Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer Learning, Having a Blast!

After clawing our way to the end of the year, through the crush of last-minute activities and grades, we suddenly realize that we don't have to wake up early to get to school. It is a bit unnerving at first. We have been going 100 mph for nearly 200 days and now we can go 0 mph if we choose. It takes a few days to get our bearings because we are so used to the school schedule. But after a few days, our summer schedule emerges.

Getting away from school-related work is essential for balance. We have been so immersed in school for the past ten months that we are out of balance at the end of the year. We have to center ourselves and find other things that fulfill us. I constantly tell teachers that as soon as the school year is over, take a week of vacation or "stay"cation and do nothing school-related. We must put some distance between ourselves and our work for a while. That distance is essential for regeneration and recharging. The more time we stay away from school work, the more recharged we are when we return to school.

For many of us, there are books we've put off reading, places in town we've delayed visiting and vacations we have not taken. Summer is the time to do all of those things. Summer is the time to do a different kind of learning. The danger of not separating from school is real. I remember during my first two years teaching in my current district, I also taught summer school. The schedule gave me two weeks of summer vacation at best. I entered the new year beaten down, fatigued and listless. Those were difficult years. I did not benefit from that experience and my students paid the price because I was not at my best during those years.

I realize now that the time away from school is as important as the time in school. I still learn and experience new things during the summer, and those things eventually make it back to my classroom, but the learning is for personal fulfillment. After all, you cannot take care of others unless you take care of yourself. Summer is the time to take care of yourself, to relax and recharge, to dream and wonder, to have those "a-ha" moments while reading in the yard and to watch the ocean and realize the magnitude of the world in which we live. Summer fulfills our spirit and allows us to approach the new year invigorated, motivated and more driven than ever.

So many times during the summer, I've come across an idea that seems unrelated to school but winds up in class the next year. All learning is essential and all experiences shape who we are. I want to be a well-rounded role model for my kiddos. I want them to see that there is joy and learning everywhere. It will shape who they are as it shapes who we are as teachers. There is so much learning that occurs outside of school and we owe it to ourselves to use our summers to experience that learning.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Time Capsules

As one of the last projects of the year, we have our seventh graders put together time capsules. Each of the kiddos brings in a shoe box and fills it with pictures, notes and other items that represent their interests and accomplishments. We have a few papers for them to fill out like "The Best of Harmony Team" or a "Most Likely To..." sheet so that they can remember how they felt about each other when they finally open up the capsule. One item that is required to be in the box is a letter from their parents. We ask that the letters be sealed in an envelope and that the parents do NOT allow the kids to see the letter. When all of the shoe boxes are packed and taped, we put them all in a refrigerator box and store them away.

When the kids are seniors in high school, we ask them to come back the week before graduation to open up the time capsules. Earlier this week, about thirty high school seniors streamed through our doors to visit, looked for their time capsule and visited with friends who they may not have seen in five years. It is a beautiful sight to see. These kids, on the brink of adulthood, reminisce about their time as early adolescents. They talk, they laugh and they appreciate how quickly time has flown by. Some kids go right for the parent letter and some put it aside to read later at home. Often when the kids read the letter from their parents, the tears begin to flow.

The time capsule project is one of the most rewarding projects that we do. It is one of the things that really solidifies the bonds between all of us. It is a shared experience and it is a good one.

Some of the seniors who returned for their time capsules.

A few of the kiddos paging through time capsule items.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Collaboration not Competition

We often hear those in politics and the media talk about education in business terms. They talk about the virtues of competition making schools, teachers and students better. Competition, after all, is market-driven and the market solves everything.

Never has anything been more wrongheaded. Schools are not businesses. Schools do not thrive on competition. Schools thrive on collaboration. Teachers and students thrive on collaboration. Through collaboration, everyone gets better. We must do our best to reject the intellectually bankrupt idea that schools will be successful if we make them "competitive" and reward financially only those schools who perform well according to arbitrary criteria that we create.

Teachers know that we are better when we work together toward a common goal. We know that students benefit from the best of all of us, not the best of one or two of us. There are teachers in my building who do many things way better than I do. Why would I NOT enlist their expertise when a kid needs it? Should I be competitive and say, "No, you cannot access that teacher's expertise. You are MY student!" Lord, no! I do not want to limit my kids' learning because of my own shortcomings as a teacher or person. I want the kiddos to be able to access the best of everyone in the building.

Often we write grants for technology and materials. We are fortunate to have a supportive community that helps fund our grants. When we get something new, the first thing that we do is tell everyone else, "This is ours, all of ours. If you need it, use it." I know that in some places, teachers hoard new things that they get for their classrooms, preserving it only for THEIR students. But really, aren't all of the kids in the school THEIR students? Of course they are.

The 3D printer that we got on a grant three months ago has been a hit. Since we got a case of filament cartridges last week on another grant, we are in good shape. Lately, kids from other teams in the school have been coming down to use the printer. Our kids use it too, but we don't limit the use to only our team kids. After all, we feel that every student in the school is one of OUR students.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher from a district elementary school asked to use the 3D printer for some of his kids' projects. We replied, "As soon as our new filament comes in, bring those kids over!" This coming week, those elementary kids are coming over to use the 3D printer. It will be a lot of fun watching those kids as their ideas are brought to life in all of their 3D glory. We could have hoarded the supplies and technology for our classrooms only, but that is not what teachers and schools are all about. We are about collaboration and cooperation and the learning of ALL children. Maybe business should take a lesson from US!