Failure, Patience, and Respect

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This week, I’ve been returning to The Self-Directed Learning Handbook after some personal failures in relating with students and parents. I want to learn from these experiences and also to be prepared for more of the same as the E3 Learning CO program grows. I’m frustrated and uncomfortable- thankfully I was recently reminded that discomfort is an opportunity for growth. (hat tip to Michael Schneider)

This quote really hit home today:

Be infinitely patient, and show unqualified respect. Your students will be struggling with the demons that keep them from taking responsibility for their learning, their lives, and themselves.

As I review these situations in my head, I can definitely say that I was not “infinitely patient“. This is my struggle and an area for needed improvement. I will work hard to give you the tools and skills you need to learn independently. I will invest personal time seeking out technology tools to assist you in a way that meets your learning style. I will sit next to you and walk you through the process of learning independently. I will help you set up reminders so you don’t forget to work your plan. I will touch base to see how you are progressing. At that point, I have some expectations. I expect you to invest time in working the plan. I expect you to be honest with me regarding your progress, or lack thereof. I expect you to do actual work.  I expect you to be invested in your own learning. If students are not in a place to meet those expectations, my supply of patience runs low. Not how I want to be.

What is the balance between holding a student accountable and being infinitely patient? How am I as learning facilitator patient while addressing progress concerns?  How do I learn better language to communicate patience? I don’t have answers, and I’d like to have some. If you can share what you are learning in this area, I’d love to hear it. Comment, blog, tweet. Whatever works for you, but please share so I can learn from you.

The other part of the quote that hit home was showing unqualified respect. One of my concerns about my behavior this week is not so much what was said- I wasn’t mean or unkind, but did expect some answers. I know that my line of questioning could have been more respectful to the student as a whole person. I could have been more gentle in acknowledging “the demons that were keeping this student from taking responsibility”.

My learnings from this week?

  • I do a great job sharing resources and tools.
  • I can also train students to use technology.
  • I research well and can help others learn to research.
  • I need to learn to be more positive and clear in my communication with both students and parents.
  • I need to adjust my expectations of students.
  • I need to be comfortable with this learning path not working for everyone.

I’m somewhat afraid I have fulfilled “The Peter Principle” this week… rising to the level of my own incompetence. I’d like to change that. Time to do some more learning on the science and psychology of learning. (Resources welcome! I will be seeking out some Love and Logic info based on a suggestion from my admin.)

What are you learning this week? 

[image credit: cobrasoft]

Tallying the Results…. and Making Changes

Well, the bulk of my students have completed the survey I sent them.  When I talked to them, I said that I wanted to learn to be a better teacher, and asked them if they would help me.  They did a wonderful job of giving really helpful feedback.  Yes, I did have a number of “let us play games more often” and “don’t make me take X(whatever the mandated test de jour is… that I have no control over)”.  However, those were directly related to the age and maturity of the student.  (Read: 3rd graders might not be ready for this kind of survey…. but some did great, so I hate to limit it based on grade level. )  I also got a significant number of “don’t know”s, a bit of flattery, and some out and out silliness.  In the midst of all that, I gained some real insight into how students feel about my teaching methods.

Here are the Top 10 things my students taught me:

  1. I talk too quietly.  I had NO IDEA this was an issue.  Honestly.  I do believe that yelling at children is demeaning and disrepectful, but I obviously take that too much to heart.  I had at least a dozen mentions on this topic.  It’s something I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to change.  After I mentioned it to a para, she confirmed it and said I was very ‘soft-spoken’.  ((My husband and children might take issue with that…. guess I’m not so quiet at home, huh?))
  2. I allow them to talk over me at times. This is more of an issue with my older students, and partially because of how we’re working on projects.  I allow it, and I need to quit that.  It’s a poor form of classroom management, and that was already on my mind after reading  this recent post by Michael Linsin via Sam Rangel (@samrangelSITC ) of Success in the Classroom.
  3. I make them feel bad by having them sit on the floor. They HATE this.  I knew it wasn’t a huge fan favorite, but I didn’t think it was a huge issue. As part of my classroom management strategy, I’ve been meeting with the whole class on the floor at the beginning of the period.  This gives me time to give them instructions without competing with the screen, keyboard and mouse for their attention… and cuts out the discipline issues that arise.  I just need to rethink, and find better ways to instruct them from their seats.  Lock the screen, share my screen, something.
  4. I give warnings.  Apparently, other teachers don’t do this.  I try to take into account the context of the situation and the particular child- just like I do in parenting.  However, this seems to cause some angst in other students who think I should be more “strict”.  I’m going to have to think this one through, as I would like to be fair…. but sometimes that means that different people get different things at different times.  It does not mean everything is equitable.  Given the commenters, some of it is just a ‘goodie-two-shoes’ reaction, but there were enough responses to this effect that I need to reassess my methods.
  5. I should allow them to earn free time. They were very fair with their requests for more free time, and most wanted me to re-instate my point system from last year that allowed them to earn free day (generally once every 2-3 months). I stopped because it was a headache to track, and I thought they would be happy with me ‘giving’ them one every quarter.  Obviously, my little overachievers believe they should earn that time- whether that’s due to an erroneous belief that it’ll happen more often that way or just a shining example of those character pillars, I don’t know.
  6. I need to let them move seats.  I know this has become an issue, as I seated them by alphabetic order at the beginning of the year.  They get tired of this, and need new scenery.  I get that.  I’m just not sure how that works with their individual accounts being created on a single machine…. they’d have to recreate all their preferences, dock, and background each time we moved…. which wastes a whole class period.  I need to stop seeing that as a waste.
  7. I need to find ways to explain more and less, simultaneously. Sounds tricky, but thanks to my 1-to-1 situation, totally doable.  I just need to scale each lesson, add video tutorial links, record screencasts, or add audio recordings of instructions (brilliant idea from a chat I had with Pernille “Not a Loser” Ripp ( @4thgrdteach )- not sure why I hadn’t thought of that before- I have students use Vocaroo to easily record audio…. thank God for collaborative moments like that one!). Which leads me to #8….
  8. I have a beautiful bell curve in my classes. That’s comforting.  I have a group of students at one end that want more, feel like the pace is too slow, and want me to explain less.  I also have a group on the other end who feel lost, need more instruction, and are drowning in assignments.  In the middle…. the teeming masses.  My challenge is- how do I effectively use the technology at our fingertips to differentiate without sub-splitting into a million little groups.  I’m beginning to wonder if I need to take their Literacy groups (high, middle, low), and give assignments accordingly rather than grouping them by homeroom.  That should take care of the reading comprehension, speed, and challenge levels.  I’d love feedback or ideas on that one…. leave me a comment!
  9. I have students with some amazing interests. I asked them what they would like to learn about…. and I am really floored by the responses.  These are some cool kids.  I need to adapt some of what I am doing so they can pursue those passions and interests.  The big one?  They want to know how to take a computer apart and put parts together. How cool is that?  Totally appropriate, and I’ll be talking with our technologist about finding some computers we can safely dissect and reassemble….. I’m sure there are some kind of safety gear the kids will need to wear- goggles?
  10. I am doing ok. These kids have had many different teachers over the years, so comparisons are appropriate.  I heard overwhelmingly that students feel like I am a patient, kind person who is teaching them new and interesting things. That word patient came up very often, and just like the ‘quiet voice’ thing, totally surprised me.  I very frequently feel impatient with them when they don’t listen or read what I’ve written to them in an assignment.  Obviously, I’m not conveying that (thankfully!)- some of my more challenging students were ones who said I was patient.  Wow.

Computer Lab Changes (Effective Immediately)

  • Mrs. C will SPEAK UP!
  • No more sitting on the floor.
  • Wait for kids to listen before talking.

As for the rest, I need to think on them and find some solutions.  Thankfully, I have a few weeks to let those thoughts bounce around in my head.  I’m hoping things will begin to sort themselves out…. and if not, I know some amazing teachers who are willing to help me sort it out!

Podcast Reflections

[media-credit name=”stock.xchng” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]I regularly listen to podcasts in the car, yet I never take the time to reflect on them in writing.  Sure, I think about the concepts and ideas discussed.  Those morning bits percolate through my day, and I imagine myself trying something new I learned or make a great connection with a classroom issue because that aroma of learning is fresh.  There is something about committing those thoughts and ideas to paper that gives me pause.  Part of the problem stems from being conditioned to believe that everything you write must be a well-thought out, 5-paragraph essay.  What a disservice we do to ourselves, and others, by bowing to this internal pressure and foregoing the experience of journalling our processing.  From here on, expect to see musings from these podcasts here. I can guarantee there will be grammatical errors, poorly developed thoughts, and random commentary.  However, I can also guarantee that in the process, I am learning, growing, and maturing as a thinker and educator.