Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obstacles - just go! Part 2

On the trail again today. I had to stop and laugh out loud when I had the following epiphany:

Obstacles on the trail eventually wear down, get pushed aside, decompose, rot OR someone comes along with a saw.

This thought hit me when I noticed a very dead, very brown leafy limb off to the side of the trail. Over time the trees and limbs that block the path disintegrate back into the path or migrate off the path and out of the way as people continue maneuver around/over/under them. 

This method of gradual erosion works on obstacles that are of the movable, flexible variety. Those bushy, leafy limbs that are easily lifted or held down yield most quickly to a natural breakdown or are easily shifted aside. 

More difficult are the trunks of giant trees that lay across the path. These behemoths have lived for years and are not easily worn away. People will continue to negotiate the obstacle and it will eventually...after years and years...breakdown. You know these kinds of obstacles - day in and day out always in your way.

I've noticed over the last couple years of using the trails, however, that more often than not when there's a big tree blocking the path someone will come along with a saw and simply cleave the offender into pieces which are then easily moved from the path. I like this idea from the perspective of the person being impeded...not so much from the perspective of me as obstacle! 

In what areas of my life am I an obstacle to my own progress or to others? In what areas of my life could I be the wielder of the saw that provides easy progress for those who follow? 

What about you? Can you relate to the obstacle or the person clearing the obstacle? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are Your Notes Safe?

It occurred to me that I didn't know how far back on one's Facebook page you could go. I feel like I have mine locked down very well in light of my recent 'friending' of students. But what about those posts from a couple years ago before I allowed students to be my friend on Facebook?

I had one of those "Uh-oh" moments where I began wondering if a student could scroll back through my history and 'see' posts that were prior to "Student Lock-down". Sadly, I haven't answered that question, but I did discover another area of weakness on my Facebook privacy settings. (Side note...I did find an interesting site,, that allows you to review your posts from forever ago in one handy place. It was reassuring to read through my old timeline and not see any moral faux-pas.)

Notes! When I first began Facebooking I completed several of those chain notes where you fill in answers about yourself or create lists of 'interesting' information. Those were NOT locked down to students!! Thankfully, I'm a sane and decent person so there were no glaring stains on my character to be found in those notes, but there was information I'd prefer not to share with 10 year olds. I did what every person does to find the answer to a question...I Googled it.

To adjust the privacy settings for your notes you have to actually go to the individual notes. You can't adjust your settings for notes from the privacy setting menus that include everything else on Facebook (pictures, posts, birthday, marriage status, etc.). Here are the official Facebook directions in case you need to adjust your settings.

We cannot be too careful as educators. There are plenty of stories out there about 'Teachers Gone Wild' without Facebook exposing details that could be held against us in the eyes of our students or their parents. At this point I still feel that the benefits of 'friending' students on Facebook outweigh the potential consequences (with the exception of joblessness!). But as I've said, I think I've contained students to a chunk of information that I'm comfortable sharing. If you are a teacher and you have not recently looked at your privacy settings, I urge you to do so! 

Information about the picture can be found here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obstacles - just go!

I LOVE to run/walk/hike on the local nature trails. We've got a great park nearby that has several different trail options. Depending on the day, my mood, and the time I have available, I'll either do the 2.25 mile trail or the 4.2 mile trail.

I took the longer trail a couple days ago. The rainstorm the night before left everything beautifully damp and fragrant. Mushrooms were poking out from all over the place and with such variety I was distracted from the trail many times. I think I cleared the trail of EVERY single spider web that had been spun across the trail overnight. I had to stop and photograph the reptile eggs in the middle of the trail, as well as a little well-camouflaged frog that hopped out of my way, and an amazing white flower that looked like it belonged on the set of Avatar.

Plants and critters are welcome distractions from the trail, but due to the recent storms there was a lot of debris on the trail too - leaves, small branches, pine cones, piles of pine needles that had been washed into squishy puddles, etc. These are easy enough to maneuver around or over, but a couple times there were major BIG trees laying across the trail. I did what I always do - climbed over them. As I was climbing over one of these big ol' wet tree trunks it struck me how metaphorical the trail is. In our lives we encounter obstacles every day. Wouldn't it be great if we could simply climb over them and move along without emotional engagement with the obstacle? 

As I thought about obstacles on the trail some more it occurred to me that proceeding around/over/under tree trunks is effortless. You see it in the trail ahead of you and as you approach it becomes obvious where the path of least resistance is. It can be trickier. For instance, there was one spot on the trail that was completely blocked by a wall of leafy, thin branches (imagine the top bushy part of a small tree). This did not deter me. I dealt with the closest branches first holding them back with my hands and stepping on others as I passed through the leafy mess. I got a little wet with this one and imagined that I'd also picked up a few ticks, but otherwise I was able to go about my merry way in the space of just a few seconds.

Sometimes I walk with a friend, but we never consult each other on how to clear these obstacles. We just go. Whoever is in front leads the way and the other follows. We don't talk ugly about the obstacle. We don't have meetings before we try to clear the obstacle. We don't harbor ill will about the obstacle and we don't review our progress before, during, or after the obstacle.

I think I'll try viewing life's obstacles a little more like these trees that block my progress on the trail. Just go. Don't think too much about it and don't try to analyze it. The tree didn't intentionally block MY path. There's no reason to harbor any emotion whatsoever about the tree - it just is.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

VBAC - A Totes Unscientific Post

In keeping with my mantra..."I'm a teacher through and through. If I know something I want to share it." and "If you know better you do better."...the topic of this post is VBACs. For those who are uninitiated VBAC stands for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Startling topic, I know, considering my other posts have been very teacher-y, but the deal is I feel strongly about this and I'm gonna share it with you!

I was well-prepared for the birth of my first born. I had a doula. I read the granola-girl books on birthing and natural childbirth. I had a birth plan that did NOT include a C-section. But like so many things in life I wasn't really prepared....I just thought I was. (Sort of like your first year in teaching - you think you're ready, but you totally are NOT.)

My water broke at the doctor's office. Embarrassing considering I was sitting in one of those nice La-Z-Boy recliners with a fetal heartrate monitor on. I'm sure I ruined the chair. Like so many first time parents, my husband and I rushed to the hospital only to play the waiting game. Hours passed, progress was not made, the doctor got impatient, I was given pitocin. Not much of a surprise that I ended up (12 hours later and with NO pain meds - my choice) getting a c-section. Come to find out my little boy was face up. Such a common situation that can be remedied by a change of the mother's positioning and some walking - if only we'd known that was the case!

Pregnancy number 2 and I was determined to have a natural childbirth. After all millions of women have done this, right?? Seriously, women have had babies in fields and caves and rivers and all over the place WITHOUT even having a doctor nearby. I should be able to go to the hospital and let my body do what it knows how to do. My original doctors were unsupportive of this plan (surprise!). I changed doctors. I changed doulas also. I decided that I needed a more maternal influence instead of the young, hip one I had previously.

The new practice gave me the required, doctor-delivered 'VBACs are very risky' speech, but then the midwives took over my care and everything proceeded naturally. I had an amazing birth experience with my little girl. As in completely amazing. Like over the moon AMAZING. I went into labor at six in the morning, arrived at the hospital (a 50 minute drive, btw), had a baby by noon and a cheeseburger by one. (I'm so not kidding. My husband drove to Sonic and grabbed burgers for us. I had just completed a major athletic event after all - I needed to be replenished! The Sprite he brought me was the best-tasting Sprite EVER.)

Did I mention that I caught her myself??

I totally did. I delivered my own baby girl in the hospital bed on my knees. I felt her head crowning and helped her little body into the world. I wiped the blood from her scrunched up face and held her for her first cries. In fact, I was the FIRST person to know that she was a girl because we'd decided to let this one be a surprise.

Woman are amazing. Our bodies do astounding things! Sure there are risks involved in ANY birth and there have been risks for millions of years, but somehow the human race has multiplied. I just read an excellent and informative post today - it's loaded with real scientific-y numbers and in the end VBACs come out looking easy-peasy compared to having MAJOR surgery, er I mean to say a c-section.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Going Rogue

In my previous post, Are You a Team Player, I mentioned that I'd worked with the Super Team for two solid years. One of the traits we shared is that we looked for opportunities to include one another. This came naturally to us. It wasn't like we'd worked together for years (although I'd have liked that!). And it wasn't as if we were all best buddies outside of school (although I'd have liked that too!). I've worked on many different teams over the years and the most successful and enjoyable teams have included people who are inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the team.

I'd say I've spent about 75% of my years teaching on solid teams. The other 25% have been somewhat of a struggle. Some years you end up working with people who just aren't into the whole 'Team' mentality.

Several years ago another team I was on (totally NOT the Super Team) agreed on a cutesy Mother's Day project only to have Rogue teacher completely outdo us. Rogue teacher's students came out to board the buses carrying the equivalent Ralphie's fruit basket in A Christmas Story - their eyes proudly peeking out from behind a magnificent gift. Rogue teacher's 'twist' on our project put the rest of us (and our students) to shame. The team would have been more than happy to share and join in....if only we'd been invited. Rogue teacher sat in on the planning meeting when the project was discussed and said nothing. 

If you're a teacher you know what I'm talking about. Some teammates just don't get the Warm Fuzzies from working in a group. These people tend to stay quiet and on the sidelines in meetings. They contentedly sit back listening to ideas being tossed around and withhold comments. Frequently, in my experience, they've gone on to do the very thing that was discussed in the meeting, but with their own little 'twist'. (A 'twist' that makes the lesson waayyyy better!) Or they've gone in the polar opposite direction of the team leaving us wondering what happened to 'the plan' and feeling somewhat hurt by the departure.

Why don't rogue teachers share? I cannot say. Perhaps they don't feel supported by their teammates (Unsupportive naysayer teammates are a whole 'nother post!). If you're shot down at meeting after meeting it's understandable to feel discouraged. Maybe they don't think their ideas are good enough. Another (unlikely, I think) possibility is that they want some sort of glory from being the one who thought of something awesome.

Look, I'm cool if you want to do your own thing. One of the greatest things about our profession is that teachers are allowed to create and adapt lessons to help students learn the content assigned by the Standards. However, don't sit in meetings, nodding your head, withholding comments, agreeing by default and then take off in a different direction. I WANT to know what you're doing if you're one of my teammates and I'll tell you why.

You may be doing something that is:
  • way better than what I'm doing.
  • completely amazing that I've never seen or heard of.
  • the BEST way to teach the topic, but I didn't know about it.
  • something my students would absolutely LOVE.
You can be sure if any of the above are true and I get caught using your idea I will give YOU all the credit. (Shoot, even if no one catches me using your idea, you can be sure that I know where it came from and will never forget that my teammate influenced my teaching.) That's how I roll. Give credit where credit is due. What could be better if you're in it for the glory than having four or five teammates singing your praises for being the one who came up with the super amazing brilliant idea that we've all implemented??

If you feel unsupported by your team, hang in there. Keep offering ideas. Take an interest in what they are doing (even if it seems lame). If none of those suggestions works, close your door and keep on truckin' (I've been in that position too!). Cross your fingers and hope for some fresh, amazeballs teammates in the upcoming year.

If you feel that your ideas aren't good enough maybe they aren't...but I doubt it! You have to start somewhere. I can't tell you how many very LAME ideas I've thrown on the table to my teammates. And either my teammates have improved the ideas with their additions or they've helped me to see why the idea just needs to be tossed or sometimes put on the backburner for another year.

In my previous post, "Are You a Team Player?" I stated that I've never been in a meeting where an idea wasn't somehow improved by the input of others. I stand by that statement. It's how I work. I throw ideas around and expect people to help me flesh them out. I totally enjoy listening to other people throw around ideas too! That's how we learn and grow as professionals. 

Have you had rogue teammates? Do you have any tips for encouraging a rogue to join the flock (or at least share a little hay)? Do share!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are You a Team Player?

When I was in school I hated it when a teacher announced that we'd be working in groups. It was awful. It generally meant that I'd have two or three slackers assigned to my group and then I'd do all the work. I do not recall ever being given instruction on HOW to work in a group when I was in school. I can now say I am a reformed group worker. One of the absolute best things about the last two years of my teaching career has been the strong support of my teammates and working in a group.

We were thrown together sort of randomly a couple years ago and I had no idea how we would pull ourselves into formation. Thankfully, we had a scheduling crisis trying to accommodate the varying co-teaching schedules for English Language Learners and Early Intervention Program kiddos. Initially, we had kids going every which way, but when our super awesome Instructional Coach suggested departmentalization all the blocks fell neatly into place.

You'd think we would have had a marathon meeting-of-the-minds to determine who'd teach which subjects and who'd host which co-teachers. But no. The synergy was instantaneous. The subjects just sort of fell into the hands of the people who could best teach them.

For two years now we've had the privilege of practically reading one another's minds. It was the kind of team where you could just pop in and grab what you needed out of the other person's closet. (Easy for me to say because my teammates were WAY more organized than me!) We even had nicknames for one another based on our strengths. How cheesy is that?? Better yet...we called ourselves the Super Team and named our folders on the shared drive at school accordingly. This year's folder was named "We Rock 2010-2011".

I've taught on a couple of good teams over the last 12 years, but it's been sporadic. In my experience, it is rare to be on a team with the exact same people more than a couple years in a row. Things change from year to year - people move away, teachers get moved to different grade levels and even different schools. Our team had a good thing going for two years in a row, but this fall I'm the one moving to a new grade level.

I know all the peeps in the grade level I'm joining and I've taught fifth grade before so there aren't too many surprises in store. However, I haven't taught with this particular combination of people. It got me thinking about what made a team great or not-so-great.

Here are my top five ways to be a team player.

Step 1 - LISTEN! Be open to the ideas of others. I am an idea person and tend to rattle off tons of ideas. I NEED teammates who can help me filter and then decide which ideas to act on.

Step 2 - Share. If you've got something awesome (or even something mediocre!) I might want to try it too! Hey, you never could save a teammate's day by offering up a lesson. Is there anyone who hasn't rolled out of bed on the wrong side at least once during the year and ended up late to work then suddenly realized...'Hey...what am I teaching today?'?!

Step 3 - Participate. If you're in a meeting with an idea person like me, it could be difficult to get a word in edge-wise. (If you are like me...this is a HUGE skill for us to work on - we must learn to stop and listen more than we talk.) I have never been in a meeting where an idea on the table wasn't made better by others adding their two-cents. Meetings are only a waste of time when you don't participate. (Grading papers while everyone else talks doesn't count as participation.)

Step 4 - Use humor & kindness generously. There have certainly been times when teammates have been irritated with me (I'm flighty & disorganized) and I with them for whatever reason. The best way of handling those situations was always head-on with humility and a sense of humor. By first admitting confusion or concern and then addressing the situation frankly we avoided ever having arguments or tantrums. If you find yourself in the wrong, be humble and apologetic. Chocolate can be the healer of many wounds.

Step 5 - Keep your door open. (Unless you're doing something loud!) There's something about approaching a closed classroom door that is discouraging (and somewhat suspicious). It's one thing if ya'll are up in there having a dance off to a multiplication song, but during the course of the day it's nice to see open doors. It gives a feeling of 'Come on in - see what we're up to!'. The only reason my door is ever shut is because a student shuts it - usually when I'm reading aloud and there's noise in the main hall from classes going to recess. If you're in a room with another adult and the door is shut you are sending the message that you want privacy. That's completely understandable if you are having a sensitive conference or you've got some serious thinking to do, but you can't tell me that's the case every afternoon!

I have high hopes for my team this year. It helps that I've been at this particular school for three years now. I've gotten to know people and I've gotten to know myself better. You can bet I'll be following the five rules above in hopes of being a part of the best team ever!

If you have tips that you think are important for creating a Super Team, please share them in the comments! My top five is by no means exhaustive. ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Didn't Join That Group....Did I??

Today's thought about befriending students on Facebook concerns groups. Soon after beginning to friend students I arrived home to find an open chat window on my computer. Several students I befriended had chatted with each other and another person who I was not friends with (another student, I presume) while I was away from my computer. I scrolled back through the chat to try and figure out why I had been included as I have not 'chatted' on Facebook for at least a year or two. I typically make myself 'offline' in the chat window.

Here is what I discovered. Once you are a friend of someone they can add you to the groups they create WITHOUT your permission. Students are fantastic at creating groups; this is the cyber equivalent of the clubs we used to create on the playground at school! Once the group is created the members can then have private chats which will pop up on your computer whether you're directly involved in the chat or not. 

The fix? Keep an eye on the left side of your Home screen. You'll see the list of groups to which you belong. If you see an unfamiliar group, click on it to check it out. Once you are on the group's homepage you can choose to 'Leave group' (see the right side of the screen). 

I've had to do this several times as students are quite proficient at creating groups and adding friends. My biggest concern is the scenario I described above with the chat window. Thankfully, the chat that was on my screen was harmless banter among kids. But what if it had been something darker?? As an educator it gives me pause to consider the information to which I am now privvy to just by being 'friends' with students on Facebook.  

Facebook & Befriending Students

I've been on Facebook for several years and I always maintained a strict "NO friending students" policy. However, I've changed my mind over the last couple months. 

My biggest reason for the change of heart is that Facebook is where the students ARE. They seem to be on here 24/7. It doesn't matter that Facebook's policy prohibits minors under the age of 13 from creating accounts. 

However, as an educator I have big concerns about my privacy as well as how involved I want to be with students in cyberspace. 

Facebook's privacy settings are sometimes difficult to navigate and it seems that there are MANY possible pitfalls.

For example, do you allow students to 'see' all of your status updates and posts? I don't. When friending students I assign them to a specific 'List' which I conveniently named 'Students'. They are allowed to see only the posts that I specifically assign to that List. 

How about your photo albums? Did you know that you can adjust privacy settings for every album? I didn't....until I realized that some of my newly friended students were commenting on photos that I hadn't reviewed in years. 

My point is - if you are a teacher and you are choosing to befriend students on Facebook, be smart about it. Check your privacy settings. Don't be afraid to click around and dig deep into the different menus! Set up a list and assign students to it so you can protect your status updates or be doubly-darn sure that you don't post ANYTHING that could be construed as inappropriate (remembering of course that we live in the heart of the Bible Belt and lots of people hold strict beliefs about lots of things!). 

In preparing this post I searched my county's website and Board of Ed site as well as the GA D.O.E. site. I did NOT find any specific mention of Facebook or social media in the ethics policies. I reviewed the online training materials and the only statement I found that could apply to Facebook or other social media is a vague mention about inappropriate communication with students via electronic media. 

Let me know if you find specific rules concerning educators and students on social media! I'm interested in the ramifications of this. I'm most interested in making sure we all stay safe and are able to connect with students in a way that's meaningful to them, but also professionally sound.