Stop judging. Be vulnerable.

It usually takes me about four months to “unschool” my kids.  To get them from the point where they walk in believing that I have all the power, to the point where they believe they have the power. This year it might take longer.  This year I have a great group of rule followers. They are eager and ready to follow any and all directions without offering any alternative or complaining.  They are still very hesitant to break out and dare themselves to do something risky.  Next week they have a presentation on the Preamble of the Constitution due. Yesterday instead of going over lots of ideas, directions, or giving very specific advice, we discussed only two things that I wrote on the board:

Some kids have started asking if they can do “this” or “that,”  things that I did not specifically talk about.  My answer is always “if you are going to do something awesome no one will stop you. Forget the rules…be awesome.”  Behind each of their questions is “I have a great idea but can’t do it because it is not ___________ enough.”

Stop judging
Be vulnerable

As we talked I told them advice that I once heard from Neil Gainman…

You only need to do three things in life:

1-Have people like you.
2-Be awesome at what you do.
3-Hand things in on-time and be on-time

The advice I wrote on the board is aimed squarely at helping them achieve the first two.  The reality is that you only have to do any two of the three to get or keep almost any job.

“What magical trick makes us intelligent?”


My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last week by taking a trip to Boston.  We went through all the neighborhoods, ate some awesome homemade pasta….ate some more great homemade pasta, ate some great canolis, and had a few more great canolis.  I love how in a couple days you can walk through some pretty distinct neighborhoods like Little Italy, Chinatown, and Beacon Hill. One day we walked through a section of Cambridge (ok, not officially Boston) and went to the MIT Museum.  There was an exhibit on artificial intelligence and the piece that a visitor first passes is below…

Inside the display there is a quote:

It is from Marvin Minsky and the complete quote from his book reads:

“What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle.Our species has evolved many effective although imperfect methods, and each of us individually develops more on our own. Eventually, very few of our actions and decisions come to depend on any single mechanism. Instead, they emerge from conflicts and negotiations among societies of processes that constantly challenge one another.”

After reading it my wife commented that it is a great quote to apply to the common core state standards.

It is.

There were some amazing things at the MIT museum.  None of them created by some who spent 12 years of school being standardized.

I wonder what innovations will be placed into the museum 50 years from now.  What will the students who spend 12 years being standardized in the name of common core produce? Kids who will learn the same exact thing as their peers across the country, take the same tests, use the same sources, read the same books, produce the same products in class, are taught the same way to write, who perform to the same rubric, and sit in classrooms with teachers who cannot do something that another class in the district is not doing, who are taught by teachers who are told that they must put away their “best” units and activities and only follow state and district activities that can be easily measured, and who are taught by teachers who are told that they must follow the directions given to them by someone not in their classroom who has never met their kids using standards that come with the warning, “Do not color outside of the lines.” From a ccss powerpoint:

As I walked around Boston I saw a great city with a great history, some of it heroic, and some of it very messy and ugly. From a notebook in a restaurant:

I began to think about how it will possible that the problems of the future will be solved by our standardized students.  What happens after years of standardization when the kids of today have to fix a problem and they all only have the same tool?  What happens when they have to live in harmony and they all can only sing the same note?

I know the process that is underway to standardize my class is crushing my creative spirit. I have been marginalized. Teachers are made to believe that they are not proper professionals if they are not on the ccss bandwagon…and shamed.  Shame kills innovation and creativity. The creativity that is necessary to create a classroom that will contribute to the world. One of the last things I read in the museum:

As we were walking back to our hotel back into Boston across the Longfellow Bridge, you get a glimpse of Boston that contrast the old and the new.  You can see the houses that are hundreds of years old in the Beacon Hill neighborhood with the backdrop of the modern high rises in the background.

Walking back in you get a spirit of anything is possible.  I wondered what the patriots of the American Revolution would have sparked a new country if their education had been standardized?  Would the people who led Boston through the bus riots been able to do so if their education had been standardized?  Heck…would I even have bothered to visit the North End and try all that great pasta and cannolis if the chefs and bakers had been standardized?  Society has been transformed over and over again by people who did not follow the standardized rules.  As I sat in the museum and learned about how the internet was created and how it works, I could not help think that it is the people who did not follow the rules that might be the most precious to our society.  The people who ignore the signs of what we should and should not do.  Whether it be to do something extraordinary, or whether it be to simply ignore the hype of the world and live a very simple ordinary life.  As we approached the hotel I saw a sign behind a fence in a court yard:

The signs with rules of what we cannot do should be fading.  But in an era in which we should be teaching kids that anything is possible, we are moving to the most regimented education system that I have experienced in 45 years with billboard sized signs of what we can and cannot do in a classroom.  10, 20….50 or 100 years from now MIT will be installing a new exhibit in their museum.  It will be interesting to see what it will be…

Even When Test Scores Go Up, Some Cognitive Abilities Don’t

Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work

SUPPORTING COMMON CORE IS SUPPORTING ENTIRE REFORM MACHINE

People Don’t Actually Like Creativity

‘Twas the week before winter break…


I just recently bumped into a poem I posted here four years ago.  I think it is still applicable today, as it was then.  There are some dated references, and you have to have read the Grinch Who Stole Christmas to get the rhythm. Here is a poem dedicated to all those techie teachers, and all those teachers who are just starting to use technology in their classrooms

 

As many teachers progress at the speed of light, they have to remember that they started small. Their path to change started at the speed of a crawl.  Years later when they are up and running they sometimes turn to other teachers and ask them to come running with them, and are shocked when they are turned down.  This post is a reminder that if you want to help someone change don’t make them run, but help them first to crawl.

Every teacher down in Teacherville liked teaching a lot, but the kids, who lived in Teacherville – well, many of them did not. The teachers hated change – the whole school season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that their shoes were too tight. Or it could be that their heads weren’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that before you can walk…you must learn to crawl.

Twas the week before winter break and all through the school

The movies were playing, it was the half-day rule;

The gold stars were hung by the doors with care,

The chart was suppose to show, the students who cared;

The children were nestled all stuck in their chairs,

While visions of change brought their teacher much fear;

The teacher walked around, awoke students with a snap,

Trying to prevent them from taking a nap,

When out in the hallway there arose such a clatter,

The teacher sprang to door to see what was the matter.

It was the class across the hall, that gave her alarm,

And she tore open the door and threw up her arms.

The faces she saw smiled, giggled and glowed too,

In stark contrast to the classroom that she always knew,
When, what to her wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature laptop, there were eight tiny Acers,

With little tiny students, so lively and quick,

She knew in a moment it must be a trick.

Six groups working hard, none of the topics were the same,
And as she paused returning to her class, she realized her worksheets were lame;

“Now, Davis! now Jenny,! now, Trin and Billy!

Stop what you’re doing Kenya, Nicole and Willy!

Tear up those papers! Turn off the TV!

Now! throw it away! throw it away and destroy the DVD!”

The teacher decided, to let her kids free,

But she was met with an obstacle, NCLB,

She walked up to the front of the room that she led,

A room full of 504s, and six kids in special ed.

And then, in a twinkling, she heard a kid say,

So what are we doing, what will we do today.

As she took a deep breath, and wondered what to do with a frown,

When across the hallway came five little kids with a bound.

They were dressed all in costumes from their head to their feet,

And behind them their teacher appeared and looked at her kids in their seats,

A bundle of computers he had flung on his cart,

And the teacher just stopped and looked at the old fart..

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His cute little students were active and learning,

And his test scores were soaring and he did not look worried;

The movie his kids were making needed a few actors more,

And he decided to ask for help from the teacher that peeked into his door;

She thought he had happy kids and a room full of laughter,

But clearly the kids needed more discipline to sit like hers were.

There were strange assessments and tech stuff not like she did,

And he smiled as he approached her and surprised her with what he said;

“We need extras for our movies that we are going to publish on the web;”

She spoke not a word, she simply shook her head yes,

And then that old fart came in and took care of the rest,

Laying a finger up into the air,

He added her kids into his groups with care;

They sprang from their seats like tiny little missiles,

And worked in groups until they heard the teacher’s whistle.

The kids then filmed and acted out their plays written on civil rights

And she sat back and watched and said “Now this is a beautiful site.”

And what happened then…?
Well in Teacherville they say,
That the teacher’s will to change
Grew three sizes that day.
And the minute her heart relaxed and did not feel so tight,
She knew that changing her class was the thing that was right.
And she threw out the worksheets! And thought maybe at least…
Crawling towards change…
Would cause learning to increase.

During this holiday season give the gift of collaboration to your colleagues…
Ask them to participate in a big or small way,
They might be ready, ready to say yes today.
Because sometimes when people get stuck and seem to stall,
All they need is a helping hand…

Because the first step to change is a crawl.

Dear parents…

The following is something I sent home to my kids’ parents today:

Dear parents,

It is almost that time of year when we start making new year resolutions.  We look at ourselves in the mirror and find a weakness, a problem, something we need to improve and vow to fix it.  We try to eat less, run more, join gyms, keep our desks clean and leave bad habits behind.  We label ourselves fat, slow, disorganized, and lazy.  And next year…we will do the same thing again.

Sometimes we do the same with our children.  We look into their rooms and see the piles, we check powerschool and only see the missing homework assignment, we ask them to take out the garbage and have to ask again…and again…and again.  We begin to label our children disorganized, lazy, unfocused.  While this team has a few bad habits to leave behind…just a few…there are so many positive labels that apply to your kids.  Their creativity is blossoming, they are learning how to manage their time, they are kind and caring about one another, and have such a positive attitude and spirit that they bring to school each day.  We challenge you to look at your child and find a strength, a positive quality, something that they excel in and focus on that for a year.  Labeling kids predicts how we perceive their future actions and we always get more of what we focus on.  This is a team rich in kindness, friendship, and laughter (except on Fridays in social studies, ask your child).  I think everyone would agree that we need a little bit more of all those qualities in the world today.  

A man once found an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched and grew up with the rest of a brood of chicks and though he didn’t look at all the same, he scratched the earth for worms and bugs and played the chicken’s games. The eagle clucked and cackled, he made a chicken’s sound; He thrashed his wings, but only flew some two feet off the ground. That’s high as chickens fly, the eagle had been told. The years passed and one day when the eagle was quite old, he saw something magnificent flying very high and making great majestic circles up there in the sky. He’d never seen the likes of it. “What’s that?” he asked in awe, while he watched in wonder at the grace and power he saw. “Why that’s an eagle,” someone said, “He belongs up there, it’s clear. Just as we, since we are chickens, belong earthbound down here.” The old eagle just accepted that, most everybody does. And he lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

A couple weeks ago the students walked into class and were told to sit in groups.  After everyone was seated I noticed one student sitting all by themselves.  I started class and tried to figure out a way to get the student to move into a group without making him feel uncomfortable, and without the other students complaining that they had already chosen their groups.  As I was giving directions, a student on the other side of the class stood up and walked over and sat with him…then another, and another.   It was one of the noblest things I have seen middle school students do.  The student that stood up first was labeled at a parent conference as not working up to her potential, she was getting B’s, not A’s.  From my perspective that day in front of class, I saw more potential in her actions than an A on a report card could ever represent, and we see that potential in your kids everyday.

So this year make a resolution with us to not only focus on what your child needs to fix, but one thing they do right.  One strength, one skill, one passion that they excel in or wish to explore.  It seems that over our many years of teaching each new piece of legislation and education reform has been passed to find weaknesses in students, and then to focus relentlessly on them.  It is exhausting to be a kid and only have adults focus on what you cannot do. It is all of our jobs to make them realize that they are more than their test scores, more than their academic labels, more than what society tells them they should become.  It is our job, parents and teachers, to tell them not just what they cannot do, but help them discover what they are capable of doing.

Until the eagle’s children discovered their wings there was no purpose for their lives.
David McNally

The students have made a video to remind us what good is in all of them, and what their future might hold when they spread their wings.  It is a bit long…settle in and enjoy!  Hopefully it will help “reverse” your new year’s resolution this year!

PS:  Please share this email with your kids, and tell them that Mr. Bogush is SO SORRY but a lot of footage was “accidentally” lost. Every student had the opportunity to be in the video.  If you do not see your child, that was their choice 🙂  I highly recommend clicking on the bottom right of the video to make it full screen!

Happy Holidays and a happy new year!

Team 8-1

11

Way back when in the blogosphere it was common for one blogger to “tag” another with a question.  The tagged blogger would then answer the question and tag more bloggers.  I was just thinking the other day how it was a cool way to connect bloggers.   Well I was just tagged by Lisa Parisi to do an 11 question post. I have traced the tagging back to Kristy Vincent, but the tagging started even before her.
1/4/14 edit…I was just also tagged by Barry Saide and added his questions below.

Ok…here is how it works…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger 
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

So in order…thank you Lisa.  And before I was able to hit publish, I checked twitter, and Josh Stumpenhorst also tagged me, and then Ross Lebrun did!  I will also answer their questions at the end.
Now for eleven random facts:
  1. I love heavy metal music!
  2. I have a small farm and raise hogs and sheep and chickens
  3. I have a titanium plate in my neck.if you want to see the incision and cool x-ray
  4. I could survive on Gummy Bears…dipped in chocolate…frozen
  5. I love being outside
  6. If I won the lottery I quit teaching, and apply to be a sub for my class (all of the joy, none of the paperwork)
  7. I prefer to explore alone (unless my wife or kids come along 🙂
  8. My short term memory is nearly non-existent
  9. I really want to get a great camera and explore making more videos
  10. I have no ability to stay organized and neat
  11. I love presenting at conferences…but the thought of walking up to one person and talking scares me

Alright…I should not psychoanalyze my own list, but find it interesting that it is less of a list of facts about me and more like a list of things I want to do more of or improve in…

Now for Lisa’s questions..
1. Where have you been outside of your country? been to England
2. What is your favorite quote? My current favorite is “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.”
3. Have you ever been to a live concert? If so, whose? Too many to list…Iron Maiden, Kiss, Brand New Sin, Powerman 5000, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Type O Negative, Yngwie Malmsteen, Anthrax, Static X, Ratt, Megadeth, Volbeat, Motorhead, and many more…
4. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Mack Bolan Series
5. What movie do you think everyone should see and why? Matrix…makes you question what kind of life you are living
6. What do you do when no one else is around? Write blog posts
7. What are you better at than almost everyone you know? Using a chainsaw
8. If you had one hour to live and money was no object, what would you do? I think I am ready to skydive
9. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? I tried to cross the top of a really tall mountain the middle of a lightening storm
10. What do you love about where you live? the view
11. What is your secret indulgence? Ridiculously loud music
And now for Josh’s questions:
1.     What was your favorite children’s book as a child or favorite to read as a parent?  My favorite to read as a parent was Barnyard Dance
2.     If you had won that insane lottery jackpot, what is the first thing you would buy? An envelope for my resignation.
3.     Can you touch your tongue to your nose? Hold on…no.
4.     If I were to meet you up at a bar, what drink would I buy for you?  I am allergic to alcohol!  But I LOVE cider and can almost always get away with drinking one.
5.     When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt, and what was it that made that happen? In class during homeroom with some kids, I honestly cannot even remember what it was about, but we still laugh about the time we laughed.
6.     What is that one movie that shows up on TV that even though you have seen it a hundred times you still leave it on and watch? Believe it or not, I haven’t had tv channels in like 20 years.  But I could always watch the Matrix.
7.     If you could sit down and interview one person, living or dead, who would it be? Clifford Stoll
8.     Paper or plastic? Neither.  I usually stack things up like a pyramid and walk out.   Cashiers don’t like it.  
9.     What is something you have always wanted to do but continue to procrastinate and make excuses as to why you have not done it yet? I want a tattoo 🙂 
10. Have you been able to unlock the code and figure out what a fox says? I live in the woods…we know what the fox says.  
11. If you could pack it all up today and move, where would you land? Right here
I was also tagged by Ross Lebrun..his questions:
1. What would you do with a lottery win of $50,000? Sad to say…but probably pay off bills or stuff it away for kid college money.
2. What was the first thing you read that you remember loving? Mack Bolan Series of books
3. Diving – Sky or Scuba? Sky
4. What is your favorite season? Whatever season we have the longest vacation during….and I wish vacation fell during the fall or winter.
5. Would you move for a job? Ummm..I’ll get back to you I have to ask my family…
6. Have you monetized your blog? Do you plan to? You can monetize a blog!  Pretty sure the amount of time it would take to set it up would never be covered by the money that I would make.
7. Are you a cat or a dog person? There can be only one!   Dog person all the way. Might be the easiest question I have ever answered.
8. Pick one musical instrument to learn now that you’re an adult. Why that one? Banjo…why…Deliverance.
9. To where did you fly on your first flight? Does anything about the experience stand out as significant? Florida, 8th grade, alone.
10. Do you play video games? If not, WHY? If yes, which system/games? No…no moral reason, they really just don’t capture my attention for an extended period, and there are simply other things I would prefer to do.  
11. What was the first CD you ever bought? Do you still have it? Pretty sure it was Black Sabbath.  I was the first person I knew to own a CD player.  Bought mine when they were like $600 each.  Stood in line at 5am to run into a store and grab one of the four in stock priced down to $100.

 

And here are the questions from Barry Saide:
1. Last time you used a swear word emphatically? I have a small farm.  I don’t know why, but almost ever person I have ever known could say they have never heard me swear…but not the animals.  Last night the sheep went the opposite way that I needed them to go and I emphatically let them know it.  It is a little know fcat that you can use swear words as verbs and nouns to make complete sentences.  Just ask my hogs.
2. Food good to eat anytime that is not Chinese food or pizza? Gummy bears, there really isn’t a single meal or snack that is not better without them.
3. One inspirational quote that is not religious in nature? “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder
4. One thing your parents made sure you learned to do that was not academic? Be on time…no…be early.
5. When I say Halloween, you think of a time when? I always feel guilty for sneaking the Kit Kats out of my daughters’ bags…
6. What motivates you? I like to do things no else does.  If you recommend a book to me to read, I won’t read it.  If you give me a lesson plan and tell me it’s awesome, I won’t do it.  While the entire world is busy adding two plus two to make four, I am trying to figure out how two plus three can equal seven.  I once drove my bike to work when it was 2 degrees below zero because no one does that!  Tell me about your cat, I’ll tell you about my hogs.  This also drive my teaching. I get kids to do things they did not know they were capable of doing.  They experience a class that is like no other (I try at least!).  This is a super question…it stopped me in my writing, and honestly if I answered it five minutes from now my answer would probably change.
7. What is one thing that you find “shady”? common core state standards (no, I will not capitalize the words)
8. One thing you said to someone that you wish you could take back? Uggg…check back in a couple days…I am actually writing a post about it.
9. When I am driving next to 18 wheeler trucks, I…(finish sentence)  I wish I could jump in and drive to Alaska eating at truck stops and hanging out with truckers the whole way.  I would also have a really cool handle and a surround sound CB. 
10. Funniest thing you ever heard a kid say? I have no idea, I just know that the whole class was crying.  It was about four years ago.  When kids come back to visit from that class they always bring up that time, but no one remembers what was said.  It was just a time in which everyone was in sync, got hysterical, and just could not stop.  This was not spoken, but I love this sign put up by a kid.
11. One moment you would freeze in time? Any moment on my honeymoon.

 

Now to to tag people.  What I noticed looking back at the list that others tagged is that many of the names are of somewhat famous edstars or people who are already connected.  So I am going to attempt to tag a list of people who hopefully have no connection 🙂 The following people can consider themselves tagged:
First some students:
Erl 
Paige
Adrian
Maddie
Joan Le  @BeenSchooled
Kimberly Mach  @mrskmach
Lorri Carrol   @lcarroll94
Sharon Lapage Plante  @lplante
Barbara Madden   @barbarawmadde
Emma Bogush @emmabogush
Pat Hensley  @loonyhiker
If you believe that a post of this type does not fit into your blog or if you simply just don’t have time…no hard feelings! Here are your questions:
  1. What do you want to be when you grow up?
  2. Describe your favorite shirt?
  3. What band do you wish you could join as the lead singer?
  4. What should the title of your autobiography be?
  5. Who is one person that has had made you view the world differently?
  6. What have you done that you thought was impossible?
  7. What do you think most about?
  8. Where are you most relaxed?
  9. What is one thing you hate to admit?
  10. If you could remove one obstacle in living up to your potential, what would it be?
  11. If you could wear a t-shirt with one question that everyone you met asked you, what would it be??

Making friends is easier when you are naked…


I received an email today with the following question about using social media: 

How do you balance the need to protect your “internalness” with sharing your thoughts with this abyss of strangers?

My rambling answer…which might be helpful to anyone who is hesitating about using social media…

 

What’s funny is that you might get a short answer from me…or maybe a long one that I cut and paste into a blog post…but either way when I saw your question two hours ago, I couldn’t answer it because it is “personal” and so I went and got bagels with the girls instead.  So thank you for getting me out of the house 🙂

Have you read the book Quiet?  A must read.
 
I have been thinking a lot lately about personal privacy.  I actually just started using a new web browser called startpage.  No personal information is ever collected.  But then I think what if we knew so much more about each person we meet?  That lady that was a jerk in the check-out the other day, if I knew she had forgotten her wallet at home instead of rummaging through her purse and being mean to me I could have offered her the $5 she needed.  The kid who walks in depressed this week.  If I knew her dad died three years ago I would know that when her mom was wrapping presents the night before spent the entire night crying because there was none under the tree for him and that is all the girl could think about during class.  What if the colleague who is unknowingly suffering through an experience with their child knew that I had gone through the same exact thing…
 
So been thinking about what the point of protecting my internalness is…where did that come from?  If we are just merely a collection of our past experiences…what past experiences made me want to protect myself.
 
Soooo….
 
Years ago when I started the kids blogging, I have a policy that they never do what I have never done, so I started blogging too. I wrote a lot of junk.  Then one day I started writing and forgot I was writing…you have to realize that I hated writing. I had NEVER written anything in my life before I started blogging, my blog posts were the first things I had done for something not connected to a grade…that day that I forgot I was writing I also hit publish without thinking or editing.  And then I panicked.  I had just posted something to the world that expressed “feelings.”  Ummm…I don’t have feelings, and if I did I certainly would not share them..but then the next day something happened.  People started leaving comments on the post, and sharing it.  Other people had the same exact feelings.  For the first time I felt connected.
 
From there I tried to stop planning to write, and only wrote when I felt I had to, and then slowly worked in a mix of posts.  Always….Always, the posts that I spent the most time on and worked hard to make them “sound good” received the fewest comments and tweets and hits –usually none (yes, back then I really tracked those things!).   There is a post that I just recently wrote that I thought was AWESOME and one of my favorites but has seen no re-tweets, or comments.  Not that I care, not that’s what makes a post successful, but I just think it is ironic that the posts that I plan out before writing no one cares about, and the posts that I let my internal guard down and just let pour out with no censorship hit a nerve with people.   It has made me realize how useless our writing instruction in school really is.  200 blogs posts later, I wrote something that was totally uncensored, and left me feeling totally naked.  Everything in my body said don’t hit that publish button…and below is what went out to the world:

 

A heart so empty…  <–link to original post

I pasted what is written below into this post…and then stared at the delete key for a long time.  I hope that this post does not resonate with many people…but if it does…I hope that you know you are not alone.

I am in my right work…my dirty little secret is that I find it very painful.  I am not a teacher who wakes up everyday eager to get to school.  On many days its hurts.  I love my job.  I love my career. I hate my job.  I hate my career.  I love being who I am.  I hate being who I am.  I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. Everyday I can think of a million places I would rather be.  I have the perfect placement, with the perfect kids, yet I feel like I am always in the wrong place.  I am a part of an institution which seems bent on destroying many kids, yet I cannot even dream of leaving it.  I am apart of an institution that I want to influence and find a niche, but the institution does not want people like me in it. Every year another rule, policy, law is passed adding tests, standardization, data. The only thing getting more rigorous is my heart.  I am one person at home, another with my students, another with the parents, various other personalities depending on which colleagues I am with, and even have a couple online personalities. All I want to do is stick my head out and make a difference, but I fear…I am just scared. Scared of perceptions, scared of repercussions.  I am locked into a institution in which I have made to feel ashamed of what I am doing.  We are blatantly teaching to the test. We are blatantly standardizing the kids and their experience.  We are blatantly standardizing teachers.  This is progress.  This is the future…this is my future. Am I a victim?  I feel like a victim but I am a fighter…but I stay in my corner.
How do I survive?  I hide.  At meetings I don’t bring up exactly what I do. When questions about kids are brought up I play a role that keeps my passions hidden.  I never answer or speak up with what I believe…I hide.  I can’t be me outside of my four walls…they keep me safe…they keep us safe.  I have forgotten what I am hiding from…who I am hiding from. I don’t have to hide from the kids.  The kids get me.  I get them.  Does the teaching profession get me?  Do I get them?  The kids and I connect with an open honesty.  They tell me like it is…and I tell them.  I rock…we rock in the classroom.  We stand tall, we smile, we laugh, we cry. We get excited, we dream big, we are unstoppable.  We are not rigorous, we are not standardized, we are individuals who collectively do things that were previously thought to be impossible.  The other day we were talking about rebels.  Talked about the characteristics of rebels and how it was funny that the list on the board were all qualities that the world tells children not to have.  They discussed that our entire history book was full of rebels.  Almost all positive change comes from rebels.  I asked, “Who in the world would want to have a group of kids with these qualities in their classroom?”  They answered, “You would Mr. Bogush.”  I am developing rebels, but I am afraid to join the rebellion.
I am not proud of what I have become.  I get kids to see themselves for who they really are.  I only hope that I can wipe off years of systematic abuse in a single grade.  Kids write to me at the end of the year with words such as “I now know who I am.”  “I now know what kind of person I want to be.”  Why do I still not know that about myself?  I feel destined to hide outside of my heart.  I am passionate, but do not follow my passions.  A leader who does not lead.  A teacher, who cannot teach himself.  Seemingly fearless in taking risks, but full of fear when in a situation in which those risks might be shared.
After 20 years of teaching I have never had a belly so full, and a heart so empty.
MLK once said “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Tomorrow I take the first step in re-framing my work.  I have allowed myself to be pushed into a corner, made to feel like an outsider.  No one made me feel this way.  No one has that power…I accepted…I imposed all sorts of labels upon myself.  I walked into the corner myself…now it is time to walk out.

That post received a lot of attention…realize that for me just a few comments and re-tweets is a lot of attention!  But it also prompted many emails to me.  A lot of people felt just like I did…do(?).  I continued to write without censorship and just nailing that publish button.  And more emails and comments kept coming.  I realized that it was not until I felt naked as a writer that I felt like I was actually making a difference and connecting with people…and I also found that to be true in the classroom.  

So  how do I balance the need to protect my “internalness” with sharing your thoughts with this abyss of strangers?

I don’t anymore.  I can no longer think of a good reason to protect myself anymore. But I am still not always honest.  My honest feelings about what we do as teachers would probably get me fired! (That last line is sooo loaded for me and I desperately want to delete it! It actually is making my stomach turn, but in the spirit of this post I will leave it.) The reality is that the more I have shared, the less I have have protected myself using social media, the less the abyss seemed to be filled with strangers. I have discovered that I have not much left to protect, only to reveal.  In this era in which the school relationships between teachers, or between teachers and students are becoming so sterile, we need a dose “realness” in our lives and especially school.  I cannot possibly count the number of times kids have talked about not being able to be who they “want to be,” or unable to “follow their heart.”  I think that comes from teachers holding back and protecting themselves from their kids. Some do it with assignments, some with class rules, some with their clothes, some with their words.  It took me ten years of teaching to figure out that when I stopped protecting my “internalness” with the kids, I made a bigger difference in their lives.  Five years of trying to do it, and eight years of doing it. The reality is each time I let down my guard and felt naked in the classroom I was doing something right.  The same is true with my use of social media.In the last couple of years I have been trying to force myself to share more of what I do in the classroom and my thought process behind things –that is really feeling naked for me! and it is still so hard to do.  Posting my video I show the kids at the beginning of the year makes me feel so scared!  I feel like I am really unprotected when people look into my class!”  <–go ahead…take a peek.  Brrr….I feel naked 🙂

In the end, dropping my protection allowed me to realize that the abyss of strangers is nothing more than a collection of friends I have not met yet.  And each time I share a bit of my heart, I find that I make another friend…most of whom I will never meet. 

The return of the poster…


There is one thing that has remained constant over the last three years in my class….we have used less and less technology.  Or maybe a better way to say it is fewer technologies? And we have been bringing back some older “technologies.”

One product that was eliminated in my classroom about 8 years ago was “the poster.”  You know the poster project right?  The kid goes home and writes an essay, cuts out the paragraphs, places them under pictures printed from the computer, stands up in front of the class and reads the paragraphs while holding the poster up to the class that can’t see a single thing.  Then when the kid is done they get shared to a larger audience by hanging them on walls where they stay until the backpacks tear them down one staple at a time.  

I have started to slowly bring the poster back into my class.  Why?  Because no matter what I say the kids always ask to make them.  I don’t know why, but there has got to be something valuable about an assignment that nearly no kid complains about.  So I set out to figure out how to make them more meaningful, more thoughtful, and how to let the rest of the class actually see what is on the poster when it is being presented.  Here is one example from this year:

We were doing the philosophical foundations of the United States and discussing John Locke.  It’s just one of those things that I can explain, we can discuss, but I have always had trouble making it stick.  After reading about John Lock I gave the kids the following task:

After reading about John Locke’s philosophy, draw a picture of him as he would look today.  Include things like clothes, house, books, movies, music, profession, places he would shop, what would he eat, etc, etc, etc.  You should have between 10-15 things in your image that connect to John Locke’s philosophy.

Make a “Wanted Poster” with your information.

Explain your choices and connect them to his beliefs that were used to influence the the birth of the United States government.

When the kids came in to present the walked up to the front of the room and grabbed a web cam.  As they talked about the connections between John Locke and the objects on the poster they simply moved the web cam and focused in on what they were talking about.  What the web cam was seeing, was projected up on the screen large enough for everyone to follow along with what was being said.  The pictures don;t exactly show it, but as they talked about each detail they zoomed in so that the detail was large and clear on the screen.

John Locke Wanted PostersJohn Locke Wanted Posters

We were simultaneously recording so one student came up and held up a microphone..obviously not totally necessary but I never miss the opportunity to hook up more wires 🙂  

Here is the video and audio from a few of the presentations:

 

 

This is another one of those assignments that I will use for different units.  I can see the same thing being done for Harriet Tubman or Andrew Jackson.  When I first thought of it I thought I was totally unsure of how it would go, until I worked on mine.  As I have said many times on this blog, assignments that you give the kids that you have never done you must do with them.  I literally sat at a desk in the class and did it alongside them.  One thing that popped out immediately while doing this was that 15 items were simply not needed.  We shortened it to ten, and could have gone fewer.  The second thing was that we originally talked about writing the explanation right onto the poster, and that was deemed not necessary as long as they could explain it when they presented. They other thing I figured out when doing this was that probably for the first time I actually understood John Locke’s philosophy in a way that wasn’t just the “facts.” The poster was basically a big analogy, and analogies are powerful.  Here are a few more examples:

John Locke PostersJohn Locke PostersJohn Locke Posters
And before someone suggest Glogster.  Maybe I am just old school, but I am not hooked on Glogster as an online poster worth doing.  After having kids mess with it, I have messed with it, it just doesn’t offer the same learning experience as crafting something yourself from scratch. I am more than happy to see examples that will open my mind!

“He doesn’t have a single credential for it…”

Found out about the full video here:

Follow the directions and you will fail…


I started leaving a comment on a post from George Couros and figured why not make it into a blog post 🙂 One question he asked was: 

How do we teach kids to learn to even question
what we do as educators, but in a respectful and thoughtful way?

My kids know at the beginning of the year that I don’t give traditional tests.  When they come to me, they are still in “do everything the teacher says” mode.  At the end of the first quarter I tell them we are going to have a test.  Someone usually says something along the lines of “do we really have to?”  I say nope..what do you propose?  And we come up with an alternative plan.  What happened in that class quickly spreads to the others, and each class comes in and questions what I am giving them, and asks for an alternative….they propose an alternative.  They have learned that in every assignment that we have done that whenever a kid says “I wish I could do it like this”  I say “do it.”  When a kids asks if they can take an extra day I say “take it.” They see individuals getting what they want by making suggestions and getting what they want.  Slowly the suggestions start turning into questions.  They learn that by questioning what we are doing, they have the power to change our course.

No one has offered up any suggestions this year despite me doing pretty much the same things.  And when it came time to give the test they walked in and I gave them this.  The immediately got to work. Every class came in, took the directions, and got to work.. No one questioned the test.  The second day came, and no one questioned the test.  The third day they came in and took the test.  The fourth day I gave them the test back and told them I never intended to give it to them…all someone had to do was question me.

The comments from all the classes were simply that they were not “trained” to question the teacher.  Well now they know…

The next project after the test, there were probably 25 different types of final products…it’s starting.

But they still need a bigger kick…when we come back in January they are going to get another assignment with a page full of directions.  At the bottom, the last line, it will simply say…

Follow the directions and you will fail.

The reality is that most teachers like to follow directions, and need them to feel safe. When everyone in the class is following the directions, they feel safe. Their power stays intact that way.  I think that is one of the reasons why I do not know a single teacher personally who questions the common core state standards.  It is the environment we get when we hire teachers who liked school, and received good grades.  Can you imagine if during interviews we asked, “When was the last time you questioned authority?”

So George, getting your kids to question what we do is not “rocket science.”  Your kids will eventually turn out to be who you are and not who you want them to be.  If the teacher continues to question things in class, they will eventually start to question the teacher.  If you support the individual kids who question, it will soon spread to the class.  And when all else fails…you can force them to question you!  I suppose in may ways it is like teaching someone to swim by sailing out into the middle of the ocean and pushing them over the side of the boat.  But from experience I can tell you that after you push then over they do under, but when they surface they never go under again…in fact, by the end of the year they eventually jump back in and take over the boat. 

The last line in George’s post is a quote from Sugatra Mitra:

“I think our job as educators, the biggest job in today’s information, saturated world, is to give the child an armour against doctrine.” 

The kids are pretty good about finding their own armour.  What we need to provide them with is not shields, but swords.

“A typical public school in the United States is all about honoring the herd.  The students are supposed to be sheep, but too many of the teachers are just older and fatter sheep. Schoolism is a herd mentality.”
James Marcus Bach

How do we get kids to question?  How do we break the herd?

We hire more wolves 🙂

Which do we want???

testingtimothy

I am fierceFirst image is from here and includes the following caption:
“We took our first test in first grade this week (a math test for chapter 1) and I wanted to go over my expectations of a good test taker.”

Second image is mine 🙂

Instagramification of history…


Another experiment from this year..

I have been trying to figure out how to mess around with Instagram in class.  I experimented by giving the kids the following two images with Paul Revere and a picture taken after the “Shot Heard Round the World:”

Paul Revere InstagramShot Heard Round the World Instagram

They simply had to fill out the bottoms and include hastags. I left the directions wide open to see where they would go.  There were some that were so incredibly witty and wise, and others that just wrote factual summary comments.

Shot Heard Round the world

It was a fun quick assignment that in the future I think I will use again…I am just not sure why…yet.  There is something here.  Before they write they have to brainstorm the key vocab words that they will use.  I think this can be used as an aid where they can write their key words as hastags..just not yet sure how to make it valuable…maybe it is not?

Link to Paul Revere file.

And I did ask permission from the photographer to use his image in the instagram above 🙂

I’m breaking up with you…


Way back in 2008 Eric Langhorst published a post on teaching the Declaration of Independence as a breakup letter.  I have copied Eric’s idea on and off since then, each time slightly tweaking my letter to the kids in front of me.  This year I decided to go step further, and have the students write their own breakup letters.

Of course when I went to get a copy of my old letter, it just amazingly disappeared!  So I went back to Eric’s and made some subtle changes.  I came into the room and told the kids that they were leaving way too many papers on the ground near their lockers and it needs to stop.  Then I took the paper out of my pocket and said that I did find one juicy paper amongst their garbage, and to teach them a lesson I must read it to the class!

breakup letter3

You can find the letter here. The way that you introduce and read it means everything.  The pauses, the commentary you make, the wrinkles, the slow unfolding of the paper…it’s all about the little things.  By the time I get to the end the kids are dying to know who wrote it and I turn the letter out to the class and the kids jump up to see the author, and of course the sound that comes from the classroom is precious.  Eric has a video on his blog showing the reading.  I took 5…yes 5 videos of the reading and each one got screwed up!!  So no video. Here is Eric’s:

I read the letter at the end of one class, and the next day when they walked in I explained that they would be writing their own breakup letters and handed out the following directions:

Break UpLetterDeclarationofIndependenceDirection

The students were given an abridged copy of the Declaration of Independence.  While I did a lot of the abridging of the words, changed the set-up and format, I know the basic set-up I borrowed from someone long forgotten.

Declaration of Independence Abridged Worksheet

Depending on the level of the students, the students used the above document a bit differently.

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
After translating they wrote a breakup letter of their own.  The numbers in their letters refer back to lines in the Declaration of Independence. 

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter
 

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter

Again, depending on the level of the student, the letters could look very different.  Some kids connected many lines of the Declaration of Independence, and some kids did just one per section.

After writing the letters we decided to film them. When borrowed some cameras from the library, lots of kids brought in theirs, and we used Chromebooks.

class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
After the filming the kids added music to the background (directions here).

DeclarationofIndependencebreak-upletter–howtomakemoviewithmoviemaker by paulbogush1


Here  are some examples of the final videos…keep in mind..first vids of the year 🙂

 

 

 

After completing the videos the kids popped them into a blog post with a reflection on the assignment (directions here).

Insert Youtube Into Blogger by paulbogush1


Here are some of the reflections:

My partner and I made a video declaring our resignation from our job.  We described why we were quitting and what rights we have since we quit the job.  I think this was a good project to do to figure out the purpose of the Declaration Of Independence because we were able to put the Declaration of Independence into a real life, modern day scenario.  This activity was better than having a book test because it gave us the chance to understand it a lot better by summarizing it in our own words.  By having everyone in the class write and video tape their own Declarations of Independence is helped me to gain a better understanding of what the people who wrote it were trying to say.  Before I did this assignment I always knew that the document was important and I knew basically what it was about but the name Declaration of Independence never really clicked before.  It could have very well been because I never read the whole thing but I think it was more because I didn’t understand it, but now because of this assignment I have a clear and full understanding of the patriots’ purpose for writing it. Kelly

 My partner and I came up with a letter of resignation from a job. We used the Declaration of Independence to create our letter. After writing our letter we filmed it with a chrome book. Our video shows how someone quits there job by using the Declaration of Independence to help.  It explains why they’re quitting and goes into detail about it. If we could do anything differently it would be to practice the letter more, because when we tried filming we would just end up laughing so much. Which made us create 50 something videos. After two and a half class periods we finally got it. This assignment was good to show the true point of the Declaration of Independence. When we first started “decoding” the letter I really didn’t understand it, but after bringing it into a real life problem I finally understood it better. The next time I watch fourth of July fireworks I’ll understand it better because I now know that if the Declaration of Independence was never written, me and all the people living in America wouldn’t be free. We’d still be under British control. It helped me realize that the letter was important to our country. I never really paid attention to things like that, but I now know it is very important to our country’s history. I feel that this assignment is better than having regular book test. I will actually remember this information; I didn’t just have to jam all this information into my head then forget it a few months later. Maddie

Sarah and I made a video describing the colonists feelings towards Britain during the Revolutionary War in a modernized way. It took some tries and we had some problems, but we think our video turned out okay. If we were to make another, I would check the volume before we had started because volume issues was one of the many problems we had. This was a valuable assignment to me because usually in social studies class, we just read the Declaration of Independence, maybe once or twice. During this assignment, we actually pretended to be the colonists and felt their feelings in a way that we can better comprehend. I will understand the 4th of July fireworks now. I feel they lit off the fireworks because the colonialists felt a sense of accomplishment because they had worked so hard on this declaration. This activity was helpful because it was a hands-on activity that helped with he understanding of the important document. This project was a lot better than having a test. Some kids don’t test well, don’t know the information, or are fine. In this, its still an assessment of what we know and have learnt but isn’t extensive. Katie 

This was the third or fourth activity that I did with the kids during this unit that was essentially a fancy analogy.  What I have found out is that their final products (the analogies) end up looking very different to what I would have done, but they “get it.” I do feel funny when they turn in a final product that on the surface has nothing to do with the historical content, but as long as they can continue to connect the history to their “story” I will continue to be happy 😉

This is another example of how this can be done collaboratively as a straight forward letter to King George:

Dear George… A Modern Rewriting of the Declaration of Independence as a Video Breakup Letter from Mr. Wright on Vimeo.

Again…please visit the post that inspired mine: Teaching the Declaration of Independence as a Break Up Letter and here is a video from two teachers who should have mentioned Eric in their video since they used his letter!

Here are some other assessments that “Don’t Suck.”