“This” Population

I’m so sick of hearing teachers say, “That (approach, program, lesson) won’t work for ‘this’ population.”  I get it, guys.  You teach kids who come from poverty.  Kids who don’t have enough to eat.  Who don’t have good home lives.  They might not even have homes.  Kids who might have family members in jail, or in gangs.  Kids whose parents are so busy working, there is no family time.  Kids who probably don’t choose to read on a daily basis.  I get it.  I’ve taught those kids, too.  And I’ve struggled.  I left one school in tears almost every day for a whole year because it was so frustrating.

But that doesn’t mean I dumbed down my instruction.  Or rejected a student-centered approach.  I’ve seen this happen way too many times.  Teachers give students fill-in-the-blank worksheets because “that’s all these kids can handle.” Or they ask kids to all write to the same prompt because “they can’t think of their own topics.”  Or kids spend hours on rote learning because they “don’t know how to do anything else.”  You know, “this” population. It’s all they’re capable of.

No, no and no. “This” population might need more scaffolding.  Or more time to gain trust.  More building of background knowledge.  They certainly don’t need to be turned away from an approach that will make them more independent.  They don’t need cookie-cutter assignments or busy-work.  They need to be challenged.  They need to be taught to set goals and to work in groups and to solve problems.  They need lots of time-on-text to practice reading.  They need to work on self-selected writing pieces.  Just like any other population.

The next time you’re tempted to say your students can’t do it because they’re from “this” population, I want you to think about one thing.  Any principal, any administrator, any staff developer, any educator could say that about you, for whatever reason.  ”Oh, these teachers.  They’re from ‘this’ population. They probably won’t get it.”

And wouldn’t that feel like a giant slap in the face?

I Love Mistakes

I love my job.  It’s different every day.  I get to meet new people all the time.  It’s creative.  I travel to places I probably wouldn’t go otherwise.  So what’s not to love?  The fact that I don’t feel free to make mistakes.  As a teacher I loved experimenting with new lessons or new ways to talk to kids.  I wasn’t afraid of “failure” because most of the time nobody was watching.  And kids are very forgiving.  (Either that or they don’t notice when a lesson is a dud.)

But as a staff developer, I feel like I always have to be “on.”  Always have to be the expert.  So I stick to tried and true approaches.  No-fail lessons.  This year, though, I vowed to change that.  I decided that I would try new things.  Yes, while teachers and coaches and principals and superintendents watched.  I decided to try new ways of being with kids.  I let kids “perform” poetry before rehearsing.  I let students run minilessons.  I allowed kids to share their interpretations of text without making sure they saw “what the author really meant.”

And guess what?  I learned.  I learned that little kids can make music in the moment and don’t always need to practice for their peers.  I learned that a kid’s version of a minilesson is very different than mine, but that my new goal is to get kids to teach minilessons at least once a week.  And I learned that there are very interesting ways to interpret any text, if we just give kids a chance to explain their thinking and don’t butt in with ours.

I also learned that I don’t always have to be the expert.  And that’s very freeing.


Dear Administrators

While the rest of the academic world is caught up in end-of-the-year craziness, you are busy getting ready for September.  Your mind is likely full of ways to change your practice for next school year.  Wouldn’t it be great if one of your ideas included a new way to collect lesson plans from your teachers?

I have to say, I was never obligated to turn in lesson plans.  And I was never the greatest of planners.  I’m good at responding in the moment, though, and very reflective.  That’s why I balk when I see some of the lesson plans that teachers are required to hand in.  Lesson plans with many, many boxes to fill out.  Plans that require alignment with The Common Core.  Lesson plans that ask teachers how they’ll assess learning, how they’ll keep kids engaged, how they’ll differentiate and scaffold and link to other subject areas.  If you ask me, it’s a little too much.  Yes, I know, you have to make sure that teachers are on task.  But is a lesson plan really the way to check that?  YOU know who’s on task and who isn’t. And a lesson plan, no matter how many boxes, won’t change the ises or the isn’ts.

So here’s an idea: give teachers other options for sharing their teaching with you.  One of my favorite principals, Marc Biunno, of McKinley School in Westfield, NJ offers this to his teachers, in addition to the usual, fill-in-the-boxes:

You will have several choices for how you may submit lesson plans to me:

  • You may collect a copy of one student’s work in a folder for two weeks.  At the end of the two weeks, rather than submitting lesson plans, you will submit the student’s work folder (grades and all).  I will review the work that the student has completed and provide you with feedback.
  • You may schedule a planning meeting with me to review and discuss your plans for the next two weeks.  This option allows you to tailor your feedback, start a conversation, seek support, or just talk through your thoughts.  It’s also an effective way for me to get to know you as a teacher.

So why not, principals?  Wouldn’t you rather spend your time looking at student work or meeting face-face with your teachers when it concerns instruction?  All those little boxes might not mean anything anyway.  Teachers can (and do) cut and paste from year to year and who can blame them?


Getting Your Man Card Reissued

Hey, guys who are out at Wal-Mart stocking up on Bushmasters so that you can get your Man Card Reissued, here are some other ways you might think to get your human being card instead.

1.  Be a Big Brother.  Be a mentor to a kid in need.

2. Help your mom fix something around the house.

3. Do something nice for your wife or girlfriend.

4.  Do something creative like write, or draw or dance, or make music.

5. Make somebody laugh.

6. Do some heavy lifting for an old lady who can’t do it herself.

7. Clean the house.


9. Think of somebody other than yourself.

10. Turn in your gun and find some peace in your heart.

Top Eight Reasons Teachers Should Not Be Armed

It’s hard to believe this debate is going on right now.  Unthinkable.  Here’s why.

1. Hm, let’s see…teachers are now armed…where’s the gun?  (Can’t you just see some crazy person–disgruntled teenager, angry intruder, whoever, trying to figure this one out and succeeding?)

2.  All our professional development time and money would be spent on the shooting range instead of on The Common Core.

3.  Schools are notorious for having stuff that breaks and takes months to get fixed.  What happens if the lock on your gun cabinet gets broken?  Where do you store the gun?  In the art cubbies?

4. People who own guns tend to USE them.  Seriously, a couple bad write-ups could send any one of us over the edge.

5.  Guns are very inconvenient.  Think how you’d feel strapping one on over the leggings and trying to conceal it from 5 year-olds who are always patting, touching, and grabbing.

6. I would never feel safe carrying a gun, would you?  I’d be so worried I’d shoot myself in the thigh or other important body part, that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.

7. I wouldn’t feel safe having a gun in my classroom.  Kids are really good at finding things you don’t want them to have.

8. Teachers have enough to think about, without having to carry a loaded weapon. You’re already spending a ton of extra time on anti-bullying, drug awareness, AIDS education, etc., etc., etc.  What’s next?  Gun Safety for the Elementary School?

Let’s get real.  We’re trained to educate and to be good role models for kids and society in general.  Please don’t ask us to carry guns.