What Will Teachers Focus On Returning From Winter Break?

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Returning from Winter Break is always a whirlwind time for all involved in education. Parents, teachers, and students are experiencing the mixed feelings of the anxiety of having to return to the repetitious school day and the excitement of returning to the school day. So with the beginning of the second half drive to the end of another school year, just what should teachers be focused on?

There will be a variety of ideas and thoughts that will come to mind: State Testing, Projects, Teaching to the Test, Differentiating Instructions, Curriculum Planning, Data Analytics, Assemblies, etc….

Here are the Top 5 Focus Points for the Best of the Best Teachers:

  1. The Students
  2. The Students
  3. The Students
  4. The Students
  5. The Students

Contrary to the media and public hype around everything that is outside of the teacher’s control, it is only the focus on their students that your true teacher understands that they can control! With only 180 days to be a positive influence in the education of each child, and knowing they are in the second half stretch, the best teachers know that they must focus on the needs of each child to inspire them. It really is that simple!

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The Myth of the Quiet Class

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The Myth of the Quiet Class

The Tale of Two Classrooms

As you look into Classroom A, you notice the teacher up front teaching the lesson of the day. The students are seated quietly with their feet flat on the floor, and hands positioned on their desks. As a question arises, a select amount of students raise their hand, get called on, and answer the question.

As you enter Classroom B, you notice the teacher is walking up and down the aisles, periodically stopping at the board to write something down. The students are far from quiet, but respectful. Some students are standing in the back, and you notice that some students are sitting on giant balls and some are on a couch. When a question is asked, students are sharing answers with each other, and even answering aloud to the teacher.

Classroom A is the perfect classroom as presented on TV and in the movies. This is the way a class presents itself when the principal or other visitor is expected to appear when coming in for a visit. Is this how the public envisions the perfect classroom? If so, let me list why Classroom B is my preferred classroom, and a quiet classroom is far from the perfect classroom:

  1. A Quiet Classroom is NOT an engaging classroom: Students are in school to learn which requires them to be inquisitive. In a room where a teacher demands that students be quiet and respectful at all times, there is no room for students to grow.  There is a time and a place for students to be respectful and give their teacher their undivided attention, but we all know there are classrooms where this is expected for every minute they are in the class. I don’t call this the perfect classroom, but rather the quiet torture room- where students are assigned to a year’s worth of torture. “Do not speak unless, spoken to.” “Raise your hand if you wish to speak.” “I will not recognize you until you raise your hand.” At what point are students expected to take charge of their education? A student here is not engaged, they are simply in a quiet room.
  2. A Quiet Classroom is lead not by a teacher, but by a dictator. Literally and figuratively, the dictator will have full control of the class. He or she will be in charge and will dictate what each student will learn. They will not be questioned in what they teach, for questioning an idea or thought would be questioning their authority. The dictator here is simply nothing more than a live newscaster delivering the events while the students simply have no choice but to listen and accept the words being spoken.
  3. Lastly, A Quiet Classroom provides no feedback. I had a fellow colleague once ask me “Why do you allow your students to talk and answer out loud?” (followed by a negative comment about my teaching style). I answered, “Simple: My students are not afraid to be wrong. By answering aloud, they understand that they are letting me hear their thoughts as I teach. This in turn allows me to understand why they are getting things right and, more importantly, wrong. At times, listening to them has influenced me to rethink my predetermined thoughts. How are YOU able to determine if all of your students are learning if they are not?” I am not sure if she understood the question as she walked away, but truly, how could she? What does a teacher learn about class mastery by always calling on the student with the hand raised?

What do you hear happening in a Quiet Classroom? I remember the sounds that echo in the hallways of a school whether the classroom door was closed or not. Without stepping foot inside the classroom, you can tell if the students are engaged with a great teacher.  It is clear in the sounds that come from the room, the talking, the laughing, the questions, the questioning, and the answers. To a true teacher, it is the sound of perfection: Students engaged in learning through conversation with other students and their teacher!

As you walk through a school, truly listen to the classrooms as you pass by……..What do you hear?

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5 Steps Parents can take for a Successful School Year

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With all of my former colleagues heading back in for another exciting, inspirational school year, I feel it necessary to advise my fellow parents on some steps to make this year a success for their kids. Every year, both student and teacher enter the classroom on a clean slate, but it will not be long before the hazards of a “Bad School Year” become apparent (Pun Intended). Here are 5 simple guidelines to help avoid it.

  1. Stop thinking a “C” represents Failure- over the last 10-15 years, there has been a shift in the mentality of the grading system in schools. Along the way, the prolific idea of getting Straight A’s became the movement of the norm. Getting an A used to be reserved for students who went above and beyond the actual work needed to be completed. Today, however, students are receiving As just for completing the work on the average requirements- yes, AVERAGE?!  Should your child receive a B or C from this year’s teacher, do not jump to the conclusion that your child is failing, even if they received straight As the year prior. The work they did the year prior has no indication on the work being asked of them this year, nor does it have any indication on the requirements of the current teacher. The expectations of each teacher will vary, which does not mean that one teacher is better than the other. It simply means that your child will have to reach or exceed the new expectations set forth by their current teacher. Be ready to explain that receiving a B from Mr. High Expectations, is better than the A given to them by Mr. Easy. Remember that a C represents “average”- as defined, 1. the typical or normal quality, degree.  Is it really a negative to be of typical or normal quality? If you honestly believe that an average student deserves an A, then I would suggest that your standards need to be raised.
  2. Open your mind to the possibility that it may be “your child”- I have had a running joke with one of my former colleagues for over 10 years because of these situations. Her child happened to be attending the same school we worked in, and a teacher approached about a situation involving her child. In a classic parental reaction, the exact words of…”What? Oh, no, not my child!” were exhaled. Now in defense of my colleague, her child was and is a poster child of excellence, and admirable qualities, however in this instance, it was her child. The situation was handled accordingly, after retracting said words, because of the willingness of the parent to trust the teacher. Many situations are mishandled or blown out of proportion due to the fact that as a parent, you choose to side with your child without trusting the teacher or the facts in each particular case. Yes, there are cases where a teacher has developed a vendetta on a particular child or parent, but these are extremely rare and have usually developed over time (showing a pattern). Teachers are in the classroom to teach and expect the conduct of their students to respectfully allow every individual their right to an education. The goal of every teacher is to create a safe and encouraging environment for all, and if your child is disrupting this, it needs to be dealt with. Trust me, no teacher is ever excited to make a disciplinary call to any parent.  They are made as a last resort, and your support is greatly appreciated! If upon receiving such a call regarding discipline, your reaction was to state “My child already informed me of what happened….” and you then ask “What did YOU do?”, then you are part of the problem.
  3. The way you learned is not the way your child will learn- First, let’s simply acknowledge the known fact that all students do not learn the same way. Good. So what would make you think that your child must learn in the same fashion that you did? We must also acknowledge the fact that education is transforming to meet the needs of today’s students for tomorrow’s careers. We must also allow the education system to do its job and educate our children. Using Math as a prime example- simply memorizing that 2 x 2=4 is no longer good enough. Students are being asked to understand why this is so. Students are required to provide the correct answer, however, they are now being given the opportunity to learn and understand the different options that lead to the correct answers. It is similar to the change in parenting where you actually explain an answer to your child, rather than express “Because I said so!” Should your child have some homework that you do not understand, simply document this in a note to the teacher to inform them of the troubles your child had. Please do not force them to complete the assignment the way you learned, as it limits your child’s ability to expand their learning and understand the lesson at hand.
  4. Your child’s grades are not the best indicator for future success- If you have spent any time on FaceBook, you will see many parents announce and exclaim the success of their children by posting their report cards every marking period. Every parent should be proud of the work their child is doing, but the report card is not the best indicator of success. As a matter of fact, every teacher will tell you that the report card actually holds little value, other than to update a child’s progress. I had a conversation once with a mother who claimed that because I gave her child a B, I would cause her to not qualify for Harvard! Folks, if you believe that Harvard is worried about what your child received in 4th Grade, YOU are one of THOSE parents! The best indicators of your child’s success will be based upon 2 ingredients: Effort and Social Skills! The level of your child- above, average, below- is irrelevant. You must focus on the effort your child is putting forth to improve. No student is getting paid to learn, but if they were, their grade does NOT indicate they are learning. Learning is indicated by the gaining of knowledge from current levels. Thus, your focus needs to be on the effort to gain knowledge, not that your child is an A student. Second, and most importantly, your child’s social skills- or lack of them- will be a huge factor of success or failure in the future. The world is built on communication skills, and the ability to work with others. Whether in a partnership, or in a group, the jobs of tomorrow will demand that your child work well with others. Let’s be honest, even if you are extremely intelligent, you will have a hard time keeping a job if you can’t relate to others. Do your part as a parent and make sure it is……not my kid!
  5. Be Thankful for the teacher- Whether or not you agree with the policies, the grades, the discipline, or the work- just be thankful that the teacher is willing to place him or herself in front of your child every day to do their best to educate them. To think that every year will be a blessed year for your child is impossible. There will be teachers who make a lifetime impact, and unfortunately, there will be teachers who make education a nightmare (Hopefully not). Either way, the year will be a learning experience for your child and can provide them with a foundation to be successful in the job market. We will all have bosses that impact us positively and negatively just the same. Make sure to support your teacher irregardless of your personal feelings towards them. A teacher’s job is hard enough, and the last thing any teacher wants is to have issues with parents. What other career is being guided by politicians at the federal, state, and local level; Departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level; So-Called Educational Leaders; Billionaires and their Foundations; Administrators at state, local, district, and school levels; and Board of Educations? Most of whom have little to no experience actually running a classroom. Support your teachers, support your schools, and try not to be that parent! In the end, every teacher wants to help every student- no matter what you do as a parent. Trust me though, you will get a lot more from a teacher you support than from a teacher you are fighting against.

Please talk to your child every day and encourage them to simply “Try your Best!” Keep your expectations high, but also be willing to explain why you are still proud of your child’s effort even if they are not a straight A student. As a teacher, I have so many more stories of inspiration from my C students, as many A students didn’t have to work as hard. If your child is PROUD of their effort, as the parent you need to be PROUD of your child! Work together with your child’s teacher to make the most of the school year, and the results will come. Your child will never give 100% effort to learn if they know you do not support their teacher. That responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders! Best of luck to a great year. Remember that every year, every week, every day can be a fresh start to their education!

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An Apology to Current Generations (Teachers and Students) in Education?

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As you walk into your classroom for a new year, excited and inspired, I want to apologize for the days you are destined to experience. Through no fault of your own, your classroom has been set up for failure.

It has nothing to do with the seat you will sit in, the desk you will use, the lack of technology, the old textbook, nor the artistic bulletin board for sure. You will hopefully still have a room filled with love, kindness, creativity and inspiration!

However, there are many who have come before and now lead you blindly into the future….Many who have been taught by old school word of mouth, or writings in text…..Many who continue to declare your learning environment to be uninspiring, to be failing….

Continue to declare your schools to be failing

Continue to declare your teachers to be failing

Continue to declare your parents to be failing

Continue to declare you to be…………..

Failing in a classroom THEY are failing to transform.

They talk about a “Flipped Classroom” as if it is transforming, but yet it has existed since the textbook was brought into the classroom. Do you remember having to read (learn) Lesson 2 at home to discuss the next day? placing the lesson in a video format may make it more engaging, but not transformational. Hopefully you have a teacher that will use technology for communication while you are outside the classroom to better inform him/her what you are and are not learning.

They also talk about “Station Rotation” as if it is also transforming, but yet, every elementary, middle, and high school has used some form to differentiate instruction. Simply bringing technology into the mix does not make it transformative. Hopefully you have a teacher the will use technology to make the stations engaging and efficient so when you are on your own in a small group, you are making the most of your time there.

Every student and teacher is asked to look into the mirror and judge the reflection, so look into the mirror and tell me what it says about you! Are you a Failure? I know NOT! You are a generation with more knowledge at your fingertips than any generation prior, and you use it! Whereas I learned in an offline world filled with deceit, you are tasked to learn in a world filled with deceit, both offline, and online! Whereas I grew up being careful of other who were two-faced, you are learning to be judgmental of many who remain faceless behind the screen of their computer! You have to adapt in a world that is changing EVERY DAY! Be Proud of Yourself!

In fairness, let’s ask the so-called experts to do the same and take the time to look into the mirror and tell us what they see? In true irony, the P.A.R.C.C. reflection clearly spells what their statistics mean. As for the Smarter Balance, better known as S.B., initially the reflection is clear that they too are full of it. You see, YOU are not a reflection of your test results, and neither are your teachers. Both you and your teachers are a reflection of your hard work and dedication to your education. Their test can only evaluate your effort on that particular day of testing. Their test can only evaluate how you answered their questions on that day. Have you ever panicked and did poorly on a test? Have you ever had at-home factors negatively affect you in school? Where it fails is its lack of ability to evaluate you or your teacher as a person, the drive to be better, the ability to overcome obstacles, and the pride you have in your heart!

I sincerely apologize for the failings of the older generations to provide you with a better learning environment. We are trying. We will get it right. As students and teachers, make sure to focus on the task at hand inside of your classroom! Keep your nose to the grindstone, stay inspired, and be Proud of your work!

Please Feel Free to Share, Like, or Comment!!

I am looking for submissions from anyone willing to share your stories of inspiration in Education!!

Email me at ojlowe@optonline.net

The Educational Gap No One Wants You To Know About!

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For all of my years teaching, there were always worries about the educational gap that exists between race and wealth. While the general public recognizes and admits the existence of the educational gap between the wealthy and the poor, most of the focus in education has been to decrease the gap between races over the last 40-50 years. Recently, however, while the gap between races continues to decline, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown at an alarming rate! If this trend continues, we will continue to see disparaging gap grow between the wealthy and the poor, not only in education, but in the loss of the middle class. In an article published by The New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise discusses research studies at both Stanford and Michigan that show the gap of standardized reading scores, and college completion nearly doubling between the wealthy and the poor. Even scarier is that the data collected was prior to 2008 which means these numbers do not account for the recent recession and its effects. The question remains about why the gap concerning wealth continues to rise while the gap concerning the races continues to fall? I believe there is one easy answer……..Technology. While “Middle-Class America” begins to boast about the technology that is now becoming a part of everyday life for its school kids, it is “Upper-Class America” that has quietly had access to fully functional technology for the past 20 years in their classrooms. Let us also not forget that “Lower-Class America” continues to simply dream of getting working technology into its classrooms. While many people will not think this a big deal- an education is an education, whether from a book or a computer- consider the fact that the job market has been flooded with technology and will continue to.

Technology Gap

I love the headline mantra that “Our Educational System is not preparing our students for the jobs of the future…”, yet in the same breath these same individuals know “we don’t even know what those jobs will be or look like in 20 years.” One thing we do know is that computers will be a part of the future and future jobs. If we all agree on this one point, then why is it only upper-class students who are provided with a technology rich environment? Why are we missing the boat that this inequality possesses the potential to create a devastating gap that can bring an end to the Middle Class? Even though it has been 60 years since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling to desegregate Public Schools, the African-American population continues to overcome the educational gap between races today. The ramifications of the Technology Gap and its effects on the educational gap between classes will be staggering. The gap between the Have and the Have Nots will become a combination of both wealth and education. This is a deadly combination that could eliminate the Middle Class, which already shows signs of expiration with the growing gap in wealth. The path to recovery must be taken quickly, or there will be an unattainable mountain climb in the near future. In 60 years, we have not overcome the educational gap with students getting equal textbook materials, how long will it take to overcome a Technology Gap that continues to grow? Please Like, Share, or Comment below!