Thursday, April 29, 2010

Study Hall Revolucion - No Mas

Spring is here! Birds are chirping; squirrels are scurrying; grass is growing; flowers are blooming; and middle school students are eager to get up and get out. There are lots of ways to react to that last indicator of the new season, but sometimes the funniest way is to go way over the top and send your fellow teachers an email like this (all names have been changed to maintain the privacy of militants and dictators):


I’m looking for a benevolent dictator to lead my study hall today as I head off to a baseball game. In the fall and winter this would just take a teacher, but with the approach of warm weather and the countdown to finals in full swing among 6th grade boys, room 110 has been transformed into a holding pen for violent militants intent on bringing down the “oppressive fascists” running this school (I think they mean us, specifically Joan Smith) and setting up their own system of government. Here is the list of key characters:

Tom Jones as Che Guevera

Larry Pendleton as George Washington

Jimmy Fisher as Robespierre

Doug Harris as Rambo

Please let me know if you are available and willing to crush the revolution today from 230 to 315.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Ponderance: Significance versus Success

"Being significant is more important than being successful."

- Michael Josephson

How true this is. All of the research on brain development, teaching 21st century skills, what high schools and colleges want in their students, what companies are looking for in employees - all of it is pointing to significance.

Significance means of importance or having meaning.
It is important for us to identify significance because significance is what motivates us to do great things - in the classroom and in the workplace.

Siginificance is a hot topic. The point is, significance, or meaning, should be the central goal, not merely success. At Canterbury, we believe the Social Contract is a road map to significance. As students, we want you to use that map to chart your way. Here are three ways to facilitate your journey:

1. Invest: Take advantage of every minute you have in the classroom, with your friends, teachers, parents, grandparents, teammates, siblings, pets. Make sure you are present in the moment and allow those moments to unfold. If you are too eager to get on to the next thing, you may miss the best thing.

2. Care: Once you are in the moment, care about the people who are with you. Make sure they feel respected. The work you put into making someone feel meaningful will come back to you in a number of different ways.

3. Reflect: At some point in your day - when you go to bed, at breakfast, on the bus from a game - take the time to examine how you did that day or the day before. Did you invest and care? Was their a moment where you didn't give maximum effort? Why? Did you take care of every responsibility?

You will probably have had some moments that slipped - we all do. The important thing is that over the longhaul, we are able to answer "yes" to more of these reflection questions than "no." If we can, we are achieving siginificant.

Friday, April 16, 2010

They Can Make Me Smile, Too

As spring fever descends over the middle school and frustration creeps in (shameless plug: one of my latest posts on discusses frustration), the students can still make me smile. Case in point: an 8th grader left her laptop unattended and took four days to write a letter requesting it back. Below is the text, which made me smile and I hope will make you as well. (Keep in mind: this student must write 150 words, so you will see some typical strategies at work – repeating, stories, etc.)

Dear Mr. Skeen,

I’m sorry that I left my laptop unattended. I knew that it would be safe in Ms. ________’s classroom for a little while, but I did forget to go back and get it. Thank the teacher (Ms. ______) for rescuing my laptop from that awful burglar who I’m sure would have taken it if it hadn’t been given to you.

Also, the reason I didn’t give you this letter sooner, was that I wanted it to have a vacation. I’m sure you took great care of it. I speak for my laptop when I say, thank you for giving him a vacation. I bet the two of you had a great time (Editor’s note: this is my favorite line). I’m so sorry to take him back to work but I’m sure he will survive. Thank you again for giving him a safe home.



Thursday, April 15, 2010

6th Grade History: Student Taught Lessons

Today in history class we began our student taught lessons on the power and influence of the church in Medieval Europe. The class was divided into five groups which focused on different aspects of the church in daily life. From Pope Gregory VII to the Dictatus Papae to Gregorian chants, each group was charged with researching their topic, producing a lesson, and having some kind of worksheet or opportunity to manipulate the information from their lesson.
One group made a game board for their lesson. The class was focused and engaged on the game and I could hear excited voices discussing the role of the church in Medieval Europe and its significance in shaping daily life...I better watch out or these guys and girls are going to take my job!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Ponderance: Frustration

Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.

Eric Hoffer

Frustration is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs." When applied to the Hoffer quote above it is revealing to look at ourselves and our students.

It is nearly impossible for 11-14 year olds to take a step outside themselves and see all the things they have in their life, from the financial and material to the social and emotional aspects of their existences. This is the reality of the middle school years: they are literally hardwired (or in the process of short-circuiting and re-wiring) to be self and/or friend-centered. One of the results is frustration.

Think about what we see from our students. Some feel like they are treated like kids, and only want to be 16 to get that license. While others feel like we aren't providing enough guidance in class - aren't outlining exactly where they should go, how they should get there, and who will hold their hand on the path. Still others are frustrated with their friendships, where they will go next year, what their coach said, what their coach didn't say. "A deep and chronic sense of insecurity" is the life of a middle schooler.

So how do we work with it - and it is a matter of working with and not against because, as JoAnn Deak reminded us last week, the science of the brain is not going anywhere and it says this is happening. Now, combine that with what Eric Hoffer says, the sense of frustration is often more deeply felt when we have more and want one more thing, than when we have less and want something. In Independent Schools we have a lot and the families who attend our schools, typically do as well. Therefore, our challenge to dissipate frustration in our students may actually be harder than in other schools.

For a moment, let's forget the developmental changes that each of these students are going through right now, which physically creates a lot of the "middle school behavior" we see each day, and believe that our students can appreciate what we have. They would see the world in which they live as tremendously positive, caring, enriching, and fulfilling. We do. They would be, for a moment at least, content. (Whether we are is a topic for a different blog.)

Throw the physical factors back in the mix and in order to get this message across we need to "shock and awe." Outreach and service learning is one way to do it. Special guests are another. Open and respectful dialogue between student and teacher and/or parents pertaining to the world is yet another. Have dinner each night and discuss the great things we have. We are lucky - exceptionally so - to be doing what we do, with the people we do it with (students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members). For a moment, let's be content with it.