Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Slice of Life: Inclusive or Exclusive?

Book Fairies on Campus, Magic
I dress up everyday for spirit week. I love costumes. Any excuse I can find to wear a wig and glitter to work, I take. I should add that to my owner's manual. My principal sent out her owner's manual the first week of school. She'd gotten the idea from a friend, thought it a good one and shared. She gave me permission to share it with you. Here are a few excerpts:

Owner’s Manual

Rationale:  A friend told me about a great article in the Wall Street Journal about a hospital administrator in Massachusetts who wrote an “Owner’s Manual” so his new staff would know how to deal with him as he moved to a new position.  So, I put this together to give you an idea of what I am like.
  1. I am a sucker for enthusiastic, passionate, focused teachers who come to me with a need and a plan to help kids.  I try to find the money for worthy projects.
  2. You can change my mind.  If your way is better, I’m all for it. If you can’t change my mind, I’ll tell you why. 
  3. I’m tied to results- happy, successful students and teachers.  It’s my bottom line.
  4. Being positive and kind is the highest priority – results won’t happen any other way: People first.
  5. Some things are not negotiable.  For example:  district and state mandates must be adhered.  I may agree with your opinion that an action or decision is not necessary or right but sometimes we just have to be good soldiers and do as we are told.
  6. I prefer a work environment that is organized, clean, comfortable, and professional and gives all who enter positive “vibes”. 
When I reflect on  spirit week and the concerns raised by teachers, I can't help but reflect on my principal's owner's manual. Item seventeen on her list reads, "I am exactly as I appear. I don’t have time for hidden agendas. I will assume you don’t either." I am as I appear. I do not have an agenda at work beyond enjoy the students and support their growth as readers and writers, .

Several teachers eat lunch in my classroom. It's an open door lunch. If you want to come eat, you're welcome. Friends supply silverware; I often do the dishes and I always make space in the fridge for you. There is one rule: during lunch we do not talk about anyone who is not in the room. I brook no gossip. Some teachers embrace that, others reject it. It is what it is. Being honest or plain spoken makes my life better.

Spirit week planning often happens in the rush of lunch. At a friend's invitation, we had a crowd of Book Fairies and Super Teachers this year. The crowd bothered others in our English department. Some claimed  it was okay when it was just a few of us, but the crowd had grown. Why wasn't everyone informed? I offered a solution and am holding a Book Fairy making session after school one day--just in time for Halloween (don't worry I'll post pictures and directions if you'd like to make your own). It's a solution we came to together. We'll see what happens or who takes me up on the invitation.

How do you include others? Can we be unintentionally exclusive? Do some people participate all of the time and others just when it is convenient? What does relationship mean in the work place? With whom do you have relationships at school? How do those relationships inform your work?

I've been thinking about these issues quite a bit this week as a couple members of our English department approached me and said they felt left out of the spirit week costuming plans.Inclusive or exclusive, cliquish or welcoming, these are important issues in an English department, in a work place. I don't believe the teachers I eat lunch with ever intentionally exclude folks. We  talk to the people with whom we've built relationships. Building relationships is a two-way street.

Has someone sought you out by email or in person? Did you welcome them? Respond to their inquiry? Connect? Do you reach out to people? Do you spend time with other teachers at school to get to know them or build community? Is your time "me-focused" or "student-focused" only?

I don't have my whole owner's manual worked out yet, but I do have a few things that are non-negotiables in my world. Here are a few items from my rough draft:
  1. I don't talk about people behind their backs. If I need to have a hard conversation with you, I will. If I need to process something that happened between us before I come to you, I'll leave names aside as I work through it with my mentor, coach or husband. I don't triangulate
  2. I look for the good and try not to complain. Negativity is a virus; it's contagious (look at the research on mirror neurons). A friend once said I exude "rainbows and sunshine." I do. I enjoy being happy and celebrating the good in the world. Students, young people learning,  are a huge part of that good, but so are passionate, caring teachers. 
  3. If I say I'm going to do something I will. I will write it down. I will be there or deliver what I've promised. There is no need to ask me "if it's okay?" or "are you sure?" Once I've committed, I'm in. Constant rechecking or checking-in makes me wonder if you are unsure or not capable of completing your end of the matter. 
  4. I will always look for a solution. If you have a problem with a deadline, with a policy, with something I have said, talk to me. Solutions are always possible. 
  5. "Hurt people hurt people." I do not like or believe in sarcasm. I always try to speak directly, to say what I mean and mean what I say. If my message or intent is unclear, tell me.

I don't want the English department to be  cliquish or exclusive, but I also don't want individual teachers to deflect responsibility. Blaming others is easy--building relationships? Much tougher.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Slice of Life Tuesday: Taking Wing

My friend Beth from Seeking Six (and real life and school) found an amazing costume idea on Pinterest: book fairies. Beth's husband is an artist he devised a way for us to make our wings more feather like. I'm finishing up my Book Fairy wings this evening. I'll work on a wand tomorrow.

It's homecoming week at my high school. That means costumes each day of the week: pajama day, alter ego day (I was a Nerdfighter/artist), twin day, out of this world day and spirit day. Eight of us English and reading teachers are becoming book fairies. We will be out of this world on Thursday.

We are Book Fairies. We lure students to story. We hand off books to friends, our dental hygienists, teachers, administrators and even our in-laws. Like Penny Kittle, we have a serious case of Book Love.

Here's a sneak peak at the wings in progress. Imagine card board covered in dictionary pages and attached to  empty book cover; straps run through the spine.

I will have to turn sideways to walk through the classroom door. I seem to have a nearly six-foot wing span. When ideas take flight, watch out.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Annotation A to Z

Christopher's N for notes.
A.P. Language and Composition is like landing on Mars. Argument, rhetoric, fallacy, device, craft, analysis, so many of the concepts I will teach seem foreign and red rock-ish to students when they begin the year. I like to start the year on familiar ground: students' experiences as readers and writers. All of the texts we start with point us in that direction.

Students read On Writing by Stephen King for summer reading as well as a memoir. In class we're connecting King's ideas to other writers who write their reading or writing lives. Eventually we'll write our own memoir pieces about ourselves as readers or writers. We're still in the thick of it: only a few texts into the set, a pages into the book or a few bars into what will become the score of our year.

We begin with Mortimer Adler's essay "How to Mark a Book."  I ask students to read and annotate the text. I don't give them annotation directions; I want to see what they bring to the course. We talk about how we annotate. I give them a tour of a text I've annotated and show them how marks and codes spill over into notes in my journal. Then we create a class response to the article.

Esteban's clever approach to Z (for zeal). 
This time,  I had students create an Annotation: A to Z "book."   Each student took a letter. While I can see a need for fine tuning criteria, I was pleased at the conversations I heard around the room and the results students produced (in just 12-15 minutes of class time). A is for annotating, agreeing, arguments, acquainting yourself... you get the idea.

I plastered the pages to a pillar in my classroom. I am sure we will visit the "pillar of annotation" often this year; it's going to be a physical reminder of the hard work we do as readers. I photographed the pages students created and put together a quick slide show to use in class as review and play while students reflected on their annotation styles. I don't care for how the video came out (the movement, the cropped images, etc.). I did it quickly because I couldn't download Photo Story to my refurbished computer at school and the show would be longer than the 30 seconds Animoto allows (I haven't renewed my educator pact with them yet). That aside, the video is not a polished product, but it served it's purpose as a reminder and review.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Slice of Life Tuesday: Time Flies

If only time were infinite.

This afternoon a friend And I were talking anout a meeting she attended for our district. At some point at her meeting "the powers that be" were talking about teacher planning time--in terms of hours. As if teachers, high school teachers like me, had hours to plan together. What are the misconceptions out
there about teachers' time?

While I did get the gift of time this morning (due to mandated testing), I didn't get as much done as I would have. Time
flies. Here's a snapshot of my day. 6:40 a.m. Arrive at school. Brew a pot of coffee. Open email. Print testing tickets for freshmen. Respond to parent emails. Put lunch in fridge. 7:05 a.m. Talk with neighbor teacher about shared prep. Make door sign. Pack bag with anecdotal notebook to organize while students do progress monitoring test in computer lab. 7:20 a.m. Stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance 7:21 a.m. take students to computer lab for benchmark reading test 7:25-11:48 a.m. periods 1-5 testing in the lab. Troubleshoot log in problems and testing software glitches. Organize survey data and initial assessments (alphabetize, assess, sort, note needs). 12:05 -12:25 p.m. Lunch back in classroom with teacher neighbors. 12:30 p.m. Greet sixth period and aprise of schedule changes. Send 10 students to new section of A.P. Language. Work on annotation A to Z and Adler's "How to Mark a Book" with remaining students. 1:18 p.m. Walk to front office (1/4 mile) to sign in, make copies and check mail box. Take advantage of the water cooler. 1:30 p.m. Photograph student work (Annotation A to Z) for Wednesday review (and future blog post). 1:45 p.m. Answer email. Answer telephone. Troubleshoot with colleague . Open lesson planning documents. 2:15 p.m. Talk with neighbor teacher who stops in to discuss particular class. 2:55 p.m. Begin typing lesson plans for the week. 3:00 p.m. Take phone call drom Reading Coach to debrief benchmark testing in computer lab. 3:20 p.m. Hang student work for Wedmesday review. Begin creating handouts for upcoming projects (Burke's Weekly Reader, Independent Study Projects). 3:45 p.m. Continue adding to lesson plans. 4:05 p.m. Realizes will arrive late to son's first soccer game. 4:07 p.m. - 4: 40 p.m. Speeds 35 miles across town to son's soccer game. Visits with parents. Cheers. Claps. 5:50 p.m. Congratulates soccer players. Installs son in car. Drives 25 miles home. 6:40 p.m. Arrives home. Prepares thick-cut pork chops and sweet potato home fries. Tosses salad. Spreads A.P. Language summer reading assignments across counter. Sits to slice next to son doing homeowrk. Sets dinner timer.