Trying to lead from the heart

Really, I am trying.

I don’t usually write about my personal challenges as a teacher in this blog, but today I find myself needing to.

I started at a new school this September and was hired to teach and design a new program for older students (16-21) who are not  expected to graduate.

I’m now teaching 14 students from the ages of 12-19. 6 of them are in the original program – a life skills transition program we’re calling Bridges. 8 of them are in a ‘learning centre’. I teach them all at the same time. One of my students is severely intellectually handicapped and works below a kindergarten level. Other students have a variety of cognitive and learning disabilities. I am finding it difficult to lead them where they need to go when there are such different objectives attached to each of the students in the room. I need help.

I think I need to map out the types of learners in the room and work from there. So I can design maybe 3 or 4 different plans per lesson rather than 13. And so that I do not have lessons where students are lost, or I am lost.

Because that is how I feel sometimes with them. I want to lead them where they need to go, and from my heart.

remaining curious

Image: Ghetto Curious George by the Frankfurt School made available on flickr by a creative commons license.

(crossposted at leadertalk)

About a week and a half ago, the night before beginning at a new school, I wrote a post called Allowing Curriculum Planning to Remain Curious. I
wrote about how I needed to remain curious about my students and their
contexts in order to create meaningful curriculum for them.

I am struck with how important it is to remain curious. One of the
reasons I reminded myself to remain curious, to not fall back on old
assumptions about learning, is because I am in a new school. With a new
school comes a whole new culture and different sets of needs and
expectations. Christian Long helped me towards this reminder when he wrote, in his note to self on the eve of his own first day at a new school, “You have plenty of time to share new ideas,
but listening, watching, and respecting is the first rule of business.
Listening and watching is your best trait going forward in this first

My mind keeps returning to that notion of remaining curious. How easy
it is to be curious now that I am in a new school, but I am already
noticing that I have created opinions about my students and the school
that I take for granted after only one week! So, how much easier it is
to create assumptions and rely on them rather than question and try to

I’m coming to the realization that remaining curious about what I do
as a teacher, a program planner, a member of a school community is
precious. By keeping myself open to possibilities, by trying to
understand the hows and whys of things, I keep education alive for me
and it remains my passion.

So my task going forward is remembering to remain curious.

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Creating new bridges

bridge and buds

I’ll be starting a new job on the 27th of August. I’ll be teaching and designing a new program for students in Grades 9-11 at Howard S. Billings High School in Chateauguay, Quebec.

This morning I published a new blog to accompany this new adventure of mine and to give voice to the stories I am sure will unfold.


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Just whose achievement gap is it, anyway?

Image: found on the Internet Ray Tracing Competition website

Found this, love it.

We must reject the ideology of the “achievement gap” that absolves
adults of their responsibility and implies student culpability in
continued under-performance. The student achievement gap is merely the
effect of a much larger and more debilitating chasm: The Educator
Achievement Gap. We must erase the distance between the type of
teachers we are, and the type of teachers they need us to be.

From Teaching in the 408 by TMAO (really hoping that means what I think it means.)

Reminds me of a quote that used to hang in a colleague’s office:

If you’ve told him how to do it a million times and he still doesn’t get it, then who is the slow learner?

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Reflective Practice

turn your face to the sun

The following is a rather lengthy quote, but I feel compelled to include it here. It is so revealing of the influence that teachers have on the students and the cultures of their classrooms. The quote describes a reflective period in a mini-action research cycle of one teacher – go to the article to see how he uses this reflection as a basis for change.

Before school had even started I knew that I would have to work especially hard to make sure Matthew had a respected place in the room. I called on him for answers when I knew he had them. I partnered him with students who could be counted on to work patiently with him. In the first few months things seemed to go pretty well. Matthew was at least tolerated and well-treated, if not yet a cherished class member. Not so today. When did the students’ treatment of Matthew erode? What brought it on? And why had I not noticed?

Turning my observer’s eye upon myself

My inner voice said that if I wanted the answers, I had to first look at myself. Over the years I’ve learned that good teaching involves having a willingness to look at your own behavior and ask what part you might be playing in what’s going on in your classroom—the good and the not-so-good. So the next day I turned my observer’s eye upon myself and began to note my own behavior. Before Morning Meeting started Matthew was butting his head into Tyler’s shoulder. “Matthew! Stop!” I snapped. As students moved from Morning Meeting into math groups, I heard myself barking, “Matthew! Sit down now!” I seemed unable to speak the child’s name without an exclamation point behind it.

I reflected. In September I would have redirected Matthew with a gentle hand on his shoulder or a quiet “Matt, move over here now.” In September I made sure to welcome him warmly at the beginning of each day. Today I did not check in with him before Morning Meeting. In September I made it a point to use Matthew’s name in positive comments. Today I was loudly and frequently calling attention to his awkwardness.

I realized how very tired I was. Tired from the intense energy that the first phase of the school year requires and hungry for the late December week off that marked the first substantial break of the year. In addition to this predictable energy dip, the effort required to help the intensely needy Matt navigate daily classroom life added to my fatigue. As my exhaustion grew, my alertness to our classroom interactions diminished. I managed to overlook the rough tones and edgy words creeping into the children’s—and my—interactions with Matthew until they had escalated to an undeniably attention-grabbing level.

But now I was noticing. Moreover, as I continued to notice, it became clear that I was contributing to Matthew’s mistreatment. But wait, let me be more precise: I wasn’t just contributing to his mistreatment. I was teaching it. When I snapped at him, I gave permission to twenty-three others to snap at him too. I was using a surefire teaching strategy: modeling. I knew well the power of modeling and used it often and intentionally: “Watch how I lift Matilda out of her cage.” “Watch while I dribble the soccer ball around Jen.” “What did you notice? Now you try it this way.”

I realized that my interactions with Matthew were a powerful, unintentional modeling. When I stopped seeking Matthew out to say a friendly hello in the morning, the students stopped too. When I snapped commands at him, they snapped too. I was treated to a painful refresher lesson about the strength of modeling.

This was taken from What Teaching Matthew Taught Me: When a fourth-grade teacher tries to figure out why his class behaves poorly toward one particular student, he first has to consider his own behavior.

Please go read the rest of that article, for it outlines how Matthew’s teacher used an appreciative inquiry process to create change in his classroom. Very powerful.



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