False Starts

For the first time in many weeks I opened my blog.  I decided to look in my drafts to see if there were any posts I could work on. And then I saw it…. A post named False Starts. Perfect, I thought. I’d been having trouble thinking of things to write and this title seemed to sum it up. To my surprise when I opened the draft there was nothing there. Talk about False Starts!

So why write a post if you really have nothing to say?  That’s actually something I continually struggle with and, as a result, I usually end up writing nothing.  To me, this is a very peculiar thing. I can talk a blue streak, non-stop, not take a breath and never run out of things to say. So why is writing so different?  Time for a little reflection here I think…

When we write we are committing our thoughts to “paper.” When we publish them on the internet, no matter if we delete them or not, they never really go away. So what am I afraid of? Are my thoughts not worthy? I don’t think I’m that insecure, but maybe I am.  Why are some able to just let go and write while others, like me,  continue to have false starts?

As my reflection continues I realize that putting my true thoughts on paper has never been something that I’ve been comfortable with.  Many people I know journal and have suggested the same to me.  Uhh…….No.  There is absolutely no way I would even consider keeping a journal.  Why? That continues to be the million dollar question. Somehow I have this fear that if anyone saw what truly goes on in my mind they would commit me to a mental institution. I might be exaggerating a little bit here but there is more truth than not truth in that statement.

So how does one overcome such an obstacle? I think the only answer is to just write. Let the words come, no matter what they might be. Let go of the fear, stop worrying what others think and just write. So much easier said than done…….

False Starts are everywhere in life and will never go away – it is part of the human condition. As members of the human race we will encounter them time and time again.  I have come to the conclusion that it is not the False Starts that are the problem, it is our reaction to them. So from now on I will be kind to myself each time I have a False Start.  I will remind myself that I am human and that I am allowed to be afraid at times.  I will not stop trying.  I will not give up.  I will persevere! 

The Optimistic Educator…

 

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The Fairy-Tale Life-Too Good To Be True?

FairyTaleLife
Have you ever been at a point in your life where everything seems to be going right? Each day you wonder when the fairy-tale will end. You assume that things can’t keep going in your favor. You all but convince yourself that fate is going to catch up with you sooner or later.  Well maybe that day has come…

The fortunate position I currently find myself in is just that – I feel like I’m living in a fairy-tale. Everything seems to be going my way. But with that comes fear. When is everything going to fall apart, I ask myself. Why are all these good things happening to me? I’m no different than anyone else, why is it that my colleagues aren’t living their fairy-tale lives. And then it hit me. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fairy-tale itself.

So, what is a Fairy-Tale?

It’s possible that my age has something to do with the regard I have for fairy-tales.  I grew up listening to, then reading on my own, Grimm’s fairy-tales (the later editions not the original gruesome stories!)  For those of you in my age set you will remember that Grimm’s stories weren’t all peaches and cream.  There were negative forces and evil.  There were trials and tribulations to be had by the main characters.  Being in a fairy-tale didn’t mean things were all hunky dory in your life.  But what it did mean is that you remained positive, you didn’t give up, you persevered over adversity. Pretty much the main characters in Grimm’s fairy-tales rose to the top despite all the obstacles put before them.

So how does this relate to “real” life?

You don’t have to make much of a leap from the above fairy-tale explanation to the lesson at hand. It really and truly is all about attitude and how you approach & deal with adversity that determines your outcome. Now I’m not saying that if you are positive and perky all the time that every outcome will be in your favor.  If just doesn’t happen that way. Hard work and dedication come in to play here almost as much as a positive attitude. But that positive attitude can’t be dismissed. We’ve all heard the stories of people who endure unimaginable tragedy yet they continue to march forward thanking those around them and finding the good in whatever they can.  If they can do it why can’t we?

Perspective

We’ve all heard the saying about it being easy to Talk the Talk but much harder to Walk the Walk. I think this holds true with living the fairy-tale life. I’ve always been able to Talk the Talk – and I’ve actually believed in what I was saying – but I’ve stumbled many times when trying to Walk the Walk. It has only been with age, and all the life experiences that come with it, that I have been able to truly embrace the fairy-tale life. The adversities that I’ve faced in my life pale in comparison to what many other people have faced but they are my adversities and they have helped me transition from talking to walking. I now realize that my attitude, my happiness, my fairy-tale life is completely up to me. Yes there have been, and will continue to be, stumbling blocks in the way – that’s called life. But it is how we deal with those stumbling blocks that determines whether we get to live the fairy-tale life.

My Fairy-Tale

When I re-read my opening paragraph I realize that it sounds like I’m holding the Golden Ticket-I even say that every thing is going my way. But if a person were to look more deeply at my fairy-tale life they would realize that I’ve faced, and continue to face those evil forces that lurk in most of Grimm’s fairy-tales.  You can’t get to be my age without experiencing pain, struggle and loss. But it is these things that make us grow stronger. With each new stumbling block I find I come out on the other side stronger, more appreciative and more passionate about the people around me.  So do I have great things going on in my life? Yes! Do I also have some not so great things going on in my life? The answer to that is also yes. But in the end I’ve made the choice to not let my stumbling blocks keep me down,  instead I’ve made the choice to use those same blocks as steps and one by one I’ve used those steps to help me build a stairway up to my very own fairy-tale life!

 I hope in reading this you realize that just because someone appears to be living the fairy-tale life it doesn’t mean that everything in life is easy for them. So please don’t judge someone just because they always seems positive and perky.  Those positive, perky people deal with the same struggles as the rest of us, they have just chosen to rise above their adversities and live the fairy-tale life. I charge each of you to embrace the good in your life and acknowledge the not so good in your life. Hold your head high as you tackle whatever stumbling blocks are in your way.  Put a smile on your face and start living your very own fairy-tale life!

*Special thanks go out to LaVonna Roth #IgniteYourSHINE, Jennifer Williams #goodbringsgood and the Great Educators Crew #WGEDD  for inspiring me along the way.  Your messages have helped me create my very own  fairy-tale life! Thank you….

The Optimistic Educator…

The Transformation

It happened slowly.  It was uncomfortable.  For a long time it was unidentifiable.  I resisted it. At times I actually fought it. After several years I could no longer deny it.  A transformation was occurring and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Let’s look back 5 years to see where I was….

  • Teacher – effective yet not satisfied (whatever that means!)
  • Unsettled – my “teacher” skin was getting itchy
  • Isolated – great colleagues yet felt professionally alone
  • Protector – supporter and defender of those in need

At the time, our school was working under oppressive leadership.  I’ve always been a giver but during this time I felt myself changing.  There were some troubling things happening in our school.  My fellow teachers, in my opinion, were being “abused.” It was at this point that I felt my fierce mama bear come out.  These were my teachers and I was going to protect them.  I needed to take action!

The actions that I took during those dark days are not necessary to share but what resulted from those actions is.

What I learned about myself during those trying times…

  • Resilient – like Chumbawamba says in their song Tubthumping “You’re never gonna keep me down.”
  • Courageous – willing to live outside of my comfort zone to benefit others
  • Capacity – able to bring together and positively influence others

Eventually the dark days passed and new leadership was at the helm.  My unsettled feelings and struggle with isolation were still present yet I was feeling confident in the changes that I helped bring about in our school.  Under the guidance and encouragement of our new leadership I was able to embrace the transformation that was occurring within me.

Let’s fast forward to the present to see where I am now…

  • Collaborator – growing and learning with our entire school
  • Unsettled – embracing the discomfort that growth and learning create instead of fighting it
  • Connected – isolation is a choice that I now choose to dismiss
  • Leader – encouraging and supporting growth in our school community

My transformation is far from complete and I’m ok with that.  I am less “itchy” in my own skin and am feeling excited about some new opportunities that have been presented to me.  I don’t know where my educational journey will take me but I do know that I am on the right track.  My experiences over the last five years have taught me that instead of just reacting to the circumstances around me and letting that unsettled feeling take control I need to stop and reflect.  I need to acknowledge and embrace my feelings instead of letting them overpower me.  I need to take action where I can but also need to step back and realize that some things are outside of my control. Ultimately I have realized that how I deal with the transformations in my life is my choice. I can ride the wave and choose to find the positive or I can get caught in the undertow and let the negative drown me. The choice is mine.

So in conclusion, I invite all of you who are feeling unsettled and like you need a change to stop fighting your unrest.  Ride the wave, keep an open mind and embrace the transformation that is occurring within you!

The Optimistic Educator…

The Power of 10 Minutes…

hourglass-1046841_1280As another New Year’s Eve looms over us many will reflect back over the past year evaluating the good, the bad and the ugly of 2015.  The majority of the population will come up with a New Year’s resolution.  For most people that resolution usually has to do with some type of self improvement. Been there, tried that, failed.  As educators we frequently remind our students that failing is OK.  We tell them that as long as they’re failing forward and learning from the experience that all will be well. We post on our walls: F.A.I.L.= First Attempt In Learning.  But let’s be honest here, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions I venture to guess that the majority of people out there fail at keeping their resolutions and when they fail there is little to no movement forward.  I for one, am definitely in this category.  So am I going to stop making resolutions?  No! I have another plan and hopefully it is one that will stick.  My resolution this year is empower myself with The Power of 10 Minutes!
                                                                                                                                                                     How many times have you found yourself wishing you had more hours in the day or commenting that you didn’t have enough time to accomplish   everything that you want to get done.  Life can be a juggling act.  There are so many things we have to do;  houses to clean, lawns to mow, children to tend, shopping to do, lessons to plan for… And then there are all those other things that aren’t essential but that we want to accomplish; books to be read, closets to be sorted, classes to take, blogs to write, gyms to join, and on and on.  So how does the average human being cope?  This is what happens to me.  Either I tend only to the essentials, which leaves me feeling like a slave to my own life, or I pretend I can do it all and end up so stressed out that I can’t even enjoy what I’ve done.  (Not to mention the fact that my spouse claims I’m miserable when attempting to “do all, be all!”)
So how can this be fixed?
By giving ourselves The Power of 10 Minutes.
10 minutes                                                                                                                                                       This is all we need to set in motion a plan that we can stick to.  The essentials in our life are essential and will get done one way or another.  It’s those other things we want to accomplish in life that always seem to get pushed to the back burner.  And it’s for that reason that those other things are what we should focus our 10 minutes on.
How does it work?                                                                                                                                                -Spend 10 minutes at least 5 days/week working on something you want to accomplish – not an essential but one of those things that always get pushed to the back burner.
          -You do not need to work on the same thing 2 days in a row.  For me this then feels like too much of a chore.  I prefer to pick and choose where to focus my 10 minutes.
That’s it!                                                                                                                                                           Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  Some of you reading this may think that nothing of use can be accomplished in 10 minutes but I will argue you on that point.  Over the course of 1 month your 10 minutes will add up to ~4 hours, over the course of a year that totals 48 hours. That means you’ve found the equivalent of  2 full days and nights to work on those non-essentials and all it required was you setting aside 10 minutes a day.  Imagine what you could accomplish with all that time!
Ideas for how to spend your 10 minutes:
  • Sort through e-mail – delete, file, respond, unsubscribe from lists
  • Read4Fun  – let yourself get lost in a book
  • Exercise – go for a brisk walk, jump on your bike, play tag with your kids
  • Head to the basement/attic – decide what is worth keeping (seasonal decorations, sentimental items etc), what is worth donating then toss the rest.  Get nice storage bins to help keep you organized.
  • Go through your closet – give away anything that no longer fits or you haven’t worn in 5 years
  • Sort your kitchen cupboards – do you really use everything you have?  Can things be donated to a local charity?
  • Blog – been meaning to write more but never have the time?  Pick one day to spend your 10 minutes writing.
  • Get Creative – what have you always wanted to try but never seem to have the time for?  Drawing, painting, gardening, dancing, sculpting, hiking etc.
    So in conclusion I challenge you to use the Power of 10 Minutes to start tackling all those things in your life that you didn’t think you had time for.  If you stick with it you will soon find yourself accomplishing more than you ever dreamed possible.
    On your mark, get set, go!

The Optimistic Educator…

 

 

Finding Your Purpose

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For the better part of 23 years I knew what my purpose was.  I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew.   I was a parent.  My purpose was to raise this baby boy, to nurture him, to help him grow up to be a kind, caring well adjusted young man.   Well that baby boy has graduated from college, is living on his own in another part of the state and is doing well.  Proud? Of course! But also feeling a little lost.  He doesn’t need me on a daily, weekly or even a monthly basis anymore.  So where does this leave me?  Searching for my purpose…
What is purpose?

Dictionary.com gives a variety of definitions for the word purpose:

Purpose:  “the reason for which something exists or is done,  made, used etc.”  Ouch!  So if you don’t feel like you know what your purpose is then you also question your existence? Pretty deep and, for practical purposes, not that helpful.  Thinking so deeply that you’re questioning your own existence is, for most people, not a healthy thing to do.

Purpose:  “an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal”  Ok – That definition we can work with.  So what is your goal, what are you aiming at, what do you desire you life to be?  For most people I think the goal or desired result in life is to feel like we matter and to feel like we’ve made a difference in the world somehow.   But how do we go about doing that?  Hmm – that may be a question to ponder in another post!

Purpose:  “determination; resoluteness”  Ooh – this one resonates with me.  Determination is something that I can relate to.  I have so much determination sometimes that it becomes a negative quality.  Wait -I don’t want my purpose to have any negative connotations so let’s move on with our definitions.

Purpose:  “the subject in hand; the point at issue”  I laughed when I read this one.  So since my point at issue is purpose then finding my purpose becomes my purpose?  Too confusing.  On to the next definition.

Purpose:  “practical result, effect or advantage”  So this one is saying that the purpose of one’s life is the practical result or effect or their life?  Not sure what to do with this one.

Purpose:  to set as an aim, intention or goal for oneself”  So now we’re back to trying to figure out what our intention in life is-or more simply put-what is our purpose.  Not helpful.

Purpose:  “to intend; design”  This one sounds suspiciously similar to the definition above.  Your purpose is your intention.  So what is your intention in life?  That’s what we’re trying to figure out!

Purpose:  “to resolve (to do something)”  This one makes sense to me on a small scale.  But when applying it to my entire life?  What am I resolving to do with my life?  That’s what I’m trying to figure out!

In reading these eight definitions of purpose have you figured out what your purpose is?  I know I have not but what I have figured out is that PURPOSE is just a word. And just like any other word in our language it can have multiple definitions and each definition will be interpreted differently depending on who is reading it.

So where does this leave us?  This post is titled “Finding Your Purpose” but I’m guessing that most readers are probably even more confused now about what purpose is than they were before they opened this post.

As I was writing this post my mind kept coming back to a piece of paper that’s sitting on my desk.  On that paper are 9 little words.   When in Chicago for the What Great Educators Do Differently conference (#WGEDD) we were challenged by Angela Maiers to come up with a list of words that described ourselves.  She challenged us to find our Brave, to embrace our strengths and to own our weaknesses.  Basically she challenged each of us to celebrate who we were and the life we were leading and to share our awesomeness with the world.  So what does this have to do with Finding Your Purpose?  Well I think in reading and thinking about all these definitions of the word Purpose I have realized what my purpose is.  It’s not about some lofty goal I have for my life or some magnanimous belief that I am going to be a change maker in this world.  My purpose is those 9 little words.  My purpose is to be an enthusiastic, compassionate, genuine person who is kind caring and dedicated.  My purpose is to embrace my vulnerabilities and to own up to my sometimes overly talkative nature.  My purpose is to love myself and share that love with others.  Wow – that wasn’t really as hard as I was making it out to be!

So now that I’ve found my purpose I challenge you to find your purpose.  Make that list of words that describes yourself.  Be honest, embrace your strengths and own your weaknesses.  Once you’ve made your list read it over, memorize it,  post it in a place that you will see everyday.   Those words represent you, they are your Purpose!  Once you’ve found your Purpose embrace those little words, celebrate who you are – be brave and show the world your awesome.  And most of all, in the words of Angela Maiers, remember to tell yourself every day:  I Matter, I Am Enough!

The Optimistic Educator…

 

 

 

On Drinking the #WGEDD Kool-Aid…

Team #GVEPpride arrives in Chicago!
Team #GVEPride arrives in Chicago!

On Thursday, October 15th five educators from the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership had the privilege of flying to Chicago to attend the inaugural What Great Educators Do Differently conference #WGEDD This is their story…

Disclaimer: Drinking the Kool-Aid often has a negative connotation but we choose to use it’s more modern meaning indicating that we embrace the #WGEDD philosophy.

Our Team  Before  #WGEDD:

Teacher #1 has been connected and drinking the Kool-Aid for almost a year now. This teacher was first offered a drink by her principal.  Initially she declined his offer. Then, because he was pleasantly persistent, she decided to take a sip.  She never looked back!  When she first heard of the #WGEDD conference she just knew she had to attend.  Together with Teacher #2 they planned the trip.

Teacher #2  is Teacher #1’s counterpart on our sister campus. These two call themselves “Teacher Twins.”  So as you can probably guess when Teacher #2 saw how much Teacher #1 was enjoying the Kool-Aid she had to join in. She got herself connected and has never looked back!  Like Teacher #1, she just knew she had to attend the #WGEDD conference.  Together they planned the trip.

Teacher #3  was not connected and didn’t know there was any Kool-Aid to drink.  She is a phenomenal teacher with energy and enthusiasm who was on the brink of burning out. She was isolated on an island all by herself, or so she thought.  Teacher’s #1 & #2 knew they needed to bring her along.

Teacher #4 is a steadying force for Teacher’s #1 & #2.   He is not one willing to accept any old Kool-Aid.  He attended the #WGEDD conference because Teacher’s #1 & #2 asked him to.  He was connected in theory but had not yet found his tribe. He was still a twitter egg head.

Teacher #5  is Teacher #3’s counterpart on our sister campus.  He was to be our barometer.  He is a seasoned educator who has not yet become connected. He is a great teacher and, of his own admission, doesn’t really want someone telling him what to do.  He was not interested in drinking anyone’s Kool-Aid.  With our encouragement he agreed to come along.

Team #GVEPpride After  #WGEDD: *Note we now have a hashtag-we’ve learned the importance of branding our school and telling our story!

Teacher #1  She still can’t stop smiling. She was motivated, inspired and uplifted by every single person she encountered during the #WGEDD conference! She was so proud of her team too.  They listened critically, reflected then eventually embraced what they were hearing.  She knows there’s more out there for her to do but for now is content to live out the #WGEDD philosophy with her students, teachers and admin. by her side.

Teacher #2 She was always an innovator in her own right but now, after #WGEDD, she realizes that the sky’s the limit! She continues to grow, connect and collaborate both in the twitterverse and face to face with her fellow teachers.  She lives out the #WGEDD philosophy every day while bravely sharing her greatness with those around her.

Teacher #3  She is now a connected teacher-hooray! By the end of our weekend she had a twitter account, was tweeting and had plans to start a school social media account to which she plans on posting podcasts of the amazing students in her school sharing all the awesome things they do!  She is on fire and there is no stopping her!  She’s a giver and will now share the Kool-Aid with anyone who will listen.

Teacher #4 He’s become a believer! He no longer has an egghead for a twitter picture, has begun connecting with others in the twitterverse and is eager to learn more about joining in (maybe just watching at first…) some of the amazing twitter chats that are out there.  He now willingly admits that the there is value to drinking the Kool-Aid and is spreading the word to his fellow teachers!

 Teacher #5 He’s still not ready to take the leap into the twitterverse but is no longer a naysayer.  After #WGEDD he took a leap of faith and decided to sip the Kool-Aid.  He has stepped outside of his comfort zone and is trying new things in his classroom.  His students are loving this new approach! It has been so exciting to watch him embrace and embody some of the things that he learned at #WGEDD.  He is even becoming a vocal advocate among his fellow teachers!

So that’s our story.   Did anything earth shattering happen at #WGEDD that caused the changes in our team?  The answer is no. But something did happen –  people happened, face to face connections happened, sharing happened, learning happened, laughter happened, friendship happened, excitement happened, passion happened, reflection happened, growth happened – a network of greatness was born.

So what were some of the take-a-ways from #WGEDD that bolstered those of us in our team who already believed and converted those who did not?  It’s impossible to include everything but here is a small snippet of what we learned:

  • Be Brave!  If we expect our student’s to take risks, stretch their thinking, not be afraid to fail then we too must do the same.  Embrace your vulnerability then go out there and share your greatness!
  • What Can Go Right?  When you’re being brave and trying new things remember to think about what can go right.  Focus on the positive!
  • Brand your school!  Celebrate all the amazing that is happening in your school.  Use social media to share what you are doing with families and the community.  Create a school or district hashtag.  Remember that if you don’t tell your schools story someone else will…
  • Connect and Collaborate!  There is a whole world out there just waiting to connect and share with you and your students.  We live in a global society. No longer do we need to stand alone in isolation.  Go out there and grow yourself a PLN!
  • Move outside of your comfort zone!  Change is hard, change is scary-no one is denying that. But if we want true growth for ourselves and our students then we must challenge ourselves to move into that sate of unrest.
  • People before Purpose!  There have been, and will always continue to be, many different initiatives in education.  There will constantly be new buzz words and programs you are expected to implement.  But ultimately it comes down to the people.  If you as a teacher are willing to embrace the #WGEDD philosophy then it will not matter what program it is that you are implementing, you WILL be effective. Remember, it all comes down to relationships-everything else is secondary!
So in parting I challenge you to take a sip of the #WGEDD Kool-Aid.  It may not be the answer to all of education’s woes but it is certainly a step in the right direction.  Try it, I think you might like it….

The Optimistic Educator…

The 3 R’s Re-defined…

The 3 R's

The 3 R’s are educational classics: Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic. They’ve been the foundation of education for as long as I can remember and there’s no arguing the value of each of them.  When our students graduate from high school I sincerely hope they can read, write and are mathematically proficient. But isn’t there more to education than that?  I think there is.  I want my students to graduate with a more profound knowledge than the basics and this is why I am proposing that we re-define the 3 R’s:  Relationships, Risk-taking and Reflection

 

Relationships:

Learning how to build and maintain relationships is one of the fundamental cornerstones of life.  Back some 40+ years ago when I first entered school this was one of the primary goals of kindergarten. Learn how to make friends, learn how to share and be nice, learn how to get along with others, even if they aren’t your friends, learn how to work with others; basically learn the skills essential to building and fostering relationships.

In the current educational times that we now live it is often hard for teachers, even at the primary level, to spend the time needed to help students learn the give and take of successful relationship building.  The priorities in education have seemed to shift further and further away from “people” skills.  To me this is quite ironic since, in the US at least, we are hearing from employers that students lack the “soft skills” needed to become successful employees.  There is much talk about teaching students 21st Century Skills which, in theory, include “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration.  We recognize that these skills are essential yet we no longer provide dedicated time to help students learn these skills.

What I propose:

At the Primary Level:  Let’s start by taking back kindergarten and the early grades.  Allow 5 year olds to be 5 year olds.  Allow teachers the freedom to focus on the basic fundamental skills that these children will need in order to be successful not only in school but in life as well.  Allow teachers to help their students learn the importance of relationships.

At the Secondary Level:  Let’s continue to place emphasis on building and maintaining relationships.  The first weeks of each school year should be spent modeling and practicing the “soft skills” that students will need to be successful in life.  Let’s create and foster relationships with our students that are built on trust.

Once those relationships are established we can then move on to the next of the 3 R’s:  Risk-Taking.

Risk-taking:

In my almost 20 years of teaching I have found that risk-taking does not come naturally for most students.  They may enter school curious and willing to take risks but we usually squash that natural curiosity out of them by the early primary years.  For most of their school careers the focus has been on getting the right answer, not making mistakes, earning passing grades-basically conforming to the traditional rigid definition of school.  When students take risks they are bound to fail and they may fail a lot.  In most classes failure is not an acceptable outcome for students.  But we know that stretching our brains and trying new things is one of the most authentic ways to learn.  So how do we encourage students take more risks with their learning?  How do we teach them that failing isn’t really failing, it’s actually a learning opportunity?

What I propose:

Be a Risk-Taker Yourself:  No matter what the grade level, you must create and foster trusting relationships with your students.  Your classroom culture must be “safe” and students must feel valued. Once this has been established then you can move on to modeling risk-taking.  As a teacher you must be willing to try new things and let your students see you fail.  Modeling a growth-mindset response to failure is a critical component when encouraging your students to take risks with their learning.

Don’t grade everything:  One of my biggest take-a-ways from this school year has been to not grade all of my students work.  I found that the less I formally graded work the more willing my students were to take risks and try new things with their learning.  This was especially true for my students with academic and learning disabilities.  When the work flow process was based on feedback & revision versus right & wrong students were no longer comparing themselves to each other, they were focused on improving their own product. They were willing to take risks.

From risk-taking we flow naturally in to the last of the 3 R’s:  Reflection

Reflection:

According to Oxford Dictionaries, reflection can be defined as giving something “serious thought or consideration.”  I am a naturally reflective person by  nature and so assumed that most people were.  What I’ve discovered is that most students have a tough time reflecting.  They have been so indoctrinated by schools to spit out the correct answers that they have great difficulty thinking on their own.  It seems our schools have forgotten the value of promoting deep thinking as a means of learning and we must change this!

Being true to my word about modeling risk-taking I had my students complete a digital portfolio as part of their final assessment. This topic could be another whole post in itself (talk about a learning experience!) but for the purpose of this post I bring it up because one of the components of the portfolio was for students to reflect upon their learning.  I thought this would be the easiest part of the portfolio for them.  Boy was I wrong! They struggled immensely with the reflections. These were some of the comments I heard:  “What should I write?”  “I don’t know what I think, can’t you just tell me?” “This is really hard!”

So how can we promote reflection in our classrooms?

What I propose:

Start in the primary grades:  Most young children are curious and about this wonderful world they live in and have little trouble asking questions, thinking and reflecting.  We need to foster this deeper thinking and reflection in our young students on a daily basis.  We need to give it value and make it a priority

Continue in the upper grades:  Teachers need to make reflection an integral part of their classroom culture.  We need to encourage our older students to think deeply and ponder, we need to provide them a safe place to share their thoughts and feelings, even if they are different than our own.  We need to promote reflection as part of daily life.  We can do this in many ways including classroom discussions,  teacher conferences with students to reflect on student work, blogging, group debates on controversial subjects within our field and so on.  Ultimately we need to provide our students a platform to be heard whether privately within or classrooms or more publicly in a blog or on social media.  We need to encourage them to think and listen critically as they assess their own and others work. It is only when this reflection occurs that true learning will occur.

So in closing I ask you to ponder the 3 R’s: Relationships, Risk-taking & Reflection.  I truly believe they are the foundational skills students need to be successful not only in school but in life as well. As you begin to wrap up this school year and plan for next I challenge you to find new and innovative ways to incorporate the 3 R’s in to your daily classroom life.  I look forward to hearing your ideas!

The Optimistic Educator…