Blog Post by Colleen Epler-Ruths, PTAC Member
I was talking with Lena, a middle school student who was using a computer visualization of earthquake data. She had been using the computer visualization in science class for over a week.
I asked, “So when I open this screen can you tell me what you notice?”
“umm, umm, well…….”.
Lena is a low spatial student. She could not explain to me what she was seeing. And her science grade seemed to reflected her inability to explain scientific phenomenon.
My research is on the impact a student’s spatial skills had on learning from a 3D digital data representation. Can computers help mediate student learning even if they have low spatial skills? Seems that Lena was still having trouble learning geoscience even though the computer had reduced the cognitive load and presented her with a 3D image of quakes within the earth’s crust.
Turns out that spatial skills are a great predictor of student success in STEM courses. Science is a very spatial subject. Just think about the spatial nature of moon-earth-sun in astronomy, bonding in chemistry, DNA molecules in biology, muscle structure in anatomy, projectile motion in physics and plate tectonics in geoscience. The list could go on-and-on. All of these examples are three dimensional phenomenon which require various types of spatial skills to deeply understand.
So what are spatial skills? Spatial skills are a wide range of mental processes that help a person navigate our 3D world. Common tests to measure spatial skills include rotating blocks, perspective taking (mountain from the top versus the side) and paper folding. Research has shown that spatial skills can be taught and improved through training at the university level. The problem is, most students start to loose their interest in science at the middle school level. Could there be ways to improve spatial skills prior to adulthood in hopes of keeping more students interested in science?
The answer is YES! Spatial skills are malleable and some thoughtful interventions at younger ages can have an important impact later down the line. The important links to spatial skills is something we already do in school - Training, Play and Language. Research has found that training with mental rotation puzzles helps students with rearranging algebra problems and helps students with low spatial skills increase their competence. Using structured block play has been shown to increase students abilities to be more accurate and quick at spatial tasks as well as enhance areas of the brain known to support spatial thinking.
But the most important intervention seem to be in language. There is a clear link between spatial skills and language - young children with greater spatial language were able follow guided block structures building. Other studies shown that students are better able to accomplish spatial tasks if the adults gives the directions with more spatial words. So instead of saying “but the block here” say “put the block on the middle shelf, under the top shelf”. The idea is that more spatial language helps the student think about the world in more spatial terms which will allow them to notice more spatial phenomenon.
In my own research, I found that students who answered questions in the curriculum with more spatial words (depth, height, under) had greater gains in understanding of plate tectonics than students who answered questions using nonspatial words (colors or lines). While both answers may have been correct in what the student saw, the spatial answers were more inferential instead of descriptive.
So what about computers? Can they be helpful? Some studies have shown that playing “first person shooter” or Tetris type video games increases spatial skills. However, in the classroom, the use of simulations for scientific phenomenon seems to benefit the more spatial student. My experience is that before you introduce a computer simulation into the classroom for learning, students need to have time to play with the simulation and then they must be guided through the affordances of the simulations using as much spatial language as possible. Otherwise you run the risk of having a student like Lena who cannot give words to the spatial phenomena in front of her.
References: Spatial Intelligence
Borriello GA, Liben LS. 2018. Encouraging Maternal Guidance of Preschoolers' Spatial Thinking During Block Play. Child Dev. 89(4):1209-1222
Cheng YL and Mix KS. 2013. Spatial training improves children's mathematics ability. Journal of Cognition and Development 15(1). Published online: 04 Oct 2013 DOI:10.1080/15248372.2012.72518.
De Lisi R and Wolford JL. 2002. Improving children's mental rotation accuracy with computer game playing. J Genet Psychol. 163(3):272-82.
Feng J, Spence I, Pratt J. 2008. Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychol Sci. 18(10):850-5.
Ganley CM, Vasilyeva M, Dulaney A. 2014. Spatial ability mediates the gender difference in middle school students' science performance. Child Dev. 85(4):1419-32.
Gilligan KA, Flouri E, and Farran EK. 2017. The contribution of spatial ability to mathematics achievement in middle childhood. J Exp Child Psychol. 163:107-125.
Levine SC, ratliff KR, Huttenlocher J, and Cannon J. 2012. Early puzzle play: A predictor of preschoolers' spatial transformation skill. Developmental Psychology (48): 530-542.
Loewenstein J and Gentner D. 2005. Relational language and the development of relational mapping. Cognitive Psychology 50: 315-363.
Newman SD, Mitchell Hansen T, and Gutierrez A. 2016. An fMRI study of the impact of block building and board games on spatial ability. Frontiers in Psychology 7: 1278.
Pruden SM, Levine SC and Huttenlocher J. 2011. Children's spatial thinking: Does talk about the spatial world matter? Developmental Science (14): 1417-1430.
Tosto MG, Hanscombe KB, Haworth CM, Davis OS, Petrill SA, Dale PS, Malykh S, Plomin R, Kovas Y. 2014. Why do spatial abilities predict mathematical performance? Dev Sci. 17(3):462-70.
Tzuriel D and Egozi G. 2010. Gender Differences in Spatial Ability of Young Children: The Effects of Training and Processing Strategies. Child Development. 81 (5): 141.
Uttal DH, Meadow NG, Tipton E, Hand LL, Alden AR, Warren C, Newcombe NS. 2013. The malleability of spatial skills: a meta-analysis of training studies. Psychol Bull. 2013 Mar;139(2):352-402.
Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, Newcombe NS. 2017. I. Spatial skills, their development, and their links to mathematics. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 82(1):7-30.
Wai J, Lubinski D and Bendow CP. 2009. Spatial ability for STEM domains: aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal of Educational Psychology 101: 817-835.
Zhang X, Koponen T, Räsänen P, Aunola K, Lerkkanen MK, and Nurmi JE. 2014. Linguistic and spatial skills predict early arithmetic development via counting sequence knowledge. Child Dev. 85(3):1091-107.
Blog post by PTAC Member Joe Welch
It’s the usual morning sequence for so many teachers. Wake up, check your school email on your phone, then respond before driving into school for the day. Perhaps there is a student e-mail with a question about an assignment. Perhaps a note of an early dismissal or maybe even a subtle change to the building schedule for the day.
But, this past Friday, I was greeted with e-mail from a parent of a current student:
"Seize every moment. That’s something I keep instilling in my kids. And amazing teachers like you hone in on that."
Talk about a message that initiates some reflection and pause. Seizing every moment? Sure, that’s a phrase you may hear given to a new parent about time with their children, the vacation of a lifetime that’s coming up soon, or even an athlete before an important game. But, how can a teacher “seize every moment” and, moreover, what does that even look like?
It’s easy to get lost in the daily to do list – writing lessons, grading assignments, covering the occasional class duty for a colleague, meeting with students about their progress.
Is that what this parent meant? In my reflections, I began to think about the journey of my career as a teacher to make sense of it in my mind.
In the business world, the adage goes something along the lines of “never turn down a meeting.” In the world of a teacher, it is more along the lines of “never turn down an opportunity” to improve your craft, form connections, or to bring new experiences to your students. So, like a true history teacher, I look to Hamilton to help me make sense of what it means to seize every moment.
Be Young, Scrappy, and Hungry
I still believe that I have a lot of career left. But, there was a time when the “new teacher” was subtly expected to mind his or her place, and wait for their turn. My advice to every new teacher is to go get it and not to wait for opportunities to fall to you. Get involved, seek leadership roles, and let your voice be heard. We count on you to bring new ideas, fresh perspective, and sometimes need to be reminded that your experiences as a student in the not-so-distant past are valuable.
It was so empowering to me as a second year teacher to offer my skill set with educational technology, lead trainings and workshops for my colleagues and get involved in leadership discussions. Seizing early opportunities in my career led me to become a 2009 Keystone Technology Innovator as a new teacher, only fostering more relationships, skills, and experiences that I could bring back to my school and students.
Never Be Satisfied: Be Non-Stop in Seeking Opportunities and Connections
Sounds simple, right? No matter your content area, there’s a plethora of opportunities to grow as a teacher. From workshops to local, regional, and national conferences, a teacher can be overwhelmed by the opportunities that exist to improve. Consequently, by continuing to push the limits of your own craft, you’re doing more than improving yourself.
As fellow PTAC Member Georgette Hackman pointed out, you are forming your community of learners. Still, there’s even more.
You’re creating partnerships for your students that you didn't even know existed. Quite frankly, the best teachers do not turn the switch off, always ready to bring experiences to the classroom to prepare students for their futures.
Sure, this may mean using the flexibility of your summer to attend a seminar, waking up for a Saturday EdCamp, or combing the web for grants to support travel to conferences. This is when collaboration happens. This is when partnerships form. This is when you create powerful learning opportunities that extend beyond your school walls.
For example, a simple summer meeting at my local PBS affiliate turned into one of the greatest nights of my teaching career, as the community, PBS, and local Vietnam Veterans came together for a Vietnam War roundtable discussion for my students.
An afternoon at your local museum can generate an idea that ignites funding for your students’ community history project. Likewise, attending a conference can quickly spawn a partnership to benefit your students, like Gilder Lehrman collaborating with my Middle School on a visit by George Washington University’s Dr. Denver Brunsman.
Don’t Throw Away Your Shot to Inspire Belief
So you just taught a great lesson. It went exactly as planned and students were engaged. But, there’s so much more to the school day. Smile at students in the hallway, give that high five or fist bump, hold a door open for that extra ten seconds.
Seize every moment to make your students believe in themselves, to inspire confidence, and to know that they can and will be successful. Moments come and go so fast. Each school year is a chapter that goes by faster and faster. The school day and each period: a blink. But, the moments that you can connect with your students, those are the most important ones to seize.
So, as we approach Spring and the school year again speeds up:
Seize every moment…amazing teachers hone in on that.
Blog Post by PTAC Member Lori Soskil
About eight years ago an administrator started a faculty meeting by asking the question, “Why are so many of our students unable to pass the state Keystone exams if their report card grades show them doing well in their classes?”
As the chair of the science department, I made this question the driving force behind the discussions at our next few department meetings. What we discovered was that our grading practices included many instances of giving credit for completion of work, participation, and effort.
In many cases, this was artificially inflating our grades and ensuring the feedback that we were giving to students and parents was not reflective of what children actually knew about the science content they were supposed to be learning.
In other cases, we were using grades to try and coerce children into behaviors that we wanted so our classrooms were more manageable. This was both artificially lowering some students’ grades and negatively impacting the relationships between students and teachers in our classrooms.
Instead of having meaningful conversations with students about their actions, we were using grades as a way to modify their behavior.
When I reflected on my own personal practices, I saw that I was giving students credit for things that didn’t really help them learn in order to keep their grades high. I thought that I was being compassionate.
What I was really doing was taking points from a child who didn’t have a pencil, but had overcome his parents’ addiction that morning to get himself and his siblings to school on time.
I was docking a child points for not completing her homework when the previous evening she had spent all night cooking dinner for her family and helping her younger brother with his homework because her parents were still not home from working their jobs in New York City.
When children fell asleep in my class, I was taking away participation points instead of recognizing the opportunity to ask my students about the cause of their exhaustion, and whether there was something in their lives with which they needed help.
As a department, we made a commitment to revise our grading practice so that report card grades better reflected the knowledge and abilities of our students.
In my own classroom that meant abolishing participation points and grades for homework completion, and instituting a remediation policy. Now, in most cases, students can retest in order to demonstrate that they have learned the required material.
Currently I have a daughter who is in high school in a different school district. Last year she came home in tears because her grade in a class had dropped significantly. Despite keeping meticulous notes, all required materials, and an organization system that allowed her to have a near perfect average on her tests and quizzes, she had received a low grade on a notebook check that was worth 25% of her overall grade.
She asked me, “How is it fair that I know all of the material, can demonstrate that on my tests, but have a lower grade because my notebook wasn’t organized in the way my teacher wanted it to be?”
As a teacher and a parent, I had no good answer. Both of us also realized that any grades reported on her upcoming report card would be meaningless in telling us how much of the content in the course she had learned. It also left her with a worse attitude toward the subject of the course, the teacher, and school in general.
The grade a student receives should reflect what a student knows or can do in each subject.
As teachers, we must realize that the actions we take and the policies we implement impact our students’ emotional well-being, their attitudes toward school, and their motivation to learn.
In my classroom I am committed to continually reflecting on how my practices impact my students. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong, as I did in the beginning of my career. But, by putting the needs of my students first, being willing to self-reflect, and learning from other teachers around me, I will continue to grow as a professional.
The relationship between teachers and students is the most important thing we can nurture in our classrooms. If we all commit to being reflective and growing as professionals, we can strengthen those relationships and ensure our students succeed in school and in life.
Blog Post by PTAC Member, Hollie Woodard
I love words. In my home where most people decorate with family photos and tschotskes from Home Goods, I decorate with words. Words like:
Today is a brand new day
Aspire for more
I choose words that inspire me to be grateful, motivated, and encouraged to live my best life. With an innate love and appreciation of language, it’s no surprise that I’m an English teacher and have dedicated my life to teach others to appreciate words as much as I do. Either spoken, written, or read, my life is enriched and made better by words.
Unfortunately, my son doesn’t have the same beautiful relationship with words. He is a diagnosed dyslexic, and his relationship with words has been traumatic and the source of the greatest pain of his young teenage life. As the most common learning disability, dyslexia robs one in five students (yes...read that again...one in five) from having a healthy relationship with language. They know, probably more than the four in five non dyslexics, that, yes, words have power.
The Federal Government amplified this sentiment when they recently passed the bipartisan prison reform bill, The First Step Act. This Act includes funding for dyslexia remediation, as one report showed that 48% of inmates in a Texas federal prison were dyslexic. Furthermore, addiction treatment facilities have adopted the term Dual Diagnosis referring to dyslexic addicts and included dyslexia remediation as part of their treatment practices when a report showed that 40% of those in active treatment facilities were dyslexic.
In addition to criminal behavior and addiction, dyslexics are vulnerable to suicide. At nine years old, I was told by my son’s doctor that he was high risk for suicide, and she further articulated that dyslexics whose needs are not met in school are three times more likely than their nondisabled peers to engage in high risk behavior like suicide, addiction, and violent crimes.
Since dyslexic students do not have access to the language that drives learning, school no longer serves as a safe place for self discovery, but, instead, it becomes a place of inadequacy, humiliation, and frustration. Constant exposure to these emotional traumas are equitable to abuse and impact children in the same way. However, research shows that if their needs are met, these negative experiences are eradicated and their risk factors return to normal.
Although the dangers of dyslexia are horrific, dyslexia is an educational anomaly that is either misunderstood or completely ignored by teachers and educational decision makers. When my son was diagnosed, I was a tenured teacher in a high achieving district with a Master’s Degree in Education. Sadly, not once during my undergraduate, graduate, or induction program did I take a class on dyslexia or even participate in a discussion about this common learning disability which is much like a doctor going through med school without learning anything about the common cold.
Motivated by my son’s disability, I began conducting independent research and learned that dyslexia is actually less of a learning disability and more of a learning allergy. Like the mother of a child with an egg allergy in search of an eggless cake recipe, teachers and educational decision makers can find programs that teach dyslexics to read. It’s not that dyslexics can’t read, they just can’t read the way most schools choose to teach reading. It’s been known since the 1930’s that dyslexics can learn to read from a multi-sensory direct explicit instruction approach based on the research of Dr. Orton and Dr. Gillingham. In fact, research has proven that all students can learn to read from this type of instruction which makes one wonder why this approach isn’t being used in every school.
The most tragic irony is that most teachers go into education to make the world a better place. Every single teacher and educational decision maker I know would demand change if they understood how directly connected dyslexia is to the ills of our society.
So, with all the power of my words I say to my colleagues:
Today is a brand new day... to learn as much as you can about the most common learning disability, dyslexia.
Aspire for more... for our most vulnerable students.
Take chances… by advocating for change within your school and community.
In doing so, you will... be amazing.
Blog Post by PTAC Member, Melissa-Ann Pero
In elementary, middle, and high school, I always felt like I was a little on the outside: not quite part of any particular group, but allowed to hang around on the outskirts of all of them. I wasn’t particularly outstanding in any way. I did well in school and didn’t get in trouble. I participated in activities from marching band to musicals to manager on the baseball team, so I had friends and things to do, but I never had any idea what put me on the outskirts. To be honest, I was always afraid that what put me there made me...weird.
In college, I became much more opinionated and was involved in a lot of activities including theater and marching band. I made some of my closest friends in college, and although I am positive my social filter needed honing, I still found myself among many different groups of people, but even among some of my closest friends, I felt weird.
Then I got a job as a teacher. Now all of a sudden here I am in the front of the room. No longer could I be sitting on the outside because for 40 minutes, six times a day, I was the main attraction. But I still had those same old feelings. What was it about me that made me feel weird? My willingness to try crazy things in my classroom? My all-in attempts at participating in spirit days? My over-the-top excitement when it came to talking about my passion for learning? I just didn’t know.
After twenty years in a classroom, if I’m being completely honest, I still don’t know. But my ten-year-old daughter left this note on my classroom whiteboard at the beginning of the school year, and it when I saw it, it inspired me.
So, after a long time trying to figure out how not to feel like I’m on the outside, I’ve decided to embrace my weird. It’s who I am. Over the last few years, I feel like it really is a part of me that puts me at my best in my classroom. Whether it’s dressing as Salvador Dali for National Art Week or as Kermit the Frog drinking tea on Meme Day, I figure I’m going all in.
And why not? Now, I find myself getting approached by kids from all walks of the high school social spectrum. Students who do not have me for class pull me aside to say hello, to high five, to talk. They know that I’ve embraced all my oddities - for better or for worse - and they know I won’t judge any of them for theirs. It has made a difference in the way I teach, and it has made a difference in the way they learn.
As educators, we spend our days reminding students how important it is for them to embrace who they want to be, so I figure a great way for it to begin is to start with ourselves. Find your quirks, find your idiosyncrasies, find yourself, and make sure your students know that you embrace your weird and encourage them to do the same!
Melissa-Ann Pero is a high school English teacher and yearbook advisor currently working on her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been a presenter at various district, area, and state conferences in Pennsylvania, is a Keystone Technology Innovator, and thrives on being a education junkie. She’s always looking grow her PLC so please follow her on Twitter @bshsmspero.
Blog post by Colleen Reiner, PTAC Member
I loved art class in high school. It was quiet and I could work on my project at my own pace.
One day, I decided to surprise my family by doing a pen and ink drawing of our 100-year-old Victorian house. This project requires you to dip a pen into an ink well and carefully draw all the lines, curves, and details. I was almost finished when a devastating thing happened.
I accidently got too much ink on my pen and ended up with a big blob of ink where my bushes should be. Immediately, I started crying thinking that my picture was ruined. Mrs. Strafford, my art teacher, came over to find out what was wrong. She calmly told me that mistakes were an opportunity to go in a new direction. We talked about how we could turn the blob into berries on my bushes and I envisioned a new picture!
So often, we all think that we need to be perfect and we are ruined if we make a mistake.
A few years later I was student teaching during my senior year of college. I made a mistake and had to go to the director of the childcare center. I took responsibility for my choice and talked about how I would rectify the situation. This woman was so kind. She listened, understood, and forgave me immediately. There was no hesitation in her decision.
Her take on mistakes was that we all make them. The important thing is to admit it, take responsibility for it, create a solution, and try not to make that same mistake again. That day, I learned how important it is to forgive others when they make mistakes. This helps them to move forward and make new choices.
In these cases, I had great teachers who helped me to grow in a positive way. They showed me that I didn’t have to be perfect and making mistakes was just part of growing and learning.
This summer I found just the right video to show my students about mistakes. Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, tells of the importance of making mistakes in her video, “Mistakes.” She states that there is evidence of the importance of mistakes in life. If you compare successful with unsuccessful people in life, the successful people have made more mistakes. I recommend that you check it out.
In my classroom mistakes are expected and celebrated. At first, students are afraid to make mistakes, let alone admit that they made them. We start by watching Dr. Boaler’s video. We talk about how our brain grows every time we make a mistake. I work hard all year looking for just the right mistakes to highlight. Students are so surprised when I ask to share their mistake with the rest of the class, and I’m excited about it! Eventually, they are pointing their mistakes out to me AND they are sharing how they solved their problem.
The mission of my school district is to make students lifelong learners. The best way I can do this is to teach students to step up to the challenge, be inquisitive, and persevere through mistakes. If we start early, and cultivate these characteristics in our students, we can all achieve this goal.
Blog post by PTAC Member Jolene Barron
Each day, like most teachers, I use my morning preparation time for some rather specific purposes.
I unload my overloaded teacher bag, which most likely just went for a ride in my car the night before.
Coffee. Must have coffee.
Review the day’s schedule. Make sure all materials are prepped and ready for the day.
Drink more coffee.
Think about and prepare mentally for any potential surprises that could come my way and alter my super organized and well-laid plans.
Sadly, over the years, I have learned that no matter how much I try to prepare for the unknown, I am never fully prepared for what actually ends up happening. The things I worry about typically aren’t even an issue, and the biggest situations are ideas and events that I never even considered.
Lately, I have also found myself wondering if today might be the day that my school is the scene of the next mass shooting.
Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland.
The horrific events that happened in each of these schools and others have completely changed the landscape of education. I would be lying if I gave you any indication that they have not affected my daily life as a teacher. In fact, it is something that I think about quite frequently. These days my mind constantly seems to return to thoughts of how I would protect my students.
I think of our school and classroom plans that have been formulated to keep children safe in active shooter situations and wonder in the back of my mind what we missed. I wonder if I’ll be able to keep my students calm and silent enough to avoid attracting attention. Will I really be able to protect them?
Often I wonder how I can keep my students safe if something happens to me. Will they know what to do without me?
The scariest thought that keeps coming back to me is, “What if our school is next?”
School safety means many things to many people. For some, it means increased security measures and screening procedures to protect students and staff. For others, it could refer to early detection systems or security cameras. Some believe that armed guards or staff members is the best line of defense.
I’ll be completely honest here. I don’t know what the right answer is more than anyone else. If someone had an easy answer we wouldn’t see mass school shootings occurring on a regular basis.
I don’t think there is only one solution. No matter how hard we might try, nobody can come up with a lesson plan or a school safety plan that will adequately address all possibilities.
However, there is one thing that I do know for sure.
There is a fundamental problem in our society right now. Children and young adults are being bullied at an alarming rate. Young people are suffering from depression and a host of other mental illnesses. Teenage suicides are on the rise, and pre-teens are now taking their own lives. Social media has made it easier for students to bully each other from “behind the screen” and is causing mental and emotional trauma. Guidance counselors and a variety of additional programs are being cut from schools.
Our children are suffering. Most schools do not have adequate support services or procedures in place to help these students. They are crying out for help, but is anybody listening?
Consider this solution:
"Students need to be trained to know what to look for and to know what to do when they observe a potential threat. This is the foundation of preventing school shootings.... Numerous students have prevented possible attacks because they knew enough to report what they heard to parents or school personnel. Students are not the only people, however, who have prevented school shootings. Anyone who is alert to warning signs can be a hero by coming forward and saving people’s lives." (1)
I am happy to say that Pennsylvania is taking some positive steps in the right direction. Our state will be the first to launch a statewide reporting system in January, called Safe2Say Something, where individuals can anonymously report concerns for a student’s safety or threats of violence. (2)
It has been reported that 80% of school shooters and 70% of individuals who have taken their own lives told someone of their violent plans prior to taking action - yet no interventions were made.
It seems to me that putting a system like Safe2Say Something into place, where students can report potential threats anonymously, has the potential to be an impactful preventative measure. Threat assessment teams work and they don’t have to cost a school district any additional money. The same can’t be said for metal detectors, security systems, armed guards, or staff members with guns.
One fact is undeniable. Nobody who makes an attempt to improve school security is wrong. Whether we implement mental health supports or go so far as to attempt to introduce policies where firearms are carried by school staff members, everyone thinks they are doing what’s best for the children in our schools. Every single person who is trying to protect the safety of our students is doing so with the best intentions. But, I think some are losing sight of one elemental truth.
Schools are supposed to be safe places, but events out of our control have proven that schools aren’t impenetrable. Bad things happen despite any measures that have been put into place. No matter how much preparation has taken place, no matter what safety measures have been implemented, the next target will never be fully prepared for what actually happens.
Blog post by MIssy Halcott, PTAC Member
What did you learn in high school?
I learned that I wasn’t good enough to pursue my dreams.
Sadly, I am not alone in feeling my ambitions were not embraced or encouraged by the adults responsible for educating our youth. I have heard others share that their families didn’t go to college, so it was not expected that they would either. Instead, their educators gently nudged them in another direction, or they were told flat out that their plans were too lofty.
As educators, isn’t it our charge to educate our students and inspire lifelong learning?
We must be careful to not douse the passions and dreams of our students. Instead, we must give them the tools to deal with the inevitable roadblocks that everybody faces in life.
We must not be one of those roadblocks.
Teachers have the power to nurture students’ dreams and fan the flames of their passions. We can allow them to explore all their options in the safety confines of the K-12 learning environment.
We are often told that there are jobs that will exist in the future that we aren’t even cognizant of today. How can we predict what job paths are best for certain students?
The simple truth is that we can’t. We shouldn’t engage in any activities that stifle a student’s pursuits. Our mission as educators should be to engage learners and encourage them to reach for the stars.
We need to embrace the fact that the “lifelong learning” mentioned in so many Pennsylvania school mission statements means we are never our best selves and we are always growing.
Our students are always growing too. In order for their fullest potential to be realized, we cannot limit them or restrict their opportunities.
It is vital that we stop placing students on predetermined paths, and instead ask them what their intentions are. Then we can assist them in exploring the possibilities.
Career exploration should be about learning what opportunities exist for students, not curtailing or narrowing the possibilities based on grades, gender, economics, or our perception of their talents.
History has taught us that there are many famous athletes, scientists, artists, performers, politicians, and even educators who were once told that their dreams were unattainable.
Albert Einstein, a dyslexic, was considered a poor student by his educators.
Michael Jordan was once deemed too short to play on his varsity basketball team.
Lady Gaga was a self-proclaimed misfit in school.
Steve Jobs dropped out of college due to financial difficulties.
These successful people ignored the naysayers, powered on, and forged their own paths toward their destinies. The list of others who have triumphed over trials is endless. I often wonder how much farther or sooner success would have come if they had been given a leg up from those who doubted them in the first place.
Consider the power behind this quote from Alfred Doblin,
“I used to think great teachers inspire you. Now I think I had it wrong. Good teachers inspire you; great teachers show you how to inspire yourself everyday of your life. They don’t show you their magic. They show you how to make magic of our own.”
Why shouldn’t educators allow themselves to foster an environment of exploration and the magical possibilities of the future for their students?
I was fortunate enough to rise above the doubt that was cast on me when I was a student in order to become a successful teacher. Others were not so lucky. We must create environments where students to do not have extra obstacles to overcome in order to be successful in life.
Instead of anchoring our students to their futures, why don’t we instead anchor our students to the idea of chasing down their dreams?
Blog Post by PTAC Member Georgette Hackman
Teaching can be lonely.
This sounds odd because we as teachers spend our day surrounded by other humans, but the actual art of teaching is normally done solo. Many teaching days involve hours of isolation from other adults in a classroom of students, often with the door closed.
Rarely do we as teachers step out of our solitary confines to co-teach or network with the teachers around us. Often, with the demands the system puts on us there isn’t much time for contact and collaboration with other adults.
The first part of my teaching career found me with lots of teacher friends, but very few that with whom I had opportunity for deep professional conversations. Talking about specific lessons, collaboration and brainstorming were things that I tried, but in the end I did most of my planning by myself.
The Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that American schools tend to not excel at providing the culture and opportunity for teachers to collaborate with each other. I certainly felt that in the beginning of my career.
Too many of my early attempts at collaboration were negative experiences. Instead of working to find innovative ways to help students, I was told over and over why my ideas wouldn’t work. The discussions ended there.
This caused me to believe that it was best for me not to reach out to others. Looking back I know this wasn’t best for my practice nor my students. I wonder how many current teachers feel this same way.
One year, on a whim, I applied for a week-long residential summer professional development session. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love to learn and I love to travel, so it seemed like a
What I thought would be a fun week away learning new concepts ended up completely transforming my professional career.
So much so, that when I now reflect on my life as a teacher, I think of BPD (before professional development) and APD (after professional development).
What happened at this life-changing event?
How did it transform a teaching career in 5 short days?
What changed me really had nothing to do with the content. It had EVERYTHING to do with the people.
You see, at that session, I walked into a room and found myself surrounded by 35 other people
who were as enthusiastic as I was to grow as a professional. I found teachers whose passion for teaching matched mine. I found teachers who experienced the same joy that I experienced in lesson planning. I found teachers who wanted to sit and talk for hours about strategies and resources. I found teachers who couldn’t get enough of whatever could be done to help their students succeed.
In short, I found my people.
I was astounded. I went in thinking that I was alone.
I left knowing the true value of an authentic professional learning community.
Nine years later, I have attended at least 20 other PD sessions just like the first one and I have added hundreds of teachers to my Professional Learning Community (PLC). I have used what I’ve learned from these teachers around the world to engage and inspire the teachers in my school, my school district, and beyond.
I have even stepped into leadership roles planning and facilitating learning opportunities for other teachers.
I like to think of it as helping my fellow teachers to find their people.
Professional development isn’t the only place to build a PLC. As part of my professional journey, I have found that social media is a networking teacher’s dream.
Twitter, Facebook groups, and Instagram are all ways to connect with inspirational teachers from around the globe. Memberships in professional organizations like the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee (PTAC) and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Network of State Teachers of the Year (NSTOY-PA) have helped me to add even more teachers to my PLC.
Finding other people who share your passion and commitment is exponentially transformative. In this act of networking is the recognition of our passion in the faces of others. Finding one another is powerful. Maintaining those connections is transformative.
Amy Poehler was 100% correct when she said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
It changed mine.
Blog post by PTAC Member Colleen Reiner
A few years ago, the education department at Elizabeth College wanted to present me with a Distinguished Alumni award. My first reaction was to ask them if they had the right person.
I was surprised by the honor at first. My surprise soon turned to excitement as I realized the incredible opportunity this would afford me to talk about a group of students that are often forgotten in our school systems.
Anyone who has children or has worked with children knows that children learn and develop at different speeds.
When I think of my own children, my eldest daughter would be considered a daffodil or a crocus. She was an early bloomer. Betsy knew in 8th grade that she wanted to be a doctor. When her classmates were reading romance novels and adventure books she was reading books written by medical school interns and residents. She was researching colleges with the best acceptance rates to medical school while others were still thinking of what they wanted to do after high school. Betsy has followed her dream and is now in medical school.
My younger daughter is a rose or delphinium. Emily is a summer bloomer. She spent her high school years looking at her strengths and interests. After looking at six or seven different occupational paths she has finally found her passion and is focused on a career in chemistry. She enjoyed high school and is working hard at university taking classes and doing research.
I am a late bloomer. Like a chrysanthemum, I let all of the other spring and summer flowers bloom before me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do my senior year in high school. There was no particular college that I had in mind. It was made clear to me by others that I was expected to attend college, though. After 4 years of college and a degree, I still had no idea what my calling was in life.
I attended college for 4 years and still didn’t feel ready to start a career.
I was fortunate enough to find teaching more than a year after getting my college degree. That year allowed me to mature and to realize that being a teacher was what I was meant to do.
In Robert Kraus’s book “Leo the Late Bloomer,” the protagonist is a tiger who isn’t keeping up with his classmates in school. His father is very concerned that his struggles will keep him from succeeding in life, but his mother keeps stressing that Leo will “grow in his own good time.” Of course, in the story Leo ends up proving his mother correct.
Like Leo and I, many of our students just need some time to bloom. With the right encouragement and nurturing, they will be fine. Our system expects all of our children to learn at the same rate, but as teachers we know that each individual learns and grows at their own pace. No child should be discouraged or penalized because they develop faster or slower than their peers.
A family friend once told me that his father was fond of giving the following advice. “Bloom where you are planted.”
I was planted at Elizabethtown College, where the motto was “Educate to Serve.” I clearly remember convocation when I first arrived. I don’t remember who I was sitting next to or how long the ceremony was that night. The only thing I remember is thinking how important it was to serve others.
During my time at Elizabethtown I germinated and grew strong roots. I joined clubs and groups, worked at the snack bar, attended my classes, and was exposed to a wide variety of different people.
It was a blessing to have wonderful friends and professors during that time. When I made mistakes, they believed in me, forgave me, and helped me grow. Those mistakes and lessons I learned from them made me who I am today.
Those lessons helped me bloom when it was my time.
When I have a student who is struggling in my classes, I always ask myself, “Could this be a late bloomer?”
I want to make sure that I am giving the encouragement, support, and assistance to each of my students that was given to me during the times in my life that I needed it.
Here are 5 ways that you can ensure all the flowers in your classroom, including the late bloomers, get what they need:
1. It only takes one person to make a change. We often talk about change and how it should happen. But we wait around hoping for someone to lead us in that change. Don’t wait for that person. BE that person.
2. Everyone makes mistakes. I certainly made lots of them, and I still make them at times. All of us do. Take responsibility, ask for forgiveness, learn from the mistake, and try not to repeat it. Model for students what learning from mistakes looks like. Hiding this part of yourself from them robs them of an opportunity to learn from you.
3. Don’t give up on kids. At times change takes place right away. Other times, change may take a lot longer. Be patient with your students.
4. Give change a chance. Allow students to have agency in your classroom. The more flexible and open-minded you are, the more students have an opportunity to grow and thrive.
5. Model innovation and problem-solving for students. If they see that you don’t have all the answers, and they learn from you how to go about finding solutions to the problems in their world, they will have more opportunity to develop into their best selves.