Lessons from a Fox

A few months ago I met Gaspard the Fox, the most handsomest fox in London. I also connected with Gaspard’s human, Zeb.

If you’re not familiar with this story, it is a magical tale of friendship between man and creature. It has captured me. In fact, it was such a beautiful story, that I’ve introduced my Littles to Gaspard and Zeb, too.

As I’ve observed this friendship, that for me has really unfurled over 140 character and image combinations on Twitter, I realized that Gaspard has been teaching me things about teaching.

Ask for help. Gaspard was injured and found Zeb’s front stoop. She knew she needed help. I’m not sure she knew she was asking a human for help, but in her own way, she reached out. We need to ask for help. We might not be sure who to ask, either–but we need to ask someone. Whether it’s someone in our building, district or Twitter PLN. Even if we don’t know what we are asking for? We need to ask. Often we don’t know what we don’t know–we just know we feel weary or overwhelmed or spent. Just ask.

Be Loyal. Gaspard is a celebrity now. Yet she remains loyal to Zeb, even to the point of introducing two of her pups to Zeb. Be loyal to your school’s mission and vision. If you can’t be loyal to it? It’s probably time to find somewhere else that fits better. Or? It’s time to be a voice to help change the trajectory of your school. But, be loyal. Don’t be a naysayer; don’t undo the hard work and effort that everyone is a part of each day. Wear your school with pride, even on the days where you’re frustrated. In fact, especially on those days.

Trust. Gaspard trusts Zeb. He hand feeds her aged Parmesan. She waits for him to return after work listening for the click of his bicycle wheels on the pavement. We need to trust each other in our schools. We need to relax our grip to make room for another pair of hands. We have to be willing to share our vulnerabilities in order that trust be established and maintained.

Keep the wonder. I check my Twitter feed daily to see if Gaspard has been seen. You see, she doesn’t visit Zeb daily. There’s a constant expectancy. That’s what we need to build for our learners. Each day we need to captivate them with wondering what is next. Learning moments  need to be connective and relevant and filled with wonder.

Be true to yourself. After all, Gaspard is still a fox. She is independent and sly and nimble. She hasn’t changed who she is, but has invited Zeb into her world. We can’t lose who we are as educators. We can’t be buried by the bureaucracy. We need to be who we are to get the most out of our learners. We can’t compromise our philosophies.

REST! One of the last images Zeb has shared of Gaspard is this one.

She is weary. She is flat out on her belly, on the pavement. We all feel like this at various times in our school year. We have to stop what we are doing on occasion and simply rest. Rest our minds, rest our hearts and rest our souls.

There are lessons all around. I feel blessed to be an observer of this uncanny animal friendship and even more so for what it’s teaching me!

Salut, Gaspard! (& Zeb for letting me share in your story!)

P.S. To learn more about Gaspard and Zeb, take a peek on Twitter @gaspardthefox and @zebsoanes

Think Like a Pirate!

We are Teaching like Pirates…We Gotta Get ‘Em Thinking like Pirates!

I’ve noticed a trend with my Littles. You may have noticed the same thing with some of your learners. Each year, a new group of eager learners come into my classroom. They have these expectant eyes and ears and brains.

I create an engaging Dave and Shelley Burgess Teach Like a Pirate #tlap approved experience for my learners. You know, like creating the exact frame size of the Mona Lisa on the ground through measurement and creating Mona Lisa selfies from a bird’s eye view, to tie in map skills and vocabulary. Or hiding various props in boxes where learners have to discover the hint to the next experience. (I can’t even tell you who it might be, in case they are reading this!)

Here’s the thing. MOST of my learners are engaged. They are willing. They are excited. The hook gets them. However, I’ve noticed that SOME of my learners? They really do not know what to do with the process of lessons like these. Perhaps they come from a prior learning context where things were more compliant than innovative. Perhaps they are too timid to take a risk with their thinking. Perhaps they just don’t know where to begin when their teacher jumps up on a desk to share the “breaking news” and says, “I need each and every one of you to quickly get out your microphones and notepads because someone amazing is getting ready to walk through our door to give his first ever press conference…”

These are the lessons we as teachers passion for, and while many of our learners ride our coattails into these experiences, some just don’t know how to process the open endedness, the high energy the choice—that we offer them.

You see, we can continue to create these lessons, but at some point, our facilitation of these lessons, may only tip the iceberg. We really need to understand the kind of thinking as a LEARNER that is necessary for these lessons to reach their full impact.

I had a recent conversation with a colleague about modeling these lessons. I sort of feel that if we model these lessons, they lose their “oomph”–part of teaching like a pirate is the element of surprise. But, the comment wasn’t lost on me and it’s something I’ve started to address in my classroom.

Here’s what I have started to teach to my Littles. Maybe you can find some Resonance (you’ll appreciate what I just did there in a few more lines….) with these ideas and help create a culture of kids that can Think Like a Pirate.

6 Arrrrrh’s to Thinking Like a Pirate

R elax  We have to teach our learners to relax. When an unknown context is presented to them, we need to help them tap into a comfort zone for their thinking. Sometimes all it takes is a framed suggestion, “Y’all. I know this is new for everyone. I know this is challenging—but we are going to get through this. Take a deep breath. How do you eat an elephant?” …I learned that analogy didn’t work so well with the littlest of my learners, but you get the point. We have to show learners that learning is a process. Some learners are so focused on the product that they miss out on the fun of learning. Just look at how some of your students grip their pencils!

R esilient This is a challenging one. It encompasses things like grit and patience and perseverance—but it’s also much easier than that. “How can you be a super ball instead of an egg?” I share a video of me, their crazy teacher, purchasing fifty cent super balls from those massive gumball machines in the entry of most grocery stores. I COULD order them in bulk from Amazon or Oriental Trading—but trust me, they love seeing me buy these things (or at least one or two –and then I bulk order them…shhhh.) I then bring out the container of superballs and we explore them. They bounce high, they bounce off the walls, they don’t always come back to their original starting point…after a few harried minutes, we collect all the balls. I simply ask, “How can you be like a super ball with your thinking?” After the chorus of perfect answers, I share this, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a super ball thinker. Sometimes I’m an egg.” Of course they laugh and don’t quite get where I am going, until they watch me toss an egg into the air and it cracks and oozes on the ground. It’s interesting because they don’t even giggle, they just look wide-eyed and you can see the analogy start to manifest in their minds. “What happens when I’m an egg thinker?” Of course they verbalize that you only get one shot, you make a mess, other people get annoyed, it’s a waste…etc…etc. Being a superball thinker becomes an easy mantra in my classroom. When things are going pear shaped for a Little, I can simply say, “Don’t forget? You’re a super ball!”

R esourceful Teachers are no longer holders of knowledge. Our kiddoes can access basic knowledge pieces, and then some—at the push of a button or a swipe of a finger. We have to teach learners how to use these resources and many other resources without “giving it away.” Limit what learners have to solve a problem. Focus on flexible thinking. What are the many uses for a pencil? A spoon? A piece of paper? Change the need of a lesson. “Today you are going to share your thinking on….(blank)…but you can’t write it down or tell me using words. Go!” Of course we have to be ready for any and all of their solutions. When learners are limited with what we give them, they innately have to be resourceful. We just don’t limit them enough. Try removing 2 chairs in your classroom. Just hide them away. Can your learners be resourceful enough to figure out a seating situation for the lesson? Or will they immediately come to you and say, “I don’t have a chair…”

R ecruit We have to teach our learners to recruit others to support their learning. We do that as teachers, right? In our classrooms, we need to encourage and develop interdependency. I use an expert wall. Natural talents evolve in the classroom. Maybe Evan is great at technology. Maybe Sarah is very good at organizing things. When things start to break down for you in the classroom? Check out the expert wall—who can you recruit to help you? It’s okay to ask for help, but you need to know who to ask. The really amazing thing is as we recruit others to help us on our learning journey? We are learning how to advocate for ourselves, how to recognize strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others, too!

R eason Reasoning is just a fancy word for THINKING. It’s a cause, an explanation or a justification. We don’t want our learners to just work on the very basic knowledge level of learning. We want them to be able to make connections, see threads of one thing connecting to another and explain it. For little learners? It is as easy as exposing them to analogies, categorizing—making inferences. Anything that nudges your learners to come up with an idea, a supposition, a thought—and then justify it. I recently did a quick lesson on reasoning with Mo Willems, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and wanted my littles to REASON why we shouldn’t let the pigeon drive a bus. I didn’t even want text evidence, I just wanted reasons. You would be amazed at how long it took for one Little to say, “Uhm..he’s a pigeon and pigeon’s can’t drive.” So, reasoning is something our learners have to practice. It’s uncomfortable for them to have their own opinions and thoughts.

R eflect While this doesn’t sound very challenging, it’s the part we tend to miss out on with our learners. (Speaking from myself.) Really we want to know is what you did, how you did it and what it means to you. This isn’t getting learners to regurgitate “Standard 4.2” or saying, “I’m doing science.” It really is asking learners to explain the following:

  1. Tell me what you did.
  2. Tell me how you did it.
  3. Now tell me what you’re going to do with it.

So really we want our learners to reconcile their learning. We want them to be able to verbalize what they learned and see if it matches what we wanted them to learn.

I’m curious as to how these thinking skills will translate in action in the classroom. Some of them are easier to grasp, but I feel that they are important if we want our learners to meet us on the journey. They are apt to miss out on the good stuff for being so preoccupied with the thinking required to get to the good stuff.

#teachpeace

So many images and words from yesterday. And here I sit thinking, how on earth do I walk into my school tomorrow–my classroom, tomorrow–pretending it is all okay.

Because you know what? It’s NOT okay. This is not okay.

I keep reading, “We are better than this.”

But are we? I mean “we” obviously are NOT better than this–because..

it. keeps.happening.

Teach Peace.

Teach(ers). Peace.

This is the unwritten curriculum. This, really, is what we are here for Teach(ers).

Peace.

We exemplify this in our classrooms.

We do not tolerate meanness.

We have to continue to be the ones who are better than this to create others who are better than this.

It’s a precarious place, right, teachers?

But y’all. This? This is not political. This is not ethical. This is not religious. This is KINDNESS.

This is HUMANITY.

Character education has sort of gone the way of the wagon at least in the schools where I interact. I mean they may highlight a word or two here and there, but what are we doing to build the affective needs of our learners?

Obviously something is wrong for human beings, who in the macro are just like you and me, to feel that their only way to have their beliefs, their words, their ideals heard–is to mow someone down with a vehicle.

Teaching peace is teaching resilience.

It’s being a DUCK. Ever watch a duck in water? The water beads right off of them. Even though they may be paddling like the dickens underneath.

Teaching peace starts with teaching peace of self within our own learners. Accepting themselves. Loving themselves. Listening to themselves. Being patient with themselves.

Helping them see things like:

  • the world is bigger than just Y-O-U
  • little things don’t matter, really–be a duck, remember?
  • everything doesn’t have to be perfect
  • opinions need to be thoughtful
  • shouting gets you nowhere
  • when you do for others you do for you

Teaching Peace is teaching perspective. It’s teaching listening. It’s teaching respect. It’s teaching embracing differences. It’s teaching understanding. It’s teaching love. It’s teaching patience.

The unwritten curriculum.

Teaching is a humanistic profession.

We teach them. All. We love them. All. 

Teachers must have different eyes.  Teachers must have different hearts. We have to use these differences–so this cannot keep happening.

Please. Teach Peace.

 

…and we will Rise!

Seven.

It’s been almost seven months since I shared my thoughts via a blog post. I was immersed in leading Littles’ through projects and there’s another little thing called a DISSERTATION that I’m trying to focus on. My summer? I really disengaged from all that I could to rejuvenate myself. (I don’t..WE don’t…ever do that enough.)

So. What’s on my mind?

Teacher Isolation. I’ve been talking to teachers a lot. Through my doctoral work, but just through my livelihood work. (And my own daughter has started her final semester of student teaching..so I’m reflecting on a lot. Like, how EXCITED I was to become a teacher and how EXCITED she is to join the ranks of the greatest calling…and gosh, as her Momma and a veteran teacher,  I want her to avoid some of the pitfalls that make “us” leave this beloved context!)

I’ve also been reading transcript after transcript of interviews and case study after case study of research.

Teacher Isolation is a THING. It was a thing for me too. And? If I’m completely transparent? It’s still a THING for me, I’m just too busy to recognize it or be as bothered by it. (See above!)

“There isn’t anyone like me.”

“I feel completely alone.”

“I’m an outsider.”

Those are REAL statements. I mean y’all. If that doesn’t make you SAD? As educators, we are thrust into an autonomous role. Most hours of the day we are making decision after decision, alone. We are left to our own devices. It’s a weird juxtaposition–this autonomy, because–we are surrounded by others within a profession that centers around human interaction, yet we feel ALONE.

So what can we do, those of us who are leaders in our buildings, what can we do to LIFT those around us so this feeling of isolation is not man (or woman)–let’s say TEACHER made. It really can’t be that difficult.

L LOOK with your eyes and your heart. Both. Be aware of the teachers in your building. It’s trendy to say, “Everyone has a story,” but really? EVERYONE HAS A STORY. We discuss building relationships with your learners? Build relationships with your colleagues. Notice them. Sometimes a simple “How are you doing?” will mean more than the effort it takes to ask it. Notice where someone might be struggling and offer your assistance. What you can’t see with your eyes? Lean in with your heart. We have all been through “that parent,” “that child,” “that failed lesson,” “that surprise observation,” “that cold,” “that…whatever it is that changes our disposition, or our ability.” Teachers are actors and actresses, aren’t we? We shield the learners in our charge from everything going on in our lives professionally and personally.

I INVEST Invest in the people around you. I get it. We don’t have a lot of extra time at school to invest in the adults in our building. We have to do it. Whether it’s during your weekly faculty meeting or just a purposeful walk to someone else’s room. Maybe it’s “Shout Out” cards you place in mailboxes that simply say, “I saw you doing _______ today and I am so glad to be a teacher among you!” In order to invest? We have to know who we are investing in. Last year, I wrote hand written notes to some of my colleagues. Not a lot. Not every week. But, the response I received was immeasurable. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves, “How would I want someone to invest in me?” and then DO THAT.

F FACILITATE I know facilitate is such a buzzword in education. Facilitate means “to make easier.” There are so many things we can make easier for teachers that feel isolated. Planning, classroom management, parent communication, curriculum knowledge–. Sometimes teachers don’t know what they don’t know, so they aren’t apt to approach anyone for help. How can you make something easier for your colleagues? Get this..maybe it’s just HOLDING the door with a smile when they are lumbering in with a million Ikea bags slung over their shoulder filled with classroom supplies. (Yes. True story. I didn’t feel isolated as I reached for my badge to swipe the entrance thingy to get into the building. I was annoyed!…but imagine how making that little task easier would have helped the start to my morning? Sheesh.)

T THANK Thank those around you that get up every day and stand shoulder to shoulder with you. I mean let’s face it, we are all doing virtually the same thing as the person across the hall, around the corner, in the office. We are educating! So who knows better what that person across the hall, around the corner, in the office is experiencing, but ourselves. I’m not sure why we forget that. We feel we exist in a bubble–but really our experiences and feelings and doubts and annoyments AND celebrations–are similar. So take the time to thank those around you. It could be a simple verbal exchange or something grander like a “Take What You Need Wall” (Cool, right?)

Simple gratitude for just arriving and standing up for kids each and every day.

We rise by lifting others. So what can you do tomorrow to uplift? To LOOK, INVEST, FACILITATE and THANK those around you?