Skills and epiphanies

It’s 7:34 a.m., and my day begins innocuously. ¬†I wake to see my husband preparing for work (he’s up later than usual, too). ¬†With no intention to rise early on my first day off of summer, I stretch and check Facebook on my cellphone plugged in by my bed, knowing that there will be 15-30 notifications with the late hour. ¬†I give some space every morning for doing this, without judgment to others that do the same (but that is a different blog). I notice a million things running through my mind: ¬†I should clean the bedroom, organizing my bedside, top of the dresser (that hasn’t been cleaned off in over a year), altar; I need do fold and put away the clothes in the laundry basket, wash the sheets, clean the bathroom; I can do yoga this morning (a long session); oh, but, I have a headache, so no morning crossfit session for me. ¬†I need to drink water…I have a headache.

It’s 7:43, and I slowly emerge to the kitchen and say aloud (my daughter, the cook, is packing my husband’s breakfast away to take to work due to the late hour): ¬†I want coffee, but I need to drink my water first. ¬†I already was up drinking water when I let the cats out (late, of course) at 5:30 a.m., and took my thyroid medicine, so I could drink coffee when I woke up without delay. ¬†I fill my smaller Tervis with water and a pinch of Himalayian salt, clean up our oldest dog’s accident because of the late morning hour, and call all our doggy friends to go outside. ¬†My husband is preparing his scooter (his transporation) for take-off to work (a morning ritual in itself). ¬†I tell my daughter: ¬†I have a headache (probably 3 or 4 times). ¬†My mind is spinning out of control with things I want or should do on my first day off. ¬†I should read an entire book (because I can), I should work in the garden¬†(I’m outside),¬†I can meditate and take time on my reflection¬†(see space365),¬†I should plant beans.

It’s 7:44, and I look down at my front yard fairy garden. ¬†The milkweed plant is stripped! I exclaim: ¬†What happened to my plant?!? ¬†¬†

It’s 7:45 a.m. ¬†I’ve called my husband out of his morning ritual, taken the pups inside, and grabbed my phone to take a photo (or 2 or 3). ¬†Our whole backyard used to be a butterfly garden, replete with batlike swallowtails (including zebrawings, which took 5 years to coax into our backyard), stalwart monarches, playful fritillary, and swan-like sulphur (until my cassia fell to the one and only bitter winter we had in Florida over the 12 years we lived in this house) butterflies. ¬†The planting of the front yard was a reclaiming of space, a ritual of touching the Earth, of feeling the potential–the tremendous potential–of life in all its possibilities. ¬†It was a small step in my stress management.

With my medications and diet (or rather, nutrition–a whole ‘nother can of worms to blog about) in balance, and with my mind no longer foggy, words bounce around in my head aimlessly and quite intensely. ¬†I’ve of late been calming them (which I will after I finish this blog) through meditation and reflection. ¬†I’ve been changing my habits. ¬†With all the should/can/need/want-to‘s in my head today, one moment of a wonderous and beautiful life cycle stopped this chatter. ¬†Seriously, the amount of joy that this brought me was profound, and made me think of all the previous times that I have experienced the same simple happiness over something so seemingly small.

Dutifully to my mindfulness practice, my mind started thinking of ways to encapsulate this joy into the classroom. ¬†How do I tranform ennui into excitement? ¬†Practically speaking, I don’t think I could; In fact, my book-study friend and I revel in a idea of Stephen Cope (see more information here), that boredom is a habit that should be cultivated. ¬†Still, I asked myself: ¬†How do you turn boredom into curiosity? How do you teach students to be moved by simple wonders? How do you get them to experience ah-ha moments in times of boredom? ¬†How do you teach skills and epiphanies?

The skill and pratice of mindfulness through meditation with habit-building, ritual, and reflection (whether it be a journal, blog, or notebook–or all of these!) are essential to a learner. ¬†My problem, unlike many of my students, is not too few connections due to meta-cognition deficits, lack of experience, sociocultural and socioeconomic circumstances, ADD/ADHD, or executive functioning, etc.; my affliction is too many connections firing at once. ¬†How do we differentiate for this in the classroom? How do we literally and metaphoically teach this simple joy upon seeing monarch larvae munch¬†asclepias¬†to death? ¬†This is my irresistible circumstance.

Common Core and the Man and Marzano

I have this guilty feeling that I must get off my chest. ¬†I clearly remember when we–and I use that term loosely because very few “we” deigned to listen at the time–were introduced to “common core,” I was with my former principal at a break out session for a convention in Orlando. ¬†We had ended up in the same session, next to each other. ¬†The session opened with the now viral video, “What Is Common Core?”¬†and ended with “table-top” Twitter, only on large, expensive post-it chart paper (the kind I can’t afford in my classroom at a whopping $45 a pad). ¬†I was vaguely intrigued and more than a little excited. ¬†It didn’t take very long until I knew how very different this would look in our classrooms, but is was much longer before we realized how the Man would bastardize our practices and the intent of CC, twisting into the fray performance pay, mysterious formative assessments, Marzano checklists and workshops, and unknown state tests. ¬†And, here we are, almost five years later. ¬† As a reading teacher, I am still intrigued and vaguely excited about ELA Common Core (in Florida called, ironically enough, LAFS).

In spite of the Man, I have spent 3 of the past 4 years really teaching Common Core, trying new instructional practices, anticipating this year–the year where our pay is dependent upon our VAM score and evaluations. ¬†I have taken risks before it was necessary to take risks in order to practice and reflect. ¬†Marzano asks the teacher and the student to do this. ¬†Common Core (or LAFS) also does this. ¬†Common Core got plopped down with Marzano and rewritten by the Man and (in just 4 years), at least in my district, stamped with the all-things digital stamp, which wasn’t provided for¬†my classroom (I’m still fighting to get my three student computers upgraded or replaced). ¬† Nonetheless, although the FCAT has finally gone away, the FCAT echoes are still bouncing off the walls of the school as my colleagues and the parents label the students by their FCAT score. ¬†Naturally (dare I say?). ¬†The FCAT is all we know. ¬†Teaching to a test is all we know. ¬†So, how do we teach to an unknown test (Florida came up with their own test) on antiquated technology (the test for 5th is entirely online, except for science, which will be the same old FCAT) with students who took the Florida Writes (an entirely different sort of writing test)?

The old saying, “It takes a village,” rings true. ¬†In the past 5 years, one thing that became very clear in reading and practicing the standards is that my 5th students are expected to collaborate, as well as come to discussions prepared. ¬†Teachers must do the same, and not like before. ¬†We can’t do lipservice to the PLC gods and our administration. ¬†We must embrace this and work together or the very thing that will be lost will be us, our profession, our art, our passion. ¬†In Have You Tried Making Common Core Lemonade?, Amber Chandler reminds us to always keeping the students in mind. ¬†If you think of teachers learning and maneuvering through the new practices, revised practices, new standards, performance measures (like Marzano), red-tape, endless bureaucracy, test spec’s, research and results from states that have already implemented common core, endless newspaper articles and blogs on the evil common core, etc., etc, etc., as learners and students also, you will see it really does take a village. ¬†We must collaborate.

Indeed, right off the bat, Chandler establishes that she found common core an “awesome opportunity” to reexamine her pedagogical practices and “instigate” some conversations. Common core constantly demands teachers to question and reflect. ¬†I love the word that Chandler chose here: instigate. ¬†I realize that this blog is about being irresistible and all that, but I make almost no bones about it–common core has been politicized and bureaucracized so that many teachers are not even trying to wrap their heads around it. ¬†So, how we hold court, so to speak, is paramount. ¬† Instigation takes some finesse and, since I am in no position to convert by the sword, I have begun to realize (this year) after reaching out beyond my school, that I have to¬†instigate some much-needed conversations.

Our school’s instructional coach, I must say, has a tough job. ¬†It is really her job to instigate¬†and, well, advocate for the teachers, even as she walks a fine line between administration and teacher. ¬†It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. ¬†Classroom teachers seem to harbor ill feelings toward anyone who demands more of us or delivers more ultimatums because we feel it is really our butts on the line. ¬†What I have come to believe is that it is our collective butts on the line, and this is really, really scary–not at all, vaguely intriguing or mildly exciting.

When I look around, perusing the Internet in the wee hours of the morning (I’ve been on the Internet since 5 am this fine Saturday morning), I see great things in the name of Common Core. ¬†I get to collaborate, reflect, reexamine, discuss (the power of Twitter without post-it chart paper), and reach out. ¬†Why is it so hard at my school to hold¬†a proper conversation in PLCs? ¬†The verb¬†instigate is well-chosen by Chandler. ¬†Common Core is difficult for my colleagues (and, therefore, myself) because our discussions and our reflections must foment growth and development, not only for the students, but for us, as well. ¬†We’re stuck fostering discord and, even <gasps>, rebellion.

Maybe, in my radical dreamer’s heart, Common Core will instigate a rebellion against Marzano and the Man and VAM and performance pay and etc., etc., et cetera. ¬†What our PLCs sometimes turn into is data-meetings without really good common data (something I have noticed throughout my teaching career). ¬†I try to create formative assessments (and avail myself of already-made summative assessments) that reflect our standards and demonstrate what our students know and don’t know. ¬†I deconstruct the standards and carefully craft my lessons. ¬†I use information on state- and district-assessments that drives my instruction. ¬†I am writing unit plans for the first time since grad school (there was a movement away from unit plans when I started teaching 10 years ago). ¬†My colleagues share their lessons, but…

But. ¬†We don’t collaborate. ¬†We don’t discuss. ¬†We share, but we never change (unless we do so independently). ¬†We often complain (of course, we are frustrated). ¬†We are told to collaborate, required to collaborate, forced to collaborate, but…

But. ¬†The best conversation, when not instigated by a crafty, savvy teacher or administrator, is natural. ¬†That’s why FCAT ghosts haunt us. ¬†That’s why the conversations inevitable turn to the amount of paperwork and collaboration required in our jobs and how much work we are doing outside of work hours because we are so busy preparing Common Core and waiting for the Indians to attack the fort (with their Marzano I-pads) and rate us as beginners in absolutely everything because pay is tied to it in the name of teacher accountability. ¬†Naturally. ¬†And I dare say it!

There is good in Common Core (or LAFS–I just love that acronym). ¬†There is good in Marzano (it is a really good tool). ¬†There is some good (dare I say?) in the Man. ¬†We all are striving, to reiterate Chandler, to better our students’ lives. ¬†In reading her blog, I realized, too, that I am also guilty of being a literature teacher, craving it, sticking to it, being too comfortable in it, and slipping back into it when at a loss for collaboration. ¬†Reflection tells me that if I am uncomfortable in something, it probably means I have something to learn, so just in the mere act of writing this blog, I realize that I must increase the nonfiction/informational exposure in my classroom, not just do lipservice. ¬†Indeed, I already have irresistible ideas fomenting in my head and a day ahead of unit planning (oh, boy!). ¬†I have to admit. ¬†I am guiltily (because it¬†is¬†Saturday and I am a mom of 3 teenagers in various activities with an insistent husband who hovers over my shoulder and wants to know why I am up) looking forward to planning and creating irresistible circumstances for the coming week, in the name of Common Core, Marzano, and the Man.

I just wish I didn’t feel it was time to add¬†instigation to part of my skill set and job duties. ¬†I wish that the conversations flowed easily at my workplace (now that my eye’s are open and I see endless possibilities), that we were so all very¬†human.

The literature teacher, the reader, the human in me has registered openings for my minor insurrection, such as “Resistance is futile,” and “Let me play the devil’s advocate…” and “whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune…” and “but…”

But.  I am still vaguely intrigued and excited.


There is Power in Passion and Immersion

311005_4738011524039_1917190594_n“When one is engaged in pursuing one’s passion and offering the very personal gift of doing what he does best, the power is undeniable” (TLAP, p. 151)

Last night in the yoga class I subbed (I teach fitness), I played a very multicultural, fusionist mix of yoga trance music with beautiful renditions of Ghungroos (the bells worn on the feet in some forms of Indian dances), a delicious karsilaama on African drums, and a more serene sitar and droning harmonium piece.¬† A woman about my age (late-40s) sprung up from the mat following shavasana and started jabbing the buttons on the stereo.¬† “Those drums,” she screeched, “those drums are driving me crazy!¬† Oh, god, those drums!”

After I got over my initial shock, I calmly asked her if she was staying for the next class (I was using the same music in that class).¬† I asked her, “Was it that particular piece or the whole CD?”¬† I knew it was probably the African piece, and offered her a concession that I wouldn’t play that particular piece in the next class.¬† She reluctantly agreed and stayed for the next class, but I could sense her ill feeling throughout the class, particularly toward the music (which I stopped half-way through class) and eventually directing its way toward me.

The yoga classroom, whether I am a sub or not, mirrors the classroom.¬† I am there to teach, listen, serve, coach, and encourage.¬† I hope that I learn something new and I hope that my class learns something also.¬† I am passionate about fitness, not just yoga.¬† I workout almost every day and I practice what I preach:¬† I eat right for myself 95% of the time, I learn new things and try new things, and I find a way to quiet that omnipresent self-doubt that burbles just below the surface, saying, “Oh, this isn’t going well.¬† Not well at all.”

One student, we all know as teachers, can really ruin a lesson, a class.  The turmoil they feel, the angst and unwillingness to let go and just be in the moment, can drag everyone down.  As a teacher, I am responsible for lifting people up, so its even more important to reflect on their needs.

The missing link was I was not tapping into my passion.¬† I wasn’t connected to what makes my regular class special and my students are willing and joyfully open to all the music I play, evidenced in their asking about the name of the CD or artist or song.¬† That joy and openness manifests itself into the movement in yoga, where we spontaneously dance and laugh and genuinely enjoy the practice.

In Teaching Like a Pirate, Burgess encapsulates this so well, writing:¬† “An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity.” (p. 16)¬† Passion without immersion will not do it alone.¬† They work hand-in-hand.

My personal passions involve improv tribal bellydance, which (in teacher talk) involves collaborative structures (a troupe formation), an academic vocabulary (one which allows us to dance with others all over the world without even knowing the language), and a specific purpose (as if I needed a reason to dance).¬† It is a discipline like no other.¬† It is beautiful, exquisite, life-affirming, and all in the moment.¬† I am passionate and fully immersed and there is such power in that for the audience.¬† In fact, I can perform on stage (or even in troupe practice) in terrible spiritual distress (there’s been a lot of long-term medical issues in my household and for my fellow troupe members) and I forget all of this and just am focused on the dance and my fellow dancers.¬† Passion and immersion have power.

Dance and yoga are both metaphors for life.¬† These so clearly resonate within my being, and both are so accessible to all (like learning).¬† If someone cooked up your favorite meal with all the sides and desserts you could ever dream of and placed it on a table before you, would you say, “Oh, I just couldn’t.¬† No, no, no!”?¬† Our classrooms have to be powerful.¬† Our teaching has to be powerful.¬† What we offer students has to be relevant and challenging.¬† We have to show them our passion and immerse them in our intensity.

We are going to have students who only hear the cacophony of the drums and whose issues explode into technocolor (sorry, I’ve lived a bit…this means with high definition) within a heartbeat of a lesson.¬† The mere challenge of silencing that little voice or reflecting on why-is-it-I-feel-this-way gives way to reactions and impulses (some biologically rooted deep within the brain).¬† It’s not that I was trying to save the student, I was minimizing her to save the class.¬† It didn’t work.¬†¬† I have to hone my skills even further (more endless learning and practicing opportunities–yay!) and train myself to draw from a place of passion so that I am fully immersed. ¬† Burgess offers us ways in TLAP right off the bat to go there–that place of passion (it doesn’t have to be your love of teaching because gosh, knows there is no love when your impulsive, angry drum-hating student is acting on impulse). ¬† Instead of saying, “They don’t pay me enough for this” or “Oh, no! Another year of this nonsense,” I choose to go to where I am immersed and in the moment (and yes, I will use good strategies to de-escalate the drama), but there is power in passion and immersion.¬†¬† Misery is optional.


The Business of Transforming Vs. Change

This summer I am learning Twitter for educational purposes thanks to our really awesome literacy/reading/instructional coach (she wears so many hats).¬† Last night, one of the educational persons I am following posed:¬† “Are grade-levels and age-level groupings a social or learning construct?”¬†¬† To which, I replied:¬† “A learning construct would honor and celebrate kids where they are at.”¬† At which point (one of the things I love about this new thing for me called Twitter is the conversations in less than 140 words or less!), another chimed in:¬† “Where does the [paradigm] shift begin to move from social to learning construct?”¬† And, again, I thought for a moment and replied:¬† “When we take the business out of high stakes testing.”¬† Yet, I kept reflecting…

I was thinking about the depth of the questions asked on Twitter and how I was relating to these intellectually.¬†¬† When I first started teaching 10 years ago, I thought of myself as a change agent.¬† I felt as a teacher I had agency–a feeling which, as a mother of three small children in her mid-30s, was magical and transforming.¬† Here I can thank the lofty, impractical pedagogy and readings of graduate school for this.¬† I was going to change the world.¬† And so, I started teaching.

Ten years of teaching under my belt, these questions all but disappeared.¬† Even when I pose a few at work, I’m met with silence at best or a comment about the size and quality of words I use when I talk.¬†¬† Intellectually, I need stimulation and conversation, so I am eating up Twitter questions and chats voraciously.¬† I discovered I am not alone–there are others who want a shift in one-size-fits-all (and not through lip-service and endless reminders we need to differentiate–duh!).¬† Perhaps, we were told about collaborative efforts and team work during my graduate career, but I was taking notes on what to do in the classroom.¬†¬† In fact, I know we were told we didn’t need to teach to the test, and I have since been reminded of this by homeschool parents and hippie friends and even a few PhD’s.¬†¬† My graduate school was not in the business of teaching children.¬†¬† They were in the business of making money while maintaining a firm grasp on their philosophical mindset.

This is weighty stuff to change a mindset.¬† A paradigm shift means we have to move from where we were to something unknown.¬† We can all feel it happening–why is everyone so surprised that many of the states are reconsidering the Common Core (my home state of Florida included)?¬† Thus, in the second summer of Common Core Implementation, we have lots of workshops to help us embrace this change.

And what we get told?¬† The high-stakes tests aren’t going away (again, duh!).¬† Don’t get me wrong, however.¬† I embrace this change and I like learning about how I can put DOK4 in my classroom on a daily basis.¬† I like that my county is embracing change; nonetheless, I believe we are missing some critical components to make a paradigm shift, even if there were no high-stakes testing at all.

This morning, I read through a wonderful blog:¬† The True Purpose of Testing (another Twitter find!). ¬† I was hesitant at first because I don’t like to read about high-stakes testing at all.¬†¬† No one writes articles to or sells strategies so teachers can call parents and tell them their child will be retained.¬† There is no research on how these retentions and phone calls affect teachers, parents, and students.¬† There are no self-efficacy studies.¬† There are no words that can describe what it feels like to tell parent that the State Law says thus (as if the child were some criminal) or how deeply you feel you have let the child down. ¬† Yes, I was a bit hesitant, and still I glanced.

The blogger wrote something that made me think of how change could truly happen.  She wrote that the planning of testing was threefold:  1) What was the goal of learning?  2) What will students show to demonstrate this new knowledge; and 3) How will students be transformed by this knowledge?  Indeed!  The word is transformed.

As a mother, I was transformed by the birth of my three children.  As a pre-service teacher, I was transformed by the call to action my instructors embedded in their classes.  As a teacher, I was changed into the business of creating test-takers.  Twitter has transformed me into a thinker again.

We need our students, our children, to be thinkers.¬† We must constantly ask ourselves:¬† How will the stuff we teach¬†transform¬†our students?¬† Is it enough to just teach gravity and change misconceptions and relate our lessons to NASA?¬† I, for one, will embrace the tools I am learning about for my classroom, knowing that the end-all-be-all is that State test (we don’t even know what it looks like yet); however, the questions and the thinking these are the very instructional things that transform us as learners.

It is big business to be in public schools today.¬† It is big business to give the students just enough to make them productive workers.¬† It is big business to sell caps and gowns for high school graduations and senior portraits.¬† It is big business to get students in AP classes.¬† It is big business to adopt curriculum every 5 years.¬† Education is big business.¬† However, I’d like to think of myself in the business of transforming and I’m not so sure which paradigm shift I will land in.¬† I have that tendency to go off-the-grid.¬† It’s going to take collaboration and a lot of reflecting, along with passion, perseverance, and enthusiasm.¬† The business of change is, well, big business (more of the same with a different shirt color), but the business of transforming…that is MAGICAL.