Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Five Stages of Senior Year.

The letters of acceptance continue to arrive for my seniors, generating both excitement and somber faces in the hallways as the realization that graduation is closer than ever, signaling the beginning of the rest of their lives.  Or, the end of their current season.    For some of my seniors, acceptance is such a normal part of their achievement, that they don't even seem that excited to be accepted at colleges as prestigious as Williams, Haverford, Dickinson, or Pitzer.  The acceptance isn't announced with bubbly bouncing -- sometimes it's even pried out of the backpack containing a folder of acceptance letters -- and only because, well, I ASKED.

 Five Stages...

Senior year for most students can really be divided into the five stages of grief, ala Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  Certainly the parents are in Denial  that they could even be the parents of a senior.  It seems like just yesterday that they, as parents,  were stepping on LEGOS and worrying about whether teeth had been brushed before bedtime, frisking kids for flashlights so they wouldn't ruin their eyes reading under the covers after lights out. 

The kids roll their eyes, and wonder why their parents are taking extra pictures, and obsessing over them, as the parents begin the mental countdown of college in terms of months and weeks instead of years.

"I don't NEED a curfew because the State Police say so!" (Welcome to Anger.)  
And no, you can't sign your own excuse card -- the school won't accept it, and you'll lose senior exemption and have to (gasp) take the final exam. 

Shortly after Homecoming, everybody hits their stride.  Progress reports have been sent home, kids are making the grade, and writing college essays.  The Bargaining starts, as they attempt to demonstrate maturity at their proficiency in juggling extra curriculars, car keys/maintenance, a blossoming social life, and all the extra responsibilities demanded by College Board and Common App.  You know your kid is a senior when the house phone rings more often for them than Telemarketers calling for you.  Oh, and since they're doing such a fine job and demonstrating such amazing responsibility, well, how about lifting that curfew?

Depression sets in shortly after the New Year.  Reality is staring everyone - parents, teachers, students, and even younger siblings - in the face.  Suddenly it's no longer NEXT year that everyone's lives will be changed forever, it's this year.  In a matter of months.  People start using phrases like "in the home stretch" to describe the downhill slide. 

The college acceptances and rejections begin to roll in.  Pushpins are placed on maps, illustrating the ever-widening gaps across the state or nation representing the potential distance between current best friends.  Teachers realize how much these kids mean to them, and wonder which one of the current juniors will step into the leadership roles left by these seniors.  Parents start crying at commercials about kids going off to college, or coming home from foreign countries with Folger's coffee in tow.  (Don't lie.  You know you get choked up every year when that kid sneaks home on Christmas morning.)

Guess what?  Just around the corner is Acceptance.  The fifth stage is about to descend upon us, just as surely as the daffodils arrive every spring.  The kids know they're ready.  The teachers see a twinkle and new confidence.  Even the parents, reluctantly, realize that the next new adventure will be exactly that.  AP Exams will be faced with a new found confidence, roommate surveys will be mailed with housing deposits, and commencement will be upon us.

But not before hugging each other one more time, saying a silent prayer, and appreciating the present, savoring the goodness that is this year's senior class.

Commencement means beginning.  Really.  I have to remind myself of that every single year.  Usually through the tears of goodbye.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Worth the risk.

Did you know that the weight of the average guillotine blade is 88 pounds?  I didn't, until this afternoon.

There are days when there is little inspiration to write, and then there are days like today.  In the last 24 hours, there have been two excellent articles that have appeared in my newsfeed which have strong ties, and serious implications, for the way educators go about educating gifted kids.  Neither of these ideas are new, yet it is encouraging that a discussion or two might actually take place as those of us on the gifted advocacy wagon walk a little taller, as people actually ask our opinions after reading an argument that makes absolute sense.

So how would you answer the question, "by not challenging gifted kids, what do we risk losing?"

Worth the risk, especially considering the alternatives.

 Ingfei Chen pondered the question in an article that appeared last year in Mind/Shift.  Although the article is short, the links contained in it are well worth the additional time, especially if you've ever known a "scary smart" student who spends more time waiting for others to catch up than actually learning.  As educators, we need to be in tune with the acquisition and retention rates of our students, and ruffle the feathers of the bean counters a bit to advocate, even if that process means a really messy schedule that doesn't fit the norm.  Quite frankly, Norm, to me, is just a fat guy on a bar stool in Boston.  And seriously, not much fit that Norm either.

Malcolm Gladwell's research on Outliers supplied the concepts and arguments necessary to revisit the discussion about advocacy for the gifted.  If society can accept the premise of outliers in statistical data, then it should also be able to accept the idea that there are people who learn at a more rapid pace than the average person.  For some reason, everybody "gets" - and tolerates - the concept of slow-learners, offering support and condolences, yet that giant bell curve of life has two sides.  When was the last time that you heard someone recognize "fast" with the necessary empathy attached for accommodation or change?  

Shifting (okay, Mind/Shifting!) just a bit, the second article prompted a great discussion on facebook.  Let's label those "fast" students extreme students for just a minute.  Lindaflan explores the idea of something near and dear to my heart.  National History Day (NHD).  While Lindaflan didn't actually utter the acronym, but she is certainly talking about the structure of the competition.I feel like this could be the single argument for why every student should compete in NHD.

"Rather than memorize the dates and key figures in World War II, for example, students were encouraged to go deep on one particular person or event."
I realize that EXTREME learners are rare, hence the name. However, the idea of a single, deep focus is applicable to anyone -- as long as they have the drive and mindset to stay around to take the project to fruition.  

One of my former students read the article when I reposted this, and responded very insightfully:

"I actually had a conversation about this recently where I was discussing how traditional college teaching (i.e. lectures) coupled with textbook memorization are not sufficient for true understanding of the material. Sure, I can pass a test that says I understand chapters 5-8, but that does not mean I actually retain the material or know its true application. However, when I have had classes in which there have been independent study aspects intertwined with a deep focus and application of research, I have retained that material much better. Even years later I remember the strangest of facts from my NHD projects (the guillotine's blade weighs 88 pounds), whereas other classes I barely remember anything. I am a firm believer that memorization can only get one so far without actually applying the learning. I would love to see in schools the implementation of a multidisciplinary approach to learning, with a cross-cultural emphasis, that utilizes writing, math, and research skills to real world problems on a historical, philosophical, and scientific basis. It bothers me that when you are actually employed, you are expected to converge your knowledge from various subjects to solve problems in the workplace, but the development of that ability is ignored in schools for rote memorization and standardization that only hinders a true educational experience. NHD is one of those rare opportunities for students to explore, discover, and apply their knowledge in new ways that truly expands their learning."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Chloe is a front line-dweller on this.  She is an extreme learner, and enrolled in an educator training program, majoring in Social Studies education.  (And she may or not be a trained assassin.  I'm never really sure.)  She gets it.  

Now, if a few more conversations are started about this, maybe a few more people will listen, and maybe the world of education will refocus itself on outcomes instead of test data.  
It's an extreme idea, for some extreme kids, who just may have extreme powers to change the world - if we take the risk.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mulligan Stewing...

About four years ago, I received a text from a number not stored in my phone.  It read something along the lines of "Thanks for all you did to make our gifted program so great."
I scratched my head, and shot a "You're welcome?  Who is this?" back and was surprised by the identity of the grateful texter.  

He had graduated the previous June, and gone off to college.  Quite frankly, I always wondered whether the time in my classroom was at all productive or challenging for this kid, as I couldn't really read the actual sincerity level of his involvement.  And then there was this text of gratitude.  How cool is that?

He later explained that the text came after a conversation with a bunch of kids in the Honors College dorm, talking about their gifted programs.  Apparently ours was unique, and the comparison discussion prompted the text.

Over the last four years, he's checked in frequently, coming to the annual Thanksgiving Breakfast, tagging me in Facebook posts, and sending an occasional message.  He graduated last spring with a degree in Secondary Social Studies education.   It's been amazing to watch the transformation of this kid into someone with a passion for teaching; and if you'd asked me five or six years ago, I'd never have imagined that this would be the path he'd choose to take.

 I'd like a Mulligan.

Despite never having been raised in a household of guilt, I carry quite a bit of it when it comes to fulfilling the self-imposed expectations.  Case in point, I have Instagram and Pintrest accounts that I barely use.  In fact, I use them so infrequently that I actually don't really remember I have them until I get an email telling me that someone I know is now following me.  Annnndddd, the guilt sets in.  I truly feel like I should send them a message and warn them that I am not a person to be followed on these two platforms, as I have no clue what I'm doing, and no business being there, but I'm there because a) some event that I attended required that pictures be posted to a common hashtag on Instagram or b) I am drawn to any bulletin board/organizational system that seems to offer structure and guidance for my cluttered literal and virtual desktops.

That same self-deprecation extends to former students.  I am who I am in the present day, and they remember me as I was when they were in my room.  In my opinion, what I am doing today with gifted education is much more relevant than what I did even three years ago.  There's a term in golf called a Mulligan, where one is offered the opportunity for a "Do Over."  As I think back on the changes in my teaching abilities, styles, focus, etc, over the last sixteen years, there are kids that I still see that I want to pull aside and say, "Hey, you were an incredible student, and I was just learning how to teach, and well, I'm so sorry that I was so clueless back then."

For teachers, every year is a Mulligan Year.  We're constantly reinventing ourselves, our curriculum, and our teaching styles.  The teacher in charge is most likely different this year than last, even if the name outside the door of the classroom remains the same.  It's that ebb and flow that allows for growth, and for preservation of sanity.  The changes can come from enlightening student interactions, voices from the past, professional learning networks, or magical unicorn thinking.  (Who am I to judge?)  Universally, though, all teachers feel a little bit sad that they let their previous students down while they were learning to ride the educational system bike without training wheels.

Oh, and what about the amazing texter?  This afternoon, Austin invited me to lunch on Friday, to chat about education, and offer advice on his most recent rounds of applications searching for his first classroom.  I'm not sure what's on the menu for lunch, but I know the meal will end with me trying to explain that the teacher I am today is NOT the teacher he had in school, and trying to apologize for that.  

And then I'll give him a hug, and tell him that I pray he won't be the same teacher in five years either.  And hand him a recipe for Mulligan Stew.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Just a thought.

Yesterday I got accepted by Drexel, and reached 20,000 blog visits.  It was a momentous day, in terms of professional achievements, I suppose.  Today I reflected on the journey from September 1st, the first day of blogging, until today, and considered how different my perception of teaching is, and how much I've refined my actual teaching philosophy, as a result of the reflective process involved in writing 209 straight blogs related to education. Bruce and I traveled to West Chester University today to see Kristin's installation into Lambda Pi Eta, the honor society for Communications majors. We both graduated from West Chester when it was still a "State College" instead of a University, and there was a certain amount of reflection and memory-grasping as we climbed the stairs to the Philips Autograph Library, where the ceremony was held.  We whispered in the whisper-architecture arch on the outside of the building, and I wondered how many people have done that, and how many walked by never knowing the magic/physics behind the architecture of the grand building.  How is it possible to be an adult with such vivid memories, down to the smell of the room?  

In its own way, today's journey was also a journey of reflection.

Te@ch  Thought.

I've touted the influence of Te@chthought.com on me this year before.  I truly owe a debt of gratitude to Justine and Beth for all they've done to challenge teachers to be introspective.  As a teacher of the gifted (TOG), I've been challenged to develop classes for high-ability students for years.   I've used centralized themes, and let the students guide the journey in the past.  Two years ago, while working in a curriculum design course at UCONN, Jan Leppien suggested the concept of perspective to slow gifted students down, and allow them to experience content in ways they might not have considered.  Terry Heick took it a step further in stressing the importance of teacher reflection in her blog "What it Means to be a Reflective Teacher" last week.

Last year, I applied the idea of perspective to the entire year, using it as the lens through which we explored the topics.  The learning was still student-driven, and the discussions were deeper and more meaningful.  This year, the focus is Habits of Mind.  The Perspective bulletin board is still up in my room, to remind students of another way to "play" with content, during discussions and reflections. Oh, and next year?  Qualitative Observation and Creative Thought.  Closing out the four year rotation, Positive Psychology strategies.

All of these skills, I am hoping, allow students with strong acquisition and retention skills, usually grasping new material in 1-3 repetitions, a way to explore course content (not just in my class, but everywhere), in a way that allows them a 3-D approach to examination.  Pick it up, experience it, twist it, view it, smell it, whatever needs to be done to truly own the content.

Basically, to take time to learn to think, and apply the skill.

It may have taken me 3/4 of a year to realize exactly how important explicitly teaching THOUGHT actually is, and the more I read and reflect, the more I can appreciate the skills that truly seem to be lacking in public education today.   

Meanwhile, I reflect on the education classrooms of West Chester State College, and the influences on my teaching learned there, and continue to seek inspiration and motivation for refining and making sense of the ever-changing role of education -- heck, my current focus is on the internet, both as a learning tool and a reflective blog, and that was unheard of in 1983...

Friday, March 27, 2015

MYthical creatures.

My unicorn guest observing our robotics.
What is MY deal?  I am so glad that you asked.  I am a Teacher of the Gifted, with a job description that is indescribable.  This is year sixteen for me, and no two years were the same.  For the last seven years, I have been the "Secondary Teacher of the Gifted" after holding the position of K - 8 TOG, and K - 12 TOG.  This year, I work with grades 8 - 12, and -- wait for it -- first graders.

As I've mentioned before, my first graders are learning coding using Dash and Dot, and then drawing conclusions from the code challenges to Common Core Standards for first graders.  (Did you know that coding teaches sequencing skills that are used in Language Arts?  How about the concepts of estimation, addition, subtraction, and --- don't tell anybody, because it's not a first grade skill, but they already know what it's called -- MULTIPLICATION!)  

There is a giant difference between first graders and kids in senior high, obviously.  What may not be obvious to many people is that the first graders have a significant advantage over high school students in one key learning area:  creative imagination.

Look, Mom!  I'm a Dragon!

While working with first graders today, we had a serious series of problems to be resolved.  The Essential Question:  How can coding help people to understand math skills?  There were masking tape paths taped on the rug, and the kids were challenged to write the code to stay within the path to the end.  There were two paths, and two students, and the competition was fierce.  Trial and error was practiced, repeatedly, as the "units" determined by the program were estimated and translated into approximate distances.  The students shared successes and tips with each other, even though they were in competition, which was so sweet to see!  Periodically, they'd report their findings in their notebooks, and then get back to the task at hand, with little prompting from me at all.

Suddenly, one student asked me if I was aware that there was an invisible unicorn in the room.

Honestly, I wasn't, but I've heard some really cool stories about Galactica, and had hoped to meet her.  I held my hand out for a good long time, inviting her to lick my palm, or tickle my fingers, but I'm told she's pretty shy.  Apparently she knows a fair amount about computer programming, and helped with the problem-solving today.

When I arrived home this evening, the FAT envelope was on the counter, congratulating me on my new status as a Drexel Dragon.  I am more than slightly amused that I will be working on a certification -- maybe a masters -- in Creativity and Innovation come September, while working at school with the most creative minds in my district who are all primary school students.  These kids are keepers of pure joy, who recognize the very magical, but very silent, skills of unicorns that adults aren't patient enough to see.  

Dragons and Unicorns are not mythical in my world.  In fact, I'm claiming them as MYthical, instead.  Today I'm a dragon.  With a lot of hard work, an open mind, and primary school friends, I hope to see that unicorn for myself in short order. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Relatively speaking.

Remember yesterday when I told you about the wonderful news from William and Mary?  (The college, not my friends...)  Well, it got me thinking about technology, and how BIG news is delivered these days.  Certainly, the post from Audrey's dad yesterday morning helped to fuel my musing, and he generously agreed to my using it here in this blog:

Today, I’m traveling to see clients in York and allowed myself a little extra time to sleep. It’s normally pretty quiet in the house as the girls go through the morning routine.
Today, it wasn’t. I heard giddy voices. Sing song speech that sounded packed full of joy.
I had my suspicions, but I hated to hope too much, but…I was right!
Audrey got the news….The College of William and Mary would like to “welcome her to the Tribe!”
What a journey it’s been for this young lady. We’re so happy for her!

When I was a kid...

I vividly remember receiving my first acceptance to college.  I was the first one home after school, and got the mail.  There was a FAT envelope.  While today the best and the brightest are finding out about prestigious college acceptances via email long before the "official" envelopes are mailed, back in the day a FAT envelope almost didn't need to be opened; everybody knew that the news inside was wonderful.  I remember jumping around, with absolutely no one to tell.  Cellphones weren't invented yet; heck, we didn't even have cordless phones.

Oh, and before you make some joke about picking up the phone to tell someone else on the party line, I AM NOT THAT OLD.

But I did pick up the phone, and called my Relative.   The capitalization of the word is intentional, as my mother's sister has been my Relative ever since I turned 16 and she decided that she was too young to be an aunt to someone old enough to drive.   She answered, probably while canning blueberry jam with little people in her kitchen looking for after-school snacks after elementary school, yet took the time to be super-excited for me, and celebrate my news as if I'd been elected to a role of extreme importance.  Thirty-five years later, I can still envision that phone conversation, and am so very grateful that Nancy picked up the phone.

A couple of weeks ago, a student approached me with a printout of an email from Williams College.  (Ranked #1 in the COUNTRY.)  It was an advance email, announcing her acceptance PRIOR to their official mailings, and encouraging her to commit to them because they clearly want her to be part of their freshman class next year.   My first reaction was tears for this amazing young lady and her accomplishments, followed by, probably, more hugs than she really ever expected as a result of a printed email.  I was pretty astounded that there is a "pre-acceptance" notification like that, but figured that after Carnegie Mellon and Fordham's erroneous acceptance emails, colleges are being very careful.

Certainly there is still something wonderful about the official, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-wave-it-in-the-air FAT envelope.   It's fascinating to me that the electronic "speed of acceptance" these days is still bringing giggles and joy shared with relatives.  For Audrey, it was an early-morning announcement, shared first with her sister.  

For her parents, hearing giddy voices through the wall, well, it's the secondary telling, and so on, and so on.

Technology is connecting us in strange and wonderful ways, and the nucleus of the college experience is excitement shared with family, teachers and friends.   It's hard to imagine how the news will be delivered in another 35 years, yet we can rest assured, knowing that there will be giggling, hugs, and tears, as the class of 2054 is notified of the placement for the next phase of their lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Today was the last day of the conference -- and reality is setting in that I will be teaching the finer points of MLA formatting of works cited tomorrow with my friendly neighborhood librarian.  It's tough to move from an attitude of total creativity to something so formatted and precise!  

As predicted, the kids at the conference bonded last evening.  Immediately after the "celebration luncheon," groups started to head out to their buses and vans.

But not before Omar stood under the palm trees like a Disney character, with a line of girls waiting to take selfies with him before they left. 

Before you think they'll never see each other again, rest assured that there's a soccer tournament in Lancaster in a few weeks, and the girls are competing.  So we'll see how successful the Casanovas from Donegal are at maintaining long distance relationships.   


As mentioned yesterday, the more competitive colleges are starting to identify their classes of 2019 with acceptance letters -- or, in many more cases, emails.  Today was no exception.  Donegal has been blessed this year with a College Adviser named Brady Roberts,  who has been working full time to coach and encourage students to apply to many more reach schools than are usually attempted, and the last few weeks have been a flurry of activity.

It seems like only yesterday that these kids were in my room during Tribe Time writing Common App. essays, and reviewing them with a fine toothed comb, or two, or three. 

An early morning facebook post revealed that the coveted email had come, for one very excited young lady, from William and Mary.  She'd already heard from Pitt and Villanova, but her heart has been calling her to Williamsburg.  An acceptance at William and Mary is no small accomplishment -- I don't recall anyone from Donegal ever attending there.

AND THEN, a text.  A second student from Donegal had been accepted at, you guessed it, William and Mary!  She apologized for texting me the news from a classroom.  You'd better believe I forgave the indiscretion!

I am amazed, every day, by the kids with whom I work.  Sometimes it takes a couple of days away to see them in a different light, with a different group of kids, to truly appreciate the heart they have for people, and each other.  I hope that teachers all over the country are feeling the vicarious excitement of the kids in their schools coming home from a conference with new ideas to implement in their schools, or working with young whipper-snappers like Brady who have secret skills and connections to make magical connections between students and colleges that will provide the perfect nurturing environment to help them grow and change the world.  

I pray that every single teacher can identify a team of kids as wonderful as Cayden, Josh, Andrew, Kobe, Omar, Madison, Joanna, Seneca, Brittany, and Rheeana who not only formed great teams, but strengthened their friendships and plan to improve their school, after 48 hours in State College.

Meanwhile, I'll just hold on to the energy and goodness that I am privileged to see in my world, and dream about it for a long time tonight as I sleep in my very own bed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Zen of the Moment.

Team Esoteric Alienated Aliens

I'm at a conference with students, with an agenda that accounts for every minute of the day from 8 am - 10 pm.  Sure, there are breaks built in -- most of them are ten minutes -- and all of them are peppered with a constant "eye on the clock", measuring where the next session is being held, when it starts, and how much time it takes to get to that location.

I have to admit, there are few days during the school year where my morning allows for Matt Lauer, but breakfast at 8 am allowed for that luxury this morning.  It's amazing how much more interactive students are at 8 am, especially with a large buffet of scrambled eggs, french toast, hashbrowns, sausage, and assorted bagels, juice, and mini-boxes of cereal to start their day.  All in all, the day started very positively, even if we were thinking about what classes we were NOT in this morning, what has been planned for us to do today, and how much work still needs to be done on the projects required at this particular conference.

The cellphone reception is sketchy, but I did manage to get a phone call from a student back home who received word of a prestigious college acceptance.  I'm truly not sure where the last year has gone, as that very student was at this very conference a year ago today, and is now looking to attend a college 3000 miles away.

It's difficult to stay "in the moment" when there are so many upcoming moments that require preparation and pre-planning, and exciting news to be shared.

The Zen of the moment.

It's amazing to me how many of the attendees are choosing to spend their ten or fifteen minutes of free time in the hotel arcade.  I'm fairly certain that the claw machine was built in the mid eighties, and many of the "prizes" contained within the game aren't even recognizable characters to the students vying for the stuffies.  Admittedly, it's been less than 24 hours, so the groups from the various schools aren't necessarily gelling with each other, except in the actual sessions.

(It was exciting, however, that people mixed it up at lunchtime and sat with actual foreigners from other groups.)

The conference is shorter this year by a day.  There isn't a scheduled "talent show" or group activity tonight, so most of the unstructured interaction will happen in the pool for an hour.  It will be interesting to see if there are tearful goodbyes and social media exchanges between students before we depart.

Meanwhile, we're headed downtown for dinner tonight, and ice cream at The Creamery, with some silent prayers on my part that this experience allows each one of us the time to breathe, regroup, and live in a single moment, recognizing this conference for what it is, and what the skills being presented here can mean in their lives.

Because a year from now, one of them may be calling me here to announce that they're moving 3000 miles from home to begin a new adventure in the next phase of life.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Walking the fine line...

As I mentioned last week, this week is my annual pilgrimage to State College with students at the Arrow Leadership Conference.  The day has been a whirlwind, and when I think back on the actual events of the day, the entire day was focused on the details to actually get here.  Now we're here, and the next two days will prove to shape leaders, and an understanding of leadership, even if we (and I include myself in that we) think we already know everything we need to know to function effectively.

The district is fortunate that the entire cost of the conference is underwritten by the leadership team.  The only cost, aside from the transportation/use of the district vans, are the substitute teachers who will cover classes for the two teachers serving as chaperones.

It's great to see old friends in some of the mentors from other schools, and to swap success stories, and commiserate when necessary.  It's also wonderful to see the kids that we've brought along slowly mesh together in their excitement for a project that will be fleshed out over the next two days and carried home for implementation. 

Walking the fine line....

There's a certain rhythm that develops at these events that creates the dynamic that I love -- that "learning as a team" instead of "learning because the teacher is saying so" mentality that I enjoy so much when I SIT DOWN in my classroom and follow the discussion as a participant instead of a leader.  It is truly project based learning at its finest.  This is not my first visit to this conference.  It is run by people younger than I, who are still considered adults in the eyes of my high school students.  Those in charge introduce themselves by their first names, and the expectation/assumption is that the kids will use those names in basic communication.

Which inevitably leads to "Can we call you SUSAN and JUSTIN?"

Hmmm.  Will this advance the project? Is this something that will help or kill relationships?  How does this factor into the school administration's desire to emphasize the word MISTER, MISSUS or MISS prior to surnames of the faculty at home?

I don't want to be IN CHARGE here.  I don't want answers based on assumptions of what I want; rather I want answers based upon honest, mutual communication.  And while Justin and I will be the voice of reason in the guidance process as they work through the fine details, we shouldn't hold any more clout than anyone else at the table.  

For the kids, they light  up a bit, like they've been given the secret handshake to a secret club.  Some push the limits -- ("No, you can't call me Susie-Q.") - while others giggle nervously and insist that there is NO way that we will be anything but Mrs. Heydt and Mr. Hill.  It's a fine line, and they'll dance close to it for 72 hours...

But for three days, it doesn't matter.  Because semantics should never the the guiding force, or the hill to die on, when encouraging leadership.  For these days, we're just another voice at the table, as our new leaders emerge and develop projects for a small school in Lancaster County.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Play date.

When was the last time you played?  I mean, did something with reckless abandon, with no specific reason for doing so except the joy of doing the activity?  Has it been so long that you really don't remember?

Yes, me too.

 I've spoken here before about wanting to zentangle, and overcome the paralyzing fear of "ruining" a book that calls for doodles.  I'm pushed trains around a track with my grandson, but tend to spend time with my education-analysis-brain functioning on his amazing responses, instead of FUN-ctioning on fun.

 Play Date.

When we visited the LEGO exhibit at the Franklin Institute a few weeks ago, I was impressed that the artist started out as an attorney, and recognized the need for creativity and imagination in his life.  He started building and creating using LEGOs, and somewhere along the way that became his career.  I can only imagine the thoughts that went through his parents' heads as they visited their bar-passing-attorney son's apartment, presumably stacked with Container Store organizational systems separating the specialty pieces from the 4x4 or 2 x 3 bricks.  (And then I considered the cost of a SINGLE TICKET to view the exhibit, and figured he had the last laugh!)

The point is, adults spend so much time trying to be responsible adults that they forget their inner child.  In a recent Edutopia article, Reem Rahman Kareem makes her case for some significant social impact through adult play.  As I read her three steps of suggestions, it seemed to me that much of her intent is to return individuals to a sense of authentic self, while taking a mini-vacation from the responsibilities of being an adult.

Oh, and if the adult happens to be a teacher, (or, presumably, a parent or grandparent who plays with kids), there is evidence that the return to adulthood and the teacher role will be significantly enhanced after having visited Neverland.

So this week, schedule a play date with yourself.  Try Reem's suggestions, and see what you discover about yourself.  

And maybe share it with a young one in your life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Let them eat..... muffins?"

Inspiration is lacking.  Both for the blog entry you are currently reading, and the two teams of Arrow Leaders that will be embarking on a pilgrimage to State College in less than 48 hours.  Although I find the whole reflective process of writing this blog very cathartic, there are days that I have no clue where I am going, or what I am going to say.

The same can be said for the Arrow Leaders.  I have charged myself with a blog entry a day for a year, focusing, albeit loosely sometimes, on education.  The Arrow kids have been charged with creating a project centered around Bullying that they can fully develop in State College this week and institute upon their return in either their school or community.

Let them eat...

When you leave 15 - 17 year old students to develop programs, there are two main strategies that must be employed.  Affirmation, to reward and focus the group for any kernel of wisdom or possibility that they might more fully explore, and a healthy dose of "NO COMMENT" when suggestions of questionable merit arise.  

Because, let's be real about this, sometimes the boneheaded ideas are the ones that will actually work.

An initial proposal to create an anti-bullying mascot, who might have become Reggie the Robot, for the primary school, was rejected by the principal for very solid reasons.  While high school kids recognize bullying as bullying, primary school kids aren't really sure about the difference between tattling and reporting information to adults.  This is refining process that is taught with specific language and skill set studied by counselors, and is tied to the developmental stages of small children, ala Piagetian theory.  It was a great idea, it just required more training than we have time to do.

Another proposal was MFAB.  Gotta love these kids, jumping on my bandwagon of acronyms.  If you want to convince me of something, give it a fancy acronym, and you're halfway there.  MFAB was on my whiteboard fairly early one morning.  I had no clue why.

"Muffins For Anti Bullying."  Oh.  Of course.  A sort of "Cheers-like, everybody knows your name" kind of support group for those feeling under attack, with counselors to support them.

Now, I must tell you, MFAB isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, but to put the whole consideration process into perspective, the following concerns require conversation:
  • How would Michelle Obama feel about offering muffins?  They certainly don't meet the federal guidelines for student consumption.
  • Can we reserve the "food room" to host the MFAB sessions?
  • Would there be an increase in bullying by muffin-lovers, seeking solace in muffin-dom?
  • Who would be responsible for overseeing the counseling associated with the aforementioned muffin distribution?
  • Let alone, who is baking/buying muffins?
There will be many more brainstorming sessions before the actual launch of whatever projects are finally chosen.  The fun for me in all of this is watching a group of students learn the navigational skills for building a group and finding consensus in the process.  

The kids who participate in these few days look back on the time away  as some of the fondest memories of high school, learning as much about themselves as they do about the leadership process.

And me?  Well, I get to connect with educators across the state, connect and rejuvenate my own teaching and learning strategies, and revisit the excitement of teenage projects, without the associated drama of high school, and WITH the added wisdom of the 35 years between present day and high school graduation.

It truly is the best of both worlds.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Out of (my) control.

courtesy morguefile.com
First day of spring, as of this evening.  I'm wondering whether the line for free Rita's is wrapped around the store, as the snow continues to fall.  I awoke this morning expecting a two hour delay and praying that we didn't actually close.  Neither happened.  
As I stood in the Commons this morning as kids walked in the doors, there was a general sense of grumpiness and dissatisfaction.  I actually looked at one kid and said, "You'll be happy on June 8th, when you aren't dragging your buns out of bed for another day of school, the week after finals are finished!"

I'm not sure he was as amused as I was at my answer.

There is a certain expectation in public schools these days that a "Winter Weather Advisory" translates to an instant delay or cancellation.  Especially when the forecast, according to the National Weather Service, calls for 4 - 6 inches of snow.    And, I must confess, I did actually visit the online Magic 8 Ball of snow day prediction sites last night.  The snow Calculator assured me a 68% chance of a snow day, (which I was voting against!), and a "likely" delay.  It may as well have said "Reply Hazy..."

Out of (my) control.

As teachers, we want to assure success, and we'd like to assure that success while pleasing as many people as possible.  Sometimes that translates into annoying as few people as possible, while still accomplishing the task at hand.  We recognize the double edges of swords.  For example, standardized testing season is looming on the horizon.  Nobody is standing in line for free samples, like the folks at Rita's celebrating spring.  In fact, the only celebrating that is done is sometime in late May when the last box of tests is sent off to the bean counters and the last piece of "scratch" paper is shredded.  

There are a lot of Facebook posts these days about the negative influence of PSSAs, Keystones, and other standardized diagnostic tools, and an even larger movement of parents choosing to "opt out" and have their children exempted from taking the exams.  A friend of mine has investigated this, and has basically discovered that the only way to do so is to claim a religious exemption.  Hmmm.  Are moral objections to a process such as standardized testing actually considered religion?  (And aren't we supposed to be separating church and state in the public school system, anyway?)

There are rumors and theories that students who opt out are somehow counted, negatively, in the district's almighty School Performance Profile number, which may be true.  There is certainly logic in the argument that high ability students who might opt out would, presumably, do well on the tests, thereby lowering the average of the district's total respondents on the tests, but, again, I don't know for sure.

I do know that standardized tests are a necessary evil at this point, and that teachers are not the ones to be able to change the system.  We report for work, we are assigned duties, we perform them, and we leave at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, the success or lack of success of our students on these tests is directly tied to our performance evaluations.  (If enough parents opt their kids out of testing, I wonder what the "cut bait" point is that would make the connection between teacher evaluation and student performance irrelevant?)

So, my head is full of questions, with very few answers.  Even if I had the answers, I'm not sure what I'd do with them or why I'd even care.  I am glad that my own children have graduated, and I'm not trying to convince them that this ONE WEEK (or two, or three) they MUST eat breakfast -- AND NOT JUST A POPTART -- because someone at school will ask them, and I will look like the horrible parent that I am every other day of the year for not forcing breakfast on the unbreakfastable.  (It's a word.  Really.  I made it up.)  I'm grateful that my own kids did well when faced with the tiny circles and #2 pencils, and that none of them exhibited horrible test anxiety that we see in increasing numbers every year.

Can I affect change in my classroom through teaching?  I believe/hope so.  

Can I affect change with regard to this issue?  I can't even begin to define a starting point.  

So yes.  Standardized testing is coming, soon.  Kids will be stressed.  Parents will be trying to make bacon and eggs and still catch the bus, and teachers will be hoping and praying that the combination of protein and carbs is enough to get everyone through each and every filled in circle, without too many tears. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Zumbody to love.

courtesy morguefile.com
Today is TWO HUNDRED straight days of blogging on this site.  It started as a dare for a month, and now it's pretty much routine. Are there days that I struggle to write?  Honestly, aside from filtering the negative things that sometimes jump up and down in my mind screaming "Write about US!  Write about US!", I truly don't.  Every day is different in my world -- even when it seems like the schedule was the same as the day two days ago.

So why do I keep at this?

One, very important, reason.  I love my mother.


Are schools spending enough time fostering the art of empathy?  Society has become so rote and robotic in its "get it done" approach to life, that there seem to be fewer instances where compassion and empathy are directly addressed.  Sure, there are anti-bullying campaigns, anti-cyberbullying awareness days, and an occasional Random Act of Kindness day encouraged here or there, especially around Thanksgiving when we're all encouraged to be more appreciative.

Daniel Golman's research on the importance of Emotional Intelligence has been around for a decade, and very few educators, other than guidance counselors and teachers of the gifted are even aware of his thesis.  It's fairly easy to embrace his idea of two minds - one rational, and one emotional, especially if you've ever been handed a scribbled picture of who-knows-what by a very proud preschooler.   The book is a fast read, and there are follow-up studies that continue to demonstrate the value of caring, not only for educators, but caring in business settings as well.

Suddenly, the value of empathy is everywhere.  Yes, I know I say that about things I'm thinking about all the time, but here's a perfect example.  The Atlantic recently featured an article about the importance of doctors knowing, and applying, the skill of empathy.  The article outlines special training that some doctors are receiving as part of their medical training, and illustrates the importance of listening skills, compassion, and eye contact.  (By the way, listening with understanding and empathy is also a Habit of Mind...)  Certainly anyone who has been ill, and searching for concrete information, can understand the value of such skills.  In fact, society would probably expect such courtesy.

And as much as we value empathy, it's not something that we share with our children as a core value.  In fact, in a recent study from Harvard University, the message that is being sent to kids these days is that happiness and achievement are more important than caring for others.

I know where I stand, or rather, sit.  Behind a keyboard, for 200 straight days, because somebody that I care about told me that this blog was important to her, and her understanding of what I do in my classroom every day.  Here's hoping that a few more parents set the expectation bar as high as my own Zum, and help to change the world, one random act of kindness at a time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Make it a habit.

(In my best Roseann Roseanna Dana voice...)  Didja ever notice that once you learn about something you see it EVERYWHERE?  Like you never heard of this new-found concept, and suddenly it's in your newsfeed, talked about in the faculty room, and appearing as spam in your email inbox?

Yes, my friends, this is the case with the Habits of Mind.

They're everywhere, they're everywhere!!!

I especially like when I can collaborate with a teacher in a department entirely disconnected from Giftedland, and know that we share students.  The same sense of astonishment that the Roseann Roseanna Dana voice in my head has exists among the students.  

"Why does everybody suddenly LOVE Carol Dweck?"  said one student.

"Hey, Mrs. Heydt!  Did you know that MR. DOUGHERTY knows about Mindset, too?" , commented another.  And so on, and so on.  

 Apparently, they've never heard of six degrees of separation.  We certainly do our best to connect, while leaving them scratching their heads wondering how it actually comes to be that we connect!

 Make it a habit.

Research tells us that gifted students learn new material in 1 -3 repetitions, while the average student requires as many as 7 - 9 repetitions - or more.  That single fact helps to understand why the best and the brightest seem to always have an open book in their laps and excessive doodling in their margins.  It may also explain how and why high ability kids miss key concepts, because they are multi-tasking, just to keep themselves awake and amused.

There's an excellent video from PBS which touches on the effects of multi-tasking on attention.  While the focus of the content is largely on the distractions online, the Digital Nation program usually garners more than a few passing comments about distractions and focus from my high ability kids working to study the effects of the internet in their challenge of the requirements for the freshman Information Literacy course.  Last summer, when I was attempting to refine the curriculum for Themes in Literature, the idea of teaching universal metacognitive awareness skills created a eureka moment for me.  Gifted kids are multi-taskers, because they are usually pretty good at everything they do, and juggle many things because they THINK they can.  Once they begin to examine the how and why behind what they do, through a lens of metacognitive analysis, they suddenly become aware of the intricacies of what they are asking of their brains.

The folks at Te@chthought have once again provided valuable insight that supports my observations -- this time commenting on the sixteen Habits of Mind.  HOM has become my "it's everywhere" topic this year, and the graphic (above) illustrates the way my head may actually look, if I didn't comb my hair well in the morning.  Okay, not really, but once I started exploring the relevance of HOM, I felt like they became logical extensions to both the way I teach and the way in which I ask my students to reflect upon their learning.

Oh, and that reflection process -- which includes the daily musings of this blog for me -- slows down the dance, cuts down on the multi-tasking, and allows all of us a little more time to mentally "play" with something we're attempting to process, allegedly creating a greater understanding of both the topic and the relevance of that topic.

All of which is supposed to increase student achievement.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Celebrating, even when you don't fully understand why....

Bryce will be a phenomenal Special Education teacher!
You know it is spring in my room when the annual posting of the "WHERE ARE THEY GOING?" sign is posted.  A number of my seniors have already made commitments to colleges, and it was getting difficult to remember who I'd asked and who I hadn't asked.  As I always strive to make them think I know what I am doing, creating a visual reminder of what I already know to be true seems like a good idea.

So today, the first of the seniors took the gold sharpie and declared their short-term future on the "official" document.  I've known some of these seniors for TWELVE years, and it seems like I've blinked, and they've become adults.  

Some of them know exactly where they are going, some are praying hard that they are going where they want to go, and others are waiting for all of the offers to roll in before zeroing in on the final destination.  

For a TOG (Teacher of the Gifted) it's sort of like waiting for multiple babies to be delivered.

Celebrating, without fully understanding.

Don't get me wrong.  I am proud of my students on a continual basis.  They are incredible people with incredible stories, and incredible potential.  Not all of them believe that, and sometimes it helps to tell a story or two, from previous years' classes.
Case in point:  Elijah.  A brilliant kid, who dual enrolled in a Physics class at Franklin and Marshall during his senior year in high school.  The kid literally spent the after-school hours learning the necessary Calculus for the Physics lab he would be doing in college the following day.  He headed off to Drexel, and, well, completed a couple of quarters and dropped out.    Don't get me wrong, this is NOT one of those stories about a kid who is now living in his parents' basement, unable to face reality.  Instead, he's designing reality as the CTO of his own company.  The Huffington Post just featured Elijah today on their blog of up and coming entrepreneurs.    

Jenna "officially" declares Bridgewater.
Case in point:  Jenna.  The most compassionate, peace-loving, emotional kid you'd ever want to meet.  Watching others succeed actually brings Jenna to tears, with pride for her friends.  After working on a blogging as her TDO in Themes in Literature, she was invited to be a Guest Blogger on the Church of the Brethren national website.  As far as I know, she's the only high school student in the world writing and posting to this site, as an invited writer.   Oh, and she got a letter from former President Jimmy Carter this year.

Case in point:  Laura.  Sure, I'd finished this entire blog, feeling very proud of my present and former student.  And then Penn State went and honored Donegal alumnus, Laura Gebhart.   A dynamo on the field hockey field, she's always been one of the most personable, smiling, and genuine people I've ever had the pleasure to work with in my classroom.  I truly expect to be cheering her on in the Olympics sometime very soon!

These are three examples of three students' accomplishments that appeared in my news feed today.  Please take the time to explore their inner workings by reading the hyperlinks.  While I will never fully understand how Elijah's mind works, I love seeing his name appear on my phone, because he is always calling with amazing stories from a world that I can barely comprehend.  I marvel at all that Laura does, both as a student at Penn State and as a US Field Hockey Team member.

And I can't wait to see where life takes Jenna, and the rest of my seniors, as they follow the paths stretching before them.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The tragic ballooning accident.

This time next week, I'll be chaperoning ten students at the Arrow Leadership Conference.  I truly look forward to this annual pilgrimage, as the entire experience is one of those epic bonding workshops that allow for an almost secret-handshake-like team-building.   The number of kids that I think would benefit from the experience is roughly 25 times the number of students that are actually invited to attend.  

Four years ago, my team was functioning so well in their bonding experience, that the organizers called for the adults in the room to attempt to intervene, during an exercise to stress the importance of verbal communication.  The kids were in a carpeted ballroom, charged with keeping an ever-increasing number of balloons in the air.  They owned this challenge, and so the adults -- including me -- were told to walk around, get in their way, and basically try to force them to communicate with someone else in the room.

Honestly, the only thing that got in the way was, well, the rubber toe tips of my new sneakers, which caused me to stumble, and try to break my fall with my hands.  It was an interesting time, being 2 1/2 hours away from home, as the only chaperone of a group of students who required surgery within 36 hours of the now-famous "tragic ballooning accident" to repair my wrist.  

Oh, and my district's school board changed their policy on overnight field trips, now requiring TWO adults on every overnight trip.  It's a wonder that they don't require triple coverage for me.

Ready to fly again...

It may seem odd that I'd be excited about returning to the scene of that fiasco, but there are a number of strategies taught to these high school students that instantly become part of their vernacular.  One particularly poignant exercise involves a word association test that results in students identifying their strengths in a group as ROOTS, LEAVES, TRUNKS, or BRANCHES.   It isn't at all uncommon, for example, to have a student look at other students exhibiting a particular fascination with something, to shrug his shoulders and mutter, "What do you expect?  They're LEAVES!"  
The entire conference is focused on strengthening groups, and challenging those groups to go back to their own schools and implement a project, while demonstrating their new skills in the process.  Past groups have painted murals at a playground, raised funds for a soccer kickwall, and improved the recycling program in the cafeteria.  This year's challenge is much more specific -- to create a project that brings awareness to bullying.

Now I'm not saying there is NO bullying in our school, EVER.  But the groups working this morning to analyze the climate of our school, ready to go to the conference next week with data and examples, struggled to pinpoint a specific area of need.  Either this is a very good thing, or a very bad thing, depending on the actual facts.  Does bullying exist within our walls and is going unseen?  Or are we really that unusual that it isn't really an issue?

Stay tuned, and we'll see what these young minds come up with after considering trees and bouncing balloons.  

Of course, their first charge is assuring that I get home in one piece.