Make time for… conversation

small talk

small talk - from the brilliant

Who does the speaking in your classroom?

When students speak, to whom are they speaking?

When students are talking to each other, what are they talking about?

These are absolutely critical questions. The answers to these questions speak volumes about the level of student engagement in a class.

Who does the speaking in your classroom?

Is it you, or is it the students? If the teacher is the star of the show in their classroom, students are not actively engaging with the content. If students aren’t actively engaging with the content they aren’t learning – at least not with any depth; they aren’t building capacity for transfer. Transfer is the ability to apply learning to new situations, which truly demonstrates ownership of knowledge and depth of understanding.

When students speak, to whom are they speaking?

Are students talking to the teacher or to each other? If student conversation always passes through the teacher-gatekeeper, true discourse is not taking place. Students must be given the opportunity to ask and answer peer questions. The teacher should serve as a passive facilitator (0r even an outside observer) whenever possible.  One great way to get true student-student discourse rolling is with a socratic seminar; another is whiteboarding.

When students are talking to each other, what are they talking about?

When students are talking to each other, are they talking about class content or the latest mind-rotting episode of Jersey Shore? If class content is not engaging or students aren’t afforded time for their curiosity, conversations in your class will quickly veer off task. This is why many teachers hesitate to allow students time for conversation. It is also a great measure of student engagement. Give students a few minutes to talk about your current class topic. Do they talk about it? If not, do they need a more structured conversation protocol, or do you need to revamp your content?

How do you make time for conversation in your classroom?

comic used under cc license from

Make time for… curiosity

This posts is the second in a series about making time in your classroom, even when you don’t feel like you have any!
Here is the first: Make time for… relationships

I wonder what would happen if I put my head in here...What’ll happen if I put my head in here?

Sure it may have killed a mythical cat.

But is that old saw really any reason to extract revenge on curiosity one student at a time?

Yet that is what happens in classroom after classroom, day after day.


Sometimes it’s the teacher’s need to have all the answers and not be stumped by a student.

Sometimes it’s a obsessive desire to have a plan and tightly choreograph the course of each class period, each day, each week.

Often it’s pressure to “cover” content.

This pressure can be self-imposed or externally mandated. Either way, it damages learning.

The thing is, curiosity takes guts. It takes courage for a student to step forward and ask a question that they really want answered.

When we ask questions, we lay bare our understanding or lack thereof. When students ask genuine questions, they take a risk. They risk exposing their interest in a topic that their peers might not find interesting. The great paradox is that a great question from a peer might be all it takes to engage a bored student.

This is when we must make a choice: honor curiosity, or silence it – possibly forever. It doesn’t take long for a student to realize that their curiosity is not welcome in a given classroom.

There are many ways to honor student curiosity. Projects and inquiry activities that spring from student questions epitomize a curiosity-based curriculum.

There are smaller ways too: I like to gather student question in a place we call the “Wonder Wall” (as in I wonder…). I ask students to find an answer and report back to the class. No matter what, I make a point to let my students know how important their questions are to our learning.

How do you honor student curiosity in your classroom?

Cat picture used under c.c. license from the photostream of beverlyislike

an unwanted side dish…

boy from niger

boy from niger

Thanksgiving used to be a pure holiday for me.

No gifts exchanged; no commercialism. Just 100% of the focus on food and family (and football, naturally).

Now it comes with an unwanted side dish – guilt.

Sure, I’m going to enjoy it and be supremely thankful for the ridiculous mountain of blessings that I’ve received.

I have a beautiful, loving wife, 4 healthy and wonderful children (including the newest addition – Asher, born 11/18/10), a comfortable home and a phenomenal family.

I have a job that I love WAY too much. A job that fills me with meaning and purpose. A job that challenges me every day. A job that allows me to touch the future, one amazing student at a time. A job that is not a job.

I love to teach!

So, why the helping of guilt on the side?

I will feast while many people in this country have no job.

I will feast while children in Africa are starving (I heard a story yesterday about a 6 month old in Niger, Africa that weighed 3 lbs. My newborn son weighed 9.5 lbs.).

I will feast while 30% of my students are categorized as homeless.

Don’t get me wrong, I will enjoy this holiday. I will enjoy the time with my family, the football and the mouth watering turkey goodness. I will be extra thankful for what I have.

Yet, I won’t forget those who have none of what I do.

Photo used under creative commons license from the Flickr photostream of foto_morgana

Make time for… relationships

This is the first in a series of posts about things to make time for in your classroom, even when you don’t feel like you have time!


Over-stuffed curriculum.

Testing schedules.

Pacing calendars.


55 minute periods.

Early release.

Assembly schedules.

All of these things can leave teachers feeling harried.  I constantly feel like there isn’t enough time to get to everything I want my students to experience.  The crux of it all is that there simply aren’t sufficient hours in the day to do it all.

Something has got to give.

Just make sure what you give up is something you and your students can afford to lose.

One thing I know is that you must make time for relationships.  Teaching is an interpersonal experience. It is a transaction in which the buyer (the student) has to decide if he wants to give up something of value (time) in return for what you are offering (knowledge).

Furthermore, students must be able to interact productively with their peers.  This also requires a positive, respectful, working relationship.  It is our job as a more experienced “relationship manager” to help them navigate these treacherous seas in a functional manner.  They don’t need to become Facebook friends and sit together at lunch but they DO need to be able to collaborate to create quality products that display depth of learning.

Regardless of other demands, always make time for relationships.

Clock image from lettereleven‘s flickr photostream

What I want from my union

I have the utmost respect for unions.

I don’t blame teacher’s unions for problems in education.

That being said, I do believe there are problems.

Obviously, there are funding problems. I’ve seen those first hand. I work on the front lines of education, a rural school on an Indian reservation in an area of extreme poverty – I mean third-world caliber poverty. 90+% of my students are ethnic minorities. 90+% qualify for free and reduced lunch. 30% can be classified as homeless. We have one of the smallest levies our the state. The kids absolutely need and deserve more funding.

Yet, I know we can do better.

With the resources we have.

With the staff we have.

We must do better.

Students trudge from class to class learning from boring, outdated textbooks (mine, which I haven’t used in years, are from 1990 – they are older than my students). They are bored to tears by [lecture, worksheet, test, repeat]- style instruction in many classes.

It’s time to break the mould!

Let’s crush this outdated model and banish it to the recesses of our collective memories to become only the fodder of bad horror movies and lame teenage soap operas.

But, how?

I want my union to stop being a union and become something more.

Before it’s too late.

The major teacher’s unions, the NEA and the AFT must wrest control of the situation away from politicians and business interests. Rebrand ourselves as true professional associations lest our associations be destroyed.

Take the power back.

  • Set standards for effective instruction based on research and member collective wisdom.
  • Set standards for association membership.
  • Evaluate our own members.
  • Prescribe assistance for those who need it.
  • Mentor new teachers.
  • Design and facilitate effective professional development.
  • Revoke membership for those who choose not to improve.
  • Protect those who do.

Let’s not let people who have never taught a day in their life chart the course of education reform. It’s time for preemptive action. The opportunity won’t linger forever. Reform is proceeding forward one way or the other.

The question we must ask ourselves is this:

Are we driving the reform train or waiting on the platform, hoping it doesn’t pass us by?

My Edublog Award Nominations

There are so many great bloggers out there. In fact, I follow many more than I am able to actually read. That being said, I wanted to recognize a few of my favorites by nominating them for the Edublog Awards.

Without further ado, my Nominations for The 2010 Edublog Awards:

  • Best individual blog: Science Teacher – Doyle’s writing is scientific, deep, thought provoking, humorous, inspirational, and challenging.
  • Best group blog: Cooperative Catalyst – all kinds of good stuff here from all kinds of excellent bloggers
  • Best resource sharing blog: for the love of learning – Joe Bower shares methods and resources for transforming your entire classroom by transforming your assessment!
  • Most influential blog post:
  • Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion: #scido
  • Best new blog: Experts and Newbies – all about project based learning!
  • Best teacher blog: Spencer’s Scratch Pad – honest, witty, introspective and inspirational writing from an excellent writer in John Spencer
  • Best school administrator blog: What Ed Said – I’m going to “cheat” a little bit and put Edna Sackson’s blog here (because she’s moving into the role of Teaching and Learning Coordinator for her school next year)
  • Lifetime achievement: Dangerously Irrelevant – Scott McLeod has been blogging at a very high level for years and uses his blog’s considerable clout to support lots of other bloggers by hosting frequent guest blogger series.

10 teacher sayings I hate

10. “He’s lazy”corporal punishment

9. “She’s loud”

8. “I’m giving a really big test and they’re not ready for it – that’ll teach ‘em to listen!”

7. “I gave him extra credit for _________” (cleaning, running errands, busywork, etc.)

6. “These kids just don’t want to learn”

5. “I found a great website with all kinds of worksheets!”

4. (to students) “I’m not your mom (friend, babysitter, etc.)”

3. “We need stricter punishments”

2. “I was taught that way and I turned out fine”

And the #1 teacher saying I hate….

“He’s not very bright”

Image used under cc license from the flickr photostream of Wisconsin Historical Images