How’d I Do: My End of the Year Goal Reflection

As I left my classroom this afternoon following the last, formal academic day at my school, sadness filled my heart while the song “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men popped into my head.  I looked out onto my school’s namesake Mount Cardigan and tears started to fill my eyes.  15 years is a long time to be at one school.  Memories have been washing over me recently like ocean water on a beach of sand.  I remember my first year at Cardigan, right out of college.  I was a wreck.  It was awful.  I couldn’t control the students and was teaching courses I knew very little about.  Things got better though as I grew a bit wiser.  Much has changed about me and the school at which I’ve worked at for the past several years.  Cardigan has changed me, and hopefully I’ve left my mark on this fine educational institution.  While I’m moving onto a new school for the next academic year, I will bring much of what I’ve learned in my time here, to my new school.

As I hop and skip down memory lane in my final days here on the Point, it’s prudent that I reflect on my progress as an educator this year.  Did I meet my professional goals?  Did I grow as a teacher?  How’d I do in the classroom?

It was an awesome year in the sixth grade.  My students made much progress both socially and academically, due in part to the strong program my co-teacher and I created this year.  We helped the boys work through communication and coexistence issues while also helping them to develop as readers, writers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers.

I tried a few new things this year that I felt went very well…

  • The mindfulness curriculum that my co-teacher and I developed and implemented during the fall term and throughout the year seemed to really help focus the students mentally and socially.  While by the end of the year, they did joke a bit with each other about it.  “Make sure you are mindful now boys,” they would say to one another, which is great because it means that they got it, they see the power in living in the present moment, staying calm, and avoiding external and internal distractions.
  • I created a unit on Figurative Language for my Humanities class that I used during the spring term.  During the past several years, I’ve used the same unit on the Middle East region during the final academic term of the year.  While I’ve enjoyed this unit and feel as though the students do get a lot out of it, I always wondered if I was properly preparing them to think critically about literature.  In the past, I have focused mostly on basic reading and writing strategies and skills, and have found that some of my students do not feel prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class.  As the expectations are ratcheted up quite a bit, the students are expected to know how to analyze literature.  So, I changed my final unit of the year so that I could help my students be and feel more prepared for life in the seventh grade.  It was so much fun, and probably my most favorite unit of the year.  Every piece of Humanities class fit together so perfectly during this unit, from our Idiom of the Day bellringers to our class read aloud and poetry activities.  It was awesome.  The students had a blast learning how to make their writing more colorful and creative while also learning how to interpret figurative language used in works of literature.
  • Our big field trip of the year to Chewonki in Maine was a huge success.  While the boys seemed to not enjoy it in the moment, as it was hard and asked them to step way outside of their comfort zone, they are already beginning to see the great benefits and fun that came from this great experience.  This was a completely new trip for the sixth grade, but I was ready for a change as we had been going to the same place in Cape Cod for nine years.  Chewonki was that change, and boy was it a great change at that.

I also met my two professional goals that I set way back in October of last year…

  • I want to gather data on how rubrics and project introductions help promote or reduce the amount of creativity students are able to put into their work so that I can begin to understand how to best introduce a new task or assignment to my students.
    • After much work on this topic throughout the year, I’ve realized that my original hypothesis is correct and that rubrics are futile tools that simply steal creativity and critical thinking opportunities from students.  The only group that I found in my research that gets any use out of a rubric is the ESL students, as rubrics tend to use simple English language that is manageable for them to process easily and quickly.  Mission accomplished.
  • I want to incorporate ideas and skills covered during our Mindfulness Unit in Team Time and our Brain Unit from PEAKS class into my Humanities class.
    • While I didn’t necessarily do this as much as I would have liked to have done it and, perhaps, as meaningfully, I do feel as though I did accomplish this goal.  We incorporated mindfulness activities into our study skills class at least once a week during the spring term.  We had the students complete a guided meditation that we led before having them share how others have helped them or how they have helped others in the class.  These activities helped to focus the students while allowing them to develop compassion and gratitude.  I also made use of the big ideas behind mindfulness, including growth mindset, perspective, and open-mindedness, in my Humanities class throughout the year.  Every part of our curriculum came down to helping them broaden their perspective as a way to be more kind, compassionate, and thoughtful, and I reminded them of that often in class.  Although I wish I could have met with the students at the start of the academic day daily, our schedule didn’t allow for that.  Had it though, I would have conducted a Class Meeting that contained a mindfulness activity as well as some student sharing.  My goal is to make use of this type of Morning Meeting on a daily basis in my classroom at my new school starting in August.

Thinking back on the year as a whole, it felt very productive, and I feel as though I did a great job helping my students to grow and develop as students and people.  Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to my current school, but I’m doing so on good and positive terms.  It’s time for me to move on and start a new adventure.  I now have much to do this summer to prepare for the next academic year at my new school.  I can’t wait to start jumping into things in a few short weeks.  For now though, I will live in the present moment and make the most of the time I have left at my current school.  Until the summer when I will inevitably be reflecting on life at my new school, I’m out.

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My Baccalaureate Speech to the Ninth Graders

This afternoon, I gave the faculty address during the Baccalaureate Service celebrating the ninth graders, who will be graduating from my fine school in a few short days.  I feel as though it summarizes my thoughts and feelings on this time of year very well, while also allowing me another chance to reflect on my 15 years here on the Point.  So, here it is…


Thank you Mr. Nowak for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to speak to you all this afternoon under the big top tent.  I feel like the ringmaster of some really cool traveling circus. “Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the amazing and talented ninth grade class of the 2017-2018 academic year at Cardigan Mountain School.  They can breathe fire, thanks to the spicy hot sauce available on almost every table in the Commons. They can walk the tightrope, thanks to the rigorous academic program here on the Point. But, hold onto your hats, because their greatest trick is yet to come.  What they have in store for us all is guaranteed to wow and impress. Now, we just wait as these young men sitting before us all grow and develop into adults who will one day, change the world, make a difference, and perhaps even learn how to swallow a sword.”

Well, that was fun.  If only I had an awesome top hat and sweet red jacket like P.T. Barnum.  

This afternoon, as you all try very hard not to fall asleep, I will share some wisdom and stories with you, and yes, even a very special poem.  Ninth graders, as you look back on your time here on the Point, I want you to think about everything you’ve learned about life, school, and yourself.  How have you changed? How has Cardigan changed you?

With this being my final year at CMS, I’ve been doing much reflecting as I’m sure all of you have as well.  15 years is a long time. I’ve eaten over 5,000 meals in the dining hall, both the old and new one, I’ve worked under 5 different headmasters, I’ve printed over 10,000 sheets of paper on the school’s printers, and I’ve worked with thousands of students.  In all this time, I have learned so much that I will be taking with me, that I don’t have to pack into boxes, thank heavens for that.

So, I’m now going to share a few of the many wonderful nuggets of learning that I have gained in my time here at Cardigan:

  1. When going to the bathroom, be sure to zip up afterwards.  Picture this, I’m in the midst of calming my rambunctious eighth grade students down to teach them some Spanish.  Yes, I was a Spanish teacher, and no I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. Things were very different during my first year here on the Point.  So, I’m trying to get the boys to write the homework in their planbooks, but they seem oddly excited, and some of them are giggling like sixth graders when someone passes gas.  Finally, I turn to the ring leader in the group, who ended up being the School Leader the following year and said, “Jay, what is the problem? Why is it so hard to just focus and do what I’m asking of you?”  With a smile on his face, he said, “Because your fly is down Mr. Holt.” Embarrassing. To this day, I triple check my zipper when leaving the restroom. In fact, I even checked it before walking onto this very stage.  
  2. Maple syrup is the nectar of the Gods.  I’m talking about the fake stuff, not that real thin stuff that tastes like it came out of a tree.  Prior to my time at Cardigan, I liked maple syrup, but I never fully appreciated its versatility as a condiment.  It goes great in coffee, adding that mapley-flavor. It’s amazing as a donut topper, egg covering, and oatmeal mixer.  The possibilities regarding maple syrup are endless. If you haven’t given this wonderful treat a try in your time here on the Point, please be sure to do so before graduation day.
  3. Rivets are those tiny metal things on the pockets of some pants.  In my 15 years here at Cardigan, the dress code has changed immensely.  Several years ago, we had a rule about pants. You couldn’t wear pants with rivets.  Being relatively new to the school and dress codes in general, I had no idea what a rivet was.  So, I looked it up and then realized that most of my pants had rivets on them. And so, back to the thrift store I went.  While many of you out there wish we didn’t have a dress code here, we do so for a multitude of reasons, the most important ones being mindset and external message.  When you wear specific clothes, a message is sent to those who see you. When you put on fancy slacks and a shirt with buttons you are sending a message of focus and dedication.  This same message is translated to your brain as well in a way that helps you put forth your best effort at all times. It’s hard, I know, but the best things in life only come through hard work.
  4. iPads are not a viable substitute for laptops in the classroom.  Just ask some of the boys from my sixth grade class a few years ago.  On the first day of classes, we tried to sync up the external keyboards to the iPad, not realizing that the iPads would all be able to digitally see every other keyboard in the classroom aside from their own.  It was bedlam.
  5. When meeting a famous person for the first time, don’t tell him or her how poorly their son is doing in school.  There I am, meeting Cyndi Lauper for the first time, and I’m so ready to have some fun. Then she has to go and ask how her son is doing in my class.  “He is struggling a bit and needs to put forth more effort,” I responded. The conversation went downhill from there. Needless to say, there is no more fun to be had with Cyndi Lauper, and I never got her autograph.
  6. Not all food is meant for everyone.  Meatballs are my achilles heel. I believe the year was 2007, February Parents’ Weekend.  Excitement was in the air. Long Weekend was almost here and parents littered the campus like tiny lawn gnomes.  After a full day of parent-teacher conferences, I made my way to the old dining hall in Hayward and grabbed a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  I used to love meatballs back then. They tasted divine. The moist meat melted in my mouth like candy. Delicious! But sadly, I can no more enjoy these delectable treats.  You see, later that same evening, as I was watching a movie with the boys in the French two Common Room, my stomach began to rumble and I suddenly became very ill. The meatballs vacated my body in a most volcanic manner.  It was an unpleasant evening and next day, to say the least. No more meatballs for me. When I see them on the hotbar, I still get a bit queasy.
  7. And finally, number 7.  I love the number seven.  Just ask any member of Family 34, I’m always thinking of the number 7.  Relationships are a powerful force. In all of my years here at CMS, I’ve made numerous lasting relationships with both students and faculty.  Just like I’m sure you boys will, I treasure the friends I’ve made in my time here at Cardigan. I do so love it when former students of mine return to the Point to visit and say hello.  A few weeks ago, a former student of mine, Myles Beach randomly showed up in the doorway of my classroom and said, “I thought I heard Mr. Holt’s voice.” After catching up on personal stories, we went down Memory Lane as Myles told the current sixth graders all about the time he and another student got in a bit of a scuffle on our Cape Cod Trip.  In the story, he said, “I didn’t think Mr. Holt was that strong, but then he came and pulled us off of each other like Superman.” It’s nice to think that in his version of the story I was strong and calm because in the moment, I was very weak, I could barely lift Myles off of Will.

So, now it’s your turn ninth graders.  What are you going to take away with you when you depart campus in a few short days?  What has your time here at Cardigan taught you? What memories will you hold near and dear to your heart?  Be sure to take some time in the coming days, weeks, and months to reflect on your Cardigan experience, as it’s different for everyone.

As we need to now move on with the festivities, I leave you all with a throwback to my Birthday Poems from ages past, before the fun Birthday Song of today.

My Ode to Cardigan and the Ninth Grade Class

One of my favorite cartoons growing up,

Was the Care Bears because,

they were all filled with so much love

That they couldn’t contain it inside themselves,

and so they needed

To release it from their bellies.

Cheer Bear shot rainbows from his stomach

While Funshine bear projected rays

of sunshine from his midsection.

As our time together on the Point

Draws to a close,

I’m sending you all out

Special powers that will allow you,

Like the Care Bears

To shoot hot rays of green and white

From your tummies whenever

You think long and hard about

This wonderful place in Canaan.

Imagine that, you’re walking down the street

And suddenly, BAM

Green and white laser beams

Shoots out of your belly button.

How cool would that be?  

EPIC!

 

Congratulations Ninth graders and thank you for not falling asleep.

Highlights from an Interesting Monday

I look at Monday as the beginning of a new adventure, a new challenge to try and overcome.  If you messed up last week or made some poor choices, today is your chance to start over.  Your score is reset to zero and anything is possible.  I love Mondays; however, many people see Monday from a very different perspective.  To most people, it’s the end of a free weekend and the beginning of a horrible new week.  Most people tackle Monday like I tackle complex math calculations, hesitantly and with much trepidation.  Therefore, while I jump into Mondays with a smile on my face and a fire in my soul, most people act like Mr. Scrooge, bah-humbugging everything.  This can be difficult to combat, but not impossible.  I try to smile a bit wider and spread joy and love a little louder than others trying to spread their message of awfulness on Mondays.  It’s all about perspective and attitude.

As the clouds began to part, allowing the bright yellow sun to peek through as it slowly climbed its way out of its bed of mountains and trees in which it appears to rest overnight, things seemed a little different on this particular Monday.  Normally, when I arrive to the dining hall, everything is quiet and still.  As I’m almost always the first to arrive each morning for breakfast, I’m often filled with a sense of calm and serenity.   This morning however, the dining hall was abuzz with activity, as it is a faculty member’s birthday.  So, our colleagues decided to decorate his table with Justice League fixings.  It was great.  While he didn’t love it, he completely appreciated the sentiment and effort.  This occurrence struck me as a bit odd, but I didn’t realize how unique and special this Monday would be until much later.

  • As many of the students transitioned into Reader’s Workshop this morning during Humanities class, a few of my students sat and finished their reading check-in assessment.  One student then said, “Can you read more of our read-aloud novel?  We love it!”  As this specific student loves Reader’s Workshop and reading in general, I was a bit taken aback that he wanted to have me read aloud to the class.  He usually doesn’t seem that engaged during our read alouds.  Perhaps I need to adjust my perspective a bit, in class.  While I didn’t waver from my plan, as I wanted to have the chance to conference with every student regarding their reading progress, this revelation did open my eyes a bit.  My students love the read aloud novels I have chosen so far this year.  That’s awesome!  It’s good to know that they are enjoying what we are doing in the classroom.  I’m filled with warm and fuzzy feelings.  Or is that just gas from lunch?  Either way, good things are happening in the sixth grade.
  • The relationships I have with my students have developed so much over the course of the year, that the conferences I have with them during Reader’s Workshop have evolved into something more, something bigger.  They are no longer simply conversations about reading and their books, but about life.  We joke around, have fun, and talk about books their reading.  Today’s conferences were certainly no exception.  They felt even better than ones from the past weeks.  My conferences today were pleasant and enjoyable.  Sure, we discussed their progress as reader’s, but I also asked them about their weekend, which led us to chat about a whole slew of other topics.  My students trust me and know that I care about them as learners and people.  These conferences were pretty sweet.  It’s hard to believe that we only have one more session of Reader’s Workshop to go until the end of our time together in the sixth grade.  How time flies when you’re having a ton of fun.
  • Each morning, prior to the start of every class, my co-teacher and I play soft music for the students as the lights remain off.  This quiet and peaceful atmosphere allows students to recalibrate and prepare for the next class.  I have a set playlist of songs that I have been using for the past few years, as I’m very much a creature of habit.  While I do sometimes hear my students singing or humming along to the songs, I have always thought that they didn’t really like or appreciate my musical selections.  Well, it turns out that I was happily wrong.  They do like my music.  This afternoon, two of my students came to me, giggling, and said, “Mr. Holt, you know the music you play before class?  We were singing one of the songs loudly during sailing practice on Saturday.   Could we check out the rest of your playlist to have more fun songs to scream out during today’s practice?”  I was so flattered, and of course said, “Yes, sure thing.”  So, they sat and listened to some of the other songs played in the classroom.  They had fun reminiscing about each song and when they remember hearing it.  And here all this time, I thought they hated my music.  They really love it, but just don’t ever have the opportunity to tell me about it.  So cool!
  • The most interesting happening of my Monday did not happen until later in the day.  During the afternoon study hall block, as my students relaxed, completed homework, and listened to music, an oddly familiar face popped into the doorway of my classroom.  “I thought I heard your voice Mr. Holt.  Do you recognize this face?”  Of course I did.  It was a student of mine from many years ago who is know in college.  On his way home from school, he decided to swing on by and say hello to his old teachers.  We talked for quite some time as he filled me in on his life.  He’s happy, has a great girlfriend, and is loving college.  He shared a few stories from his time in the sixth grade with my current students.  They seemed to enjoy his tales and peppered him with many questions.  Then he asked, “Have you gone to Cape Cod yet?”  I informed him that we no longer go on this trip, to which he asked, “Was it because of the fight that Will and I got into?”  So then he and I regaled the students with this fun story about how he and another former sixth grader got into a bit of a tussle on our field trip to Cape Cod.  He added some details that I had forgotten, which made the story sound much cooler than it really was.  Regardless, the current sixth graders sat, transfixed, as this massive and large man talked about when he was in the sixth grade.  It was awesome to see how far this student has come and how fondly he looks back on his time in the sixth grade.  This unexpected visit made me realize how much of an impact I have had on my sixth graders over my many years at this fine institution.  Although I will be departing for a new job, at a new school, in a few short weeks, my legacy will live on in the stories of my students for years to come.

See, Mondays are amazing days.  Who knows what tomorrow has in store for me or you.  Maybe you’ll run into someone from your past or have students help you see all of the great things you are doing with them in the classroom.  While today brought with it some strangeness, it also carried lots of happiness and fun.  I can’t wait to find out what happens in the sixth grade classroom tomorrow.  Each new day truly is a gift.

Why Does Teaching Sometimes Feel Like Car Maintenance?

Sometimes, teaching feels like an art form: A tiny swath of direct instruction layered upon mostly student-centered learning.  Lesson execution is open to interpretation like great paintings of old, and there are incorrect ways to manage the behavior of students in a classroom, much like there is only one way to play a particular chord on a piano.  I love this type of teaching as it takes much practice to constantly be present and mindful in the moment to allow for changes or transitions to take place as needed.  On most days, as a teacher, I feel like an artist, sculpting great statues of intelligence and critical thinking.  Then, there are those days when teaching feels more like car maintenance.  Just when you think you’ve fixed the problem, something else goes wrong or stops working.  While those days are challenging, difficult, and usually require much perseverance, they are what make teachers great.  When I’m able to reflect on a lesson or class and learn from my mistakes, I grow and develop as an educator.  Sure, when teaching feels like finger painting on a blank canvas, we’re as happy as could be, but not much forward progress happens on those days.  We need the challenging days, like those of old car owners, constantly repairing their vehicles, to make us better teachers.  Great rewards and benefits require much hard work and effort.

Earlier this week, I noticed that my students were very dependent on me, their teacher, for help.  They struggled to answer their own questions using critical thinking and self-awareness.  After taking the time to reflect on what happened in class that day, I made some changes, and then saw a dramatic change in the work ethic of my students.  They transformed into independent students, answering their own questions.  I assessed the situation, made the necessary repairs, and had a fully functioning automobile of learning.  It was quite amazing.

Today, while the students were able to work much more independently than earlier in the week, I noticed another faulty part on my classroom vehicle.  The students seemed disengaged at times, distracted by their peers and distracting to others.  While this lack of focus and dedication was not consistent throughout the period, I did notice it happening quite frequently throughout today’s longer work period.  Although they love their topics and seem to thoroughly enjoy learning more about Africa, the boys seemed to have difficulty staying on task the entire period.  So, what was going on?  What caused this change in their behavior and work ethic?  Why weren’t they able to stay committed to working hard throughout this morning’s Humanities class?

After some reflection, I realized what was causing this leak in learning: I wasn’t chunking the work period for them.  I was expecting them to stay on task, researching their topic, without a break of any type for 30 minutes.  Sixth grade boys need to be active and moving.  They need to be able to stretch and move around.  Learning needs to be active and not stationary.  I wasn’t allowing them the time to move.  So, back to the shop I go with my car of learning.

My plan of repair for tomorrow is simple, break the work period into smaller chunks.  After ten minutes, have the students share their work with their table partner.  After another ten minutes, have the students walk around the room and stretch a bit before getting back to work.  Hopefully, these transitions will be just what the students need to stay focused and on task during those ten-minute chunks.

While I did wallow in self-pity for a short period after class today, I quickly realized the learning opportunity at my disposal.  I could look at today’s class as a failure after putting in such hard work earlier in the week, or, I could change my perspective and learn from the error of my ways and make tomorrow’s class even better than the last one.  When I treat my old Subaru with love and care, keeping on top of the preventative maintenance schedule suggested by my mechanic, it continues to purr like a kitten; however, if I fail to take care of it like I should, then it will certainly fall apart.  Effective teaching is the same way.  If I learn from my mistakes in the classroom and fix things for the next period or class, then I will be able to grow and develop into the best teacher possible.

How Reflection Helps Students Learn and Grow

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, writing all about how important the reflection process is for our students to grow and develop.  I find that I reflect on how important self-reflection is use for our students, on a weekly basis, especially during this time of year when grades are being tallied and reported out to parents.  I want the students to genuinely understand how they earned the grades they did and what they can do to improve in their classes.  The self-reflection process is an easy way for the students to understand their academic progress.  While I’m sure that everyone who happens upon this blog already knows about the power of reflection for students, I find that many of my colleagues still don’t seem to see the benefit in having students reflect on their progress in their classes.  Many students in the other grades at my school often seem confused by their grades and don’t seem to understand why they have the grades that they do in their courses.  These same students don’t seem to understand how they are progressing in their classes because their teachers don’t provide them with opportunities to self-reflect on their work.  Had these same students been offered chances to reflect either orally or in writing on their classes and grades, it’s quite possible that they would then know exactly how they are doing in their classes and what needs to happen for progress to take place.  So, because I see how many teachers fail to take advantage of opportunities to have their students reflect on their work in their classes, I feel the need to continue discussing and explaining how important the self-reflection process is for all students.

So, to those of you who already see the power in self-reflection for our students, feel free to stop reading and visit another blog or find some other useful resources on teaching and education such as the Educator’s Notebook. As I understand how busy life can be for teachers, I feel no need to waste your time.  To those of you who don’t provide your students with time in class to reflect on their progress and grades, please continue reading as I’d love to help you understand how important the self-reflection process is for your students to grow and develop in your class.

In my previous blog entry which I posted this past Sunday regarding the value of utilizing the student-led conference format in place of the typical and out-dated parent-teacher conferences, I explained how my students demonstrated amazing self-awareness regarding their academic progress in the sixth grade so far this year.  The boys did a fantastic job explaining why and how they earned the grades they did in all of their classes, what they need to do to improve in their courses, and the goals they have set for themselves as we move into the final half of the fall term.  Now, while all of this sounds great and wonderful, how do we truly know if this self-reflection and ownership process works and if it does indeed help students grow and improve in school?  Well, that’s a great question that I have been working to answer over the past several years.  I have much data to support these self-reflection and student-led conference processes, including grades and individual reflections my students have completed over the years.  I also have a tangible example of the power of student reflection from classes today.

I began the sixth grade class day this morning by reminding the students that we have but three weeks until the fall term comes to a close.  “As many of you have great goals that you have set to improve upon your grades in all of your classes, it’s important to remember that we only have three weeks to go until the fall term closes and grades become official.  Know that you can redo work and seek help from your teachers if you are struggling to comprehend material covered or master skills assessed.”  After this brief comment, I jumped right into the normal class routine, and this is when I noticed something peculiar.  The boys seemed more focused than ever before.  They transitioned between tasks, activities, and classes faster than they had earlier in the year.  They asked insightful questions and seemed more focused and attentive than before this past Parents’ Weekend.  One student even came to me asking to redo his ePortfolio and historical fiction story so that he could improve upon his grades.  While I would have loved to have seen this kind of effort from my students earlier on in the year, I’m glad to see that they all learned from their self-reflections and are making the changes they suggested.  They not only wrote about what they need to do to improve, they are actually doing it now.  That’s the power of reflection, right there.  If they hadn’t been provided the time and modeling on how to effectively reflect on their academic progress, I would most likely not have seen the results that I did today in the classroom.  Because my students know what they need to do to grow and develop prior to the end of the fall term, they are able to make the necessary adjustments to bring about the changes they suggested.  You too, could see your students change and develop in the classroom if you provide them the time needed to reflect on their learning and grades.  So, although I might sound like a broken Led Zeppelin vinyl album, it’s important to me that other teachers and educators see the value in the self-reflection process for themselves and their students.  Plus, it’s also great validation to know that I’m effectively helping challenge and support my students to be the best possible version of themselves.  Yah for self-reflection!

How My Students Help Me Become a Better Teacher

When I was a young lad, I always wanted a rock polisher.  I thought they were the coolest things ever.  You can take an old, nasty looking rock and turn it into a polished stone in a matter of hours.  How awesome is that?  Every year for Christmas I asked for one, and you know what I never got?  Yes, that’s right, a rock polisher.  Now, this isn’t some rant about what I never had growing up.  This rant is all about rocks.  You see, rocks are constantly in a state of change.  The rock cycle causes them to melt, harden, shoot out of Earth, and repeat.  They also become weathered, break down, reform into something else, and then do it all over again.  Rocks are amazing like that.  Although we can never see these processes take place as they happen over long periods of time, I’ve always been in awe about how focused rocks are on changing and growing.  What I always found spectacular about rock polishers is that they can make a process that usually takes years in rivers and on Earth’s surface, to happen almost overnight.  What I love most about rocks is that they are never happy with their current state as they are always longing for improvement and change.  Liquid rock inside Earth is always trying to find a way out to become something a bit more solid and hard, while large chunks of granite rock are always looking to roll into something a bit smaller and more compact.  Rocks are fantastic role models for humans.  We can learn a lot from rocks.  Rocks teach us to value a growth mindset and persevere through problems no matter their size.  Rocks also teach us to look at the world and see the endless possibilities that exist.  Rocks are pretty phenomenal and beautiful naturally occurring objects.

Great teachers, like rocks, are always looking to grow and develop.  How can I become a more effective educator?  Reflection is definitely a huge part of that process of change, but the rest comes in the form of feedback.  Feedback we receive from our colleagues and our students.  The most effective feedback I’ve received over the years, comes from my students.  They know what they like and what they don’t like and they aren’t afraid to tell the world all about it.  Students can be brutally honest, which can be both good and bad.  However, the feedback students have provided me with over the years has allowed me to grow and mature as a teacher.  The implementation of Reader’s Workshop came out of reflecting on feedback received from my students about the books we were reading altogether as a class.  The structure of units and activities used throughout the years is all due to the wisdom I’ve gained from asking my students to comment on what they like and what they would change if they were in charge.  Reflecting on and then using feedback received from my students is why I am the effective teacher I am today.

Humanities class provided me with yet another opportunity to receive two different kinds of feedback from my students today.  As we have come to the end of our first unit on the Canaan Community, I had the students complete a survey, providing me with their thoughts on the unit as a whole.

Questions posed in the survey:

  • What was your favorite part of this unit and why?
  • What fact or piece of information, that you learned throughout the unit, did you find the most interesting or engaging?
  • What did you think about our class read-aloud Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman?
  • What did you like about the Historical Fiction Story Writing Project and why?
  • If you were the teacher teaching this unit, what would you change about it for next year?
  • Using Cardigan’s Effort Grading Scale, grade Mr. Holt on how effectively he taught this unit.

I was impressed with the honest and detailed feedback I received from the students.  Overall, they seemed to enjoy the unit.  I was a bit surprised by their favorite parts though.  While I thought for sure that almost everybody would say, “The archeological dig,” only three students cited that as their highlight of the unit.  Three other students explained how the historical fiction story writing project was their favorite part of the unit.  What?  I don’t think any student has ever cited the final project as their favorite part of the unit, which means that because I focused on helping the students find the fun and excitement in writing, they were actually able to dig into their stories more meaningfully than digging for bottles by the river.   I was happy about that.  I was also pleased that many of the students stated different facts about Canaan’s diverse history that really stuck with them, which means that I didn’t overly discuss or talk about one topic or piece of Canaan’s history too much.  Yah for me.  I also enjoyed learning that the students seem to enjoy our class read aloud novel Seedfolks.  While we don’t spend a ton of time reading and discussing this novel, I’m glad that the students enjoy it and seem to understand how it ties our unit together.  I was worried that this group of students did not like this text because they often seem so disengaged during read-alouds.

While all of the feedback I received from the boys today via this survey is useful to me, the fourth and fifth questions allowed me to extract the most meaningful feedback.  I wanted to determine what aspects of the writing process I have done an effective job explaining and introducing.  Those that I found creative and engaging ways to introduce to the students, I figured, would be their favorite part. I also wanted to know what aspects of the unit the boys did not like and want to see changed for next year.  The answers I received from the students on these two questions will help drive the revisions and changes that I make to this unit for next year.  Their feedback will also help guide me in planning future lessons this year.

Here’s what they had to say:

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It was great for me to learn that many of the students seemed to enjoy writing their historical fiction stories, which means that they found their passion; they found how to make writing fun for themselves.  If that’s all they get out of sixth grade this year, I’ll be happy.  Learning to love the act of writing will help them be successful in almost every area of school life in their future.  I also love that a few of them seemed to enjoy the choice and engagement act of the project.  They liked that I allowed them to write about whatever piece of Canaan’s history most interested them.  As research on the brain tell us, students learn best when they are engaged in the act of working and have the ability to choose the vehicle through which they showcase their learning and understanding.  It’s nice to know that at least a few of my students see the benefit in being provided choice when working.

I wasn’t very surprised by the responses my students provided regarding things they would change about the unit.  I know that in every class I have one student who doesn’t like anything, and so I wasn’t shocked to read that one student found the field experiences boring.  It wasn’t because he truly found them boring, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to utilize a growth mindset and provide meaningful feedback.  I get that.  It is nice to know that the most common response focused on time.  They want more time spent on the really fun parts of the unit.  That makes sense.  I wish we were able to allocate more time in our schedule for those fun field experiences.

Overall, the feedback from the survey will be very helpful for me to think about and reflect upon as I look at revising this unit for next year.  As the students seemed to really enjoy the historical fiction story project I used this year, I think I will stick with that as the final project for next year.  I changed it from last year because many of the students explained how they didn’t like the final poster project they needed to complete as the final project for the unit.

The second piece of feedback I received from the students today, came in the form of a rubric.  The focus for my Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan is on grading rubrics and their effectiveness for introducing and describing graded projects and activities to students, and since the students just completed the historical fiction story project using the grading rubric as a guide, I wanted to know what they thought of the grading tool.  Did the rubric help them in the writing process, and if not, what would have made the rubric more effective?  After a short whole-class discussion on that question, I had the students, working with their table partner, create a new grading rubric that I could use to assess this project next year or assess future writing projects the students complete this year.

I was so impressed with how focused the students were in working with their partner to create a new rubric.  They seemed dedicated to providing me with useful feedback.  Every group gave me some amazing insight and ideas on how to create a more student-friendly grading rubric.

My takeaways:

  • Students want me to use more simplistic, student friendly words when describing what is being asked of them to meet or exceed the objective.  For example, in the grading rubric I had the students use, I wrote, “The setting is described so well that you feel like you’re there.”  One group suggested that it should read, “You see the picture in your mind.”  I like it.  That’s some quality feedback that I can easily incorporate into the next grading rubric I create.
  • One group thinks that having visual or picture cues would help them better understand what is being expected of them at each level.  As the native language is not English for half of my class, pictures are easier to read than words.  That’s a unique idea I hadn’t thought about for a rubric before.  While they couldn’t provide any concrete examples of how I might do this, I really want to give this idea a try  for the next rubric I create.
  • One group suggested that I need to include a writing standard about not copying ideas or information from other sources in the rubric.  These two students seem to think that originality is important.  I like it, but I’m also aware that sometimes, imitation leads to inspiration and new ideas.  While I’m not sure that I will use this in a future rubric, it’s definitely something worth considering.
  • One group approached the rubric creation from a very different perspective.  Instead of starting out with what it takes to exceed the objective, they began with how not to meet the objective.  Their thought was that if I start with the lowest point value on the rubric, I can easily add more to each one as the point value increases.  They thought that would be easier than starting with the highest point value and subtracting details.  Interesting.  I never thought about this method of creating a rubric before.  Perhaps I’ll try this on a future rubric.
  • Grading rubrics seem to help the students.  Many of them found the rubric to be a valuable guidepost for them along their writing journey.  Here’s what my students had to say about them:
    • That rubric help me a lot. Because that paper tell me every moment, what did I need to improve for my story.
    • I think the grading rubric helped me in a phenomenal way because i new the objectives my story needed to meet like for example when I was trying to write my story at the beginning it helped me get a thought about what i’m supposed to do and how to get a good grade.   
    • Lastly, I have a sheet call the grading rubric, I helped me to complete the story. For example, I can see if my sentences make sense or not or see if my sentences have included everything a sentence need to have.
    • The grading rubric helped me a lot because without it I wouldn’t know what I was doing and what to change. I needed a rubric so I knew exactly what to edit.
    • I think the grading rubric helped me by providing some goals and giving me an idea of what I need to write to get a good grade.
    • I thought the grading rubric helped because it showed me what the expectations were and what exceeding the objective was. It helped me because I just focused on exceeding the objective. For example I saw that I didn’t have enough facts on the rubric so I added more in. Also I saw that I didn’t have enough details so I looked at the rubric and fixed my story.
    • The rubric helped me to put requirements in the story. For example, first I read the grading rubric. After reading it, I started to make story with requirements like five facts, correct grammar, and more.

The feedback I received from my students on the grading rubric will greatly help me as I look to create and design future rubrics.  It’s nice to know that many of my students seem to find them useful.  So, my next big data-gathering event will be when I create a project with just a simple explanation instead of using a detailed rubric.  Will this more simple project introduction better engage the students in asking questions and thinking creatively about how they will showcase their learning, or will it be too confusing for them?  I can’t wait to find out.

Because I seek feedback from my students, I’m able to grow and develop as a teacher, like a giant chunk of obsidian rock.  If I didn’t ask my students for their thoughts and ideas today, I would never really know what they thought about grading rubrics and the Canaan Community unit.  How can I collect data for my Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan if I don’t ask my students for feedback?  I can’t better support and challenge my students if they don’t challenge me by providing me with ways I can improve and grow.  As I told my class today, the best teachers make the best students as they are always looking to learn and improve.

How My Reflection Changed My Students

Having seen the value of individual reflection for many years now, I know the power it holds.  Being a reflective teacher has enabled me to become more effective at helping and supporting my students.  Taking the time to stop and think about what went well or what proved difficult in class on a daily basis has helped me refine my approach to teaching and the field of education.  Teachers are not the givers of information.  We are guides for our students as they journey towards understanding.  We are the flashlights our students use as they navigate their way through the dark world of life and school.  We encourage our students to ask questions.  We help them solve problems encountered.  We empower them to think for themselves in a critical manner.  We show them the path that will lead them towards enlightenment.  We pack their knowledge backpacks full of use study and work skills.  We are beacons of light and power for our students.  We are not libraries full of facts and information.  Reflecting over the past many years on my daily teaching practices has allowed me to see my true role as a teacher.

During the past week, I’ve struggled with feeling as though I am not appropriately helping my students see the value in revising their written work.  Earlier last week, the students seemed unable to focus their effort on making their historical fiction stories better and more effective while also providing their classmates with useful feedback on how they can improve their stories.  The boys seemed to rush through the process to finish and be done with it, rather than really jumping into the task as though they are on a writing journey.  This bothered me because I know that in order to grow and develop as writers, they need to see the benefit in revising their work based on feedback.  They need to utilize a growth mindset to see feedback provided to them as useful.  My students seemed greatly challenged by this phase of the writing process.  They seemed more interested in what they could do when they finished writing.  Very few of the students seemed to take the assignment seriously, and that caused me to pause.

How will they be prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class if they can’t learn to improve upon their writing based on suggestions provided to them by others?  I reflected on my struggles in this very blog last week, at least twice.  I then incorporated some new thoughts and ideas into my class so that my students would, hopefully, be able to see the vast power that revising their work holds for them as students.  While I did see my students begin to change their thinking regarding the revision step of the writing process, I was skeptical that all of them had revised their thinking on the topic.  I reflected in writing and mentally.  What else could I do to inspire my students to see that they need to take the process of revising their work seriously if they want to grow as writers?

Then came class today.  Today provided students one final opportunity to revise their historical fiction stories based on feedback provided to them by me, their teacher, and their classmates.  I also had them reflect on the process they used to craft this piece of writing, using an author’s note.  The students needed to respond, in writing at the bottom of their stories, to four questions.  Those students who finished revising their story and crafting an author’s note had two options:

  1. Complete an extra credit, objectively graded task, that involves the students creating a book jacket for their historical fiction story.  They must craft a front and back cover for their stories, being sure to include a title, relevant, hand-drawn image, brief summary of the story, and quotes from others on their story.
  2. Work on the Things to Do When Done list that is posted on one of the window displays in our classroom.  They could fill out their planbook for next week, work on Typing Club, work on homework, check their grades, or work in the Makerspace.

The students quickly got to work.  They seemed very focused on the task at hand.  A few of the students spent a good chunk of their time revising and improving upon their stories.  It was amazing to watch them add details, dialogue, and more effective character descriptions to their stories, on their own.  Some of the other students put forth fine effort into reflecting on their writing process as they crafted their author’s note.  Their responses were detailed and included examples from their writing experience.  It was impressive to see them being so mindful and reflective as they own their work.  The five students with whom I conferenced took the feedback I offered them with open arms.  They asked meaningful questions that allowed them to understand what they needed to do to improve their story.  It was fun to read their stories, praise their phenomenal talents as writers, and challenge them to grow and develop as they improve upon their writing pieces.  Students who had finished their story and author’s note early on in the period, took it upon themselves to help others revise their piece, if help was needed.  They were being truly compassionate community members.

During class today, I only needed to redirect two students who seemed to find focusing on the task at hand, individually, difficult.  Those two students, once redirected, did regroup and got right back to work on growing as writers.  The rest of the students seemed zoned in on improving their skills as writers.  They reviewed the three graded objectives on which their final story will be assessed.  They were committed to exceeding my expectations as they clearly saw the value in the process of revising their work.  I could not have been more proud and impressed by my students today.  They rocked their stories!  I can’t wait to read their final drafts.

So, what did I learn from all of this.  Well, I learned that reflection not only changes me, but it fosters change within my students.  Because I reflected on what didn’t feel right to me last week, I changed my approach to teaching the revision phase of the writing process.  Today, I saw, first hand, how this change impacts my students.  They were completely different writers today than they were last week.  They care about making their stories better, and thus crave feedback.  It’s quite amazing.  They weren’t rushing to finish their stories, they took their time to polish their words and develop their characters.  Because I took the time to think about how I could better support and help my students become better writers, I changed the way I spoke to my students about revising their work.  I didn’t explain the process as a task, but a journey they were going on to transform themselves into better writers.  My personal reflections on revision didn’t just change me, they changed my students too.

My Professional Goals for the 2017-2018 Academic Year

I used to think that goal setting was dumb.  “No one sets goals,” I used to say, “Who needs goals when you’ve got the present?”  That was the old me, before I became wise and all-knowing.  Then, I discovered the secret to life and was transformed into the handsome sage sitting in front of this very laptop, typing these very words.  You are so lucky to be reading these prophetic words…  Okay, enough of the craziness, now back to reality.

So, anywhoo, I used to view goal setting as one more thing that I didn’t have the time or desire to do.  Then, I learned all about the neuroscience of teaching and how students learn, and came to the realization that for genuine learning and growth to happen for our students, there needs to be relevance and a purpose behind everything we and they are doing in and out of the classroom.  They need to see, for example, that they should learn all about the causes of great wars so that they will understand how countries and nations formed, which will help them earn a high grade on the next history assessment and allow them to meet the goal they set for themselves regarding history test improvement.  Goal setting is a crucial part of the learning process for not just students, but for all learners.

So, knowing what I know about the power of goal setting, I decided that it was time to give my school year a focus and some clarity.  Aside from helping my students grow and develop as individuals, what am I trying to get out of this new school year?  What is my purpose in the classroom?  Why am I here?  Well, that last question is far too big to tackle in some tiny blog entry like this and so I’ll focus on the others instead.

My goals for the 2017-2018 Academic Year:

  • I want to gather data on how rubrics and project introductions help promote or reduce the amount of creativity students are able to put into their work so that I can begin to understand how to best introduce a new task or assignment to my students.  I want to understand if specificity in rubrics or explanations of new projects makes a difference in the students’ ability to think critically about the assignment or content covered.  If students are provided with too much information about how to complete a task or project, is there any room for creative, original thought or do the students just do what they’re told to do in order to earn a “good” grade?  So, to work towards meeting this goal over the course of the year, I’m going to create different types of rubrics and project descriptions for the same task so that I can split my class into two groups and try to determine what kind of explanation best promotes the use of creative problem solving skills.  Although my data may be skewed depending on how I group the students, I plan on using different grouping methods each time I conduct this experiment.  While I certainly have a hypothesis on the topic, I have no hard evidence to support my claim, and so I need to collect data this year to determine an accurate result.
  • I want to incorporate ideas and skills covered during our Mindfulness Unit in Team Time and our Brain Unit from PEAKS class into my Humanities class.  I want to help the students understand that if they can be mindful in the classroom during class discussions, they will be better equipped to actively listen to and participate in the current events discussions in Humanities class.  I also want to be sure that when I’m covering a new concept or skill in Humanities class, I’m referencing the ideas of growth mindset and brain parts to explain how they should best be utilizing their hypothalamus to catalogue and store this new information.  Being mindful myself, I hope to be able to better explain the inner workings of, as well as the purpose and relevance behind tasks and assignments throughout the year in Humanities class.  I want my students to be able to see how each separate piece of the puzzle fits together so well: Learning and the Brain, Mindfulness, and Humanities.

With these two goals driving everything I’m doing in the classroom, I’m looking forward to an exciting year filled with transformation and education.  I hope to learn a lot about myself as a teacher as well as the art of teaching.  How can I better support and challenge all of my students in the classroom?  What else could I be doing?  So, now I will jump headfirst into the remainder of my school year, well-equipped with a roadmap to success: Goals.

Motivating Students to Care About their Academic Achievement

When I was in school, my parents motivated me to care about my grades and how I did in school with money.  A=$20 B=$10 C=$0 D&F=-$10.  It seems frivolous and superficial, but it totally worked for me.  I earned nothing but honor-roll-level grades from sixth grade through my senior year in high school because of this motivation.  Money made me care about how I did in school.  I worked hard in and out of school to earn high grades so that I would receive money.  I wasn’t focused on the learning or skills I should have been mastering, oh no.  I was solely focused on the grades I was earning.  I completed work that I knew the teachers wanted me to complete.  I didn’t craft essays that showcased my true talents as a writer.  Instead, I wrote pieces that I knew would earn a grade of at least a B.  School was about earning high grades for me and not about learning a lot.  To be honest, I don’t remember much from those particular school years as I was so focused on doing good work.  In hindsight, I wish I had been intrinsically motivated to learn in school so that I would have had a more meaningful experience filled with learning and growth.

As a teacher, I want to be sure my students learn many important skills that will help them be successful in seventh grade and beyond.  I want them to see sixth grade as a magical journey of exploration, failure, growth, and learning.  I want them to reach for the stars because they want to learn as much as possible about every topic covered.  I want them to care about school because they want to learn lots and not because they want to earn high grades.  Unfortunately, because I work at an independent school, the hopes and dreams I have for my students tend to get lost a bit in the shuffle of what the families want for their sons.  The parents of some of our students push their children so hard to earn high grades that our students can’t possibly stop to smell the roses of learning.  The pressure some of our students feel from home is overwhelming and makes our job a lot more challenging.  Despite those external factors, we push on through and remind the parents of our students that sixth grade is a journey towards enlightenment.  We’re looking for forward progress and growth as well as enjoyment.  While we are easily able to convince the boys of this goal, we can’t always bring the parents around to our side.  Oh well.  “You win some and you lose some,” a wise man once said.

So, with our goals in mind, to drive our instruction and everything we do in the classroom, while also not losing sight of the pressure some of our students are under, we begin the school year strong.  Once the honeymoon stage wears off after a few days, the boys’ true colors begin to shine through.  While most of our students want to do well and accomplish great things during their sixth grade year, a few of our students are more concerned about doing well on the playing fields or in their favorite video game.  To help those few students see school for what it truly is, a wonderful adventure filled with learning treasures, we sometimes have to remind our students that they are earning grades for their work or lack thereof.  While we don’t love the idea of helping students see sixth grade as a series of grades, some students aren’t motivated by much else.  Now, usually, this process of motivation takes about five to eight weeks to complete, which is the amount of time between the start of school and our first Parents’ Weekend in October.  During this special weekend, the parents come to school and learn how their son is doing academically.  Once the families begin to hear that their son is just doing the bare minimum to get by, many hard conversations fill the car rides home for the Long Weekend break, which begins right after the conferences have finished.  Then, miraculously, once the students return from this short respite, they begin to put forth a new sense of vigor and a strong effort that we haven’t seen from them until that point.  This awakening period is far too long and needs to be shortened if we are to best support and challenge our students.  So, this year, I’ve changed things up a bit so that those one or two students who lack the intrinsic motivation to work hard, begin to find motivation from within sooner rather than later.

After three weeks of classes, the students have completed a few objectively graded assessments and activities, which means that they are beginning to earn grades.  So, last Saturday, at the end of our third week of classes, we had the students view their grades on the learning management system our school uses, PowerSchool Learning.   For many students, they already knew exactly where they stood academically speaking and so they were not receiving new information.  A few students were pleasantly surprised by the high marks they received while one or two students were shocked by the low grades they had earned.  Once the realization had hit them that very little effort leads to low grades, they began to address this dilemma.  One student came and spoke with my co-teacher and I about what he could do to improve upon his grades.  We reminded him that he could redo assessments, and so he arranged a time to redo a math assessment for this week.  A few of the other students also came to speak with us about what they could do to improve upon their grades moving forward.  It was nice to see all of our students taking pride and care in their academic achievement.

To help our students make these emotions and feelings more real and tangible with only a week and three days to go before we reach the fall midterm, we had the students complete a written reflection this morning based on their grades.  We asked them to respond to the following questions:

  1. Are you happy with your grades in PEAKS class, Humanities class, and STEM class?  Why or why not?
  2. What can you do to improve upon or maintain your grades from now until the fall midterm?
  3. What can your teachers do to support you?

The students seemed to take this reflection very seriously.  They created relevant and realistic goals that, if they kept with them, would help them continue to grow and develop.  Those students who are already doing well or already care about doing well academically, took the opportunity to set concrete goals that would help them continue to move forward, while those few students who seemed not to care about how they fared academically took the opportunity to be honest with themselves and own their poor choices.  They now see the error of their ways and are making amends to transform into a caring and hardworking student.  They are becoming motivated, academically, because they see the value in effort and high marks.  They want to do well to earn high grades, much like I did; however, I’m hopeful that my co-teacher and I will be able to convince them to do well because learning is fun too, over the course of the year.  It’s a year-long process for some of our students, but one that is completely worth the time and energy.  We want our students to see school as a fun place in which they can learn and try new things.  Although it’s a shame that for some students we need to use their grades as a carrot for them to care, it sometimes takes just that to jump start their curiosity and desire to learn.

Although it’s early, we’ve already seen changes from our students since they saw their grades and completed the written reflection this morning in the classroom.  One student retook a math quiz while other students sought help from me regarding their Goodreads Update.  They all want to do well and learn lots, which is what really matters.  While the motivation for wanting to do well may differ from student to student, we’re hopeful that we will help all of our students see the value in wanting to do well in order to learn and grow as people, thinkers, and engineers, by the end of the year.

Mindfulness Background Reading

I stood at the counter recently at a local Dunkin’ Donuts shop, perplexed.  They had both of my favorite donuts on the shelves, the Chocolate Stick and the Vanilla Cake Batter.  I was befuddled by which donut I should choose.  The chocolate stick is easy to hold and eat and makes very little mess when eaten in a car.  The vanilla cake batter donut has a delicious filling that makes me go, “Ahhhh.”  What about not getting a donut at all?  They are full of fat and bad chemicals that only cause problems for my body.  Should I not even bother with a donut? I thought.  It was quite a vexing moment for me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was torn.

I feel this same baffled way about the teaching resource Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness by Deborah Schoeberlein David that I recently finished reading.  While it filled my mind with lots of great ideas to implement in the classroom, it was poorly organized and overly repetitive.  So, do I give it a rave review and not mention how disorganized the text felt throughout or do I give it an honest review mentioning both the good and bad aspects of the book?  So, like I did that day at the doughnut shop, I paused, took a deep breath, and made my decision: Honesty is always the best policy.  So, here it is, my honest review of the professional development resource regarding mindfulness.

Mental food for thought:

  • The book is very disorganized and repetitive as the author keeps telling us the same thing over and over again regarding mindfulness and how to live mindfully.  While she breaks the concept down into tiny pieces, the definitions and methods are almost always the same.  Due to this chaos within the book, it felt clunky and I found myself skimming over several parts and chapters because they were all providing the reader with the same information.  This aspect made the text hard to digest effectively as I constantly found myself thinking, She already told us this, throughout the book.  Had she organized it in a more meaningful, succinct, and appropriate manner, I would have found much more enjoyment in the entire reading experience.
  • After reading this text, I realized that I am already doing some of the mindful practices the author suggests, which also reminded me that not all new teaching practices are completely new and unique.  Some concepts and ideas are things effective teachers already do on a regular basis, with mindfulness being one of them.  I’ve felt as though the big push recently in education is about teaching students to be mindful.  So, as one of my professional goals is to craft a mindfulness curriculum this summer, I felt compelled to read up on the topic so that I had some sort of foundation on which to build my curriculum.  As I read the book, I realized that a big part of being mindful is reflecting in the moment and after the fact.  I already do this on a daily basis through my teaching blog.  At the close of each and every day of teaching, I stop, reflect on something that went well or crashed and burned that day, and then write about it.  This process allows me to see how I can become a better educator since I am able to see the mistakes I made or celebrate my greatness.  In reflecting, I’m also able to, sometimes, generate possible solutions to problems facing me as a teacher.  Over the past few years that I’ve been blogging and reflecting, I’ve been able to focus my thinking in the moment.  I find myself thinking about what is going well or not as I’m teaching, which allows me to make any alterations needed right then and there.  So, while this idea of mindfulness seemed new and strange to me at first, I’m realizing that I am already on the path of being a mindful teacher, which means that I can model good, mindful practices for my students.
  • Mindfulness is all about taking the time to live in the moment and truly experience life.  I wonder then, if my school’s schedule is more conducive to mindlessness than it is mindfulness.  We have short class blocks, which do not allow most teachers to delve into mindfulness practices.  Our school is driven by time and schedule, which means that most students and teachers are always looking at the clock and not able to be present in the moment.  While our sixth grade schedule is much more flexible, and we reiterate the importance of not living by the clock or time constraints in the classroom at the start of the year, as a whole school, we struggle to build in time for mindfulness.  How can we expect our teachers to teach mindfulness to our students if we don’t provide them with the time to be mindful in the first place?  For our school to truly help students be more mindful in and out of the classroom, our schedule and mindset as an institution needs to change.  We need longer class periods and more time to work with the students on living in the moment and not worrying about what comes next.  We need more time to pause and reflect with our students.  I worry that while my co-teacher and I will teach our students to be more mindful this coming year, if our school doesn’t value mindfulness as a whole, then when our sixth graders move into the other graders, all of the effort and work they put into being mindful will be lost.
  • Teaching students to be mindful involves teaching them about the brain and how it works.  Once the students know how their brain helps them learn while also trying to distract them at every turn, they can begin to see how they can control their line of thinking and change their mindset.  While my co-teacher and I are teaching our students mindful practices, we will also be teaching them about how the brain works in our study skills course.  This way, they will be able to see how the puzzle pieces fit together.
  • Like teaching any new activity or skill in the classroom, it’s important to explain the purpose of mindfulness.  Why are we teaching you to be more mindful?  What’s the purpose?  How can these practices help you become a better student and individual citizen in our world?  These are important questions to address with the students at the outset, which is why we are planning to begin our mindfulness unit with a TED Talk or video that visually shows the students why mindfulness is crucial to their future success in and out of the classroom.
  • Short activities that allow students be more mindful in the moment will be good to use in all of our classes.  Perhaps starting class with one minute of mindful breathing and quiet contemplation could help center the students and recalibrate their brains and bodies prior to jumping into the learning and content for the day.  I want to use this in at least one class a day as I think it will really help the students see the benefits in stopping and pausing before continuing on with their day.  Another simple yet mindful activity is to start class with a riddle.  Having the students think about just the answer to the riddle allows them to hone their focus and concentration at the start of the class.  This is also a cool idea that I want to use in our study skills class.
  • When crafting the mindfulness curriculum for our class this year, I now have several good activities and ideas to include:
    • After explaining the purpose of learning mindfulness, I want to have the students realize how many different thoughts are swirling around their tiny heads at any given moment by having them list every thought they are thinking during a period of 30 seconds.  I will follow this up with a class discussion and reflection activity that will hopefully help the students see the power in decluttering their minds on a daily basis.
    • I want to have the students complete some mindful speech and active listening activities to help the boys learn how to speak aloud and listen appropriately.  The students will work with a partner to read a section of text aloud in various different ways before receiving feedback on each method.  This way, hopefully, the students will be able to see how important volume, annunciation, and intonation are when speaking aloud.  This activity will also help the students learn the importance of being good listeners and how this skill can help them and their partner grow as students and people.
    • The author introduced a cool activity about walking with awareness to help the students see how their body language shows their feelings and emotions without them even knowing it.  This will help the students learn to be aware of their body language and the messages it sends to their peers and teachers.
    • Have students complete various acts of kindness and then talk about the resultant feelings.  How does it feel to be kind and compassionate?  Helping the students see the value in kindness will help them to treasure it and spread it to everyone they come in contact with on a daily basis.
    • I want to have the students try a mindful seeing activity as a way to introduce how quiet observations can lead to mindful vision.  We could work this into the STEM curriculum as they observe the natural world right outside of our classroom.  How much more valuable are the observations they make when they are quiet and patient than when they are talking and focusing on several different ideas?  This is something I struggled with this past year in my STEM class.  When I took the students outside to observe their forest plots, they were so preoccupied with the external factors of bugs, heat, and their peers that they couldn’t mindfully observe their plots. Having the students practice this activity a few different times might help them to see the benefit in mindfully observing the world around them.
    • Have the students complete an activity in which they discuss a hot button topic before seeing how their expectations and judgements cloud their mindfulness.  How can you truly and objectively think about or discuss a topic if your mind is full of preconceived notions and subjective thoughts?  Getting the students to see the importance of broadening their perspective when learning about new ideas or topics is crucial for mindful learning to take place.
  • A great and easy way for the students to document their mindfulness progress is to have them reflect on their mindful thinking and learning in their e-portfolios.  As we will have the students update and maintain their e-portfolio throughout the year, adding another component in which they can document their growth as a mindful student just makes sense.  This way they can see how much more mindful they are at the end of the year compared to how they were at the start of the academic year.

While I didn’t totally love this book because it was disorganized and repetitive, I did learn a lot from it.  Reading this text also facilitated much thinking for me on the topic of mindfulness.  Although I wouldn’t recommend this book for teachers looking to create a mindfulness curriculum, it has helped me to think about how I want to organize my own unit on mindfulness.  Now begins the fun work of setting up my mindfulness unit with all that I’ve learned from this resource.