of an entire course or in some cases the years of courses. Does that make sense to you that we must change the entire learning environment on the day a child is supposed to demonstrate all they know about a subject?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Share your thoughts in the comments section below about how we have to change classrooms to take state assessment tests.
During our school district summer administrator leadership institute, we were given the opportunity to pick a post card from a table full of post cards. I do not know just how many post cards were there but I am sure that we had well over 100 to choose from. The post cards were typical post cards, each having their own scene on one side, and the usual mailing and message info on the other side. We were told to pick a post card that we could relate to and that could be aligned to one of our professional goals. I looked at several and then I found a post card that spoke to me. Here is the post card.
As you can see, it is a picture of a serene forest setting. A nice mix of trees, open space, and light. There are large trees and small trees. The bright green of the trees contrasts very well with the dark brown of the soil. It looks like a forest that is several hundred years old.
It spoke to me for two reasons. The first is that I am an outdoorsman at heart. I absolutely love to be outside either working around my house, helping my wife plant flowers and vegetables, improving the landscape, camping in state and national parks, hiking, hunting, exercising, and sitting around a bright campfire. All those things come to mind for me when I look at the post card.
The second reason I chose this card is because it serves as a reminder. A reminder that when I am in the middle of my work as an educator I cannot lose sight of the forest for the trees. I think all of us need that reminder from time to time. It is easy for us to allow ourselves to get so bogged down in the details of our work that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It is this bigger picture that helps to keep everything in perspective. The bigger picture provides the relevance to our daily work and reminds of what is most important.
As educators, what is most important is our students and their learning. As we find ourselves in the middle of the spring semester it is easy to become bogged down in the day to day of our work. Stress levels are high because, for most of us, state assessments are coming. Students (and teachers for that matter) are becoming restless due to the warmer weather outside. The end to the school year is coming into sight but it is far enough that we still have lots of work to be done.
When you find yourself in this situation, when you feel like you are overwhelmed and stressed to the max, take a moment to think of the bigger picture of your students’ learning. How does what is stressing you fit into that picture? How vital is whatever is overwhelming you to the bigger picture? Be willing to take that step back and ask yourself, “Where does this fit in the overall scheme of what needs to be accomplished?” When you do that, you may find that you have been focusing on the details so much that you have lost sight of the bigger picture.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. What works for you when you feel like you are overwhelmed and stressed. Feel free to share below!
The following thoughts are from Beth Sherry, one of the fabulous teachers at my school. She wrote this for our weekly faculty newsletter and I thought her question should be shared with others... so here it is
Every day, we are presented with a fresh, new opportunity to help our students grow. And each new day has the potential to be life-changing for our students. Ultimately, the opportunity and potential begin with our mindset as educators.
What if we began each class period by letting ALL of our students know that we are glad to see them (even the students who can be difficult at times)?
What if we gave ALL students a clean slate EVERY DAY (even if they acted terribly in class the day before)?
What if we maintained high expectations for ALL of our students EVERY SINGLE DAY (even for the students who maybe haven't done a single thing all year)?
These "what ifs" cost us nothing at all; however, these "what ifs" could make the difference between a good day and a bad day, a completed assignment and an incomplete one, a developing relationship or a crushed one. These small "what ifs" right now might determine whether a student drops out of school or graduates high school.
Every day, we are given a fantastic opportunity.
What if we took advantage of it?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Director of Instruction and Leadership Development
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
Images & Quotes that Inspire