Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Portfolio

Day 21 of 30 Day Blog Challenge

So for the past 12 days I have neglected my blog and my blog challenge. I can make excuses, or I can fix the problem. I will fix the problem. I have been a slacker, and it is time to move forward.

Tonight I had a student share her 5/6 portfolio with her parents, sister, and myself. Click here to see Gabby's portfolio. After her 45 minute presentation about her growth over the past two years as a student, her father said, "Wow, I wish I had people that I am hiring doing things like this."

YES! Gabby's father continued to share with me how he is in the process of hiring a new banker at his bank, but all he has to go off is a paper resume and some references. I told him that he and his partners better change their hiring practices or they will become irrelevant. He agreed. He asked why kids aren't keeping portfolios like Gabby's from early on, and beyond college?

I explained to Gabby's father that we need to help kids create the first steps of their digital foot print, and what a great way to kick it off! Watching my students compose and create their websites over the past three weeks has been amazing for me as a teacher. I have seen all four C's along the process. Please check out some of my other students work over the past two years.

http://dvonsportfolio.weebly.com/

http://sarah5th6thgradeportfolio.weebly.com/index.html

http://bens5th6thgradeportfolio.weebly.com/

http://noahsportfolio5th6th.weebly.com/

http://suzys5th6thgradeportfolio.weebly.com/index.html

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Conversation

Day 20 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

How often do you truly have conversation with your students or kids? We might talk about school, or we talk about curriculum topics. This morning I spent the first 15 minutes of math discussing family vacations. I asked my kids what they were doing this summer. I wanted to know where and what they were doing. Many could not wait to share the trips their families have planned. After talking about our summer plans, I asked this question, "What did you get for number one?" Silence.

Too often we get wrapped up in the curriculum, three R's, standardized tests, etc in education and we forget the part I think is the most important, social growth. Here is a question for all of you to ponder; have you ever met a person who is brilliant, but can't hold a two minute conversation with a living being? I have. I often start the day by asking my students what they had for dinner last night. We have an open dialogue about non school topics. I see how these conversations overlap into our school related conversations. The students find their voice and are more confident to talk about school related topics after they have spoken with the class about topics they are experts on.

Take the time to talk to kids about what they want to talk about. Too often adults steer the conversations. Let the children be the leaders. You will probably learn something in the process. I do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Confrontation

Day 19 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

When is it right or a must to call out the elephant in the room? Meetings are a place to make things happen and celebrate success. Too often I sit in meetings and no one, (including myself) is willing to say what is on their mind for fear that they will upset the apple cart. I sit in unproductive meetings more and more. We decide not to talk about the major issues that may cause distress and argument, and instead talk about such minuet topics in order to keep everyone happy. Sunday I read this blog (click here).

The takeaway point for me was: "Start with the bad stuff, give room for creative tension, and make something happen." I truly feel that as educators we side step the confrontational topics, points, and instances so that we do not hurt each other's feelings. Confrontation is not always bad. At times, confrontation can get to the root of the problem. It allows for all parties to represent their true voice and make changes for the better.

So how do we change this status quo approach? I believe there are two ways. First, speak your voice and do not fear the repercussions. Stay true to your beliefs and try and be strong with your words, but most importantly with your actions. The second would be to listen to your peers. Actively listen to their message. Internalize their words and apply it to your practice. After you have experienced what a coworker is talking about, then you can cast your opinions or beliefs upon them. Too often people say or preach that someone is wrong in their practice or action, and they have not even experienced or witnessed what they are talking about. You need to live your opinions before you can form them.

Confrontation can be an opportunity for growth, it is just how you go about it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reaching Out

Day 18 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

When was the last time you reached out to someone? A friend, a family member, a parent, a student, when was the last time? I will be reaching out more than I ever have over the next year as a teacher. I will be teaching fourth grade next year. I have taught fifth and sixth grade for all eight years of my career. Next year will be a different scene for me. I will have four new team members. I reached out to them today. I sent them an email to explain to them how excited I am to be a member of their team and I am looking forward to a new journey with them. Over the course of the next school year, I will need their help with my transition to a new grade level. I only hope that they reach out to me to help them in areas of need.

Reaching out to people is essential for growth as a leader. Do people always grab that hand and accept your help? No. Is that a reason not to reach out? No. There have been many people I have reached out to professionally over the past eight years. Not everyone accepts my offers, and I have learned over time not to take it personal. People are not always going to respond to my offers. That is ok. By continually thinking of other professionals when an idea or new concept comes to me, I am showing the intended person that I do care about them and their growth as a professional. Next time you think a colleague won't respond to your ideas or initiatives, reach out to them anyway.

You can't over extend help and caring for another person's well being. Reach out and help people see their potential, that is the sign of a true leader.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Coffee On The Paper


Day 17 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:
I woke up this morning, had a cup of Jet Fuel Coffee, walked out to the mailbox, grabbed my copy of the New York Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Today's Journal Sentinel held my beliefs true. I read the following article, "Walk-throughs give school administrators firsthand view of staff in action." I almost spit my coffee out. What a joke! Please read this article before you read the rest of this blog. 
Ten minutes out of an entire school year reflects that you are in tune with district initiates as a teacher? Gross. I sat with friends from the private sector Friday night in my basement. They argued that the current system of education fell upon the teachers in this state not working to their potential. I understood their argument, but at the same time brought up three factors that they had never thought of. The first being parents. Where are our parents today in the current education landscape? How do they affect their child's future? Where are the administrators? Shouldn't these highly paid leaders be present and holding staff accountable on a daily basis? If 10 minutes of your time is all that is allowed for observation of a classroom, I see the fundamental flaw in public education. We expect administrators to make changes, yet according to this article, they only need 10 minutes a year to understand what is going on in a district, without giving feedback about what was observed.  As a teacher, do I need only 10 minutes to understand what is going on with my students? This is an outrage to me. As an aspiring administrator, I am appalled that someone would subject themselves to an article like this. Look at it in reality, this is not how the world functions. this is like saying the WKCE tests are a true indicator of student success. The third point being, where are the elected officials? Where is the school board? Why are they not holding the administrators, teachers, and parents accountable?
I have been observed as a educator once in eight years. The choice to be observed was by my own admission. This is what is wrong with schools. The teachers are not the root of all evil. School boards and administrators allow incompetence to happen just as much as teachers. I have seen many disservices to kids over the past eight years. I have voiced concern with the issues, yet it goes no where. As I argued with my friend who works in the private sector as a finanical planner, the problem is not only the teachers or union, the problem is elected school board members and administrators who decide to do nothing about the problem. 
The point of this blog is not to cast blame, but to open the eyes of those who think that teachers are worthless and the reason our state and schools are struggling. Lets look beyond the classroom and look at those who truly make the policy and decision as to how schools run. When we stop casting blame, and decide to work together, maybe we will progress. Untill then, we will continue to blame.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Creativity, Do We Allow It In Schools?

Day 16 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

I watch the Disney television show Phineas and Ferb now and again. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you watch an episode or two. This children's television show screams creativity. It promotes pursuing your passions in a creative manner. This animated series involves two brothers, Phineas and Ferb, and their daily adventures during summer vacation. I find it quite ironic that the two boys explore their passions in the summer, and not during the school year. Actually, it does not surprise me.

Why do we make kids color within the lines? I am as guilty as any teacher or parent when it comes to this rule we have established. Creativity is finding your voice artistically. Who am I to say that because you color outside of the lines, you should be downgraded? Really? We set the precedence at an early age with kids that they must conform to specific guidelines when it comes to expressing creativity. By taking away a child's self expression and interpretation of themselves, are we creating robots?

The most annoying thing my students say I do is respond to their questions with a standard response, "I don't know?" I respond to them this way because they know the answer. They just haven't found it yet. Kids ask me all the time how they should present a project, or how a project should look. This bothers me. They are not expressing themselves if I am the one who is curbing their creativity. I can create or show an example of how I want something to look for my students. Guess what? All 26 projects submitted to me look, feel, and sound the same. When guidelines are lifted, the end results are magnificent. The learning is then extended. Kids start asking each other questions like: Wow, how did you do that? Can you show me how to do that? Instances like these allow for creativity in school.

This school year my students have embraced blogging. I truly believe it is because I allow them to write about whatever they want. I do assign topics for blogs from time to time based on class discussion, but the format allows for each individual to creatively express their thoughts and beliefs. The writing that has taken place this past year is by far the most creative and in-depth I have seen over the past eight years. The grammar and structure of the writing is the best I have seen. I asked my class last week why their writing is so much better this year than it was last year. Their overwhelming response, "You let us write about what we want to write about."

Creativity in school should not be limited to art projects. It should be allowed to flourish in all subjects. Creativity is essential for student engagement, and success in the 21st Century. So in the words of Phineas and Ferb, "I know what we are going to do today!"

So do your students, let them be creative.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Decision Making

Day 15 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:
Making a decision is either a difficult task or easy task for a person, depending upon their personality, and confidence level. For me, I need to think about something for awhile, before I go ahead and make up my mind on how to proceed. Friends and family of mine are the opposite. They make snap decisions without thinking through the ramifications of that decision. Are either methods right? I'm not sure.
When school leaders and policy makers have to make decisions, I often wonder where they are coming from. Is a school board member’s decision on a tax levy increase in the interest of the students of that particular district, or is in the interest of the taxpayer and their tax burden? That is a hard decision, and one that should be looked at from both sides. When an administrator decides to move a teacher from one grade level team to another, are they making the decision based on adult need or student need? When a teacher decides to allow a student to progress to the next grade level when it is clear they should not, but allow them to because it might make the teacher look bad, or upset the parent, is this right?
Decisions are made throughout the day in everyone’s lives. I feel that a good decision maker in a school setting is someone who:
  1. Looks at all sides of a story, policy, scenario
  2. Gets input from stake holders
  3. Ultimately makes the decision based on what is best for kids
By making decisions in education based on these three components, decision makers will make decisions that are difficult, and unpopular, but the end result will lead to a better learning experience for children. Is that not the ultimate goal of education?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Invitations

Day 15 of 30 Day Blog Post:

Ok PLN, what do you do when you extend an invitation and no one responds? Today I took part in a building level presentation. I shared my journey as an innovative educator for the last year, and I invited the staff to join me. No responses as of yet. I might be writing this blog premature, and people will come out of the woodwork eventually. I am being optimistic.

When does the role of a teacher trying to help a district move forward become the role of the administrator to make it happen? I am an aspiring administrator. I have applied for over 12 positions this Spring. I have interviewed, and I get the common response, " Not enough experience." What does that mean? Experience not moving people forward, and continuing the status quo?

I am tired of trying to help people see their potential, and being vilified because I am a cohort, and not their superior making it happen. When will the world of education from top down make a difference? Teachers hold their students accountable daily, why don't school boards hold administrators accountable, and administrators hold their teachers accountable? In my opinion, this is why education does not move forward.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Standardization or Innovation?

Day 14 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

"Standardization is the antithesis of innovation." This was a quote I came across Monday as I was following the #140confdm on twitter. This quote stood out to me Monday afternoon. Little did I know that it would be the basis for the school board meeting I attended that evening?

From my post yesterday, I talked about a presentation my Vertical Project Based Learning Team did for our school board. The highlights of the presentation touched upon student and teacher communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The team is the opposite of standardization. The artifacts of student work and exploration from over the past 10 months screamed different, innovative, real life, true learning! I had a feeling of true accomplishment and success for both my students and team.

After some discussion, our curriculum director gave a presentation on the districts performance on the WKCE test administered each fall in public school districts around the state. My following reflections and thoughts are not aimed toward our curriculum director in any way. It is his job to report the districts progress and outcomes as far as testing takes place. What I am going to share reflects my own opinions and beliefs about standardized testing and standardized basic curriculum.

My district does well, really well on standardized testing. We are one of the top districts in the state. What does that mean? To teachers and students it doesn’t mean much. Teachers know and understand that it is a snapshot of one day in a child's life. I have a hard time sitting through a presentation that highlights how well our district does on this test, after a presentation was just completed on innovation and creativity. Why does the general public put so much emphasis and credence into standardized test? Why do they work to push away innovation?

I don't care if you are conservative or liberal; the most successful people in this country’s history have been innovators. They didn't continue to do the same thing over and over again with the belief that the end result would change. From Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, they continually reinvented themselves and their product so that it was relevant to the era they lived in. Why in education do we continually fall back on the "basics"? Where has it gotten us as a country in the world of education? With continued support by elected officials from both parties, we are being told as school districts to teach to the test even more. We have high scores, but we have kids who are becoming google machines. They are full of dates, times, and other facts that can be found within the matter of minutes on a basic google search. Wouldn't you rather have a child be a problem solver and connected to the world they live in that can be the next Steve Jobs? Don't you want a child that can communicate with all types of people and creatively produce a product for their world? Teaching to the test, and delivering curriculum as the all knowing giver of knowledge is not the path to helping today's generation build for their future.

I am fortunate to have the support of my fellow teachers, administration, and a number of school board members when it comes to these beliefs. Most importantly, I have the support of my students. They care about school and they are always pushing my thoughts and actions. They are the true innovators.

Voice

Day 13 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

Voice-personality, flare, style, who you are. All people have a voice. Some people have stronger voices than others. Some struggle to have their voice heard, others speak too much, and their voice is distorted with misinformation, grey facts, or personal gain. A person's voice is a good indicator of who they really are. Sharing your voice in an educational setting is essential to maintaining transparency and growth.

Tonight a group of teachers that I have worked closely with for the past 10 months presented to our school board about 21st Century Learning and Project Based Learning. We shared our voice as a team and our students voices about the journey we have been a part of this past school year. Our voices portrayed who we really are as educators, our flare for innovation, style, and personalities. I was very proud of my team tonight. I can honestly say, we share a voice, a voice of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. 

I spoke on three other topics at our school board meeting tonight. It got me to thinking, can you have too much voice? Why am I speaking this much at a school board meeting? I am only a teacher in the district, should I step back and assess this situation? Can you be involved too much? 

I find myself signing up, campaigning, and volunteering for committees, workgroups, presentations, etc in my district. I see the potential that is available for growth and prosperity, and I cannot let it pass me by. I want to be apart of it, and I believe I have a lot to offer to the process. Does my voice mean less the more I am involved, or does it create a stronger voice? 

Sometimes I feel like I need to step back from the roles I play in my district. Is my voice being heard, or have I become one of those people I mentioned earlier in this post?

 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks Mom

Day 12 of 30 Day Blog Challenge

Thanks Mom. Today and everyday for the past 31 years you have guided me to push beyond my limits. I have not agreed with you 100% of the time, but that is why I have become the person I am today. You are the ultimate teacher. You have instilled in me a sense of determination and relentless pursuit of the ultimate goal.

As I look at myself as a teacher, I think of the lessons you have taught me throughout my life. Without these lessons, where and who would I be? A college degree and masters cannot replace the who you have made me. Thanks mom, you are a true teacher.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Change

Day 11 of 30 Day Blog Challenge: A Short One

As I get close to wrapping up another fabulous school year, I have recently been internalizing change. Change is a hard concept for everyone to encompass. Change can range from new shoes to  a new life. How do we help people understand change? As I finish a school year with my kids I have had for two years, I get emotional. Yes, I do! After forging a relationship with them for two years, I worry about their movement to a new grade level and life. They will be successful, and I need to let my students leave the nest. Hopefully, I have instilled a voice and passion in them to be leaders, and stand up to the status quo.

Change to me is a fundamental principal in life. In order to grow as a person you need to embrace change. People I know that do not embrace change have become stagnant, irrelevant, and part of the problem. My challenge to all of you is, stop the excuses and embrace change by being a positive factor in the process.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Get Out Of The Way Mr. Reuter

Day 10 of 30 Day Blog Challenge

Today Sarah Kasprowicz, a fellow 6th grade teacher and I introduced weebly to our kids. We are attempting to have our kids create their own websites to show their growth over the past two years of looping with the two of us. We each did a mini lesson on what a portfolio encompasses, and how to set up a weebly webpage. Guess what? We got in the kid's way!

Sarah helped the students brainstorm ideas and concepts that could fall under their five tabs on their website: Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Media, and Information Fluency. I helped the students with the mechanics of creating a webpage and digital etiquette of sustaining a webpage. About five minutes into the lesson, I realized I was irrelevant. I had two girls who knew much more than I do about creating a webpage, and they took over the class. I let them guide the lesson, and I became their assistant. Jessica and Taylor created a learning environment that flourished via a student led forum.

After about a half hour, and feeling like the outsider, I sat back and smiled. Wow, my job is great. I got to learn with and from my students. My classroom today was a true 21st Century Classroom. Thank you Taylor and Jessica for taking the bull by the horns and pushing me out of the way. You were the experts today!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Excuses

Day 9 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:

My high school football coach use to say to my team, "Excuse are like (insert 8 letter word), everyone has one!" He was and is right. Why do we spend so much time coming up with reasons we CAN'T do something, instead of coming up with reason WHY we can do something? 

In my opinion we spend too much energy on ways we can get out of a task or requirement. We exert so much effort to derail or avoid situations that might be scary or unstable. If that energy was used to find solutions to problems, or create an environment of positive thinking and actions, could you imagine the never ending success each of us would have?

In an earlier blog post, I talked about new socks and how you need to replace the old with the new. Excuses play a similar role in education. Educators look to cover their fears with excuses in order to buy time and hope people pressuring them will go away. Excuses are stall tactics and need to be eliminated in order to grow as a professional, school, and community. 

My friend and colleague, Lisa Morowski, has created a google doc that is entitled, Instead Of. In this doc she has created opportunities for educators to suppress their excuses with viable solutions for success and student engagement. You have to give a person like Lisa credit. She created a "I'm not taking no for an answer" guide book. We need more educators like her. People who are willing to stand up to excuses and face them head on to help people change their tune from reasons they CAN'T to reasons they CAN. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Communication=Relationships

Day 8 of 30 Day Blog Challenge:
What form of communication do you prefer? Face to face, phone, text, tweet, wiki, blog, email, Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, other? Seriously, there are so many forms of communication available to people today, yet communication seems to be a never ending battle to find the perfect solution for all parties. 
I have been trying this past school year to be a better communicator to my students, parents, coworkers, and the general public. I find all of these avenues of communication exhausting. I could use all of the aforementioned means of communication, and they might not be enough to reach all parties. What is the key to communication? Is it the form you use, or is it to be consistent in your methods and build a relationship with the party you are communicating with?
I have seen people I work with try every form of communication and continually fail at it. There is something always missing with these people when they try to communicate, they haven’t created a positive relationship with the other party. Is part of effective communication the building of a relationship first? 
Do we purposely tune out the other party if we do not trust, like, or respect them? I see this daily. People who do not respect each other tune out important information, and then say they never knew about what is going on. We have all experienced this with friends and loved ones. When we fight or argue, the line of communication is broken, and the parties have no idea what they are in disagreement about. 
To me, positive communication starts with positive relationships. Respect and trust play hand in hand with creating an environment of two way communication that is beneficial to all. If you want people to listen to your message, beliefs, or information, gain their trust and confidence, and they will reciprocate. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teachable Moment via Bin Laden

Day 7 of 30 Day Blog Challenge
I started back at school Monday after a refreshing Spring Break. What a great day to start back. After President Obama’s speech Sunday night about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I knew I had to scrap everything I was doing in class Monday, and discuss and reflect on this teachable moment. I gathered resources via my twitter feeds and put together a few ideas. Many of my students filled the classroom with chatter about what they had heard from their parents or what they had seen that morning on the local news. A group of kids asked me if I had seen any of President Obama’s speech, or the video footage of Bin Laden’s compound. We discussed the various findings all of us had encountered within the last 12 hours and further investigated via the internet. We found video clips from different media outlets, interactive timelines of Bin Laden’s life, and numerous articles.
Here is what my students gathered from the information they collected.
1.       They were glad he was killed and that some justice has been brought to all of his victims.
2.       A few of them right away questioned the legitimacy of his death and asked why his body was buried at sea. Conspiricay?
3.       What will happen next? Will there be a terrorist attack on the U.S. because of this?
These are pretty interesting reflections for kids who were only two years old when the horrific events of September 11th occurred. I am happy that I spent time on this historical day, and let my students share their thoughts, insights, and beliefs. As a culmination to our discussion, the kids’ blogged about Bin Laden and what they thought of his death.
Sometimes lesson plans need to be scrapped for matters that are more important, and relevant to the lives of students. The path of learning is not a straight line of dates, numbers, and grammar rules. Learning is the variable of which the world offers you. I can honestly say my students learned more today from the events that took place Sunday night, than if we would have discussed compound predicates and the medieval social class.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Max, This One Is For You

Day 5 of the 30 Day Blog Challenge:

My buddy Max has been both a support system and a forum for argument over the last six months. Max is the Vice President of Ogden Development, in Neenah, WI. He has a conservative approach to life, and I appreciate it. Over the course of the past six months we have debated intensively about the economy, politics, and public education. There have been times when I completely disagree with him on certain topics (public education being one), but I respect his stance as a person working in the private sector. His family business is very prosperous and he has had a hand in that success. Max is always one of the first people to read my blog, and either call or text me about it. He gives me honest and fair feedback that I can internalize as I strive to be better.

Surrounding yourself as a professional with a variety of mindsets is important for growth. I have friends and coworkers that are like minded and we often have conversations that build upon our success. Seeing and hearing perspectives that are different than mine help keep me in the loop as to what the world outside of education is like and how I can build relationships with parents and community to create the common goal of success. Thank you Max for always pushing the envelope with me and being the prod in my side to make me reflect, so that I make the right decisions for my students. We don't always see eye to eye, but that is what keeps our friendship strong.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

28.5

Day 4 of the 30 Day Blog Challenge:

There are twenty eight and a half days of school left for my district as of tomorrow. Where did the school year go? It has been a very interesting year to say the least. It has been a year of turbulence at my school, but through the ups and downs, I have stayed true to my vision of what education should be for my students. This year has been a year of self directed, real word application, investigation, creativity, and voice for my students. It has been a year of finding my voice with administration, teachers, students, and community to ensure that we are moving forward, and not reverting to the safety of what we have always done.

Growth includes frustrations as well as celebrations. This year I have had my fair share of frustrations. I have experienced outlash from the community over new teaching practices and theory. I have felt push back from students who are regurgitating dinner table conversation. Frustrations have occurred from lack of urgency and follow through with coworkers who hope school stays the way it always has because it is safe that way. I have been frustrated financially as the state of Wisconsin has turned their back on the public sector and vilified teachers as the cause of financial strife in the state. These are frustrations, but they cannot hold me back from my vision and continued push to make education what it should be, relevant.

There have been many celebrations this year as well. I have a group of 26 kids for a second year. I have witnessed their growth both academically and socially since fifth grade. They no longer ask questions like, "How do I .....?" instead they come to me and say, "Mr. Reuter, I was thinking, we should investigate...." I can celebrate the fact that I have made so many connections globally. I have expanded my professional learning network two fold since this time last year. Daily, I have communications with some of the brightest minds in education, and I am grateful to all of these relationships I have forged.

So, 28.5 days left, so many days to still make a difference in my students, colleagues, and friends lives. I'll let you know how it turns out.