A fence, a 9th grader, and pride!

Email: (from a HS Math teacher to the 2nd grade teacher and myself) 

Thought I would brighten your mornings with part of a reflection from a kid who has said all year how he hates school and finds every subject boring… “That I got to make my own fences…It felt really good and I felt proud of my self”

Apart from making my day/week, this little snippet has been playing on my mind. 

The 9th grade student who shared this reflection has been working with his class and the 2nd graders to design and build a picket fence. It is going to run along the perimeter of the Grade 2 kitchen garden. The 9th graders are working on Geometry, design, cost analysis and construction. The 2nd graders are working on perimeter and area, volume (of water when watering the plants), measurement (as the plants grow) and graphing (all the data they gather during the growing). The Art teacher will use the fence as a canvas for the Grade 2 students to decorate, illuminate, illustrate. I’m taking part as the Woodworking teacher, utilising the skills I learned in high school (and have refined ever since) to help build the fence.

That this 9th grader should highlight the building of a fence as a source of pride is funny on one level, and deeply significant on another.

“Why?” Is the question I am asking myself! What is it about this activity that has resonated for this student in a way that (seemingly) nothing else has?

Is it the fact that he/she is building something? Is it the sense of accomplishment having designed the fence, cut up the timber to create the pieces, drilled the holes and assembled it all? Is it that he/she is working with the 2nd graders and contributing to their learning? Is it that he/she is not sitting at a desk staring at a whiteboard of death by Google Slides? Is it that he/she is getting dirty, getting splinters, risking the amputation of fingers in the power tools, wearing safety goggles and generally making a lot of noise and banging things with big hammers? Is it none of this? Or is it all of this?

Or is it because this is different to what he/she has sat through every day, in every class since August 15 last year?

I intend to find out.

Because once I know, I will let his/her teachers know. And then, they can try to use that piece of information to change the way they teach him/her so that every day, he/she can reflect that his/her learning felt great and that he/she felt proud.

If our students cannot honestly share a reflection like this every day then we need to be doing a better job! Our students should not be coming to school to be bored!


Who are your “Smileys”?

Miley and Dad

Today is Miley Cyrus’ birthday. She turns 23 today. Interestingly, her birth certificate reads Destiny Hope Cyrus, with “Miley” coming from her dad calling her “Smiley” because she smiled a lot as a little ‘un. Dolly Parton is her Godmother! As she grew up, she attended Heritage Elementary School, in Williamson County, Tennessee, USA. I took a moment to look up their website and find out a little more about the Heritage Elementary School.

As a third grader at Heritage Elementary School, Miley had a music teacher who had a variety of standards he/she was compelled to lead her through. They included the following two…

3.MU.1.1.3 Sing a melody with accurate rhythm, pitch (solfege and/or lyrics), dynamics and tempo. 
3.MU.7.2.3 Demonstrate appropriate audience behaviour in a formal performance setting (live or recorded)

If you were up late for the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards (or awake for the following week or two), then you would appreciate that maybe there should have been a standard in the third grade curriculum relating to appropriate behaviour of performers! Regardless, like we all have/had, there is a “Miley Cyrus’ Dad” (that’s him in the photo above, playing guitar for Miley). He just happens to be another somewhat familiar name – Billy Ray Cyrus – famous for his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart”, for his mullet hairstyle and for the worldwide uptake of line dancing. Yes even Australia noticed, and in 1994 I taught my class of third graders to line dance – an episode of my teaching career I would rather forget!

But as a dad, he probably received a report card for his daughter, from the teachers of 3rd grade at Heritage Elementary School, about his daughter. I wonder what the music teacher wrote? How was that PTC? I wonder what the music teacher shares about that time now? And, who will we be telling stories about in 15 years time? And for what? Will they be singers lighting up the stage, or doctors discovering a cure for something, or business men or women successfully businessing? Will they win a golfing major or conduct a philharmonic orchestra or write a Nobel prize for literature winning novel or take a Pulitzer prize winning photograph?

We don’t know, just like the third grade teacher of Heritage Elementary School didn’t know when he/she pondered the report card of MS Cyrus, wavering between a “Meeting” or “Exceeding” when grading singing with accurate pitch!

We do know however, that today we have an opportunity to inspire our students to become any of those things I have listed above. So take a moment to day to do that! The encouragement we give students, the compliments, the high expectations, our belief in them, our support of them, our smiles, our laughter, our trust in their efforts – it all adds up!


Cause a smile!

BeckOn one of my many subway journeys of the weekend, I was standing, people watching, by myself with my headphones (providing a Beck – Morning Phase soundtrack) and I happened to notice a young couple. She was sitting, looking up at him. He was standing, looking down to her. They were laughing. Talking. Whispering. Giggling. Oblivious to those around them. Obviously very happy to be in each other’s company. As the train arrived at a stop it was clear he was about to leave. There was some close whispering, more laughter and big smiles. He stepped off. She watched him go. She looked at the floor and played with her scarf.

Then she turned to look for him through the train window but was blocked by the solid wall of the station doors. She returned to her scarf twisting.

Meanwhile, he had walked down to the next carriage door and peered in, searching for a final goodbye glance. Unfortunately there were too many commuters standing in the way and the doors closed on a disappointed smile. The train moved off.

I may have been the only person who noticed what had happened. They had both searched for that final goodbye glance but both missed. Neither of them knew. In that moment I wished I could tell them what had happened.

I watched her alight at the next station and noticed that her bright smile had faded. Just a little.

And this morning, I wondered if that’s not a little bit like parents sending their children off to school. We, as teachers, see their children doing amazing things. Little things. Big things. Things that don’t really matter. And things that really do. And too often we let those moments pass without letting anybody know. I am sure If I had stopped the young lady on the train and told her about how her friend had searched for her before he left, her smile would have lasted all day.

So, as you go about your important business this week of encouraging students to learn, and you have the privilege of witnessing little things, or big things, or things that really matter, please take a moment to share those moments. Share them with the student and then take a moment to send an email home sharing that little, big or important thing with parents.

Mother Theresa said it very well when she said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”


Doctors and Teachers and Old Tools

I spent a good three to four hours yesterday scouring the Seoul Folk Flea Market (an absolute must see – Sinseol-dong Metro, Exit 6) for that elusive treasure. That piece of yesteryear that someone had grown tired of, attached a price tag to and set out on a table for me to find. That thing that I didn’t know I needed until right then, as I stood looking down at it on the table.
As I searched the tables for that elusive treasure I was constantly amazed at what was out on show and up for sale. Musical instruments, old tools, gramophones, film projectors, fishing rods, shoe cleaners, sleds, bikes, spectacles, etc, etc, etc. If the Seoul Flea Market doesn’t have it, then it hasn’t been invented, used and forgotten!
rcspg_17thsep_2013_022Of all the tables of goodness, the one table I simply stood and gaped at was a table with baskets full of old surgical instruments. Being an appreciator of all things tool-like, this was a most interesting basket of interstingness. There were some things in that basket that I had no idea how they were once used. Some things that I could imagine what they might have been used for, and some things that would cause me to either faint or run a mile if I saw a doctor coming at me with them. And it got me thinking… Do they still use these surgical instruments? If they don’t, what do the new instruments look like? How did the doctor find out about the new instruments and what prompted them to drop the old ones and begin using the new ones? Did they receive training in how to use the new surgical instruments from someone, or was it trial and error (during a surgery!!!)? Was there a book? Was there a YouTube video (Heart Surgery Fails March 2014)? Or was it by word of mouth (doctors discussing their new equipment over beer and chicken!)?
Whatever way it happened, the tools changed, practices improved and now on a table at the Seoul Folk Flea Market there sits a basket full of old surgical instruments available for sale, ready for some D.I.Y. home surgery (who needs ten fingers anyway!)
Then reality returned with a bang and I found myself sitting in my office at school, planning and preparing for the upcoming professional development day. I was reading through article after article on best teaching practices. I was watching video after video of teachers in classrooms discussing best practices for student learning and I began to wonder… Do we, as teachers, have a basket of old instruments and tools sitting on a table, for sale in the flea market of old teaching tools? If we do, what do the contents of that basket look like? Or more pertinently, what do the new tools look like and where did we find out about them? Who showed us? Who convinced us they were “better”? Are some of us still using leeches? And if we are, then why?
If I go to the doctor today, I EXPECT the doctor to have all the latest tools, know all the latest techniques and use all the best surgical instruments – I mean, what is more important than my health!? I trust the doctor is taking time to keep abreast of the latest findings in the field of medicine and is applying that knowledge, understanding and skill when I am the patient. If she is going to pull out one of those surgical instruments and cut something off then I hope she is doing it using the latest and best techniques.
And it is the same when I send my daughter to school today! Shouldn’t I EXPECT teachers to be using the latest techniques and best practices – I mean, what is more important than my daughter’s education? I trust the teacher is taking time to keep abreast of the latest findings in the field of education and is applying that knowledge, understanding and skill when my daughter is the student. If the teacher is going to pull out one of those teaching techniques and teach my daughter something then I hope the teacher is doing it using the latest and best techniques.
We expect doctors to be up to date with the latest and best in their field, but not teachers. Why not? With all the social media, online training, videos and research databases available it is now easier than ever to keep up to date.
So I encourage you all spend a part of your day reading/watching/listening to someone who is presenting ideas on best practice/latest techniques/research based findings about learning/education/teaching. You can only get better!
Note: If you need ideas on where to start, feel free to drop me a line. Twitter is my single most valuable professional learning tool, second are podcasts, third are online journals and beyond that the world wide web is a revelation!


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