Relationships Relationships Relationships


All over teacher networks and blogs you see educators talking about the importance of relationships with the students we teach. This is great news, I truly believe that this is the way of the future, a future where students are allowed to be themselves and feel positive about school. What I do not fully understand is how vague this “relationship” idea is. We all have relationships with our students, they are our students after all. But what makes a relationship “good”, or even better, what makes a relationship that is a powerful stimulant for student development.

While everyone promotes these relationships not many seem to be actually teaching or sharing what these relationships might look like. The relationships in question actually have a deep rooted background in developmental psychology. There are many good resources to learn about attachment theory and how it influences the maturation of our children, but unfortunately it is rarely taught in professional courses, in fact developmental psychology is often not focused upon to create more time for the important deep knowledge of the subjects that students are taught… Ensuring that all teachers are full of knowledge that students need, but often unsure of how to help the students learn it.

Looking back on my own teacher education I can’t remember much time spent on how to develop relationships, relationships that are arguably the most important tool we have as teachers, maybe our only tool that can save certain students from their peer group.

As children develop the most important relationships are those with adults. Having secure relationships with caring adults who can guide and advise the child are the key to healthy maturation. Children who find most of their relationships within their peer group are destined to slow their maturation process, for peer relationships are not secure like relationships with a loving adult. Children need to feel comfortable and rest in a secure relationship to achieve regular maturation. You cannot force a child to grow up but only provide the environment for a child to grow up in. For this reason, we as educators need to make the relationship with our students our primary goal. You must foster relationships and help other adults make connections with your students, it truly does take a village if adults to raise a child.

Prevalence of Peer Culture

Today I was thinking about how our kids are different from kids of the past. Why do older generations say things like, “These kids today”, or, “I never would have said / done that as a kid”.  Knowing that our kids and humans in general haven’t changed,  still having the same stages of development, the same learning preferences, and the same barriers to learning. So why are we continuing to view the past as the “Good Ol Days” in education.

What has changed is the culture our kids grow up in, more specifically who is in charge of creating the culture they grow up in. Historically culture came down vertically from adults in the community to the children. This rich culture was intergenerational, caring, specialized, full of wisdom and knowledge about one’s self and what values to cherish, and it evolved slowly over time. But this all changed in North American culture starting with Hippy movement. This was the first generation to transmit culture horizontally, from peer to peer, casting off the “oppressive” culture coming down vertically from adults and forever changing the source of our kids culture. This was the start of peer culture, and it was like nothing before it. Unlike the rich culture coming down from generations prior, this new peer culture changed rapidly, never surviving or being replicated by the subsequent generation but continuously changing faster and faster.

Let’s jump past disco, hair bands, grunge, and into the “culture de jour”. The lightening speed of the internet we have creates trends and spreads them virally. This allows for culture to disseminate horizontally faster than we can even realize we missed it. Children always looking to replace the old with the new, fearing being left behind. Think about this year with the dab, bottle flipping and fidget spinners, think about all of the different pop culture trends that change daily. It is a shallow sea of culture and our kids, unable to navigate, are lost in it.

Here is the problem we now face, with peer culture being the main influence on our kids we loose thousands of years of wisdom and lessons, being replaced by pointless trends, but most importantly we lose the ability to interact with and guide our kids. They see their peers as the most important source of knowledge and attachment, leaving parents and teachers out of luck, having to fight for their attention, having to try and use force to and inauthentic techniques to control them. Resulting in the heavy use of behavior plans, individual learning plans, reward schedules, and other ways of behaviour modifying our kids that only lead to many frustrating hours spent in the classroom.

Can we fight peer culture and win? The short answer is yes you can. It is not easy though, you will have to get back in as a guiding adult, you will have to be very strategic, and you WILL lose hard fought battles before you finally are able to collect your kids.

It all starts with creating a relationship with your kids. I know, how cliché…. Relationship development is popular right now, but it’s the only way.

 

Here are some specific ways of thinking about your relationships with your kids.

  • You have to collect your kids before you can teach them. What I mean by this is you have to get your kids eyes, get them smiling and nodding. Only after you have collected them can you instruct properly. We are incredibly good at doing this with babies but seem to forget it as soon as kids become school age. Use those same silly key jingling type routines to collect your kids. Be spontaneous, be weird, and be funny!
  • If you are unable to collect certain children in your group, as I am sure everyone gets one of those kids who is way to caught up in their peer culture to pay attention to you. Don’t think of that child as having a behavior problem, think of them as having a relationship problem. You wouldn’t think of a spouse who stops paying attention to you as having a behavior problem, it would be obvious, they have found someone else more attractive. Those children need to be pulled away from their friends and drawn toward you. Woo them, give them extra time, when they come up with an opportunity to spend time with you make it seem like you are way more excited to spend time with them then they expect. Only once you have won them back can you use your relationship with them to collect them and teach.
  • Kids who are obsessed with peer culture will appear to have behavior problems, please don’t get caught up in behavior plans for these kids, they are immature, not problem kids. Peer culture is fickle, you are never secure with your constantly changing culture and it interferes with growth and maturity. The only way to help this child continue to grow and mature is to make them feel safe, always having your relationship to rely on. Make them understand that you love them just the way they are.
  • Kids need to know that you love them unconditionally, regardless of their behavior, not only when they are good or do as asked. For this reason, maybe reconsider those reward schedules your have in place, or those behavior plans that give praise on the condition of good behavior. These types of behavior control are short term and are often damaging to children’s long term growth. Put in the work, take valuable learning time and invest it in relationship development, the early investment will pay dividends in the future function of your class.

When you have good relationships with your kids, teaching, learning and growth happen naturally. As humans we grow naturally, you cannot stop it from happening, unless there are broken relationships in your class.

 

The Summer Gap

The other day I had a conversation with a co-worker about the shortcomings of our students in some of their academic abilities. I was wondering how our children continued to underperform on reading and writing despite our efforts to target and focus our instruction. I hear huge success stories from teachers about how much students have grown, and how well they do in the classroom over the course of a year. We focus all our professional development around literacy to deliver the best programming for our kids, and yet from year to year they do not meet grade level expectations.

Frustrated, I researched and came across a study from John Hopkin’s Karl Alexander. The study followed almost 800 Students from grade one to grade four, from different demographic populations, specifically focused on socio-economic status (SES). The findings of the study were telling, especially of our school’s story.

The study used a reading comprehension subtest of the California Achievement Test (CAT-R) which is administered in the spring and the fall, effectively enabling the testers to look at segments of learning, specifically during the school year and during the summer. Upon entering grade 1, students have a mild gap in abilities, a gap of about 26 points favouring the high SES group. During the school year all three groups have great growth, where low SES students outperform high SES student groups. But by the end of the 4-year study you can see that the gap between the high SES group and the low SES group has widened, more than doubling to a whopping 73 points. What is happening? How could the two groups more further apart when the low SES group achieveing more learning during the schoole year?

It is the Summer Gap. Over the summer the differences in growth was astounding, favouring the high SES group which improved their test scores by 46 points from their spring score to the following fall. When compared with the low SES group who moved backwards by -1.9 points, you can see a real disparity in their summer learning. If you think about the compound effect of having a negative learning outcome every summer for your whole school career, summer’s effect on low SES students is both tragic and a cause for alarm.

The difference between groups can be the difference that determines student’s ability to enter postsecondary, but more importantly it effects their ability to feel that they are smart. Far to often we have a deficit approach to our educational programming, and our kids know it. They know what their reading level is and where it should be, why they are in a reading group, and they identify as having a deficit in their ability.

School is not the problem for these kids, its that fact they don’t get enough of it. For low-income student’s summer is often anything but a vacation. Instead of a relaxing break to explore new interests and places, it’s often a time when children, youth and families struggle to find and afford food to eat and a safe place to be.

We need to develop a plan to target groups at risk and provide learning opportunities for our most at risk demographics. Imagine if we targeted these groups where a school could be in 4 years. Imagine how you could transform the whole culture of a school and neighbourhood. Imagine being able to increase the ability for your students to climb out of the cycle of poverty. Think about the Summer Gap and how to change it ASAP.

Go Far Together

As usual on my drive to work I was thinking about a whole bunch of issues. One of the issues on my mind was the grandiosity of the system of education, a seemingly invisible hand that guides our practice, a practice that is still excluding many skills that will play a key component in the success of the next generation of students, those who will be leaving school and moving into an ever-changing world. Teachers have a role in the that is incredibly important, we prepare students to be successful in a world that we do not yet know. Humans in general often over estimate how fast change will happen in the short term, 2 years, and under estimate the advancement of technology in the long term, 10 years.

How can we prepare our students?

3 skills that students WILL need on the short term and the long term.

  • Partnerships: Our students will need to be masters of communication. As the information age continues to bloom, our student’s young minds have always been connected on a global scale. Like it or not, we all see it in the form of trends, from bottle flipping to fidget spinners, they come in waves, the ubiquity of being connected ensure the immediate transfer of information. Our students need to master sailing in the sea that is the internet. We need to help our students become creators of content, shape their own stories, pursue their interests, all while networking with others, like minded, and different.
  • Policy: Far to often we see those who fall through the cracks of this complicated world. No matter where you live there are systems in place. Complicated networks of old, new, good, and bad laws and regulations, systems of punishment, and systems of care. Those who know how to use these systems are far better off, seeking out care, retaining money, saving for the future, investing, using these systems for good. Many people feel that they are overwhelmed by all the different branches of this giant redwood of a tree. How often are these systems brought up in classrooms? Why are these systems not well understood? do not leave laws and regulations to politicians, for they are part of everyday life.
  • Perseverance: It is a lesson that no one learns easily. The moment you realise that life doesn’t owe you anything, life is not always easy, and there is never an end to the number of bad things that can, and will happen to you. Teachers need to help students understand mental health, not just understand it but practice it. Teachers need to make sure they pass on their knowledge about how the body works, the importance of living a healthy life and how that affects happiness. Students need to become determined learners willing to make mistakes and put in the work to create the life they want and the world they want to live in.

While thinking about the outcomes of YOUR lesson, try and think about how the outcome will help the student in the future, 5 years down the road, 10 years down the road. Will this be something that will help your students be successful, will this be relevant to them tomorrow, or ever? Of course, I am not saying completely change anything, I am asking you to join me, so together we can go far together, and push our students to go even farther.

The most important Knowledge outcome for our students.

I was speaking with a non-educator friend of mine the other day and he asked me “What is the most important skill or knowledge for today’s students?” I thought I could answer anything, he really doesn’t know much about education today, or what the skills adults of tomorrow may need to be successful. As I was filling my mouth full of all kinds of educated and experienced answers I paused, I paused and thought, I don’t really know the answer either. Students that I work with today are going to live in a world so different from now that I really can’t make a statement that I know will be true or accurate.

Today we are doing initiatives like Hour of Code and promoting things to funnel students toward computer science thinking that is where the jobs of tomorrow will be, where the future lies for our students of today. But what if technology continues to progress at the same speed or faster. What if we train a whole workforce of adults appropriately to compete and innovate in the computer programming section of the work force only to find that their skills are useless, to find that that their algorithm programming skills are now obsolete and done by an algorithm itself. Who is to say that an algorithm cannot write algorithms. A whole generation of specialists who find themselves without jobs because of the speed of advancing technology, technology that advances faster than our education systems can prepare the workforce. A new “class” of citizens, the “useless” class, groups of people whose skill sets are completely useless if a modern world. How to we ensure that we are not adding to this group?

This thought lead me to answer of my friend’s question so… “We need to teach our kids how to connect, connect to themselves and others. How to know themselves and what they need to live as happy adults. We need to teach them to value people not stuff, and that it is normal to feel the way they feel. Talking about it is OK and we are all in this together. We can make a difference in world and it’s is all worth it.”

The reason for my response is two-fold:

  • Today, in the world you are your own worst enemy. You are more likely to die from poor lifestyle choices of diet, substance abuse or suicide because of mental health issues, than you are from starvation, war, or murder. For this reason, you need to know what you truly need and what you don’t.
  • In the world today you cannot avoid the advertisement and campaigns that constantly tell you what a happy successful life looks like, what you want, what beauty is, and what your dreams should be.

For these reasons, I believe that the most important piece of knowledge that students need to walk away from school with is the knowledge of themselves and what they need to live a happy, healthy, and meaningful life.  If our students leave without this knowledge then someone else will be there to tell them what they need.

In Their Pocket

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend WE DAY in Winnipeg, a day I will not soon forget as it was fun, powerful, and thought-provoking. While there, the leaders of the movement Craig & Marc Kielburger, told everyone to “get up and turn on the light on their cell phones if you are going to make change happen!”  In the moment I snapped a pic, sent out a tweet, later I had a serious thought. Everyone in the crowd of 10000+ was a student, and mostly between grades 5-10, many of them had devices, in their pockets, every day. As a teacher, I am always looking to include tech in lessons and

As a teacher, I am always looking to include tech in lessons and utilize it more in classrooms. I am always trying to get more devices into my building and into the hands of our children. I know that sometimes it is already there, hiding in backpacks and pockets, being put into “cell phone hotels”, being hidden from the ever watchful teacher, trying to protect students from bullying, or being distracted from their learning…

There are many valid reasons why BYOD can be hard to implement in most classrooms, especially those that have students who can not access them, but I think that mostly it is just our own shortcoming and fear that really prevent us from taking that jump, a leap toward letting students work with open access to their devices.

What people might assume right away is that this is questioning teacher autonomy, which it isn’t.  What I want people to focus on is are we making decisions based on what we are comfortable with, and is that trumping what a student needs?  The notion of “teacher discretion” should not be based on a device, but focused on how these devices can make a positive impact on students, and not making standardized assumptions on what technology is able to do for students. Personally I know that I would feel lost in my learning if I did not have access to my laptop and phone.  This is not because I would use it all  of the time, but that I would have access all of the time.

On “Teacher Discretion” October 29, 2016 By George Couros

This is a bit ridiculous but true, 1 Year ago our school upgraded the wifi in our building, and it was a glorious day! Along with the wifi came different ways to sign in to our network, ways that prior to the upgrade you needed to be a district tech to have access to, but now there were options. Teachers could connect a device! Only one though… Along with our 1 teacher device on our “staff network” there was a mysterious “student network”, a network that I heard nothing about and could not access, until one day a student showed me, that’s right, a random interaction where I realized she was connected to the network, a girl who brings her own device to school! She logs on to our divisional student network with her older sisters password and id. Our building and teachers including myself weren’t there yet, but she was. She and others have been sneaking devices into our building regularly, trying not to get spotted by teachers.

I never questioned her on bringing her phone, as I know one day our students won’t have to hide their devices they have in their pocket. 

In Response to tech:

2

If you are like many of us, you have heard someone saying, “I am no good with tech” or “I don’t have time to learn that”.  This is the last thing that I would want to hear my teacher saying if I were a student.  I know that it can be daunting and frustrating to learn new things, but as teacher we expect others to do this everyday, so why can’t we expect it of ourselves.

Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and everyone has things they have to do, the difference is how you prioritize what you will be learning. Technology should be at the forefront of your thought, it is one of the most important components in education, the corner stone to for our students to become ready for the world they will live in as adults.

Just like when our students are learning to read, we give them strategies to be successful when we are not there to help them with a hard word. We should take the same approach to our own learning, encourage the growth and development the skills to be successful learning on our own. Empower teachers to seek out answers to our own questions rather than needing to be spoon feed step by step how to do something when we need help.

There is some much stuff to learn about, if you are not strategic you can easily become overwhelmed. My group partner Tyler said to me “treat your learning like you would pick a cat, grab the cat by the tail and hold on!” This stuck with me as I thought it was a valid way to approach the subject. Learning technology can be like picking a cat, they all look so good but if you pick more than one at a time you will not get much out of it.  So find something that looks like it will be vital to your learners and go, just start your learning journey,start creating, joining forums, watching videos and using it in your teaching. Only when you are ready,  can you then move on to the next thing to learn about.

 

WHO is It FOR?

new-piktochart_17824974_05a68feb5b69aa90579cd1427344d2fbb94c176fRecently I have planned lessons where I picked a learning outcome, planned my lesson and geared it toward how to reach that outcome. As usual, I decided to have students show, record and share their learning through technology. Whether is was a video, spark post, pic collage, iMovie, Thinglink, or another simple to use app, the result was always the same; student learning shifted from being about the curricular outcome I had chosen, and became more about playing and learning about technology. Students would create great pictures, videos, and graphic designs, but, the learning about outcome and lesson content was not really enhanced by using technology, in fact, students who did not use technology seemed to better achieve the outcome I had planned for. Students using technology seemed to acquire less vocabulary and their understanding of the topic was shallow. I ask myself “How can I continue to use technology if it doesn’t help students achieve outcomes?”

At first, when I realised this was happening, I felt very discouraged. How am I able to justify the infusion of technology if it is not helping students achieve the mandated outcomes?

It took a bit a soul-searching, and a lot of courage, but finally I realized it was not about me, my ability to easily write report cards, my unwillingness to challenge what the end goal of learning should look like, and my short-term goal; simply to prepare students to be able to succeed in the next grade.

Students need to be engaged, students need to feel connected, students need to see their future in the class they currently learn in. Our students don’t see their future being determined by “SLO 4.N.1” and if they master it, they see the world of learning differently than we do and different than their parents did.

In the past, grades on the report card led directly to success in life and that is what we knew. This is not as true as it once was, grades today do not measure creativity, divergent thinking, problem finding and solving, personal relationships, and they are not as much of a measure of success as they once were. The problem lies in the fact that the generation who connected “good marks” with success, is still expecting teachers to report on their child the same way, they still think of their child’s grades as an indicator of future success in life.

I am not saying, stop meeting outcomes, or don’t worry about report cards, these are important to student success. I do encourage you to question your teaching practices’ and ask:

Who are you planning lessons for?

  • Your student’s, the skills they will need to have success in the future.

                                                       OR

  •  Yourself and parents, to make sure it is easy to check the boxes and make comments about their learning on the report card.

 

How would you choose to invest YOUR money?

new-piktochart_16556595_3772668438b0ed64891912f95d263721d39712bd

I will keep this fairly brief. As teachers, we invest in through the TRAF and they invest in companies like:

Divestment is a real thing, it is becoming a huge movement being pushed mostly by university campuses and students. Harvard and organisations like Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network are leading the way.

While Universities are moving away from supporting fossil fuel endorsement as the main part of their investment portfolios, our teacher pension plans represent hundreds of billions of investment dollars in Canada alone. As teachers, we have a lot of power in how we invest our money. We get to choose who to support by investing our money in their company.

You are probably thinking: “I want my investment to pay off so I can actually retire”, well you are right. I want my investments to pay off as well, and there are plenty of investment strategies that do just that while pushing a social justice and sustainable agenda. Let us as teachers not get left behind while we continue to support large corporations that have one goal, to make money at all costs, a cost to us, our planet, and most of all, the future generations, the kids we work so hard to prepare for the future.

Steps For Connecting Classrooms

piktochartTeaching our students how to connect with other people who are like-minded, who are working on solving the same problem, who are trying to make a change in the world, or who are just looking to connect, is one of the most powerful skills we can provide our learners. We live in a connected world, but living in a global village is only beneficial if you talk to your neighbours, get to know them, and truly care about them.

  1. Before you go out and try to connect with people in a meaningful way you have to learn and master the medium you plan to use. Twitter, Blogging, Seesaw, Periscope, Skype, Google Hangout’s or good old fashion email can all be options. Regardless of what the medium is, you need to first use it inside of your own class. Have students connect with each other and with you.
  2. From a pocket of innovation in your school, you must then begin to branch out, start connecting with other classrooms who have the same goal in mind. Create a few communication bridges between your classrooms and practice the craft. What works best for the type of communication you want? Focus on one or two methods and get ready to take the next leap.
  3. Now that you have mastered connecting to new classrooms, begin to put feelers out among other schools that you have a connection to. Maybe an old co-worker who is in a new school, maybe a friend or someone you met at a division professional development session. Whoever it is, create a schedule, set goals, take turns sharing projects and lives. Really understand what it looks like, what are other students and classrooms interested in, and what do people want to know about you?
  4. The last step is the biggest one, it will involve research, and it may involve reaching blindly far out of your comfort area. Try to find a school that is drastically different from you. The difference becomes a powerful and valuable lesson. One of the shortcomings of our education system are the walls of our classrooms and our limited ability to see others and connect with them.

I think that in education we sometimes forget that learning is a social act, we learn best with others, acquiring new ideas and ways of thinking and doing. being able to connect is a skill that cannot be overlooked.