The 8th Grade team tried something new this year–experiential learning week. In years past, we have had field trips and service learning days sprinkled across the year. This year, we agreed that the final week of 3rd quarter would be handed over completely to three experiential learning opportunities that have become major events in the life of the 8th grade: the annual trip to Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Service Learning Day and our Jackson area Civil Rights field trip.
The Dauphin Island Sea Lab trip is a two night trip to the aforementioned barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. We spend almost three days rotating through several different learning experiences–a cruise on the gulf that allows students the chance to learn about the environment and organisms that inhabit it, an opportunity to build a remote controlled underwater vehicle and then compete to see whose vehicle retrieves the most objects, a chance to dissect a squid and an activity out on the beach that makes the actual consequences of rising global sea levels very real. In addition, the kiddos get time together in dorm like settings and ample time to play out on the beach or to play tabletop games in the evening. It’s a great combination of learning and bonding.
This year’s 8th grade service learning day began with a kind of prelude to the next day’s civil rights field trip, as students visited Tougaloo College’s Woodward Chapel, site of many historic events during the height of the movement in Jackson in the 1960s and the synagogue that is home to Beth Israel Congregation, which was both an opportunity to continue the conversation begun during a chapel earlier in the year with Rabbi Joseph Rosen and to see another historic site in the civil rights movement in Jackson during the 60s. We then drove out to the Mississippi River Basin model near Clinton and spent the afternoon clearing brush under the supervision of a group dedicated to the preservation of the model and (hopefully) a renewal of Buddy Butts Park.
Finally, on Friday, students visited the two Mississippi Museums to learn more about the history of the state and the genesis, legacy and ongoing work of the civil rights movement. After lunch, we drove out to Jackson State University and visited the Masonic Temple, home of the office of Medgar Evers and still site of the NAACP’s office, hearing from Frank Figgers, a veteran of the civil rights movement and local educator and citizen-activist. Mr. Figgers shares the history of the Masonic temple and the role it played both in the civil rights movement, but also more broadly in the history of Jackson’s Black community. We also visited the COFO Headquarters, a space that is now managed by Jackson State University, but which served as a central location for the leadership and coordination of a number of organizations active across Mississippi during much of the 50s and 60s.
We’re hoping to fold all three of these experiential learning opportunities into places for the 8th graders to begin to answer the question “How do you want to work to/how can you change the world?” They’ve seen examples of how the world is changing and has changed–historically and physically, and they’ve had the opportunity to interact with folks who are learning about and who have been active in that change. This is a great place for the students to then think about where they might assume a role in such work or be inspired to think about their own lives differently, and to share their thinking in the context of their capstone presentations later this year. In the longer term, we’re also hoping to continue to build this aspect of the 8th grade experience. There is additional work that we can do to prime students for this week of experiential learning and to be more intentional about how we weave the threads these opportunities create throughout the 8th grade curriculum beyond their reading of Coming of Age in Mississippi and their work about Earth’s resources and environment in their science classes. Asking students at the pinnacle of their middle school journey to reflect on how the previous four years have shaped their view of themselves and their relationship with the world of which they are a part feels like a fitting way to wrap up the middle school journey.
Remember when you were a kid and it often felt like all the adults were in a room making decisions about you and never asking you what you wanted or believed?
Yeah- sometimes that’s kinda like our schools. And also kinda like this blog.
So for once (call it spring fever) I decided to venture into the warm afternoon breeze and bug tables of youth trying to enjoy some social time. With all of the great quotes coming in from teachers about the insanity that is trying to teach in the spring semester, I decided to ask the students what it’s like being in their shoes this time of year. Here’s what I learned: middle school students are mostly pumped/energetic/delighted by all the interruptions and social opportunities; upper school students use the word “stressed” a lot. I haven’t untangled if that has to do with our own structures, or simply coming-of-age. Here’s a mish-mash of what they said, with a little creative reimagining in the form of a found poem.
Tired all the time, Hectic. Chaotic. No free time! No flex periods! Overwhelming. Stressful because of workload, Everything starts to ramp up, Energy is down, Tests, exams, SATs, and PSAT’s,I don’t know what to do ever. (All the teachers put a lot more work on you to make you more prepared), But it’s kinda like a truck . . . and I want them to ease us into it.
Missing way too much school, Senioritus as a junior, You can feel the energy from the students, their lack of paying attention in class. Last chances: The last quarter for juniors where colleges see grades, Lots of random events going on, Rescheduling classes, Disorganized. (You improve your time management anyway?). Nobody will shut up about college. Checked out of school right now [With] summer weather [it’s] hard to keep up with school work. Mentally in summer zone.
Awful. Each Monday the cycle continues. It feels the same as any time in the year, At least it’s almost over, so that’s cool. We have freedom, but we don’t. School is killing me.
For some people they might say it’s more taxing, but for me it’s been a little lax, but that might be because I work ahead . . . I like to get all my schoolwork done at school.
It’s actually nice outside. Hot. Recess is a lot of fun [when] the weather is a lot nicer, (We have to wait outside classrooms.) More things are blossoming, It’s pretty outside, And the flowers and the pollen, More allergies. I love that it’s getting hotter, I don’t like tornados, I love how the campus brings it all together, It being warm and sunny everyday, We’re not freezing! It’s the same, but there are more allergies and the weather is warmer.
I feel like it’s kind of more relaxed (the school year’s starting to die down), Like we’ve really developed good relationships with our teachers Now we’re all comfortable in the classrooms together, Even having to speak in front of your classmates.
I feel like there’s a lot more things to do because a lot more is happening: May Day, sports games, Olympics are fun. We get to sit with our friends at lunch!
Teachers, we want you to know: Five minute breaks are much more appreciated, Just because students don’t know something doesn’t always mean they haven’t been trying; sometimes we have missed a class, (Sports in spring make it hard to have accountability.) Or you forgot that you didn’t teach it to this section. [I know] the work stresses me out more than it should. (I was obviously busy studying for the other tests I have!) We have other classes and other activities; (Be aware of other stuff we have going on as well.) We can’t do everything for every class. Try to be lenient. Don’t get really mad at me. Give us a break! We are trying! Shake it up! Help with the pollen!
Let’s face it. We are all losing our minds. Or at least a little bit. This month’s theme of “Spring has Sprung” can allude to joy and rainbows and warm weather and blooming all around us. But it can also bring to mind severe weather, chaotic winds, uncontrollable sneezes, and the evaporation of best laid plans. Nobody knows this better than you all: faculty working every day in classrooms with students. Here’s what SPRINGS to your mind when asked about your lived realities these days:
What characterizes the general atmosphere of classrooms and schools during the month of April?
Kids are gone all the time! Definitely a billion events going on at school, with holidays to boot! (Shannon Watt, MS Choir)
Loss of learning time! (Susan Pace, 7th ELA)
Everyone is ready for summer! (Austin Killebrew, 9th Math)
schedule changes and student pull outs are incredibly challenging! (Linda Rodriguez, US Faculty & Virtual Programming)
PK2 children are maturing, so challenging behaviors have reduced. Students are also more capable of independent tasks (using the potty, grabbing their own paper towels, etc.). (Catoria Mozee, PK2)
Spring Fever is real. (Marty Kelly, 9th English)
Spring in pre k 4 is my favorite time of the year. THe kids have been mastering the daily schedule, their jobs in class and how to resolve conflicts all year. THis is the time they shine. THey are very confident in all these tasks and I can begin to ‘take a ‘backseat’ and let them run the class. It’s really awesome to watch! (Kim Sewell, PK4)
Lots of activities! (Cyndi Irons, MS Art)
In April I turn into Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms during May Day practice. (Rachel Newman, 2nd grade)
DISCOMBOBULATED! The kids, the schedule, lesson plans, assignments, duties. It’s like we all forget how to “school”. (Margaret Mains, 5th History)
Got any funny stories about “SPRING MISCHIEF” that have gone down in your classroom/school?
We’re all gearing up for our last massive essay of seventh grade over here, and the kids are a little concerned about the fact that they have to handwrite a 1000-word essay. So….no mischief this week really….other than a few kids struggling to find a way to show respect to their teachers and friends. (Susan Pace, 7th ELA)
I have a group of boys in my class on the baseball team who have enjoyed “practicing their throws” during my class. They practice with markers, sharpies, paper balls…whatever they can find! (Austin Killebrew, 9th Math)
Everyone gets a little “off the rails” in the spring – the weather’s great, the end of the school year is just around the corner, and nobody wants to be in class! My seniors, especially, are incorrigible! I have a small group of boys who are so pesky that I have had to ban them from leaving the class together! Journalism is often about filming student interviews and I allow my class the freedom to wander with the understanding that they will come directly back. Well, once I found this group of boys playing ping pong. Another time they found a baby turtle and were gone from class for an hour trying to figure out what to do with it. Yet another time, they were hanging out in the library watching their friends play video games! UGH! (Linda Rodriguez, US Faculty & Virtual Programming)
A student brought me her planned absence form on which she had written that she would be absent on 3/31 and 3/34. (Marty Kelly, 9th English)
Years ago on April Fool’s Day, I went to get some coffee during break. When I got back to my classroom, the entire room was backwards – even my heavy desk was moved. Well planned and executed! (Hannah King, 5th grade ELA)
A few years ago, two of my boys (who NEVER got in trouble) wrote down every cuss word they knew on the prayer paper in Little Chapel and turned it in to the prayer request box. Mr. Mac came to me with it and after we stopped laughing in the hallway, he took the boys to see Mr. Alford. Those boys are in 10th grade this year and I still have a copy of the list in my desk. (Rachel Newman, 2nd grade)
At another school, for April Fool’s day (My first in the classroom)- I told my 6th grade class we were going to have a documentary day during state testing. I told them that the documentary was great but was in Spanish and had subtitles. We were learning about Mesoamerica at the time so it fit. I also made an elaborate “notes” sheet for them to fill out while we were watching it. There was a lecture about how they needed to take this seriously etc. etc. I must have really sold it– before I could say “April Fool’s!” several students burst into tears and started sobbing about the work load. More joined. Not even the real game/fun day I had planned could salvage the mood. The class turned into a “pass the tissues” heart to heart about the stress they were feeling about the end of the year and testing. Lesson learned– Be gentle with April Fool’s day! Spring is hard for the students too! (Margaret Mains, 5th History)
What ADVICE do you have for other faculty to get through this final quarter of the official school year?
Keep marching forward! Take a breath – we will all get to May and graduation at the same time! (Shannon Watt, MS Choir)
Spring semester-we just show up and teach whoever walks through the door! (Anna Johnson, as shared by Shannon!)
Pick your battles. So your most challenging student has chosen to shimmy up her shirt and wear it more like a crop exposing her belly button…? But she greeted you and talked to you about her weekend plans. Ignore the belly…focus on the interaction. (Susan Pace, 7th ELA)
Just breathe and write everything in pencil: things will change! (Austin Killebrew, 9th Math)
PROJECT BASED LEARNING! (Linda Rodriguez, US Faculty & Virtual Programming)
Don’t overplan; lessons should be stimulating, but not at the expense of your sanity.
We all have home lives and other responsibilities, so don’t expend ALL of your energy when you are already stretched thin. (Catoria Mozee, PK2
Hold on to your hats. And don’t fight being on an outdoor campus; use it. (Marty Kelly, 9th English)
My best advice is to keep your students very busy. Keep moving forward until the bitter end! (Hannah King, 5th grade ELA)
Go outside! (Cyndi Irons, MS Art)
My advice for teachers in linear subjects at the end of the year is to individualize as much as possible; some students will need a mile deep and an inch wide; some students will need the exact opposite. . . as much as one could say “your goals for next year .. .and therefore I MUST” . . . you’re going to the next level so you really need to have a contact point with all of these skills versus you’re not going to carry on but you found a deep interest in and I can support you in that. (David Kelly, US Performing Arts)
Stay in your daily routine as much as possible. (Rachel Newman, 2nd grade)
Be gentle with yourself! Nothing is going to go exactly how you planned/hoped. You’re doing the best you can! Students will remember the fun and craziness of this time of year not that one lesson you didn’t quite get to. (Margaret Mains, 5th grade)
Just for fun, what is the most apt metaphor for spring at St. Andrew’s?
Why do we even have classes? HA! Just kidding! Crazy busy would be my word. (Shannon Watt, MS Choir)
A tire that’s quickly deflating….? i tried – it’s hard to be metaphorical at the end of a very long week. (Susan Pace, 7th ELA)
Switchback turns on a mountain road. Things just keep changing. (Austin Killebrew, 9th Math)
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If things are going well, don’t question it. If things are hectic, be glad it isn’t worse. (Catoria Mozee, PK2)
School in the spring is like a zoo during a hurricane. (Linda Rodriguez, US Faculty & Virtual Programming)
You’re running the final leg in a relay but you’ve dropped the baton and then you see they’ve added hurdles and you are simultaneously herding feral cats. (Marty Kelly, 9th English)
A butterfly flitting from one thing to another! (Cyndi Irons, 5th Grade math)
Treading water in the deep end with only one nostril above the water. (Rachel Newman, 2nd grade)
I always say that the beginning of the year is like jumping on a treadmill that is already in sprint mode and it takes a while to get into the pace/groove of things. The spring feels like you’ve been sprinting on that treadmill since August and are exhausted and weary. (Margaret Mains, 5th History)
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Kim Sewell (PK4), Andrea Stallings (ECC Instructional Assistant), and Ruth Fletcher (Little Chapel) to delve deep with their educator and Momma hats into all things Mr. Rogers. In their honest conversation, it becomes clear that the recent resurgence of interest around the show and man behind Mr. Rogers Neighborhood reflects some deep societal needs for connection, pausing, and emotional exploration. Enjoy!
2:35-4:13: Ruth and Andrea discuss two very different vantage points on the impact of television on the lives of young children; should we be hopeful about its ability to foster play and creativity, or should we be concerned about its impact?
4:14-5:50: What provoked Mr. Rogers to utilize TV as a medium, and a peek into Kim’s evolution as a parent.
5:55- 7:00: The shows our guests’ children enjoyed when they were young, and their own personal early childhood relationship with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood growing up.
7:01-8:06: Why watching paint dry can be entertaining: the power of meditative television.
8:23-10:24: The “other type” of children’s show, and what chaotic or subversive television reveals about the intersection of consumerism and the world of TV, particularly in today’s streaming environment.
10:25-12:45: Wisdom for current parents of littles: watch what they watch, and turn on your “icky” meter.
12:46-13:47: How our guests feel that adult cartoons and marvel movies have impacted young people.
13:48-16:09: On the other hand, the good old days weren’t so perfect: reflections on Bugs Bunny and nursery rhymes and the importance of differentiating reality and imagination for youth.
16:13-17:50: What imagination as a coping mechanism looks like in a PK4 classroom.
17:51-20:42: Why the first thing Ruth’s 1st-4th graders are asked to do when they enter the classroom gives us hope that slower, more deliberate programming can still entertain children; also, Bluey might be the new Mr. Rogers.
20:45-23:25: Tools we can practice as parents of young children after a busy day to help us “live much fuller lives”; “I think that’s the whole point: we all need to slow down.”
23:26- 24:15: The role grandparents can play in slowing us all down, and why we need to better connect across generations.
24:20-25:53: The guests confront accusations that Mr. Rogers’ message resulted in an entitled generation: “Loving yourself and entitlement are two completely different things . . . you can’t go wrong letting people know how much they’re loved.”
Raise your hand if you want to go back to middle school. Anyone? Anyone? (Why is it so quiet in here all of a sudden?) If the thought of re-inhabiting your 13 year old skin makes you cringe, you should be warned, Bo Burnham’s portrayal of Kayla’s culminating middle school year in Eighth Grade might very well transport you right back. But for those of us that work with youth in this age range, 8th Grade might be the most impactful PD experience out there. Why? By putting us smack dab in the center of the young protagonist’s hopes, insecurities, successes, and failures, the movie will do more than just elicit sighs of recognition– it may very well help you see all of your students in an entirely new light. Here to talk about the movie and their wonderful, awkward 8th grade selves are Toby Lowe (5th grade math), Hannah Williams-Inman (7th-8th grade Spanish), and Hollie Marjanovic (US Learning Facilitator).
3:55-5:10: How Hannah’s 8th grade year represented a huge identity shift from shy to confident, much like Kayla, the protagonist in the movie.
5:15-7:55: How Hollie’s 8th grade grade year was fraught with all of the normal awkward things in 8th grade, but also compounded by transferring to a new school and a school-wide tragedy; and the role that safe and kind adults played.
7:59-10:11: Why 8th grade was Toby’s least favorite year, and that strong sense waiting for life to start, trying to find your thing when you don’t yet know quite who you are.
10:15-11:02: Why it can feel like a huge relief for us as faculty to remember how marginal teachers can be in the lives of students, at best “blundering idiots.”
13:27-15:55: How Kayla’s middle school experiences contrast with the reality of our 5th-8th graders at St. Andrew’s; also Hannah drops some wisdom: “All 8th graders want to belong and feel like they don’t. 100% want to be part of something and don’t feel they are part of something yet.”
15:57- 17:55: We zoom a bit more into Kayla, her need to make help videos, and why 8th grade is, as Toby puts it, “such a well observed movie.”
17:56- 19:30: Toby recalls the “ visiting your friend’s huge mansion effect” from his own coming-of-age, and Hannah points out that adolescence is a project of comparison: “Should my life look like I’m having fun in this pool party with friends?”
19:36- 21:48: We gush about perhaps our favorite 8th grade character in the movie, the oh-so-lovable Gabe.
22:55-26:32: The good, bad, and ugly of when Kayla gets a glimpse into high school life, and does this have implications for our 5th-12th grade north campus?
26:38-34:35: We talk the role that technology plays in the movie, our own relationships with devices, researched links to anxiety, and our cell phone policies at school.
34:36-35:30: Reasons we think Kayla’s dad should win best dad ever.
35:31-37:20: The climactic end of the movie, time capsules, and Kayla seeing the light after a very fraught year of growing up.
37:42-41:11:Toby asks us to muster up our past 8th grade girl perspective: “Is there really all that staring and boy anxiety?!”
41:16-42:20: Why we just want to find every awkward kid and hug them and make them feel better. Also, we are ALL still Kayla, even those of us in our forties.
44:28-end: Hannah ends the episode with more words of insight: “It feels impossible that someone could look at you with all your mess, frizzy hair, and think that you are easy to love. It seems impossible! But we’ve all been there! And they are so easy to love.”
We got really deep in our last podcast season. The word accountability doesn’t exactly evoke flowers and rainbows, particularly in the context of schooling. Those conversations were powerful, real, and needed. But we (Toby, Kim, Michelle, Rachel, Buck, and Hollie) decided it was time for something a little lighter. This spring we are excited to launch a season that demands that we put down our stacks of work and go binge watch some Hulu. That’s right . . . we are looking at the ways that television and movies portray youth and schooling!
For those of us on the inside, representations of our profession can often be pretty annoying. (Take for example, the whole set of “savior” narratives in which the white teacher comes in with their unconventional methods and big heart and effortlessly changes an entire school culture.) But today we launch our season with what is perhaps the most entertaining and talked-about and (dare-I-say) possibly even realistic creative contribution to the genre: Abbott Elementary! Of course the best people to talk about it are our every-day south campus folks. Hosted by first grade teacher Michelle Portera, this episode features perspectives from Taylor Davis (PK3), Anna Frame (4th grade), Meredith Boler (2nd grade), and Sarah Rabke (our awesome newish permanent LS sub). Whether you are an avid fan of the show or have never even heard of it, you are going to love this episode.
3:53-4:50; 31:23-31:54: Why/how you should start watching Abbott Elementary immediately!
4:55-6:35: What Anna Frame’s favorite scene has in common with St. Andrew’s very own lost and found.
6:28-7:42: Why Meredith Boler loves the format: it’s so relatable.
7:46-8:58: How much the character Janine reminds us of our first year teacher selves, that one time Taylor Davis made the mistake of telling parents she was a first year teacher, and the age-old fear of young teachers everywhere: “What if I get to the number 3 and the students haven’t yet complied?!”
9:00-10:30: Michelle shares her own raw first-year-teacher-self story.
10:35-12:26: Why the substitute episode resonated big time for permanent sub Sarah Rabke, and a helpful reminder to us to include ALL the details in the sub plans.
12:43-14:05: The group discusses the most resourceful, loving, doesn’t-put-up-with-any-nonsense character: Melissa; also fun fact: if you need any Philly- translations to understand the series, make sure to ask our very own Sara Clark!
14:13-15:24: Why the aspiring-principal-turned-sub-turned-teacher Gregory reminds us of Jim in The Office; and how his “reluctance . . . turns into a really deep passion.”
15:45-20:22: Michelle plays a clip from the show and guests shout out all the Ava character love; she simultaneously incorporates all of the cliches of bad administrators, is so edgy and inappropriate, but underneath that there possesses heart, truth, and insight.
21:07-23:27: The group explores the character of Barbara, who represents the most old school, veteran, master teachers in our schools.
23:28-25:05: In what is my favorite moment of this podcast episode, the group discusses the young, progressive teacher Jacob who may or may not be compared with Anna Frame’s husband, Andy.
25:08-26:29: Guests explore the magical Mr. Johnson, eliciting a shout out to Greg Buyans and building managers everywhere, who do everything and know everything at any given time buoyed by a shocking amount of good humor.
26:31-28:15: It takes no stretch to find resonance in the bathroom/water situation episode for our south campus folks; Sarah recalls her first week on the job at SA this year: “Where am I and why is this happening?!
28:20-30:06: Guests predict what is next with Janine and Gregory’s relationship; and they discuss what happens at education conferences, stays at education conferences.
30:15-31:23: Lest we leave thinking the show is a perfect representation, guests end with sharing all of the unrealistic moments in the show: lunch breaks together; manicures in the middle of the day?! Come on, Abbott Elementary. No way.
Most of the time talk about differentiation brings to mind open-ended projects and choice. Giving students multiple avenues to show what they know is key to making room for meaning making. But what about the ideological differences students bring to classroom spaces? History, which inevitably involves interpretation that shunts between today, yesterday, and tomorrow, is arguably the most contested field of study our youth encounter. Is there a way to make space for both forms of responsiveness to the students in front of us?
Enter stage left: Paul Buckley’s Andrew Jackson Project. Buckley’s assignment sheet begins: “Unit 8: The Age of Jackson is a short unit covering only three lessons from Chapter 10. There will be no test and no quizzes. Rather, you will have three options for how to show your knowledge and understanding of the material.”
Option 1: Hero/Villain Poster– Within the poster option you have choices. You may create a campaign poster which portrays Jackson as a hero. Or you may create a wanted poster which portrays him as a villain. For each of these you will need to include at least four aspects of his life or presidency. It will also include a written component justifying the topics that you chose to incorporate. Further, the poster may be either a virtual or a physical poster.
Option 2: Five Paragraph Essay– Write a 5-paragraph essay in response to this question: “Assess the person and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. To what degree should we celebrate him and to what degree should we apologize for him?”
Option 3: Research Essay– This is the most challenging option and should be attempted only if you are really motivated by the topic. Write a research essay in which you address the question “To what degree are there parallels to be drawn between the persons and presidencies of Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump” You will address their personal characteristics, their policies, and approaches to the presidency.
P.S. Lest you are thinking what I am thinking (everyone is going to do the poster because it’s super easy and fluffy), there was some writing required either way. (See the back of the posters for proof below.)
Such assignment prompts are not for the faint of heart. But anyone who knows Paul knows he cares deeply about supporting students to express their ideas clearly, listen deeply to ideas that differ from their own, and be willing to engage in dialogue across difference. Paul explains further:
The overarching aim is to have kids recognize the complexity of people and historical events. Humans are so complex, aren’t we?! We can hardly even say that we understand ourselves, much less others. This recognition hopefully leads to us judging others, past and present, a little less harshly and with a little more humility. I guess this is one way to help depolarize, eh. Another aim of the project is to help us to recognize when we are using our presentism lens (judging the past by the moral standards of today) and our historicism lens (judging the past by the standards of their time and place).
From my vantage point, Paul is engaging in two flavors of differentiation in this particular project: (1) giving students choice in the product they create to show their understanding of the unit and (2) creating a clear avenue for agency in historical-ideological interpretation.
My two cents? Generally there are very few clear heroes and villains. We all have a good bit of both all wrapped up hiding under our very human skin. And I think the authors of the posters below get that too.
The word is FUN. There’s not a whole lot of chance for kids to just have fun . . and let it be their choice, because they are being driven to this practice and that practice, doing homework in the minivan. All three of us offer and do things with the kids that parents say “NO” to at home, like melting soap to make bath bombs. We’re doing stuff you do at your grandparent’s house, not at your parent’s house. (Patty Wolf)
I went with the carbon snakes where we were burning things, flames shooting up . . . ; they want something exciting and they go “THIS IS SCIENCE?!” yes it is . . . “(gasp) what else can I do” And that’s what I like . . the WHAT ELSE . . . in small groups you CAN do the what else! . . .let’s find out . . (Kathy Vial)
Yeah I think we all do [after school enrichments] that [we] would want to do. If I was little, I would want to do, and I STILL want to do it. I taught woodworking one time because I wanted to learn woodwork. It’s kind of like living through them by doing it. (Kim Sewell)
Fog rising from the grass, I stepped out of the car and wrapped my black, spit-up stained Moby around a half asleep three month old Alianna Rust, securing her to my torso. My husband and I were touring St. Andrew’s (just for fun, not for serious) while on a weekend marathon of house-hunting. (We had left five year old Lucy and two year old Zander in Indiana with the grandparents.) I had just recently accepted a gig at Millsaps College in the oh-so foreign land of Jackson, MS. This school visit was happening courtesy of a recommendation from an admissions-counselor at an Ivy League buddy of mine; she thought we should at least check out the school because of my research interest in K-12 education. But about 30 minutes into the tour, I felt a distinct sense of home. My mind began spinning with questions: (1) Is this place for real? (2) Could we possibly afford this place?, and (3) Do they have high quality after school programming?
For many working parents with children of a certain age range, finding safe and enriching opportunities for their babies between the hours of 3pm-5pm can become a Herculean task. St. Andrew’s established After School Care Programming and enrichment auxiliary classes was one large reason my husband and I decided to take the leap into the world of independent school. So perhaps it’s about time we zoomed in on all the goodness that happens after the official school day ends. Jay Losset and his crew of enrichment faculty and after school staff know that meeting students’ diverse needs after the day is done (right about when exhaustion and hunger can set in) is no small order. Nevertheless, they do so with a spirit of fun and ease that could serve as inspiration for us all.
I sat down with Jay Losset (Director of Auxillary Programming), Kathy Vial (Science faculty and long-time teacher of After School Science), Kim Sewell (PK4 faculty member and Enrichment teacher of classes like Tinkerlab; Emerging Engineers, Slimes, Doughs and Crazy Concoctions), and Patty Wolf (Teaching Assistant and Enrichment teacher of Happy Panda Yoga, Mindfulness, and Glow Girls) to learn more about the magic that makes it all work. (See them all pictured from left to right below.)
Jay, you are an enigma to me with all you manage as director of all of this after-school business for the past nine years! Under your leadership, our camps and after school programming has blossomed beautifully. What is a day in the life like?
Well it depends on the time of year. I oversee camps when school is out (throughout the school year on specific holidays and teacher work days); enrichment classes (we’re up to 60+), and Saints Summer Experience (Lord willing, registration begins Feb 27th!) Right now I’m trying to hop to summer because they go live in 20 days, but I can’t tell parents their concerns have to wait until I’m done with that. It’s the day-to -day stuff. Lynn Davis, Auxillary Programs Associate, keeps the trains of ASC running; I don’t know how I did it before her! I’m either getting ready for fall/spring enrichments or summer as well as the constant churn of ASC. (Jay)
I know that After School Care is quite distinct from Enrichments, so let’s start there. It’s a bit more affordable of an option, more play-based, and less structured. I know my three Rusts have spent many an hour doing homework in the Commons, playing outside, and watching the occasional movie inside before we can get them at the end of the day. What’s it all about?
Jay: It’s a place for kids to play after hours that’s safe; I think a lot of parents miss that. There are all of these nostalgic Facebook posts about “what I did when I was growing up in the 80’s.” Some of it was great and some of it was horrible–rose tinted glasses and all that. We were doing things that we shouldn’t have done. It’s nostalgic and there were no screens back then, but some of that was not great. In ASC we have guard rails in place to keep the worst stuff at bay. We let multiple grades play together; a 1st grader and a 4th grader can look at Pokemon together. It’s sort of a good experiment of sorts. It gives modern working parents who may lack the neighborhood or don’t feel safe letting them run wild from 3-5 or they can’t get the kid or they have to work. The number of kids that use it, [not having it] would affect a lot of working parents. After school care is sort of a wild, necessary beast. I can’t imagine St. Andrew’s existing without it.
Thanks for that, Jay. I see you’ve invited three fabulous and experienced enrichment teachers to join us today. Why did you choose Kathy, Kim, and Patty today?
Jay: Ya’ll came to mind because yours are some of the programs that have multi-year track records of success. For new/prospective teachers, I want to say “go talk to these guys”- they have it down to an art, a science. Thanks to ya’ll for what you do and being so self sufficient because a lot has changed.
What compliments! And of all of the veterans, I think Kathy wins the award. I’ve learned just today that she’s been doing after school science for 19 years; when she began, our after school programming just consisted of her science class and basketball. What keeps you going, Kathy?
Kathy: Well we teachers have a vested interest in these kids, and I can do things in my after school science class that I couldn’t do with a full load of kids; we can make sure it gets geared to them.. Of course, it depends on the day. If something has gone down during the school day, it is a little harder. But as far as planning, I know my subject. And I have fun doing it. And I can do it with kids who are excited to do it because they want to, and they get to truly experiment. They love it, and that brings me up. Of course I still go home and say “we are ordering out”. For me, I love what I do. Especially when they are going “GASP- can we do THIS?!” And you can’t do it in one [regular school day] class because if you do it in one class you have to do it for the whole grade. And they get a whole lot of “I remember,” and that’s fun too and I say “Can you tell me what you remember, and let’s expand on it.”
What about you Patty? How do you find the energy after a full day at work to do enrichments?
Patty: It’s not a struggle or a drag. I love it. I look so forward to it. This is my second side hustle. I sell real estate so my day ends at 9-9:30. I have another job after this. You know, what else am I gonna do? It’s a happy time. As far as the planning, it takes place during weekends. I plan for the week; I theme lesson plans. Valentine lesson plans, games, activities on a theme, exercises to go with each theme. I tweak it depending on how many students and the ages. And for Glow Girls I have 20-25 different things whether it’s making bath bombs or self portrait or art. Try to hit varied subjects each semester, each week and let them know what’s coming up the following week. “See ya Friday at glow girls!”
That’s amazing! Kim- do you also find this work rejuvenating, despite the added labor?
Kim: Yeah I think we all do things, like I do [after school enrichments] that I would want to do– if I was little, I would want to do and I still want to do it. I taught woodworking one time because I wanted to learn woodwork. It’s kind of like living through them by doing it. It’s not a drag at all. It gets harder for me when I have a lot of kids. It’s more stress when you have 12 kids versus 8. I remember when Inglish DeVoss left she asked if I wanted to do cooking, which was always packed, but I hate to cook. Do I want to do cooking that I hate and make so much money and I was like, “no.”
The theme of this month is teaching the students in front of us; knowing them and adjusting accordingly. What could classroom teachers glean from something you’ve learned while facilitating enrichments?
Kathy: Since 2005 I’ve been doing after school science. The one thing I’ve learned is that kids react to each other better and work together better if there is laughter and part of it is, “See where you want to sit” “See who you want to work with”; and “Remember there are other people who might not know you yet.” And I’ve never had a problem with that. Then the kids have their hand in planning it . . . [In after school science] we were identifying bases and acids and they said, “When are we gonna do some real science” and I said, “This IS real science” . . . and of course they were laughing. They said they want to do more science and I said, “What kind of science?” and they said “EXCITING!” I went with the carbon snakes where we were burning things, flames shooting up. They want something exciting, and they go: “THIS IS SCIENCE?!” “Yes it is!” “(GASP) What else can I do?” And that’s what I like . . the “WHAT ELSE” . . . In small groups you can do the “what else”! . . .”Let’s find out.” As long as there is (1)laughter (2) they have a hand in guiding it, we can guide where their questions lead them. They’ve got to come up with them. And it makes me excited. . I like it so, what can I say; I have fun!
It’s interesting your repetition of the word “fun”. Does that resonate with anyone else?
Patty: That’s it. The word is FUN- there’s not a whole lot of chance for kids to just have fun, and let it be their choice because they are being driven to this practice and that practice doing homework. All three of us offer and do things with the kids that parents say “NO” to at home, like melting soap to make bath bombs, messy. We’re doing stuff you do at your grandparent’s house, not at your parent’s house. And I send home directions on how to do this or that so they can know the ingredients, but even making smoothies, it’s messy, and who wants to go buy 8 bags of frozen fruit to make one child a smoothie at home or whatever! But it is a mess, but they are paying us to make a mess with the kids!
Okay so is it all just fun and games? Or is there serious “learning” that takes place?
Kathy: When I was doing rocket science: “Ok you want your water bottle to go how high?” “How are you gonna measure it?” And they have to come up with ideas on how to do finger measuring and estimates. And baking soda versus vinegar and recording it. But they don’t get upset about it because it’s theirs . . . they have a hand in it.
Patty: [Enrichment classes offer] an opportunity for kids to talk about school with their parents; they will talk about it.
How does choice/interest play into the success of enrichments?
Kim: I think for the most part parents give the kids agency to pick [which enrichments they are in] . . I’ve hardly ever had a kid that didn’t get to choose their enrichments.
What about the role of the social?
Jay: I think that’s important, because these [enrichment and after school care times] are some of the few chances kids get to do intermingled activities with different age groups.
Patty: Something I’ve learned from my work with enrichments: When we teachers are placing children for the following fall, [we should] pay attention more to how the children play, who they play with, who they are comfortable with. It will draw more out of a child in the classroom when they are with children that they play with: comfort and confidence.
Jay- any final pieces of information you want to share with faculty members reading this?
Jay: Staffing, particularly in after school care, will always be an issue, no matter what. Space is also a challenge – we are at capacity in the Early Childhood Center! I’m proud that we’ve been able to grow the program back to where we were pre-covid. In some areas, we’re much bigger than we were before covid. The breadth and depth of our enrichment offerings continues to grow. Sidenote: I’m always looking for someone to teach typing and chess!
I can tell you the day that I made peace with children falling asleep in my class. I was in the second semester of my first year teaching at (then) T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Another teacher friend who taught at a high school in North Carolina had recently tweeted something to the effect that she had no problem letting a child sleep in her class if that was what they needed at that point in the day or in their life. When I first read this tweet, my righteously indignant, “the children must learn at all costs and there shall be no excuses” (my–not everyone’s, but my particular flavor of (a) Teach For America self) was up in arms. The children? Allowed to sleep? Surely your lessons are hideously unengaging? Perhaps you’re incoherent and they can’t follow what you’re doing? Maybe they’re up all night playing video games at home? Whatever the reason, this. cannot. happen.
And then I taught in the International Academy (The IA) at T.C. I had students as old as 23, and as young as 15. I was teaching Geometry and Physics to students who had all recently come to the United States–mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, but also from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Moldova and a number of other countries. Their English levels ranged from fairly solid spoken, but rough around the edges written to “I should probably smile when you say what is your name because I have no idea what you are saying unless my friend who is also from my country translates.” It was a lot. My biggest rookie IA mistake was asking a room full of English language learners to trace something assuming they all knew what trace meant. And then I had to try to explain tracing as simply as possible, but with props.
But back to the sleeping. For much of my first year, when a student fell asleep in my class, I was irritated. I was out there busting my tail to make these lessons engaging, with low linguistic floors for entry and high ceilings for the thinking required to do them. And these students had the audacity to fall asleep in my classes. I began to ask around–among colleagues, the social worker (a really great man named David Wynn, who is 100% one of the greatest and most thoughtful and hilarious humans I’ve ever met and had the privilege to work with), and among my students themselves. What slowly became clear to me was that easily half of my classes were students who left school and went straight to a job, many at restaurants, some in other businesses, where they worked essentially full time jobs. Some worked demolition or construction after school and then worked even more on the weekends. We didn’t have a ton of disposable income while we lived in Alexandria, but when we went out to restaurants, I began to recognize my students as bar backs, busboys, cooks and food servers. And when I asked the ones I knew back at school how much they worked or what they had done over the weekend. And almost to a person, they said that they’d worked basically the entire weekend and that they worked a lot of nights during the week.
Some of these students were working for walking around money, but a lot of them were working because their family or the people with whom they lived needed their income in order to make the ends meet. A couple, for several different reasons including age, lived on their own. While in high school. In a foreign country they’d lived in for less than 3 years. It was mind boggling. Of course many of them were exhausted on Mondays or by Thursday night or didn’t show up on Friday morning. They were doing the equivalent of two jobs between work and school and the job that didn’t have as much to do with their survival was the one where they felt enough space to relax. My position in sleeping moderated. I moved from just being irritated by it to asking a couple of questions and doing my homework about who was working where and how much and what the situation was.
My point here isn’t to romanticize the life of teaching immigrants or to say that I got this right. It’s just to point out that there’s an internal logic to what our students do, even when they’re wrong for it in our eyes. What makes sense to people is what they do. And I think a big part of meeting our students where they are is trying to parse out this internal logic and if not to take it into account when we make decisions about children, at least to see that it’s something worth paying attention to. Sometimes it’s something worth respecting. We can go a long way towards meeting our students where they are if we respond to something that they do that’s upsetting appropriately, but thoughtfully, with the understanding that whatever they’re doing makes sense to them, and that that sense is worth getting our heads around.
A few weeks ago, a group from the Lower School made the trip down to New Orleans for some of the most enjoyable professional development, school visits!
Maya Buford, Jessica Farris, Kathy Vial, Mayson McKey, Sara Clark, Sarah Walker, and myself spent two days visiting schools in Metarie and New Orleans. The group visited St. Martin Episcopal School, Metairie Park Country Day, Isidore Newman School, and even got to catch up with Virginia Buchanan, a valued and treasured member of our St. Andrew’s family.
The purpose of the trip was to observe best practices for the application and integration of visual and performing arts, world languages, science, makerspace, and tech integration.
The co curricular team had wonderful and insightful tours and had numerous valuable conversations with teachers and administrators at each of the schools visited.
At St. Martin Episcopal School, the team witnessed the benefits of having departments from all divisions working together, planning, and sharing resources that enriched the students’ learning experiences both in and out of the core content classrooms, as well as fostered the growth of the community as whole from the preschool all the way to the senior class, where students parents, faculty and staff were all valuable parts of the whole.
Metairie Park Country Day was a magical experience where the team was able to observe that thinking outside the box and non-traditional classroom models can actually be a widely successful model for differentiation and student success. High expectations and relationships were the backbone of every story and interaction beheld at the school where students participated in specialized blocks of time for club and enrichment activities held by every member of the faculty and staff.
Isodore Newman welcomed us with open arms, and was excited for our group of teachers to join in their monthly assembly called the Greenie Gathering, where they infuse their monthly calendar with a critical to the educational experience, FUN! Special songs, guests from the community, celebrating success, student and event showcases, and reminders of who they are as a community shined through.
The team saw so many things that these schools were doing well, and that there is truly not some perfect model for all schools to follow and be successful. The keys are its members, the mission, and knowing and meeting the needs of your community and students.
Although much was learned, seen, and many more ideas were brought to the forefront for future pondering, the overall take-away: There are so many things in which St. Andrew’s excels, and we are proud to be part of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal community.
Take a walk through through the halls, so to speak, by talking a look at a few of the pictures below.
100% commitment to 24/7 differentiation in any classroom, in its purest and most consistent form, is probably unattainable for a teacher with any semblance of work/life balance. Why? It takes a whole lot of that slippery, precious precious resource: time.
Maybe it’s possible if you are homeschooling your single child at home. Maybe then. Only then.
When I was barely 21 years old and looked about 10, I spent my first three years teaching seven preps (6th Grammar/Writing, 6th Reading, 7th Grammar/Writing, 7th Reading, 8th Grammar/Writing, 8th Reading, 8th US History) at a tiny private Catholic School in Terre Haute, IN. The entire 6th grade class had 31 students in it, so I needed a few extra chairs. 7th grade, though only populated by 10 students, made up for it in their constant talking over me. 8th grade was a more manageable 25 or so. I had never had a full time teaching gig before, so I didn’t know enough to know this was an insanely challenging load for a first year teacher. I had a brand new husband, which in my opinion shouldn’t need any maintenance. I remember distinctly thinking: “Oh this is a job you have to work hard for? I’m good at working fast. Time, for me, is a flexible heuristic.” (Oh dear, dear Julie before three kids. You had no idea just how finite time would become.)
So, I dedicated my life to this new adventure: morning, noon, night, weekends. I rode my bike in the just-rising 6am sun to arrive early to the building, in time to begin my daily routine of faking it until you make it. Sometimes I was reading the history chapter for the first time as I taught it. I had copious stacks of worksheets just-in-case I ran out of lesson plans. (Spoiler: I never ran out of lesson plans. I eventually recycled all of the worksheets.) I would sometimes watch a movie with my husband on a Saturday night while responding to letters my students had written me about the books they were reading. I found a bag of chocolate chips was a wonderful way to get through an impossible load of essays.
Lesson planning was my favorite world of exhilarating possibility. How might I spend the next hour, day, week, month, unit, year as I intentionally met the needs of each of my students? I buried myself in articles clipped from English Journal and Voices from the Middle and resources I gobbled up at every conference I was able to get my hands on. It was completely exhausting and completely unsustainable and completely wonderful. I fell in love with my students and my profession as I fell in love with my husband. I grew into my authority as an adult in the room as I literally grew into being an adult. I don’t recommend this kind of entry into teaching for any first year teacher. Funny thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What could possibly take me so much time? Well for one, I was a complete novice with no English teaching buddy or mentor in the building. There was no existing curriculum that I thought was worth its salt. So I painstakingly built it from the ground up. But there was something else at play here too . . .an annoying persistence to live out my educational philosophy that the best teaching involves giving individual students what they need in relation to interest, skill level, etc. Why put on an existing play when students could write a play based on their local reality? Why use an existing lesson plan on persuasive writing when I could craft an authentic series of activities related to my overdue library books and have students work on letter writing at the same time? Kids are complaining about homework? Let’s turn this into a research opportunity and have them lead a debate for the full school on whether homework in middle grades improve achievement. Every comment a kid made was a learning opportunity, a data point . ..one that if I listened hard enough could totally shift the trajectory of our curriculum.
For me, the calling to differentiation also often took the form of copious individualized feedback-tracking at every turn. Every journal entry required a personal response that both affirmed and gave a suggestion for improvement. Every worksheet was graded for accuracy and put into a spreadsheet I utilized to track individualized mastery of ELA Indiana Academic Standards. Sometimes feedback took the form of one-on-one conferences which I tracked on a different spreadsheet so I could account for what each student was working on and their progress. We talked individually about their books, about their writing pieces (which were individualized by genre based on interest of course.) The days and class periods flew by. Sometimes, the results of my work on student growth were astounding. Just as often, though, I found the first draft of an essay I had lovingly written all over crumbled on the floor. My feedback had never been read. By the end of most days, when I tried to read a few paragraphs in a book for myself, my eyes either refused to focus or I fell immediately asleep.
You can see where this story is going. I almost lost my mind those first few years of teaching. This “all the differentiation all the time” approach was killing me and exhausting my kids. It was also having the unintended impact of creating a curriculum that was all-over-the-place and failed to re-loop enough for most students to grasp full mastery.
This I believe: Differentiating and following individual students’ interests, skill levels, etc. is a TOOL in the TOOLKIT. It is not the whole kit and caboodle. On the other side of the coin, if we are never doing it because “it takes more time” or because “this isn’t how I was taught” or “this isn’t how we did it 20 years ago,” shame on us. Butlet’s not go crazy either. Sometimes, we can all benefit from the same lesson, the same message, the same way, at the same time. Sometimes the kids that are stronger in an area can then help teach the others and bring them along. This is slowing down their content acquisition process, sure, but is also helping them grow some skills: communication, collaboration, articulation of understanding, metacognitive skills. This is, at its heart a number of game. And if there is one of us and 20 of them in a classroom, well . .. you do the math.
And also there’s this: sometimes differentiating would be better, but for the sake of a healthy and balanced teacher that needs to have a life outside of school, we go with second best.
And guess what? Everyone still survives, learns some stuff, and goes on to live and learn another day.
I know a girl. A very smart, beautiful girl who can be shy around her peers. She is passionate about science and her brain is constantly wondering things about the world. She likes who she is and is ok with the fact that others may not always value her personality type. She is unaware of how funny she can be and often delivers a perfectly timed one-liner followed by, “What? Why are you laughing?! ” Prior to St Andrew’s, she attended a “good” school, but found it hard to make friends or even find someone to converse with on a daily basis. School was something to get through and survive. Although she knew she had a lot to offer the world, it was a struggle to find people who were ready to acknowledge or receive it.
In 7th grade, she became a Saint. The smaller class size, diverse student body, and incredible teachers made school something to look forward to. The following year, she took a chance and tried out for the school play. She hoped for an ensemble role that would allow her to be in a group, blending into the background, where she is most comfortable. But. . she wasn’t anticipating the teacher eyes that can see past the surface and into the possibilities, or gaze at the acorn and see the mighty oak. She was given, not a blend in part, but a front and center role! To her, it felt surprising and scary, but also intriguing and hopeful. This brave girl decided to give it a shot. She looked forward to each practice, delighted to discover that singing wasn’t just something she did for choir, but something she truly loved to do.
There were Moments. Big scary ones. At rehearsals, her mind and body battled it out to see which version of herself would show up that day. Sometimes her mind would reassure her that she was safe, cared for, and able to embody her role in front of an audience. Other days, her friend Anxiety would freak out and she wouldn’t show up at all. Those days she went home defeated and disappointed in herself were the absolute worst. The next day was usually fantastic, though, because her teacher knowingly assured her, “It’s all part of the process,” and that empathy calmed the anxiety right down. It was a sweet surprise when peers asked how the play was going or said they planned to attend her performance. This sense of community was new and it meant everything.
In the end, she did it! Her grandmother commented that she wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. After all, this was the girl who refused to unwrap birthday presents at her party because too many people were watching. Now her world had opened up, and with it, her confidence. She learned something that many adults
(read: me) have yet to fully realize–often, avoiding the hard thing means missing out on the good stuff.
This isn’t only about a theater teacher or a school play. It’s a nod to all the little moments that led to this. It’s the teachers who asked her to stand and present her work to the class, or taught her to work in a group, or pushed her just a little outside of her comfort zone. It’s the ones who have asked her questions about herself and made her feel worth knowing. The teacher who texted on a Saturday to say she enjoyed reading her essay. The administration who works hard to create a sense of community where everyone matters. It’s you reading this right now, because you are invested in this place and these people. It ripples outward, starting with the energy you bring here. Change mostly happens in small ways that, in the end, are a big part of who our students will become. Sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t. We are hyper-aware of ways we need to grow in our professional practices–good teachers are always reflecting and adjusting. But balance any feelings of guilt or dissatisfaction with the knowing that you are part of life-changing work. That thing you wanted to do when you decided to go into education? You’re doing it.
Sometimes when I leave my office or a classroom and head down to the ARC, I feel like I’m entering an entirely different world. Indeed, in some ways, the workflow of a coach is nearly unrecognizable from a faculty member’s: starting in earnest before school, loosening up during the school day, and then really amping up when the rest of us are starting to go home. The joke is that at any given time, you can find the coaches dining on Chick Fillet in that gorgeous set of athletics offices, and to be fair, when the coaches asked to chat with me a few weeks ago, there were indeed myriad hot and delicious breakfast sandwiches to choose from. But don’t let the shiny offices and delicious array of food deceive you. The minute we got to talking, the meeting sounded pretty much like every faculty meeting I have ever been in: folks concerned first and foremost for the the youth they worked with, exhausted from juggling the demands of all of the stakeholders (students-parents-admin-etc.), and convinced that the best way to help students grow is by providing them with timely and focused feedback.
(Here I should pause to note: the perceived athletic/academic divide is absurd since so many of our community members teach by day and coach by afternoon/night. To those folks I send a double dose of respect.)
Of course I’m most certainly not the first (and won’t be the last) to point out the vocation of coaching athletics and teaching academics have a whole lot in common. (For example, check out Hollie Marjanovic’s killer-good 2021 blog: “The Athletics-Academics Connection, and Why Preparing for Finals is a lot like Practicing for the Big Game.” ) But in this month’s blogs focusing on “teaching the students in front of you,” it feels like an exceptionally good time to revisit how much common ground coaches and faculty share. But since I, Julie Rust band and drama geek, know about nothing about the life of athletics, I thought we better hear it straight from the coaches themselves: from 36 year veteran Burney King to our first year fabulous tennis coach, Jessie Humble. I have a feeling reading their ideas below will inspire you in your own work with students, whether your main medium is novels, numbers, art canvases, or tennis courts.
How do you work to target individual athletes’ needs during practices or competitions?
I try to build a session that will focus both on the team as a whole and then individual units. In soccer, all players need the fundamentals of being able to control, pass and dribble so we will begin with a full team activity that works on these three basics. I then try to design activities based on position and split the players up accordingly. For example; attackers will work on shooting/finishing with the goalkeeper and defenders will work on defending crosses, long balls etc. Sessions will be regularly updated to focus on any weaknesses that we have noticed in games. I would love to do more 1 on 1 work with players but our season is so short and practice is so limited that we usually don’t have the time. (Perry Goldsbury, Boys Soccer Coach)
With the pre-season and early season being conditioning and fundamentals there is not much room for variations. However when we “talk” skills it does vary. We try and make sure we verbally recognize each kid daily by simply saying their name and encourage those who struggle more with certain skills. (Burney King, Girls Basketball Coach)
We have a very young sport here in Mississippi so most all of the student athletes are in the toddler phase of the sport. We are on the mat with them correcting techniques in the moment… in real time. I think it is important to be able to get in there and mix it up with them so they know what a good training partner should do when drilling techniques. (Justin Rust, Assistant Wrestling Coach)
I try to ensure an atmosphere where one can be and express themselves without judgment from coaches and their peers. I also make myself available for any student athlete that needs to address me for any reason. (Lee Marshall, Cheer Coach)
I would say it is based on what we see in practice. If there is an athlete that needs more instruction or skill work in a certain area, you stop and address it then during practice. Then continue to work on it each practice so you start to see improvement in that area with them. (Jessie Humble, Tennis Coach)
The more accomplished you become in the weight room, the greater your self confidence will be on the field or in your sport. You’ll know, in your heart, that you’re doing everything possible to become a stronger and more skilled athlete, and lose any doubts about your ability to compete. And all the while you’re strengthening yourself, you can rest assured that you’re also reducing your chance of being injured. (Joe Ray, Strength & Conditioning)
Each athlete has different needs. You can’t coach them all the same, some may need more pulling than others, where others you can push. You have to know each player’s strength and put them in the best position to be successful in their role. You can get them out of their comfort zone to embrace what it will take for them to see they have the ability to see the results they want to see. Practice is supposed to be intense so when it is time to compete the tone is already set. (Sarah Spann, Girls Basketball Coach)
One way I do this is to break apart our practice time into different “periods” focusing on individual work, specialty groups, and entire team instruction. (Johnny Nichols, Football Coach)
Something I love about softball is every practice can be different because there are so many different skills to work on. My goal is to build well-rounded athletes, which means we have lots of different skills to work on. We may work on some of the same skills daily, but there are tons of different drills and ways to work on them. My “for you” page on TikTok is almost entirely teacher videos and softball drills. I love finding and then trying new drills to keep things new and fresh at practice. (Hannah Doggett, Softball Coach)
We definitely have a wide range of skill levels and also many players who play multiple positions. One of the hardest things is to design a practice for our players to get reps at the different positions they play. (Mark Fanning, Baseball Coach)
How do you work to challenge all athletes in the course of one practice session with so many different skill levels represented?
Each of my activities have different variations attached to them. I’m lucky enough to have a JV and Varsity team which makes it easier to challenge the different skill levels. My varsity team will go through all the variations I have assigned whilst my JV team will only go through 1 or 2. The aim of my sessions are to challenge the top players and set high standards for everyone. I believe it’s important to set high standards but I believe as a coach you have to understand that by doing this you have to be understanding to some of the younger/newer players who may that not be at that level yet. As long as players are trying their best, working hard and being willing to learn I am forgiving on small technical or tactical mistakes that they may make. (Perry Goldsbury, Head Soccer Coach)
We challenge each kid to the max each day with the understanding some will need more encouragement than others. Also the teammates who excel are really good at encouraging those who might have a more difficult time. (Burney King, Girls Basketball Coach)
We do ladder drills where we group the wrestlers by weight classes and have one of them “own it” for multiple rotations. We put them in situations and have them wrestle “live” to get real match scenarios. Once they have gone a few rounds with fresh guys coming in then the skill levels start to even due to them getting tired. This is to have them focus on technique when tired and how to push through those moments when in a match. We put them in tougher situations than they will face in a match so it will be easier in those situations. We, the coaches, also jump in to push them when needed. (Justin Rust, Assistant Wrestling Coach)
Open discussion from each team member what they want for the team. Make note of the objective and goals. Put them in position to hold everyone accountable; expectations on both side, athlete and coach; ongoing UPLIFT and when necessary Tough LOVE. (Lee Marshall)
We separate the JV/Varsity into their sections and work with each according to their skill level/ needs. (Jessie Humble, Tennis Coach)
Everyone is going to develop at a different rate in the weight room, you cannot compare yourself to others. There’s something special about going one on one with a barbell and succeeding ant that’s what you build off of. (Joe Ray, Strength & Conditioning)
That as a team we all have the same goal we set as one. Different skills level are great, meaning we will not be a limited team, but we have to stick together. The standard of a program where you want sustainability requires discipline, commitment, and eliminating the me, and embracing the team aspects. (Sarah Spann, Girls Basketball)
For football, we do daily skill specific drill repetitions that relate to the player’s position. During these individual drills we can challenge each player and push them according to what we know about their skills and abilities. (Johnny Nichols, Football Coach)
In softball, there are 9 different positions on the field. While some positions have similarities, each one is unique with distinct differences. I vary the structure of my practices constantly. Sometimes I split the girls into groups based on their skill levels, sometimes I split older girls and younger girls, while other times I just randomly split the team evenly. When I throw front toss at practice, I am able to give one-on-one hitting support to each player. This means I can target specific mechanics for each player during this time, which I really value and try to make the most of. I also try to always set aside a little time with each position and work on skills specific to that position. I am always encouraging my older girls to step up, be leaders, and help the younger girls. With most drills, I can easily vary the level of difficulty or challenge based on the player’s skill level. (Hannah Doggett, Softball Coach)
At times, I try to stagger the groups so when our younger players are in the batting cage, the older players are on the field, and then they switch. We are then able to increase the difficulty of the skill practiced based on the skill level and experience of the group. (Mark Fanning, Baseball Coach)
Is coaching a form of teaching? Why or why not?
Absolutely! I was a coach before I was a teacher but I became interested in being a teacher through my enjoyment of coaching. You have to design a session (lesson plan), you have to conduct the session and keep people on task (classroom management), you then have to provide feedback and assess players performance (tests/quizzes) and you have to be able to motivate the players to do their best (create and build relationship with students). (Perry Goldsbury, Boys Soccer Coach)
Absolutely! Our content must be broken down into its simplest form and taught back to the whole. Any coach worth his “salt” is a great teacher. We use techniques such as whole-part-whole just as classroom teachers do. (Burney King, Girls Basketball Coach)
Absolutely… and I am learning every practice how to do it better from our head coach. It is easy for me to get on the mat and wrestle. It is not as easy to break it down into the small steps to get them to that particular destination. Then there is the challenge of once having broken down a particular technique and then being able to get it out of your head all the way to your mouth and to be able to make it make since to each individual wrestler. Not everyone processes the information the same way… You can’t just teach it one way. (Justin Rust, Assistant Wrestling Coach)
Definitely, Teachers and Coaches are on the same team and share the same goal. I think sometimes that part gets lost between the two. As a coach I always stress the importance of giving your best during practices, performances; in the classroom and in their community. We are both equipping these kids with the tools to make it and be a contributing impact in this world. Foundation is very important. Coaches and Teachers are part of that foundation. It’s a collaborative effort. (Lee Marshall)
I would say it is more like a percentage… 30% teaching 70% coaching. Teaching being the correction/instruction you are giving to help the athlete learn to play the sport better. Coaching being skill building and instruction during practice and games.(Jessie Humble, Tennis Coach)
Yes, great coaches are the best teachers. To be successful you must be able to master your sport, and great coaches help you get to that point. (Joe Ray)
Coaching is teaching. You are able to teach the fundamentals of a sport and life lessons to athletes that had no awareness or to enhance the tools to continue to grow within their skill set and applying them on a daily basis. Each year, you should see the development of an athlete. (Sarah Spann, Girls Basketball Coach)
Yes! The students who come to play football (or any sport) come with a wide range of abilities, skills, and knowledge so I have to assess their backgrounds and determine how to give them what they need to participate and be successful. (Johnny Nichols, Football Coach)
100% YES! Great teachers are always trying to better their craft, whether that be through research, attending conferences, finding new resources, etc. The same goes for great coaches. Coaches are constantly looking for new drills, new workouts, new ways to challenge their athletes. Teachers work daily to help their students master standards and coaches work daily to help their athletes master their sport’s skills. Also, to be a great coach you need to know and care about your athletes outside of the sport, just like great teachers care about their students’ lives outside of the classroom. Lastly, in a classroom, teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of their students. The same goes for coaches who differentiate their practice plans based on their athletes’ skill levels. (Hannah Doggett, Softball Coach)
Absolutely, I am able to see the progression of our students/players each day and from year to year. That allows me to adjust practice plans to move more quickly to something new or to go back over something that we did not do well. (Mark Fanning, Baseball Coach)
Do you have a story about a particularly successful coaching move you’ve made or perhaps something that didn’t go well that we could all learn from?
To date the greatest success story involves a young lady in the Class of 99. When she came out in the 7th grade we cut her. The same thing happened to her in her 8th grade year. In the 9th grade we kept her and she happened to grow 6″ between her 9th and 10th grade season and became our first girl off the bench her sophomore season. She would go on to be a two year starter. Her four years in high school we won 100 games which is the most successful four year stretch in school history. Currently, she has two boys attending St. Andrew’s and is one of our most ardent supporters. (Burney King, Girls Basketball Coach)
The many times I helped one realize their potential on and off the floor; self love and respect for not only themselves but their peers; developed leadership skills (Lee Marshall)
I have learned over the past 3 to 4 years that you have to meet players where they are and in doing that it allows space for more grace, motivation, and accountability. When players see that you care about their overall well being, you see a difference in how they compete. (Sarah Spann, Girls Basketball Coach)
Last year, our varsity team of mostly middle schoolers faced very tough district opponents. Even though we were getting run ruled, it amazed me that my girls stayed positive and continued to encourage each other. Several opposing coaches gave them compliments after the game for the way they never stopped cheering each other on. While I am very competitive and I did not enjoy getting run ruled every game last year, this was a huge win for me as a coach. The takeaway is that while winning is great, it isn’t all about winning. My girls were and are a true team. Our team theme this year is “Trust the Process.” With 8 of my 12 girls who played last year returning this year despite the rough season, the only way we can go is up. (Hannah Doggett, Softball Coach)
In sports you are going to have your ups and downs, the main thing is to keep the perspective on what you are trying to accomplish. Example: If a golfer hits a bad shot, and he allows his frustrations get to him, it’s going to affect his next several shots, how to handle that! If you hit a bad shot, you have to have a case of amnesia, forget about it and move on to your next shot. (Joe Ray)
Anything else you want to share with teachers about your lived experience with coaching?
There is no greater profession than being a teacher and no greater moniker than Coach! (Burney King, Girls Basketball Coach)
Don’t take your position lightly! We have a unique opportunity to have a huge impact in these students’ stories! (Justin Rust, Assistant Wrestling Coach)
It’s a blessing and calling to do what we do as coaches and teachers. #Encourage #instruct #Inspire #Increase and #LeadingwithLOVE (Lee Marshall)
Since this is my first year, I would say that it is more of what I have observed in the past from coaches. It takes a lot of dedication to be a coach and commitment. You are spending time away from your family to work with these students/athletes. Especially when teaching and coaching, you are spending the majority of your day with students and that comes from a place of caring and commitment. (Jessie Humble, Tennis Coach)
Best advice I can offer coaches when creating a training program, or playbook, is Don’t overthink it. Coaches often hinder themselves by using training methods that are much too advanced for the level of their athletes. Know the level of your athletes.(Joe Ray, Strength & Conditioning)
Coaching has changed my life for the better. It is one of the best jobs in the world. The ability to connect with student athletes is priceless. To see them accomplish goals they have set for themselves where at the time they couldn’t see it is an amazing feeling. To be able to witness it and be a part of it brings me so much joy. Sports help build confidence, character, self-esteem, and etc. Winning is fun, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is inspiring these students that they can be whoever they want to be in life. Waking up each day to be better than the day before. For them to say because of you I did not give up. To see these students as people, as a game changer on and off the court. (Sarah Spann, Girls Basketball Coach)
In my experience I’ve found that I have to set high expectations for all of my players (even the ones that may not have the prerequisite skills needed) and making them believe that they CAN achieve those expectations is key. Holding them accountable is key as well – there are consequences when players actions are not consistent with our team and individual values and agreed upon expectations. (Johnny Nichols, Football Coach)
This will be my 5th year to coach softball at St. Andrew’s. I love coaching because it combines two things I love: building positive relationships and teaching youth. I love “my girls.” The excitement on their faces when they hit a double to the gap or make a terrific defensive play is the best. When I am correcting their hitting mechanics, and the lightbulb dings and they understand what they need to do, it is a great feeling. The smiles on their faces when they see the results from the correction is priceless. The game of softball has brought me so much joy through the years and I am excited that I get to share that joy with girls and be a positive influence in their lives. (Hannah Doggett, Softball Coach)
I have learned that it is necessary to be flexible and willing to change from year to year. I am always looking for a better or new way to teach a particular skill. Students have changed throughout the years and it is up to us as teachers to make adjustments also. (Mark Fanning, Baseball Coach)
Last November I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Learning and the Brain Conference. The last speaker was a man named Principal Baruti Kafele. It was appropriate that he spoke to us on Sunday morning, because as the saying goes….he took us to church. His passion for schools to be places that are inclusive and equitable for all students is unmatched. His simple message to us was “It’s not what you teach, it’s who you teach that matters.” A very basic mantra and we all get it, but what does it mean? Do we really know our students?
He talked about having his teachers during workshop week going to drive through some of the neighborhoods where kids live or doing research on the music, games, tv shows, or other things with which they engage. Doing so creates a better understanding of who they are. It also gives us some connecting points when we try to connect the lines of our lessons to their brains. So much research shows that students can engage content more effectively if it already connects to something with which they are familiar. It is also encouraging to know that taking this step does not sacrifice time in your curriculum. Yes, there are pressures to perform for AP exams, MAAP testing, and other things (state tests were a huge one for me in public school). However, making these connections early on and utilizing practices which allow students to have a voice or work to make sure that they are celebrated in some way in your classroom will help them to become more confident in themselves and be more receptive to the lessons, leading to deeper understanding and learning. There might even be lessons for you.
Principal Kafele’s primary message was that certain groups are very much underrepresented in many schools. When I first started at SA in 2016, we had a 2 day workshop in the summer with a phenomenal DEI leader from SAIS. He talked about how we should walk around our school and look at the art, the books on the shelves, the pictures, then listen to the lessons in our classroom…and see who’s culture they represent. Can we walk through our campuses and see who is represented? If they aren’t represented, can they feel like they belong?
There are amazing teachers here who are working hard to make sure that inclusivity and belonging happen and I’d like to share some tidbits of wisdom, advice, and lessons learned from some of them…..
Dipped her toe into project based learning a few years ago and realized that if kids can be given choice in how they express their knowledge, then it creates opportunities for more inclusive conversations about topics of student interest.
In journalism, the kids have a lot of autonomy to choose stories that they are interested in and we have strict parameters about who they interview to make sure that we are reaching outside of just their friend group and getting input from a diverse collection of the SA community.
In history she is always looking for the different lenses from which to examine historical facts and I’m especially interested in finding the hidden voices–the people who don’t get into the history book. It is tempting to rely on our textbooks in our classes, but by doing that we only present half of the story. It is VITAL for us to make sure that everyone in our classes feels included in what we are teaching and student choice helps them not only express their own interests but also explore different facets of our curriculum.
Anna Johnson, Director of Choirs
The voice, in particular, is a very intangible and personal thing. It is important for our students to feel that they can contribute to the larger body of work with what they have to offer. It comes through a LOT of encouragement…..”I know I’m pushing you, but you can do this”….It also comes through them creating relationships with people they might not associate with outside the classroom door. They might not realize it, but when we voice at the beginning of the year, I place the weaker with the stronger to make them weaker stronger and also the stronger stronger.
As far as music goes, trying to include repertoire that speaks to our students in the same way that it speaks to me. That means we naturally have to do some more classically based choral especially for adjudication, but it is important to also include some more popular songs with which they are familiar, along with music from other world cultures because it is important for them to find their place in our music. I tell them all of the time that they leave having an appreciation for the art form of music and can contribute to their communities, whether they are a good singer or not.
Thomas Riesenberger, Co-Chair of the World and Classical Language Department
The things I do well is to realize the class is about them, but I use the what to get there…..my content is the shared thing we can talk about
The first thing I do as much as possible is to make space for them to tell me how they feel and what they need. I have the luxury of teaching the students for 3 or 4 years. I find teaching freshmen super hard because of that. When starting to cultivate this relationship with the freshmen, it can be awkward. But when they return to me as sophomores, they can relate to me more as a person than as an authority figure.
One of the things I do is to pretend that class is starting 5 minutes late….be pretending to connect the projector, or something like that, then they start to talk to one another and then I pick up on the common thread of what they are discussing and then I insert myself into that conversation……I feel that these moments are very genuine and real….and I take it that way….even if they say some dumb teenager stuff, I take it very seriously and then they take it very seriously and they are saying less dumb stuff….having these relationships with them gets me to the point of where I need them to be to do the hard stuff with the content of the class
They know by Latin 3 that I’ve never denied anyone entrance to AP Latin, they are welcome to join the ride.
Because I have had them for 3 to 4 years, it is really important to hear out that kid because I can’t burn bridges with them. It is really important that I have them invested in the relationship with me, then they will be invested in Latin. There is space in a classroom for the curriculum, because of the space for them.
I grew up in the age of sages. Teachers who knew and imparted vast amounts of factual wisdom – so much that my hand would ache trying to copy even just the gist of what they said. Classrooms were quiet places of rarified knowledge with teacher-wizards who pulled back the curtain and gave us a glimpse into the holy font of their incredible knowledge.
Fast forward about 30 years. Today, students can access more information than any educator can possibly know on their diminutive handheld computer/communication devices. But rather than lament the seeming loss of purpose in the teaching profession, I would argue that today’s students are searching for adults who can help them make sense of all the information at their fingertips.
The 21st century teacher must become a Guide on the Side, showing students how to ask the right questions, search the right keywords, synthesize information to find new ways of interpreting data. We are also duty bound to help our students become independent learners. I think we all have found that students are requiring more hand-holding post COVID than they ever needed before. It is our responsibility to take off the training wheels, let go of the seat, step back and let them navigate on their own.
Will they all ride like the wind, taking control of their academic journey? Unlikely. However, just like we do with our own children, we can help them up when they fall and give them another go. Planning lessons that include multiple perspectives, primary source materials, cross disciplinary resources, and out of the box thinking tasks is vital for encouraging the independent higher order processing that our students so desperately need as they navigate today’s info rich world.
(Or in my case, the 8th graders who are usually in front of Matt Hosler)
I haven’t been in classrooms as much this year. Blame it on accreditation; blame it on misplaced priorities. I have missed it. Beyond missed it. So when Matt Hosler asked if I might be interested in taking over his 8th grade English class for a week while he was on paternity leave I got fairly breathless with excitement:
“Wait- can I take it over-take it over? Like actually plan, teach, grade?”
“Sure. Do whatever you want.”
Coincidentally, this first blog blast of 2023 is dedicated to “Teaching the Students in Front of Us,” as is our final PD Day installment of “High Expectations/Strong Supports.” Also, as Hollie and Buck pointed out, the date of this blog blast release happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day 2023. So maybe we should call this “Love the students you have; not the students you wish you had.” Or, if we take the Episcopal Identity route, how can we ensure our pedagogical choices “respect the dignity of all human beings”? These invitations beg some questions:
Is it possible that our “high expectations” tend to privilege some ways of being in the world more than others?
How can we actually enforce high expectations if we don’t recognize that students have varying degrees of ability to reach those?
How can we provide strong supports if we don’t match those supports to the individual human needs that populate our learning spaces?
The idea is if we can better account for all of the differences our youth bring (identity markers, skill level, experiences, speed of processing, religious beliefs, personal interests/passions, etc.) we can curate our own classrooms to meet them where they are through varying content (the knowledge/skills a student should master), process (activities students use to master that content), and product (the methods students use to demonstrate learning.) If anyone is new to differentiation, here’s a lovely module that helps explain it. This work, to me, works best in concert with work on culturally sustaining pedagogy. It is impossible and also unnecessary to differentiate everything, all the time, because we have some scientific grasp on what activities and learning experiences work best for which learning goals. (See this blog if you are feeling like it’s all too much.) But enough professor talk. Back to me.
I spent an ungodly number of hours over Christmas break dreaming of all of the perfect one week units 8th grade ELA units that could ensure. I’m no newbie, so I knew all elements of perfection would evaporate the minute my first student entered the room. Still . . . the possibilities! I read about 62,000 personal narratives to find the perfect mentor texts. Poems too. I sat in a coffee shop like the good old days when I was a teacher creating my weekly assignment sheet. Heaven.
Then I taught the students in front of me. Ya’ll the current eighth grade class is indisputably delightful. Everyone says it. Still, the minute my plans left the google slideshow and leapt into the reality, I learned a thing or 5000. Or, more accurately, I re-learned them. Teaching middle school is a bit like riding a bike, but to be fair if it’s been a solid 15 years since you’ve ridden a bike, you are bound to have a wobbly start.
No matter how much I harped that it was important and even discussed it explicitly in class, students didn’t internalize the rubric until they “graded” a shared text using those categories and discussed them together.
8th graders, no matter how unerringly delightful, cannot be trusted. Or to be more precise, don’t give them a five minute break without clear direction or likely one student will choose to climb a tree and Susan Pace will walk out with her class and likely be like, “Wow- Julie Rust has no control over those kids.”
Many of them are silently sitting there being brilliant. Don’t confuse silence with lack of interest or absorption.
OHMYGOSH writing with them and projecting what I am writing is so so helpful. The whole vibe of the room changes when I am engaged in the practice alongside them.
The sheer mass of interactions when you see them all on Monday numbs you to the few negative ones.
On the other hand, one negative dynamic can shift an entire class.
Grading well= SO. HARD.
The best way to get students what they need for writing is popping over to the desk when they are EARLY and IN THE PROCESS of writing that first draft and dialoguing about how it is going. Waiting until they write a full first draft and then just providing written feedback is far, far less efficient.
There is no better way to teach than to start a mini-lesson off with exemplars of student writing that are gleaned from the writers sitting in front of you. “What?! You actually read my writing while I am still in the process of my first draft? And you think the rest of the class could learn from something I’ve done?!”
Julie Rust- you still make way too many copies that you never use. Just like your first year of teaching.
Two jobs at a time is dumb. I should’ve canceled my other one that week I taught and not tried to do both.
40 year old Julie is such a better “I am an authority in this room” person than 22 year old Julie was. I also take everything less personally and love them so much more. . . possibly because now I see my kids in them.
Beautiful days= the enemy. When they say “Can I work outside?” the answer is no unless I am fully camped out there.
I vacciliate very quickly between loving who I am with them and hating who I am with them.
“Focus music” is magic for the feel and focus of a class during work time.
There is still NO BETTER CLASSROOM VIBE for me in the world than when 20-some 8th graders are in the zone and writing furiously.
Every single time I have students fill out a weekly reflection I am shocked by what they share about their learning and the class. The magic is always in the meta.
I think that teaching the students in front of you is, of course, what every single faculty member does every single day whether or not you subscribe to a theory of the importance of differentiation. I mean, it is implied in the job description. But I hope that this month’s theme and the collection of blogs we produced help orient us to the fact that Step 1 in this important work is paying attention to the students around you. Step 2 is being responsive to all the stuff they bring: the crazy behavior, the passions/interests, the strengths/weaknesses, all of it!
Of course, sometimes this takes more grace for some students than others: 🙂
At last count, I had nine (9) different ways to brew a cup of coffee. Each one has something to commend it. I love the sheer beauty of the all glass, but wood trimmed Chemex and the smoothness of the brew, which usually brings out the sweetness of something from Counter Culture Coffee, like maybe their Apollo blend. I’m grateful for the efficiency to quality ratio of my Aeropress, which makes a lovely single cup, and when coupled with my Porlex hand grinder, is close to gourmet quality. I’ve brought the Aeropress/Porlex combo to school in the last week and have begun to make my third and fourth cups here with them. They’re also great when camping, where everything depends on your ability to boil some water and rehydrate what tastes good and isn’t gorp. There are the odd days where I make a cup with my office Nespresso, which I love because it’s the lowest floor to good coffee entry–load the pod, lock it in, hit the button and wait 45 seconds. Presto, I’m drinking George Clooney’s preferred tres Euro coffee product. And of course, I wouldn’t be an American coffee drinker without a drip brewer at home. I don’t set the auto brew timer in the morning because I like to know that the first cup is freshmade and hasn’t been sitting in the thermal carafe for the last hour while I played snooze roulette with my alarm clock. Somewhere under the kitchen sink, I’ve got a french press, a Turkish pot, a moka pot and a cold brew rig for the warm weather months. The cold brew rig is a reminder that it’s vacation or it’s about to be vacation because I have the time, energy and patience to grind an entire bag of coffee, load the rig, fill it with water and the filters and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days, then wait patiently for the 30 minutes it takes to drain and strain the cold brew concentrate.
Look, y’all. I’m not just out here bragging about all the ways I can make you a coffee if you come by M3 to talk shop, although I am absolutely glad to do so. I’m here telling you that if you love something deeply like coffee or children, then learning to love it in many different ways is worth your while. Working with children has an ebb and flow and a sometimes discernable internal logic to it. Within that, you owe it to yourself professionally and personally to find the teaching and learning equivalents of 9 different ways to brew coffee as you work with the children you teach. Now, I’m not entirely sure what that looks like, but I think it involves switching it up in your classes from time to time so that you’re giving yourself a chance to see your kiddos (in all their complexity and nuance) in new ways, just like your Hario pourover lets something shine that might otherwise be boring in a drip brew. I think it also looks like acknowledging that the weeks right before a big break aren’t necessarily the best for trying to do the things you might have done at the beginning of the year with the same level of focus and intensity, just as you should have the good sense to know that you don’t want that strong cup of Turkish coffee after the steak dinner when you plan to head home and try to get a good night’s sleep. Finally, I think it involves knowing when to give yourself some grace, especially when you drop the ball, teach a dud of a lesson or can’t figure out how to get through to a child on a day when you’re just plain woe out. While I don’t suggest attempting to pour children down the sink and starting over, I do think there’s always the chance to teach another lesson on another day and more beans to grind and brew differently next time.
I’m not sure if there is a ‘season’ for Professional Development since we teachers seem to do it constantly. Whether it’s reading articles we’ve found or have been shared, or we go to the weekly Wednesday PD, or our bi-yearly whole school PDs, reading books, listening to podcasts, or skimming Teacher pay Teacher and Pinterest, we are all constantly learning all the time. Teachers are always looking for knowledge on how to help those in their care find the JOY in learning.
I have just recently returned from a beautiful week at the NAEYC conference with 8 colleagues. Four of the 8 were presenting, which, if you have never attended one of these conferences is a REALLY BIG DEAL!! This conference is held every November somewhere around the country. This year’s conference was in Washington DC, had over 6,000 attendees and over 500 sessions.
As we arrived at the conference center the buzz and chatter were just under a loud roar. You could feel the excitement for people to share and listen to what makes their teaching special or disastrous.
I listened to presenters talk about how to use storybooks to increase a child’s inferential learning by reading the same book intentionally several different times over serval weeks.
I listened to the magic of how to transform a playground into a place of wonder, creation, and safety for children that desperately need it and can usually only find it at school since play at home no longer consists of that freedom of escape from reality. One of my favorite takeaways from outside play was the mantra “don’t let the catpoop win!”
One that I was surprisingly challenged by was the session on ‘The Power of Play.’ I always considered my teaching style and room layout to be very conducive to play while trying to incorporate academic connections. I came away realizing that I control way more than I thought and there is less ‘play’ in my room than I realized. The more I control, the more choice is diminished, and the less opportunity a child has to develop their self-identity and their executive functioning skills.
Some questions that we were to ask ourselves… do you control the number of children in an area? the use of materials? where materials are used? how they are used? etc. You see, the power of play has been proven to build a child’s self-identity. Choice is the sculpture of self-identity. Play also develops executive functioning. Executive Functioning skills allow individuals to prioritize tasks and correctly sequence needed behaviors to complete them efficiently. When a child plays without control from an adult these skills are activated. We all know these skills are crucial to be a successful adult. Play also activates the limbic system which is the light switch of learning. As we face the tension that we hold as educators between child-led learning through play and structured learning led by us there is one quote the presenter left us with that gives hope to the most structured and tight of daily school schedules….
“When you don’t have time, at least honor the child’s heart…listen to what matters to them and incorporate that into their learning.” I am confident we can all do that.
I could go on and on about the sessions I went to. I was lucky enough to hit 9 sessions plus hitting the exhibit hall with every new toy, book, furniture, and curriculum you could imagine, plus some giveaways. (I found out Judy Menist is the luckiest person I know. She scored lots of swag plus $100!)
I was thankful that 2 of the sessions that I attended we all can be privy too! Sandra and Maggie led a difficult discussion on how we can engage families more in knowing what is happening with their child and yet not being tied down to documenting every move a child makes at the moment they make them. There was lots of sharing of what works, what makes it worse, and different platforms to try. The takeaway theme seemed to be TRUST. No matter what platform you use, how often you use it, and how information is disseminated it all comes down to leaning in with parents trusting teachers, teachers trusting parents, and both trusting the school system. If that can be fostered there seems to be a lot less frustration on all sides in dealing with communication.
There were also Lea and Taylor leading a discussion on Debunking the Myth of Traditional Calendar time to a packed room. Using the well-known truth that time is an abstract concept in which young children(under the age of six) can not grasp the same way we do as adults, Lea and Taylor challenged teachers to look at the traditional method of how we do calendar and turn it into a meaningful way in which children can relate to time. The method they shared allows the child to build the concept of time by using memories instead of abstract numbers or measurements. As they presented, you could see the curiosity and excitement as teachers began to see a rich and wonderful way of taking an activity as old as time itself and making it a wonderful deeply connecting piece of a child’s learning.
As we all headed home several things became very apparent; first, I am so blessed and grateful to have gotten to know my colleagues better than I would have ever had a chance to if I did not go, second, there is nothing like being around thousands of educators to rekindle one’s fire for teaching, and last, never underestimate just having fun for funs sake with people you work with. It should always be the season for that!
As you’ve likely heard, we apparently had the largest number of students/faculty traveling EVER that last few days before Thanksgiving break. I was one such lucky human, and I got to hang out with Susan Pace, Cullen Brown, and Monica Colletti in Anaheim, California. We went to some great sessions, ate some amazing Thai food, learned a bit about birding from the expert himself, and everyone was incredibly understanding when I messed up on the AirBNB booking and we had no place to stay for our last night. This I believe: conferences by myself are cool. Conferences with colleagues are the best.
But this blog is not just about my fun trip. Here’s a few words and pics from our national and international travelers:
Blake Ware (Italy with Global Studies): One of the themes that kept emerging in my mind were similarities I found between some of the political tensions that were felt at times in ancient Rome, and how we continue to wrestle with similar questions today. It was a fascinating lesson in ancient civilizations and human behavior!
Hollie Marjanovic, (“Learning and The Brain”): I went because the focus was on “The Distracted Brain.” There were 2 major topics: Brains and devices and Pandemic Related Issues with the Brain and Learning. This was the BEST conference I’ve ever attended! On the positive, I loved the speaker who said to us that maybe what our kids need to face our future (fraught with issues related to global warming) are the lessons learned from this pandemic. The fact is that 80-85% of our society (that includes students) experienced Post Traumatic Growth and not Post Traumatic Stress. Going back to Post Traumatic Growth…..we have to help our students process it. Ask them questions about before and after the pandemic. Have them write about or share their experiences from the pandemic. How has life changed? Remember when x? I loved a model of having the counselor and English teachers doing some writing and reflection together. We can’t just move forward with our curriculum as if nothing happened in the past few years. We have to help them see how they have grown and that they do, indeed, have resilience.
The other piece I learned and feel strongly about as a parent and teacher is that we need to ban phones during the school day. The average student after age 12 is spending 9 hours per day on their phone. They are losing basic skills at unprecedented rates. Don’t think of it as “9 hours per day on the phone, but rather what else they could be doing with those 9 hours.” Every study shows that social media consumption for more than 2 hours per day leads to anxiety. There is now a term…”acquired ADHD”…that doctors are seeing around ages 14-16. Their prescription is asking parents to take away phones and social media for 2-3 weeks and see if there is improvement. I was really impressed by a teacher I met from Rochester, NY who said that their teacher union voted to ban phones at school. It wasn’t an administrative decision initially. They, as teachers, were seeing the effects of phone use at lunch and the addiction and distraction. They wanted to make the change. She said that the kids are happier and their test scores have improved. It’s a bold move, but after seeing the evidence, a discussion– at the very least– is merited.
Emily Philpott (Ireland and the United Kingdom with students for a Global Studies trip): I love traveling internationally…experiencing new places, trying new foods, and meeting new people. There is a sense of adventure and excitement when you are going to a new place fo the first time or going to a favorite destination to make new memories. However, travel isn’t always easy and things don’t always go as planned. Due to a flight delay at the start of our journey, we had an unplanned night in Philadelphia and some extra hours in the airport. Our students handled the situation with positivity and resilience (and some humor), and my fellow chaperones pivoted to create new plans and remained energetic in the face of two very long travel days. I was reminded how much I enjoy traveling with the best students and colleagues, even when things are challenging.
*I am sharing 3 pictures: (1) students modeling their new “I love Philadelphia” t-shirts purchased from the airport gift shop; (2)students passing the time with puzzles, riddles, and soduko (3) chaperones just arrived in our Dublin hotel, tired but still smiling after 2 days of traveling.
Lea Crongeyer: We presented at the National Association for Educators of Young Children Conference in Washington D.C.. The experience was incredible! I loved being with others from around the country and around the world that teach young children. We talked about the differences in schools where we teach and why that impacts how you teach. Also, presenting for the first time on a subject we are passionate about was thrilling and very well received!
Margaret Clark (Italy — Sorrento/Pompeii, Florence, and Rome)
I am one of the teachers in charge of planning and executing this trip. Specifically, I am the only teacher on the trip who speaks Italian, so I was in charge of all dinner bookings + leading the group through the city of Rome and the various sites and museums we visited.
I’ve said this before, but I went on this trip as a student (Spring Break 2004). It changed my life. I spent the next year trying to teach myself Italian, to the extent that my Latin teacher (Patsy Ricks) told me about an opportunity to live in Italy and attend an American school there focused on classics and ancient history. I was basically a goner. It means so much to me to share this trip, which has been so important to me personally, with students.
One moment that completely took me by surprise happened on our last full day in Italy. We were in Rome, in the Roman Forum. It was about 4:15, and we had been on our feet since about 8:30. We started in the Campo de Fiori, stopped into the Pantheon (my favorite building in Rome), saw the only remaining arch from the Baths of Agrippa (built by my favorite Roman, Marcus Agrippa), toured the Capitoline Museums (one of my favorite collections), drunk from my favorite water fountain in Rome (yes, I have one — it’s amazing), visited the Colosseum (which everyone needs to do once, but honestly, I could take or leave at this point). In the Forum, we got to visit a temple that had only recently been opened up after restoration! We were at the end of our day and stopped by the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. I guided the students through the famous/infamous inscription over the arch. After all that, the students were still engaged and eager to work through the Latin together! And then, just like that, my work was basically done. It was my first time being in charge of the Rome portion of the trip, and it was exhausting! Rome is one of my absolute favorite places, but at the same time (and because of how much it means to me), it was a really daunting task to guide 21 high school students through its tangled mess of cobble-stone streets without losing anyone to the equally imminent threats of Italian traffic patterns or dumbstruck awe at the Roman ruins or peaceful and picturesque piazzas in the middle of a vibrant, bustling modern city. I teared up and almost started crying (and I’m not a crier). It was the relief of my major tour-guiding responsibilities being lifted, the emotions of having such a real and genuine connection with students over something that I love doing, and also the awareness that the trip would soon be over and it would be back to real life for all of us. The trip was exhausting in ways that I still can’t really communicate, but it was also so exhilarating. Almost 20 years later, I still haven’t recovered from my reality being cracked wide open by the same trip I am now able to share with my students.
Sandra Flores (NAYCE National Convention Centre Washington DC)
One of the most valuable things was gathering with early childhood educators from around the globe to connect, collaborate, engage and learn together to land a great group of colleges related to us and participate, secondly getting to know each other, my teachers/ friends from St.A.
Susan Pace (Anaheim, CA for the NCTE Conference)
Being in California with colleagues on the eve of Thanksgiving break was an incredible privilege. In addition to being able to join expert birder Cullen Brown on an early morning bird hunt, the conference schedule was jam-packed with teachers sharing tips, tricks, and mindset shifts. A bonus for this lifelong bibliophile was the number of free books I picked up and lugged across the country as my travels took me first to North Carolina to catch up with my family before returning home. The little library I carried with me from my fourth-grade classroom now has an update with middle-grade novels to share with my readers, AND the sessions I attended have invigorated my teaching and learning in the seventh-grade English room.
Junko Bramlett (Romantic Trip to Italy???)
I went to Italy over Thanksgiving break with David, and some of you commented to me that it was so wonderful to go to Italy with him and it would be so romantic. Sure we had some relaxing moments…….We got up super early one morning to have breakfast alone before students woke up. We had some cheese, cured meats, fresh pastries, bread, and juice. We had a private server for a moment to fix us two cups of espresso and a cup of cappuccino! But was the trip really romantic? After all, it was the international field trip. You have to forget about Italian wine or a visit to a winery as typical tourists. Was it worth giving up my whole Thanksgiving break to take care of 21 teenagers in Italy? I am not one of the cool teachers who taught Latin to prepare most of them for this trip like Thomas Riesenberger (Mr. R) and Dr. Margaret Clark, or Dr. Bramlett who can magically make Math class fun for the students who have a difficulty in finding joy in Math class.
Well the trip started off just like the spring break college trip I went with Colin Dunnigan and Scott Johnson several years ago. That time I had to take care of a sweet student who kept throwing up on the bus with severe cramps from her period. After the trip, Colin shared with me that he could not have survived the trip without me. Two men could not deal with a female problem alone. As I noticed before the Italy trip that it would contain several days of 4 to 6 hours bus rides, I put some Walmart plastic bags in my backpack and also saved some sick bags from an airplane on the way to Italy just in case. Yes we had to use them right away. When we heard a student yelling from the back of the bus one morning that his friend was feeling sick, I immediately passed the sick bag and the plastic bag to save him. It was another field trip with students as we do here with Kindergarten. The only big difference was that we were in Italy. Same thing on bathroom issues. As I do for kindergarten students, I had to keep reminding high school students to go to the bathroom before getting on the bus. Despite my attempts to avoid an issue, one day actually one student demanded the driver to stop the bus for her to pee on the side of the road because she was going to explode if she did not. Well so we ended up stopping at an OK gas station to eat lunch instead of the nice fancy gas station with decent lunch.
And the morning of our trip’s highlight visit to the Capitoline museum, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum…. 10 minutes before the departure time, two different students texted David that they did not feel well and possibly had a fever. Of course, David had to dig up two Covid-19 tests from our bag to rush to take them to their rooms. As you know that the test would take at least 15 minutes from then. With the delayed departure and one student going back and forth from the visiting sites to our hotel, David had to shove down beautiful and delicious German pastries just bought and Mr. R ended up losing his visit to the Colosseum, and the whole group lost the lunch from David’s most favorite lunch spot, Jewish Ghetto offering tasty meals with reasonable prices. We had students with tree nut allergy, nut allergy, gluten allergy, religiously restricted diet. It was so tough for Margret Clark to find restaurants who accommodate our demands.
Was it really worth going to Italy with kids? Did I still enjoy it? Yes! Just be able to view the same buildings constructed 2000 years ago still standing and functioning in some way, to walk on the very same pavements and crossing steps that ancient people used, and to drink the safe and clean water provided by still steadily functioning water fountains off the road. We sure have lots of knowledge and techniques we could learn from ancient Roman friends to run clean and safe water.
One of the most exciting moments from this trip for me was when Josh, who just got transferred to our school this year, discovered the exact floor spot of the Santa Croce Church where Glileo Galiley was buried by translating the Latin writing on his burial marker. Josh was really starting to blend into our school Latin buddies. This is the best kind of gift the language teacher could receive from his hard work teaching young students who are craving to learn more and more.
Yes as for bonus experiences, I actually got to see the real David by Michelangelo and see our Pope Francis in my bare eyes even though his head was pea size. He kissed three babies that morning. I will go back to Italy more prepared for knowledge and language so that I can have deeper appreciation and excitement.
I know my title is teaching and learning. And I know that every teacher worth their salt cares deeply about EVERY SINGLE SECOND they are allocated for class time. We have so much to cover! NEVER enough time! The kids seem like they need longer to get it, too. And so much time is spent in unexpected “let’s just hurry up and grow up” kinds of things. So many admonitions needing to be called out for the second-fifth-millionth time, needing to be said that I never anticipated. “Don’t throw that marker at the board to hear the cool click noise.” “No, Johnny, you can’t get in your friend’s personal space.” “Can we talk after class about that instead?” I have probably never sat in an honest-open company of any faculty member ever: from my earliest memory of my dad fuming about lost class time with his masters electrical engineer students to my most recent department chairs meeting, in which the plague of class disruptions was not a main theme of conversation.
I want to be clear. You are not wrong. We do this work because we think it matters. And things that matter need time. And intentional, well structured, well planned time. Not the kind that is randomly disrupted here or there. Advocating for that time is a key role of any conscientious faculty member.
But I also want to take a minute to share a dirty secret. And that is that I think that much of what sets our school apart from other school communities is what happens outside of class time. I want to say that although I think a whole lot about curriculum and instruction and content and learning, I also think that the things that stick with us are often tied to those moments of anxiety-inducing disruptions. And I think THOSE things are also learning, that learning is in the remembering of lines in a play and the improvisation when you forget, the communication of teammates on the soccer field, the tuning of your instrument alongside those of your peers, the moment at the museum or the zoo or the exhibit where you are touched and learn something anew, that time on the bus when you notice some friends treating someone unkindly and you figure out what to do next. Or, as our Science Lecture Hall word-mural reminds us: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” (John Dewey).
It naturally follows that to reduce “learning that matters” to just the content in our academic classes is absurd. To assume that nothing of importance happens in those “things that disrupt” is equally absurd. Think of all that is contained in:
The sporting events.
The field trips!
The international trips!
The community engagement and service!
The cultural celebrations!
The yearly assortment of five billion other school events!
I also have this belief, which you can take or leave. I think the things that we roll our eyes at, the disruptions that make us most angry . . . they can give us some pretty not-so-subtle cues about what we prioritize and what we de-legitimate. Notice I didn’t put pep rally in my list of things I love above. This is gonna show my bias. As a student, I hated pep rallies. I felt like they were for the popular kids, not for the band-drama-honors class nerds. I wanted to shrink into my bleacher and the noise was seriously over-stimulating for me. I’m still scared of them at our beloved SA’s. I hug the wall with fellow faculty members. I appreciate how they give our cheer and dance teams a chance to perform, to be fair. But truth be told, when I see that yet another Friday schedule in October is going to be disrupted for yet another pep rally, I have to check myself and the wave of annoyance I feel rising up. Because for many students, this is the highlight of their week.
One last note. If you, like me, find yourself bristling at every moment stolen from you with your students in your classroom, I recommend you consider the following:
Is it possible that other adults in our community could also pour good things into your students?
Will students actually remember the lesson you were going to teach, like the content of it (e.g. fractals or the intricacies of that particular political party) a year from now?
What value does routine have? What value does switching up a routine have?
Growing up I remember a reminder from my church to “make room for Jesus in the busy flurry of the holiday season.” Perhaps in this spirit we can also make room for the possibility that some of the disruptions that most frustrate us (Julie Rust- pep rallies!) might actually hold a core kernel of value for our community and the growth of our students. I think we can all agree class time does indeed matter. And most of the time, perhaps all of the time, so does the other stuff.
Let’s all keep fighting for time for students to experience things that matter.