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Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Deeper Learning, Notes from Forward

A Teacher’s Self-Care Guide

10417498_10101256328544704_949313120554144220_n by Shannon Stone
shannon.stone@jefferson.kyschools.us

Passionate teachers pour themselves into their work, often at the cost of their own families. They give up Sunday night dinners in order to create engaging lesson plans. They are digging through Pinterest and engaging in Twitter Chats outside of the school day. They have more professional development hours than they know what to do with. But, they keep plugging forward. They expend incredible energy to make a child’s life grand and wonderful. While sharing that passion with others builds a momentum and a power that feels unstoppable, even the passionate run out of steam. March and April feel like trudging in knee deep waters because everyone’s emotions are running high, spring fever is kicking in, and state testing is knocking at the door.  When we think that we can’t possibly do another lesson, or give another pencil, or talk about another fidget spinner, that last day quickly approaches. Then like that, those last busses roll, and sweet freedom sinks in. Sweet freedom to professionally develop on your schedule, to continue engaging with others who have the bug, to finally read that stack of professional books you have been waiting for.

The reminder of summer is to take that passionate flame and ensure it stays lit. Make a list of things that keep you moving. Here are a couple of suggestions to keep your flame fired up.

    1. Even a staycation is a vacation, if done right!  Sit down! Mindfulness comes from being aware of self and that can be difficult when you are consistently bombarded with the demands of deadlines, projects, and life. Summer gives us the opportunity to simply be. Find that space that allows you to let go of the stress. That space could be your couch, nature, or the beach. Try focusing on the moment, and the fact that you don’t have to grade a stack of papers, create lesson plans, or respond to email. You are officially off contract! You are the principal of your own time.
    2. Your superpower is teaching, but your body missed the memo!  For many, stress increases the cortisol levels in our bodies, resulting in unforeseen health issues. Cortisol weakens our bodies ability to fight the rough stuff that we encounter daily. In addition, to increased cortisol, we may not always make the best nutritional decisions. Luckily, summer is a great time to retune the whole system. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be amazing.  Blueberries and peas are great options at reducing cortisol levels in your body. Try an essential oil diffuser at home. Essential oils like lavender and tea tree oil are known to help in reducing cortisol in the body.
    3. MOVE!  Sure, you’re clocking 20,000 steps a day through the school year.  Teaching isn’t for the lazy, so continue to embody that goal setting for the summer. Take a walk around the neighborhood, the Big-Four bridge, or one of our many state parks in the area. We all have those fitness friends who are doing boot-camp and CrossFit! Catch up with them this summer, you may spark a new life-long habit. Plus, exercise also helps to squash the cortisol in your system.
    4. Grow your brain! Learn a new skill, engage in PD that you are interested in, meet-up with your tribe (others who share your passion), or read those books that you haven’t had time for. All of these things help to nurture yourself that you have neglected for months.

Hear my call to action: take care of yourself.  You absolutely can not pour from an empty cup!  For me, a beach trip with my tribe, perusing that quaint bookstore and losing myself both in fiction and self-development books will help to lower that cortisol. My exercise routine will be magnificent. I will have time with my family and friends. As July inches closer, that itch for routine will get stronger. The desire to get my space set up and organized will start to seep in. By then, though, my cups will be full. I will be energized and ready to tackle another school year. The passion flame keeps on firing. June, July, and August are time for rejuvenation, the self-care we often sacrifice through the school year. Make the most of the time, squash that cortisol, and love yourself!

Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Notes from Forward

A Homeless Man from Boston Taught Me A Lesson

A side note from the JCPSForward Bloggers:  Our regularly scheduled blogger is currently on an amazing vacation (we do not weep for her).  Below is an entry from the JCPSForward blog co-lead, Noah Klein.

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by Noah Klein
noah.klein@jefferson.kyschools.us
@mrkleinsenglish

Growing up, I was bullied.  At times it was relentless.  I was overweight and I was more interested in reading a book at recess than playing foursquare.  My most targeted “problem” was my sensitivity.  As my mom used to say to me, “You feel hard.”  I would see other people being bullied and I would cry for them.  I would see other obese people and feel their shame.  I would see a homeless person on the street and weep.  I constantly worried for others.

At the time, I did not know why I felt so deeply for others, but what I did not know was that I always wanted to know how to make my pain stop.  I could never separate my own insecurities from the insecurities in others.  I vividly remember passing a homeless man on the streets  of Boston.  I couldn’t have been older than six or seven.  As we passed him, he didn’t look up.  His clothes were ragged; the tattered strips of cloth on his body were blowing in the brisk Boston breeze.  I begged my mom for money, any amount of it, to give to the man.  This was not a new behavior for me, and my mom obliged.  And even though I did my small part then, I could not help but to wonder how the man had gotten to this point.  I didn’t understand why he was there and why there wasn’t a way to help him get off the street.

As I grew older, I became better at shutting the world out, but this misunderstanding never went away.  I am still frequently haunted by the image of this man.  I know he could have been there because of his own decisions, but what if he was set up to fail at the very beginning?  What if he didn’t have a family?  What if he didn’t have anyone to course-correct his path when he was young?  I had several people set me on better paths when I was young.  Would I be this man had I not had them?

The image of that man has never went away.  I instinctively knew as I entered college that I wanted to do all that I could to ensure I would never be haunted by another man like him.

Those of us who teach do so for many different reasons.  At the heart of all of our reasons is the inherent desire to ensure that those who come after us find a better world than the one we found.  Over the years, I have played my small part a few times.  I had a student who did not commit suicide because she, “didn’t want to disappoint me.”  She is now a proud military wife who, even when her husband is away, smiles because she relishes her life and its opportunities.  Another student of mine suffered from anxiety silently until she realized that it was literally killing her.  Through many hours of talking, crying (sometimes both of us), and reflection, she is succeeding in college away from her family, high school friends, and former teachers.  Yet another student reached out to me for help regarding his drug abuse.

With our successes from day to day, we also experience the heartbreak that comes with imagining our students who, for whatever reason, will end up being some version of my homeless man on the street; they are the anonymous stranger whose life isn’t fulfilled.  I am no longer just haunted by the image of the man in Boston, but also by the student who, a week after graduation, was gunned down because he was running in the wrong circles.  Should I have spent more time persuading him to change his life?  I am tormented by the student who didn’t go pursue his passions because his family dissuaded him.  Why didn’t I sit with his family to explain to them that spending money would mean that my student wouldn’t be undermatched and therefore less likely to be successful?

At the heart of all of our reasons is the inherent desire to ensure that those who come after us find a better world than the%Every teacher has stories like these.  I am not unique for having experienced them. And if my two successful students are the only ones I ever course-correct, then I can die a happy man.  Over the last six months, however, I find myself increasingly unsatisfied.  I want to maximize, as we all do, the impact of my life.  After much thought, many conversations, and copious sessions of solutions seeking, I came to a realization. Through research and practice, we know what good education looks like.  However, our education system, one based off of a factory model, is horrendous at helping the holistic child.

For example, since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, many states have seen tremendous growth.  Kentucky, for example, used to measure itself by asking one question: Are we better than Mississippi?  That has changed tremendously as now Kentucky is in the middle of the pack by many measures.  This is a positive change.

And yet, what often doesn’t happen is addressing the non-cognitive factors of a child, the mitigating factors in the student’s outside life that prohibit the student from being successful.  These are the factors represent a much harder fight against because they seem largely out of our sphere of influence.

To demonstrate this struggle, imagine putting a Bandaid on a bullet wound.  You may cover the visual wound, but what about stitching the bleeding artery?  What about antibiotics to ensure that more systemic, ongoing infections don’t begin?  What about ongoing therapy to properly bring a person back to full health?

In the educational context, this is seen by actions such as Blessings in a Backpack for students who are poor.  This action is not detrimental, much like putting a bandage on a wound isn’t bad, but it also is not intentional or targeted.  Students may need access to affordable, accessible medical care for their “bleeding arteries.”  They may need psycho-emotional supports for their cognitive “infections.”  They may need consistent community advocates to ensure that the student’s actions bring them to “full health.”  In our current educational model, this cannot happen.  In my school, for example, we have one person who oversees these issues.  We also have 667 students.  That is a ratio of 667:1.  These are not sustainable numbers, and this narrative is one we all face in our schools.

For every small, sustainable successes I have, I know that I also have another homeless man from Boston.  I am weary of the cascading images of students who could have gone a different direction.  Because of this ongoing dissonance, I have begun to create a program at my school to address not only the shifting educational landscape of America, but also addresses and redefines what it means to reach the holistic child.  I am fortunate that I have many supports already in place for this program.  I am energized by the possibility of maximizing my impact.  But I am also asking anyone who will listen to consider what it means to help the holistic child in a systemic way- a way that goes beyond putting a Bandaid on the problem.

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I want to be the champion that I had, and that I hope my daughter has should I ever lose sight of her struggles, passions, and potential.

As I create and implement this program, I want to open a dialogue so that we learn together and reimagine what school and it’s duty to helping the holistic child looks like. What if we could have fewer nameless people in the future simply by reimagining what it means to help students today?  Could we prevent another sensitive child from crying because they wondered what if?  I have no idea if it is possible, but I am committed to finding out.  Teachers aren’t the solution.  Nor is the solution money, community, parents, and society.  All of these factors play a part.  If you are interested in knowing where I am thus far, please refer to this document that shows what is driving my thinking, as well as the cognitive and non-cognitive components of the program

I cannot effect large-scale changes alone, but I can create the gentle breezes of change in my small way.  A gentle breeze can become a gust in a mere moment.   As such, I can no longer sit back and let excuses get in the way.  It is within my sphere of influence try to find the answer to the question of what it means to help the holistic child.

Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Notes from Forward

Jump In, Ride the Wave, and Embrace NGSS

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by Chelsea Haynes
chelsea.haynes@jefferson.kyschools.us
@MrsHaynesSci

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been on the rise and new state assessments went into pilot mode this year. Over the last three years, our district has been ‘rolling out’ lessons to align with NGSS, and also incorporate the current modules we have to work with. But, why should we embrace the change? Why is it important to know the full sequence of the standards from elementary to high school? How can we become better in creating lessons to guide our students’ thinking? In my next few monthly blogs, I will introduce components to NGSS, give examples of teaching practices and strategies, and share my personal reflections regarding the standards.

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Key Ideas of NGSS

In truth, I was hesitant to embrace the new standards. After teaching 6th grade science for many years, I got comfortable in my ways and I thought this was just another obstacle that I was going to have to overcome. When the standards first came out, they were extremely difficult to read in the fact that there are many components to just one standard, and it was challenging to really know what students needed to know to show mastery and growth. I’m still continually learning and deciphering the NGSS. However, reflecting over the three year period Kentucky and JCPS has implemented NGSS in middle school, this change is so important. In today’s world, we need to teach children to become innovative, critical thinkers to be successful for future jobs. Kentucky Core Content 4.1 did not do this. The NGSS encompasses so much more than learning and memorizing facts of science. It teaches children to be solution driven. Also, It has completely changed my mindset of how to teach science through many dimensions of learning and has made me aware of teaching critical thinking skills. Let’s be honest, one is probably not going to have to regurgitate the different moon phases on the job; however, one would use the critical thinking process of figuring out why a phenomenon occurs.

So, let’s look at the basics of NGSS. When looking at just one standard, it has many complex components. The Performance Expectations (PE) are the items that are assessable. The Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) and the Cross-Cutting Concepts (CCC) are all the components to form the PEs. These are also referred to as the three-dimensions of the standard or 3-D learning. Three-dimensional learning is important to build children’s skills in critical thinking and problem solving of everyday phenomena. The Connection Boxes are the connections made to Core Content standards and other NGSS. If you are new to the standards, this is very overwhelming. Inside the NGSS Box is a great resource to help you better visualize and understand how to read NGSS.

On top of reading and understanding NGSS, I found it very cumbersome to document NGSS in a formal lesson plan to my administrator. Over the years, I have tweaked my lesson plan template to help me document all parts of the standard for each lesson. This document helps me break down each component and think of how I am going to incorporate all three dimensions into my daily lessons. On a side note, it also keeps me accountable for ELA standards as well as differentiation within the lesson. After seven years teaching in a priority school, I have learned very quickly that it is essential to incorporate literacy strategies on a daily basis. As I went through (required) literacy instruction courses in college, I thought to myself, “I’m not going to use this.” However, I instantly realized how lucky I was to be exposed to literacy strategies when my school required me to actually teach a reading class along with my science courses.

Even though JCPS has incorporated NGSS in the last three years and we have been fortunate to have excellent district support staff, we still have a long way to go for all teachers to completely embrace and understand them. This is why we need to rally together for a change. We need to push for science to be just as important as mathematics and language arts. We need to support one another through district and state-wide PLC’s since we are all riding this innovation wave together. We owe it to our students to be prepared for the innovative world.

With this said, I challenge you to jump in, ride the wave, and embrace NGSS.  Even if you are not a science teacher, check it out.  The cross-curricular opportunities are endless. Check in next month for more NGSS wave riding.

Chelsea Haynes is a former Math and Science Instructional Coach at Stuart Academy.  She is returning to the classroom at Newburg Middle School as a science teacher.  When not expanding her knowledge and professional networks, she can be found at home with her two children Oliver and Jaxson.