GPS Route—Destination or Dead End?

by: Daily Five Cafe, Lori Sabo Issue #553

Has your GPS ever steered you wrong? I had only a vague idea of where an appointment was, so I used my vehicle’s GPS to direct me. After a while, a still, small voice within nudged that something didn’t seem right, but I continued to trust the voice on my 15-year-old car’s console. It wasn’t until I got to a dead end that I pulled over, called my destination, got new directions, and was able to course correct, arriving a little tardier and more harried than necessary.

A comparable thing may happen in our classrooms. Curriculum and resources provided by our schools and districts have the potential to function like a GPS system. Sometimes we can follow the prescribed instructions step-by-step and get our students to a desired outcome. There are times, however, when we should listen to the still, small voice that recognizes when the directions aren’t taking us where we want to go. If we don’t, we’ll end up with a similar “lostness” that results in wasted time for our students and ourselves.

Programs do not know our students best. We do. Our formative and informative assessments and conferring have led to a deep knowledge of their strengths and needs. Though it can be a little scary at first to listen to our own voice instead of the authoritative voice of a program, dynamic, timely, and powerful things will happen when we do. If we know where we are going (standards), and know where our students stand in relation to those goals, we can craft our teaching in a way that directly meets those needs. We might use the curriculum one day and an entirely different resource the next.

Intentional, focused instruction that is directly related to the needs we see in our classroom creates a new kind of synergy that is both exciting and self-perpetuating. It not only makes for a more joyful journey, but we’ll all end up where we need to be.


Grab Your Students’ Attention

Teaching is complicated. There are so many facets to instruction. Not one year or day or class or hour looks the same. Combine that with all the experts telling you to teach this-way or that-way, and it is no wonder you can keep up with it all. I am here to tell you that you CAN. It is just going to take some strategic planning on your part. But I guarantee that once you get in the grove of knowing what practices to engage in and which to avoid, your school year will run smoothly.

I just read an ASCD article about a group of educational researchers who thought about the giants in education (Madeline Hunter, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Robert Marzano, etc) that have spent years researching and improving instructional design, and asked themselves, What do all instructional design frameworks have in common? They came up with “Five Episodes of Effective Instruction” (Silver Strong & Associates, 2012). They describe a learning sequence where teachers (1) prepare students for new learning, (2) present and help students acquire new learning, (3) deepen and reinforce learning, (4) challenge students to apply or demonstrate learning, and (5) and encourage students to reflect on and celebrate learning. Sounds pretty basic, right? It is, and it is doable.

Take #1 for example. Preparing students for new learning means you need to grab their attention. They need to WANT to learn what you’re going to teach. I think that if you can do this, the other four steps will fall into place. Activate their prior knowledge, establish clear learning targets, and come up with something “cool” that will make the learning interesting and relevant to them. Here’s an example from the article:

Instead of announcing, “Today, we will learn about the water cycle,” Mr. Chow begins with a thought-provoking hook that will drive the entire lesson. He takes a sip of water from a glass and asks students to agree or disagree with these statements:

  • This water is the same water dinosaurs drank millions of years ago.
  • Leonardo da Vinci sipped this water while painting the Mona Lisa.
  • Serena Williams guzzled this water to get through her last tennis match

He asks, “Not quite sure? Skeptical? By the end of this lesson you will be able to explain whether these statements are true with clear evidence to support your explanation.”

Can you grab your students attention? Can you make each topic meaningful to them? Or are your students going to ask, “Why do we have to learn THAT?”


Making Learning Memorable
August 9, 2018 | Volume 13 | Issue 23

You’ll Get What You Expect

What skills/traits/characteristics do students need for success in life?

  1. The ability to work well with others.
  2. Adaptability
  3. Problem-solver
  4. Growth Mindset
  5. Gratitude
  6. Compassion
  7. Work-ethic
  8. Empathy
  9. __________ (Add any others that you can think of)

Are these required by the government for our school system to be considered successful/accredited? Not really. So if children need these skills, who is supposed to teach them? You’re probably saying “The Family”. You’re not wrong, but think about it… What if the family doesn’t or can’t? Many students in poverty do not learn these skills from home. Some kids come with baggage, some come hurt and broken. We have to create the context in which these skills are learned. That is a fact. There is no choice.

I heard Dr. John W. Hodge speak (Google him!). He developed a process called S.A.M.E. and has written a book as well as shares his knowledge as a motivational speaker. Think of this…There are certain human characteristics that are hardwired in the brain. Anger. Fear. Sadness. Joy. Disgust. Surprise. But the skills needed for success in life must be taught through a culture of social, academic and moral education, approached as a whole.

  1. Social environment: How members of the school community behave, both adults and children. Be positive. Be what we want them to become. Some days you may have to fake it. Leave your problems in the trunk of your car. This is intensive work! You cannot punish your way to excellence in a school. You can’t succeed by putting kids out.
  2. Academic environment: There should be one happy fool in every class…YOU! Some teachers bore themselves! You must have some degree of passion about the content you are teaching and the students are learning. Teach the students how to learn and how take responsibility for their own learning so when they get a sub, a bad teacher, etc. they will know how to continue to learn.
  3. Moral environment: What do we believe? We are human, we are not bad people, but experiences have given us data, which have given us meaning, and we make assumptions and draw conclusions, adopt beliefs and then take action. Sometimes we may need to change our meaning, so we know that no matter what, every student can succeed. Part of doing that is acknowledging our low expectations. Robert Marzano, in The Art and Science of Teaching, talks about this. Picture this…It is August 1. You are planning on teaching 3rd grade in the fall. You get a call from your principal that your students are all gifted. How will this change your preparation for the school year? What is your attitude and your enthusiasm level? What do you think your relationship will be like with your students?  Imagine if you felt like that every year, no matter what types of students you got!

Education saves lives. Giving students who live in poverty the hope and the skills to succeed is so powerful. Each school should be a safe-haven. It should be the key out of any type of circumstance, not a place to fail BECAUSE of your circumstance. Circumstances should not justify failure. Help kids develop personal visions/dreams. Start acting like it will come true. You believe it, they will believe it. Make the dream bigger than his circumstances! Expose students to military, jobs, training, college. Teach them how to give a firm handshake, to make eye contact, to have confidence. Scroll back up to the list at the beginning of the blog. Think about it. Make it happen.


Chicken or the Egg??

The other day, Nate asked me what came first, the chicken or the egg? I could give him the religious answer, that God created all creatures in their true form. Or tell him that I don’t know. I opted for both, and we got into a pretty good conversation about life and evolution. Two recent (and very different) situations led me to think about this life-long question.

I visited my mother-in-law at the nursing home this week. She has dementia and is physically unable to take care of herself. I was warned that she may not know me, and that I need to be prepared to see her not looking very well. When we arrived, she was sitting in her wheel chair, staring off, but we got right in front of her with big smiles and a cheery “Hello!”. We moved to sit together in a quiet and private area. I began by complementing her outfit, nails and hair. She smiled. I showed her pictures on my phone and talked about my boys. I never asked her if she remembered them, but rather treated her as if she could remember everything. My father-in-law said I had the magic touch, because she was responding well. I told him it wasn’t magic, I was just being happy and positive in her otherwise lonely and sad world.

Last night I thought about the question again when my husband and I were out to dinner. We were both in a pretty good mood when we left the house, happy to be going out to our favorite Chinese food restaurant. But after about ten minutes at the table, we were both crabby. Thinking about it, I wanted to blame him for being in a bad mood again. But I stopped…did my mood change first? What came first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know the answer, but I know I did nag and he did make negative comments about things. I decided to play nice and smile, make jokes, and ask caring questions. Guess what happened? His mood improved, too!

Today as I reflected on this little experiment, I started thinking about school and students, parents and children. What comes first, the behavior of the child or of the adult? Can you reflect on some recent experiences with your child or students and answer this question? How does adult behavior effect child behavior and how does child behavior effect adult behavior? I have witnessed many adult/child interactions in my career and personal life. What I can say, without ever having set up a clinical observation, is that human behavior directly correlates to the behavior of those around us.

For the next few days, take a step back from what you are doing and watch this happening. Challenge yourself to be positive and happy in an otherwise grim situation. See if positivity is contagious. What will come first, the chicken or the egg?


Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

For those of us who went into the education profession during the 20th century, we thought we would be leading a group of students, using text and supporting materials, to learn what they need to in a specific grade level and subject. Then, we would test our students to see who “got it” or was smart enough or who studied, and give them a grade accordingly. In fact, we DID teach this was for a while. Perhaps you were the teacher who in 10th grade Economics used a textbook and copies of the local newspaper to teach. Maybe you did a group project. Or if you taught kindergarten, you had all your students join you on the carpet for calendar time, dressing the teddy bear for the day’s weather, chorally reciting “Yesterday was ____, Today is____, Tomorrow will be ____”. Or in your seventh grade ELA course, all the students were reading “Call of the Wild” and completing question/answer worksheets, then had a big test at the end. This was the way. This was the way it USED TO BE.

How do we teach now, eighteen years into the 21st century? This question was raised this weekend at the beginning of a PD that I attended. We discussed our thoughts and shared with the group what we believed all teachers should be doing in our classrooms. There were many ideas, but overall, we all believed the same thing; HOW you learn is as important as WHAT you learn. Our students need to be engaged, they need to reflect on what they are learning and relate it to their own life.

And then, throughout the two and a half days of PD, I kept thinking about this, because the heart and soul of what we were learning was about teaching and learning today’s students. It was exciting to know that what we were doing in our district had such a forward-thinking philosophy. What is this you ask? International Baccalaureate (IB). More specifically, IB MYP (Middle Years Programme). We are in the beginning stages of implementing MYP for our students in grades 6 through 10. It will take us about five years of professional learning, gradual implementation, and curriculum planning, but it is going to be so worth the time and effort! IB MYP will give our teachers and students the tools and guidance they need for 21st Century engaging and dynamic teaching and learning. Stay tuned for more information and updates in future blogs!


ALL students can learn!

Can All Students Learn…

We’ve heard the question many times. As educators, we believe all students are capable of learning. But, facing so many obstacles, how can we get all of our students to learn? In this post, we are going to think about the student, the learner. Who are our students? In RU, our types of students vary.

Let’s start with RU “Student A”, who is successful academically and socially:

  • comes to school every day and on time
  • does their homework
  • eats several times per day
  • gets plenty of sleep
  • participates in class
  • behaves and follow school rules
  • plays sports, is in band, is in clubs
  • smiles, loves their teachers, and gets along with other kids

Student A is the type of student that can learn, right? That’s an easy one. We have some of these students in RU. But… how would we describe the rest of our students? “Student B “has many of the following characteristics:

  • is hungry, sometimes not eating unless at school
  • is tired, not getting a lot of sleep each night
  • does not have a stable home, often “sleeping” in others’ homes, hotels, cars, etc
  • doesn’t live in the community
  • comes to school sad, angry, and/or scared
  • no one has conversations with them at home
  • has no one to help with homework, read to/with them, work on a project
  • they don’t follow rules or behave
  • is behind academically, gives up and doesn’t ever try

Can a Student B learn? The answer is still YES, however we must take special care of children with these characteristics in order for them to learn. So if you have a classroom full of Student B’s, or even just a few, what do you do? Here are some basic guidelines to follow:

Build a relationship. ALL children need guidance and love from adults. Children who live in poverty come with their own set of issues and bad experiences, but it is our job as educators to make their school experience a positive one, from the minute they walk in the school (even if they are late) to the minute they leave.

Praise is important in your relationship with these students. Too many times these students hear from others about all of the things they can not do. Without a positive self-concept, it is impossible for these students to have the confidence they need in order to learn. Make the praise specific, take the time to look at what the child has done and tell them, “I am so proud of you for using this tool while trying to work out that math problem” or “I love how expressively you read that passage.” Being specific lets the students know you are paying attention to their efforts.

Some things to not do include arguing with the student, showing anger or dislike to the student, taking to the student or reprimanding the student in front of someone, or ever asking the student why they behave the way they do or why they won’t do what they are supposed to do. Also, sending the student out of your classroom will show them that they can get out of the responsibility of learning and that you don’t care if they are present or not. You need to show all students that they are important enough to be in your classroom.

Give these students hope. Hope that every day is a new day. Hope that if they want to learn, they will learn. Hope that if they learn, they can be somebody. Hope that tomorrow you will be there for them.

No matter what, our students need to learn. They can learn. Show your students that you believe this. I promise that you will see better behaviors and more learning.

This principal is changing the way we look at how a middle school functions. Check it out…”poverty is not a learning disability”. !