ECET2 in the Last Frontier

ECET2 Alaskan-style ended with a teacher telling us why she was there:  she wanted a little change.  A keynote speaker highlighted change, too:  be the change.  In sessions, we were asked, what one thing can you change and be fired up for on Monday?

Reactive grief doesn’t let you fire up for change on Monday.

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Trying to look contemplative before Saturday’s sessions, not grouchy!

The room and participants brought a buzz of excitement for their practices.  I heard nothing I blatantly disagreed with, which is often the case at other training or conferences:  I’ll listen to speakers and wonder, are we talking about NOW in the transformative age of technology?  Or 1997.  At ECET2, all the ideas were student-centered and embraced by teachers seeking to be better than the day before. The content refreshed and rejuvenated the crowd.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you refresh or rejuvenate.

One phrase used multiple times was that teachers have their own silos, and you teach in a silo.  I smiled because my husband would say that every teacher – even myself – has her own fiefdom and woe to any who cross into her realm with intent to change her laws and challenge her power.  We heard stories about other teachers who would probably never seek out an event like ECET2 and how this group of teacher-leaders has to interact with that other group.  I wanted to shout out, especially to the special educators of whom I heard stories, how dare you let the system run the INDIVIDUALIZED plans you are supposed to have for students.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you shout out at errant educators.  (Or, at the least, it’s not a very good idea to do so.)

As the lists of attendees came out, I saw all of my district’s rock stars and self-depreciatingly wondered how I made that list.  My #1 Cheerleader would have corrected that self-talk quickly: “I wish my teachers had been more like you, Robanne.”

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel super confident about anything.

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From a session about telling your story by Pegge Erkenoff

ECET2 Southeast Alaska WAS an encouraging event: I saw “the spark” in colleagues I’ve known for years and those I met this weekend. My own practice was validated and revalidated, and I do have some ideas on how to make those practices better.  I ordered three books to add to my stack and actually have the time to read them now being done with graduate school.  Refining the art of teaching brought joy to so many people at the convening who will take that back to even more students throughout the region.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel joy in much of anything, including your calling as an educator.  (It’ll come back.  Eventually.)

Let me tie it back to students:  you, even you rock star teachers, can deliver the most amazing lesson/module/task/option to a student but if something else is going on, say their ACEs are flaring up, it isn’t going to matter.  Be compassionate and meet them where they are for the day.  Then when they are ready, the amazing stuff will still be there for them.

Entr’acte

I am at #ecet2scak this weekend.  It is a teacher-led conference, and the acronym stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers.  In other words, rock star teachers come together to share what they do and build networks of awesomeness.  It’s a nationwide thing created out of the desire to raise teachers up through the sharing of stories.

Stories. I feel I’m at an (the?) entr’acte of my teaching.  This convening, as they call it, is the last thing my husband knew would happen in my career, and the last thing that gave his encouragement and enthusiasm about me attending, since he was my #1 cheerleader.

How does one do amazingly awesome teaching and learning when one’s #1 cheerleader isn’t around to soothe the doubts and provide counsel from a non-education perspective?  How does the next part of the story unfold when written through the hole of grief?  If I decide to figure it out, this blog might have another section dedicated just to holes of grief.  But the reality is that grief is now part of my teaching whether I want it or not because it is part of me.

To bring it back to teaching, how does a student get through the struggles of becoming a grown human without a cheerleader?  What holes do students cleverly carry throughout the day, wanting to or not?  What does the next act look hold for the students who drag trauma with them from class to class?

How does one make it without one’s #1 Cheerleader?

An Honor

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See this beautiful guy?  He’s an Inupiaq hunter, retelling his success on the ice.  He drums and sings in a sing-song voice, calling, chanting.  Perhaps it is a seal he’s followed or maybe a walrus.  Regardless, he’s already been successful.  If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be masked up and drumming;  he’d be out hunting.

Thursday night I joined four other amazing teachers from my district to be honored by British Petroleum as Teachers of Excellence.  The energy company (since of course, it isn’t just oil now) honors teachers each year and has for over 20 years.  The honorees receive $500 for their school, $500 for themselves, and a free college class about natural resources in Alaska.  One teacher is chosen as Teacher of the Year and is given $1000 for continuing education.

It was an interesting process.  First, a teacher is nominated by folk (I suspect the more, the merrier) and then invited to complete an interview form.  I’ve heard of teachers balking at that step and I suspect there are plenty that decide not to continue.  You know why?  It’s HARD for teachers to talk about all the great things they do!  For real, we are just doing our job.  The memes, “I don’t mean to brag but I totally _____” and the blank is something pretty easy and normal come to mind with I think about this.  It’s just what good teachers do!

My daughter told me later that the district should make a school of only BP Teachers because everyone’s classroom sounded so amazing.  Rightly so!  I want to be in their classrooms, too!  Congratulations Carlyn Nichols, Will Chevernek, Jen Booz, and Staci Wells!  Please brag about what goes on in your classrooms and come alongside other teachers so that every teacher in our schools knows how to be a teacher of excellence.

We had a day’s notice to have some words prepared if we were named the Teacher of the Year.  I ended up writing mine on the back of a parking receipt in addition to the words a student gave me to say:  Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!  It’s what I do, involve students.  (The Potterheads in the crowd chuckled when I did actually say them last night.)

Being a teacher of excellence doesn’t come without a support network of excellence.  Thank you to my students and parents, community and colleagues, district and PLN.

I joked with my husband later about now being beholden to BP but that isn’t correct.  If anything, I’m bound to teachers and helping them all establish excellence in their classrooms. Like my soapstone hunter, it’s time to dance it out because I have a story to share.

 

 

Fake Winter

What does a Texas girl do in the middle of the summer when the temperature soars to 100 degrees or more?  Makes a fake winter, of course.  All it takes is an A/C window unit and a good book that presents a setting far different than the sweltering sidewalk outside.

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From Wikipedia, this is actually from Winter 1881 that Wilder fictionalized in The Long Winter.  (Train, 2017)

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder was perfect for curling up underneath the air conditioner in the front room (my sisters and I would actually fight over that spot, the only cool spot in the house).  In the book, the teenage Laura and her family fight to stay warm during an excruciatingly bitter winter in the early 1880s.  Quite the opposite set up of me trying to stay cool in Texas summer.

Two images stay with me from that book.  First, it was so cold, the nailheads in the attic always had frost on them in the morning.  I can see little white circles in a line on the slanted roof!  What kind of winter causes that?  Brrrrr.  The other is a scene where Ma decides that to have fuel for the fire, they would twist hay into sticks.  And so they did…twist after twist after twist.  My poor Texas mind could not wrap around such a scarcity of fuel, nevermind the cold that would require it.

During my first graduate degree, I took a Children’s Literature class.  Pretty much the only thing I remember the instructor specifically say to me was about this book.  “You should read it as an adult,” she said.  Having lived on the North Slope of Alaska, now I do know what a long winter is like and yes, that book is a different read.  But it will always take me back to summers in Texas.

 

 

Humble Honor

I’m finishing up with a student and switching out with one of our amazing paraprofessionals when the secretary comes to the classroom and says, “Mike needs you now.” The tone was mildly urgent which is weird because usually it means something is up in the classroom I am fixing to leave.

Must be about testing, I think, more focused on the door being held wide open. We never have that door wide open.

At his office, he says, “Come on in, we have some questions about PBIS,” and it is obvious he has this set up for videoconferencing. Now I’m thinking, shoot, what do I know about this? (Well, lots. I love PBIS.)

It wasn’t about PBIS. Click the tweet to find out.

Necessity and Invention

My goal was to blog once a week about Genius Hour as we did it in class. I got one week. And I think there is a draft in here somewhere for week two. But then this poor blog falls fallow, like so many other years. Well, my new co-teacher is planning on blogging once a week and I am going to use her to keep me accountable.

Necessity: I am starting my third week out of the classroom, unplanned. A month ago, we rather suddenly discovered my husband has cancer. Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma (Clear Cell), if you care for the specifics. We have a big, big monster to slay so we’ve left Alaska and got him set up in Seattle for care there. Family first. I’m very thankful to my co-workers, school, and district for their agreement in that belief.

Invention: Now, I know many teachers do this all the time: deliver content online to students. And I am generally moving my few electives to blended-style courses that can be (mostly) accessed asynchronously. This week, though, I’m designing a series of lessons that my co-teacher will help deliver in person to our MS ELA class so that when I’m back in person, we keep carrying on. It’s a read-aloud. I love reading aloud to students. So why let a few thousand miles interfere with that?

Here’s a video I recorded for my class where one-take dorkiness abounds.

If you’re looking for a fun elementary/middle grade read aloud to do this Spring, look up The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown.

PS.  Some friends set up a social media campaign of encouragement for us in this cancer journey; check out #stadingstrong on Facebook, IG, and some on Twitter.

Math Teacher?

I am not a math teacher, am I? I’m not trained to teach math except for the youngest of students. I’ve had no “math methods” or “How to teach teens Algebra” classes. Yet here I am, under the umbrella of special education, teaching teens with the intent of them taking Algebra next year.

It’s daunting. But when I want to throw my hands up, throw in the towel, throw out the baby, or just plain throw up from despair, I remind myself these things:

1. I know how to do math.
2. I know how to find good math resources.
3. I know how to follow the lesson plans that come with those good resources.

But most importantly…

4. I know how to individualize instruction.

And, under the umbrella of special education (and the Academic Freedom clause of my contract), I can do as I need with “grades” and focus instead on learning. They are going to be stronger in math in May than we were in August.

We’ve got this.