Saturday, September 7, 2013

Trying to stay in my lane

You know how when we are learning how to do something, like drive a car there are times at the beginning when you are overwhelmed with the shear amount of "things" that you are expected to do at one time.  Then this miracle of sorts happens.  One day you suddenly, realize you are no longer overwhelmed. You are driving and no one has died, the car is staying straight in the lane, and you can even manage to flip to a different radio station without any additional panic or stress.  I haven't reached this miracle spot yet this school year.  I was there in that "miracle" spot for 7th grade.  It was a good feeling.  I still haven't not reached that level of confidence with the material, timing and scope.  I know it is only week 2, I should calm down.  But after living in that sweet spot for so long the level of struggle that I am grappling with daily isn't a good feeling.

The week started off way better.  Writing the post last week was healing plus having Monday off to sleep didn't do any harm either. The learners worked on finishing their first PBL this week.  It is always easier to finish a project than it is to start one...I think it is one of those untold PBL laws.  My teaching team decided this summer that we wanted the students to have a chance to go through the process of PBL with a smaller project that had meaning but would not be graded.  This way we could find our way and they could "experience" the learning organically.  The students spent the week in the halls, on the floor gathered around phones and laptops filming and editing video.  Even my slowest learners made progress and learned through the experience.  I asked them what they learned at the end of the week and it was like music to my ears: "teamwork, how to work a google doc, planning is important, you need to take your team norms seriously, how to edit a video" the list of things was truly beautiful.  It validated all the pain and struggle that I have been experiencing.  I know it is going to be worth it.

As a teaching team we have a routine...I love those.  We teach 1st period then we debrief the experience in 2nd (our joint off period) with a series of "I like and I wonders."  That usually result in us flipping and reorganizing to make the flow better and we take from each other ideas that worked best for us.  Then we look at the coming day and week.  We try to work out how we want the week to flow and work through the days.  We set up our plan for the coming day and volunteer for task to complete during our off periods. It is a tight schedule.  And doesn't leave much time for long term planning. 

This week we started looking at our next PBL.  It was the first one we wrote together...when you do things the first time sometimes they aren't the greatest.  I think this PBL fits perfectly into that group of "not great."  My BTB and I are in a teaching PLC and volunteered to hash out our problem project hoping for feedback.  Well, we left there both feeling sick.  It was great feedback...too good really.  Like the kind where you are asked questions you haven't ever asked yourself and need to immediately define to move forward.   And if we had a 8 hour summer day to sit and hash it out there would be no stress.  However, my BTB left the meeting for a quick weekend trip and we both knew that would mean we would have to squeeze in that fixing magic into our tightly scheduled 2nd period meetings or I would have to do it this weekend.  Either way...not a good feeling. 

This weekend here I sit...working on finding my PBL magic and answering those mega life changing questions.  I feel like that new driver trying to keep the car in the lanes.  I hope no one dies.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Planning for Exciting New Adventures

photo source
The last bell of the day rings in June and the students run out of the building almost as fast as the teachers do.  Not this year.  When the bell rang they sounded more like the starting gun to the upcoming marathon race I eagerly agreed to.

I have taught 7th grade Texas history for the last 13 years.  I know the subject, expectations and skill acquisition that is expected as each year progresses.  Students enter as babies and leave me little teenagers.  I know and love the teachers in my grade level.  They ran to my rescue when I was sick, comforted me when I lost my grandmother and saved me daily with passing period stories of 7th grade awkwardness (the antidote to any bad day.) They are my peeps. 

In May I was offered an opportunity to teach with a woman who challenges me professionally, makes me think and grow.  (And I happen to adore her in every way.) I jumped at it.  It was in the same school...I would move 4 doors down the hall from my people.  Not a big change, or so I thought.  I should have known right away when people congratulated me on getting "promoted." I would cringe every time.  We are all on the same pay scale, how is moving 4 doors down a promotion? Did people really see those 13 years I spent in a job I loved as a demotion from this new opportunity?  Disheartened I tried to let it go.

My new BTB (best teacher buddy) and I met the Monday after school let out.  We were joined by her long time friend and our fellow 8th grade U.S. history teacher, (T-dog.)  We started with a deep conversation about our vision for teaching and how we saw that translating into what we did in our classroom.  We agreed that to meet the needs of the 21st century student we needed to make dramatic changes...all of us did.  Our vision statement: to provide engaging, innovating experiences everyday in a classroom that utilizes current researched methods. A quote became our focus and motto- "Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire." 

We looked at the district provided curriculum and really studied the standards. After painful hours of discussion we agreed on our driving question.  From there we decided on the assessments. We had discussions about letting our old routines and pet lessons go.  One day we would be super excited the next we would be nervous and anxious about so many changes all at once. Lucky for us those days were different for each of us.  When one would get worried the others would be there to talk us through it and remind us of what our bigger goal.  Some days we were not agreeable...that is the nice way to say it.  We would start looking to fall back into old safer patterns.  There was always one of us that would stop and ask the right questions to get us back on track.  There were tears, high-fives, waffles, more inservices than I have been to in a long time and experimenting with technology.  We bonded over Google docs and websites.  Each of us found a comfortable role we fit into to make a strong team.  Basically, it was a magical summer.

Then school started. It is nice to plan, but then the kids come, other teachers talk and beat you down with snide comments about the nerve of us trying to use the resources our building has to offer.  Our dream to team teach and spend every waking minute together fell apart after one day and 80 kids in a single room.  All plans and dreams for greatness are met with immediate speed bumps.  We expected them.  We didn't know they would hit us so fast and so many the first week of school.  

I was also caught off guard by the level of home-sickness I would feel.  4 rooms down might as well be a new planet. My best friend, sister really, is no longer across the hall.  No more making faces through the windows at each other.  And the precious little time we do have together we are surrounded by people wanting our attention for other things. I knew things would change...they always do. Joining a group/grade level is tough. I used to know where I fit in, but after this week I feel like I know more about where I am not fitting in.

The beauty of this magical summer though is we continue to talk it out. I know that they are there for me in this transition and I am there for them. 

Our students are doing their first BIE pbl.  None of us have taken the formal training.  That was the only training we weren't allowed to take this summer.  Instead we were self trained. Two years in the same PLC, a tour of a New Tech High School and a single day training we are practically experts. We have traded in classroom rules for classroom and team norms.  We are working to limit our talk time and save it for one on one coaching instead. Our students are using "I like and I wonder" as the reflect on their learning and actions in class.  So far the students are excited. We are too. 

Can't wait to see what wild adventures we run into for week two.