Goals, plans, and action: How to be a chalkboard champion!

teacher+cardAn earnest young student once said to me, “Some day I’m gonna be somebody!” It’s the kind of statement that tugs at the heartstrings of a compassionate teacher. She wanted to graduate from high school the first in her family, and then enroll in college. Her ultimate goal was to be a registered nurse. The thing is, the student rarely brought her book to class, almost never did her homework, and spent more time hiding her cell phone use under her desk than actually participating in class. She was not actively involved in her own education. “It’s great to have lofty goals,” I advised her, “but you have to couple those goals with a practical plan and some robust action.”

Even as an adult and a professional, I sometimes get a jolting reminder that talk, even if it is confident and optimistic, doesn’t really accomplish much that’s tangible. And if the talk sounds like whining and complaining, you can even severely sabotage the progress of your venture. We all face challenges and frustrations in our work, no matter what profession we are engaged in, but it’s important to avoid becoming the bellyacher in the teachers’ lounge that spends more energy describing the obstacles in minute detail than on coming up with some constructive and creative solutions.

To actually achieve your lofty goals, follow up your confident and optimistic talk by developing a feasible plan of action and then getting down to work. If you can do that, you will be a chalkboard champion, and you will have a great school year!

Chalkboard Champion Albert Cullum: He Introduced an Element of Play Into the Curriculum

teacher_recentOftentimes a gifted educator serves as an inspiration not only for his students, but for other teachers as well. Such is certainly the case for chalkboard champion Albert Cullum.

Albert Cullum was born in November of 1921. His career as an educator began in the 1940’s, after a failed attempt at a career as a Broadway actor. He accepted a teaching position at St. Luke’s School in Greenwich village in New York City, but quickly realized this would be no easy gig. “I knew after the first month [at the job that] something was missing,” he once confessed. “I realized, ‘I’m not having fun. If I’m not having fun, no one in the room is having fun’…. I realized there should be more play during the day… more learning that is playful.” After that, the neophyte educator completely changed his style of teaching. Instead of the prevailing Dick and Jane style, he opted to introduce his children to classic literature such as Shakespeare and Greek drama.

After St. Luke’s, Albert taught at the Midland School in Rye, New York, a suburb of New York City, from 1956 to 1966. As a trailblazer in American education, Albert ignited the imagination of countless young students. Through his passionate use of poetry and drama, he helped build students’ self-confidence and inspired them to new heights of originality and joy. It was during this time that he and his close friend Robert Downey, Sr., filmed the footage seen in the movie A Touch of Greatness, an Emmy-nominated documentary about Albert’s work in the classroom.

Eventually Albert became a professor of education at Boston University and Stonehill College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. At Stonehill, he trained aspiring teachers for more than thirty years. In addition to his teaching, Albert worked with the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services using poetry and drama as a therapeutic tool for incarcerated male and female adolescents. He also authored numerous books on education, including The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (Harlin Quist Books: 2000), which sold over half a million copies, and Push Back the Desks (MacMilan: 1967), considered a classic in the field of education.

After teaching his final class for the semester in May, 2003, Albert’s health began to fail. The innovative and prolific educator passed away on July 13, 2003.”Teachers can be the bearers of gifts,” Albert once said. “Not only do we have the privilege of introducing great literature to young imaginative minds, but we also have the priceless opportunity of giving each child the gift of believing in him or herself.”

Cruising or Crashing: What’s Your Experience with Technology in the Classroom?

OC turn 3-1Having devoted nearly three and a half decades to perfecting my practice, I’d love to feel as though I could cruise leisurely through my finely-tuned lesson plans until I sail languidly into the port of retirement. However, like many teachers at all stages of their career, I feel instead that I am racing at breakneck speed through a vast ocean of technological innovation, hanging on for dear life lest I be knocked overboard into a sea of electronic devices and internet resources. Will I drown? Will I be eaten alive? Which devices and resources are the lifesavers, and which ones are the sharks? It’s hard to say.

Here is an four-minute YouTube video that demonstrates the urgency to finding the answer to this question:

I recommend searching out an innovative program at your local university. Having gotten my feet wet swimming in the pool of courses in Educational Technology offered by Cal State Long Beach, I can truly say I have found a beacon and a buoy. The skills I have learned there, the leadership of a remarkable team of professors, and the collaboration of my fellow learners—these have become my best life preservers.

Don’t flounder around out there on your own! Once you have found the leaning community that best meets your needs, hang on, employ your most tried-and-true survival strategies, and enjoy the ride!

What We Can Learn From Successful Teachers

TeacherAppleTN1[1]One of the most recent blog posts I shared talked about the characteristics of great teachers. This post generated a great deal of interest. Many teachers enjoy reading stories about remarkable teachers, but more than anything they are looking for ways to improve their own practice. For this reason, I thought I would share another article that I came across on the internet which talks about the characteristics of great teachers. This one was written by Beth Lewis, a graduate of UCLA, and fellow educator. I hope you find the thoughts she expresses in this essay valuable.
What We Can Learn From Successful Teachers
by Beth Lewis

The teachers I admire most are those who remain intellectually curious and professionally vital both inside and outside the classroom for decades. They avoid stagnation at all costs and maintain an enviable passion for children and the learning process. They remain vivid in the students’ memories forever because of their creativity, sense of fun, and compassion.Here are the qualities I feel contribute most to a successful, durable, and happy teaching career:

1. Successful teachers hold high expectations.
The most effective teachers expect great accomplishments from their students, and they don’t accept anything less. In education, expectations form a self-fulfilling prophecy. When teachers believe each and every student can soar beyond any imagined limits, the children will sense that confidence and work with the teacher to make it happen.
2. They think creatively.
The best teachers think outside the box, outside the classroom, and outside the norm. They leap outside of the classroom walls and take their students with them! As much as possible, top teachers try to make classroom experiences exciting and memorable for the students. They seek ways to give their students a real world application for knowledge, taking learning to the next action-packed level. Think tactile, unexpected, movement-oriented, and a little bit crazy… then you’ll be on the right track.
3. Top teachers are versatile and sensitive.
The best teachers live outside of their own needs and remain sensitive to the needs of others, including students, parents, colleagues, and the community. It’s challenging because each individual needs something different, but the most successful teachers are a special breed who play a multitude of different roles in a given day with fluidity and grace, while remaining true to themselves.
4. They are curious, confident, and evolving.
We’re all familiar with the stagnant, cynical, low-energy teachers who seem to be biding their time until retirement and watching the clock even more intently than their students. That’s what NOT to do. In contrast, the teachers I most admire renew their energy by learning new ideas from younger teachers, and they aren’t threatened by new ways of doing things on campus. They have strong core principles, but somehow still evolve with changing times. They embrace new technologies and confidently move forward into the future.
5. They are imperfectly human.
The most effective educators bring their entire selves to the job. They celebrate student successes, show compassion for struggling parents, tell stories from their own lives, laugh at their mistakes, share their unique quirks, and aren’t afraid to be imperfectly human in front of their students. They understand that teachers don’t just deliver curriculum, but rather the best teachers are inspiring leaders that show students how should behave in all areas of life and in all types of situations. Top teachers admit it when they don’t know the answer. They apologize when necessary and treat students with respect.
6. Successful teachers emphasize the fun in learning and in life.
The teachers I admire most create lighthearted fun out of serious learning. They aren’t afraid to be silly because they can snap the students back into attention at will – with just a stern look or a change in tone of voice. I often think of Disney Teacher of the Year Ron Clark who made one of his Essential 55 rules be “Do not bring Doritos into the school building” simply because he hated Doritos himself! This irreverent rule (sneaked in amongst the more important class rules) shows a silly, human side of the teacher while modeling for the students that we can have fun while we get work done.
Next Steps.
For those of us aiming to increase these qualities in our professional lives, it can be intimidating to think that we have to do everything all at once. Instead, I recommend choosing one of these qualities to focus on each school year and expand your repertoire slowly but surely. Even the most successful teachers have to start somewhere!

Creating a Memory Book for Your Class

TeacherAppleTN1[1]At my school, every teacher on staff has a Homeroom class. Our school is built for 4,000 students, and the concern is that with a student population that large, a kid could get lost in the shuffle. In Homeroom, the teacher strives to connect with each individual student, fosters team-building among the students in the group, and nurtures those relationships from the first day of their freshman year until the day they graduate. Today, I am going to share with you a strategy I use with my own Homeroom class. It’s a scrapbooking idea, and if you like it, you can adapt it to fit your own class needs, whatever they may be.

For this memory book, you will need a photo album or a large three-ring binder, 8 1/2″ by 11″ scrapbook pages, some page protectors, and some colored papers. I recommend you use acid-free pages and papers available at your local Michael’s or scrapbooking store. You could also invest in at least one acid-free journaling pen. If you’re into decorating stickers and such, you can buy some ready-made, but personally I prefer a rather simpler-looking page.

At the beginning of each year I ask a colleague to take a photograph of me and my class, and then I print a copy of the roster from the attendance program. These items go into the class memory book. Throughout the year, I add photos of students engaged in our weekly Homeroom activities. If the lesson calls for a written response, I collect a few representative examples and place them in the scrapbook, too. Also, if attend their extra-curricular activities, I take pictures and include those, too. I try to make sure that there is a visual record of some kind of each and every student in the group. At least once a year, I invite the students to create their own personal page to add to the scrapbook.

Since we have the same Homeroom group for all four years they attend high school, I am able to add to the scrapbook every year until their graduation. The memory book becomes a sort of yearbook of just this one class, and it shows how they have physically and socially grown over their high school years. At the end of their senior year, I offer to make color photocopies of the pages in the book and then I have the pages spiral bound. I only ask that they pay for the printing and binding costs, which is approximately $10 per copy. After the copies are made, I place the names of every student in the class in a bowl, draw out one name, and give the original scrapbook to the winner. Or you could keep the original as a memento for yourself, if you would like. By the time they graduate, you’ve probably bonded pretty closely with the kids and would like to keep the memory book to remember them by. Or you can use it as an example for the next group.

I like to put the memory book on display during Open House and Back-to-School Night. Parents love to thumb through the pages and look at the photos and writings of their own kids. Additionally, this scrapbook was very useful when we were going through the accreditation process. It was a visual record of the kinds of things we are doing in Homeroom, and it substantiated our claims that in Homeroom we are forming important relationships with our students.

I have gotten a lot of positive feedback to the scrapbook idea throughout the years. Feel free to create a scrapbook for your own class. Your students will love it!