Saddness, suffering, wisdom, and my dog

Every man has his secret sorrows that the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.

I have 100 students.It is very easy to cruise through the year without ever getting to know many of them. That is the reality of an in and out 45 minutes a day schedule. I have quiet kids and loud kids. Kids who do extra work and kids who hand in nothing at all. Kids who talk all through class and kids who are barely audible. Kids who are very happy and kids who are very sad.

It is hard to tell which ones are happy and which ones are sad. You might think that is a silly statement, but what you see is not what a kid is feeling. The book bag the kid brings to school is the tip of the iceberg of the emotional baggage they might be carrying. If you think about it, we make plans for our class based on the assumption that each kid is happy. We give grades, due dates, and comments to kids assuming that everything in their life is fine. And even if it is not fine, even if their life sucks, we still hold them accountable to the dates and guidelines that we set assuming they were fine.

Over the last decade I have become more in tune with the emotional well being of my classes. I realized that there might be a week or more when a certain kid does absolutely nothing because all they can think about is being evicted from their house. I realized that for two weeks a kid might just need a safe place to come in and sit and not have anyone getting on his back about anything. I realized that just because your parents divorced 3 years ago, doesn’t mean it still isn’t painful…especially after father’s day. I realized that a kid yelling at me doesn’t need me to yell back or to be given a detention to teach them a lesson, but needs a sign that someone in this world still loves them.

I didn’t realize how any of the pain my kids were feeling impacted their school life until I had periods in my life that made me suffer with emotional pain. Every period of suffering in my life brought more clarity to my understanding the plight of the kids whose suffering I had never noticed. While good times made me happy, suffering made me a better teacher. If you made a list of the events in your life in that you gained the most wisdom from would they be sad or happy? I did not gain wisdom from buying a new car, but gained a lot from driving around in a car that always broke down. No wisdom from having plenty of money, but a lot of wisdom from having none. Some wisdom from having a baby, but a whole lot more from the death of one.

With each struggle that I go through, I use it as a reminder that out of 100 kids many of them are also struggling. Struggling with things that they have no control over, and living a life they have no control over. They still have to meet the same deadlines that everyone else has to. Before someone says “well that’s how life is,” it’s not. During each struggle in my life I was able to ask for extensions for deadlines, delegate parts of my job, and when it was really needed…I showed a movie.

Last week my dog died. She was my buddy for 15 years. I was very, very sad. It gave me a wake up call to keep in mind the struggles that my kids are going through. Unfortunately when my life is good, I forget that not everyone elses is good. My dog’s death reminded me to keep alert for sadness that might be disguised by a smile, or sadness that is represented by a missing assignment. I know my kids were certainly surprised last week when I made every kid sit in their seats silently during bus announcements after two kids were found in the hallway. I overreacted. I was not reacting reasonably; I was reacting out of my pain. Not one kid could say something because I was in charge so no one could “punish” me for my outburst and mistake. I was reminded that most kids misbehave for the same reason. They are reacting in reaction to some pain. Sometimes it is as obvious a stake through the heart, but other times it is a small sliver that is undetectable. Sometimes it is with a frown, but many times it is with a smile. Sometimes it is followed by an I’m sorry, but the one that gets teachers the most and makes us forget about the kid, riles our emotions, and causes us to react instantly to the action is when it is followed up by an “I don’t care.” “I don’t care” is the phrase kids use when they care deeply, but don’t have any words to express the emotions behind their actions.

We should all look at our “classroom management plan” that we have established in our classes. When we implement rules that are created to stop actions and ignore the pain, we are basically creating a system set-up to suppress emotions. Bottling up pain, just leads to more problems. Is your “system” built to suppress actions? Or solve the underlying cause of them? When a kid says “I don’t care” is your system set-up to punish, or support. Coerce, or connect.

Every student has their secret sorrows that the world knows not; and often times we call a student a bully, lazy, dumb, uninterested, careless, unmotivated, stubborn, trouble, rude, difficult or needy when they are only sad.

Let your kids struggle…

A couple of posts ago I finished with the following words:

“…so I promise, another post will not appear until I write one that reflects on a positive teaching practice of mine.  If you blog…how about you doing the same?  It can simply be what do you do really well and reflect on how you make it happen!”

Sunday I was at a family picnic.  I scooped up my 1year old niece and took a walk into the backyard.  We walked up to each tree and she reached out to feel the leaves.  After going from a Maple to a fir tree she wanted to go back and forth between each.  She does not have words yet, but was obviously comparing the two textures.  As she was going for a pile of woodchips she walked right over the edge of a railroad tie and fell but I caught her before she could bang her head and get an injury that would have ended our walk about.  We then sat down in a pile of wood chips.  She picked up each one and gave them to me.  Then she started to try to break each one finally figuring out that the thin ones broke, and then proceeded to examine all the new mini chips she had made.  When she got down to the dirt her fingers could no longer dig.  She picked up a little twig and it broke, so I handed her a larger stick so she could continue exploring the dirt.  She eventually dug up a small rock that she picked up and then left with her treasure in hand.

At some point I had an urge to “teach” her about the outdoors.  I wanted to have her feel all the trees, pick the various leaves and have them all in front of her. I wanted to pick her up over the railroad tie and carry her to the other side.  I wanted to stop her digging because I knew she was getting dirty.  I wanted to show her how to break the woodchips and flake them into bits.  I wanted to just move the woodchips aside so she could get right to the dirt.  And I wanted to just pick the rock out of the dirt instead of her scraping away the dirt with her stick.  But I just helped her go where she wanted to go, helped her up when she fell, and presented her with a tool that might be useful.

Dr. Sylvia Rim said “Each time we steal a student’s struggle, we steal the opportunity for them to build self-confidence.  They must do hard things to feel good about themselves.”

One thing I think I do well is that I don’t steal the student’s struggles.  I give them space and freedom to explore on their own.  I resist the urge to do things for them.  At the beginning of the year the class gets very messy.  I have to systematically wean them from all that they have learned which is that I am there to tell them what to do and they are there to do what I tell them.  In the beginning they do not have the confidence to do things on their own or believe that they can do things on their own.  They stay locked inside of their little safe boxes.  Slowly I let the struggles get bigger, and last longer.  Soon they are banging down the sides of their boxes and slowly step out into the unknown.  Ready to take risks.  Ready to make mistakes.   Ready to step in front of a class and struggle on their own knowing they have the support of the class.

Just a quick note…I hesitate to define “struggle” and place it in perspective.  I assume a reasonable reader will be able to determine that I am referring to letting the kids struggle with an engaging project that has the proper emotional and academic supports in place. I am also not referring to the struggle that comes with having to finish useless work or completing an assignment that is just simply lots and lots of busy work.

Today one student who usually asked a million questions during projects did a presentation.  They were given two weeks to complete it.  She never asked for help, never asked for any ideas, and she finished three days early.  Her presentation was so far out of her box that I teared up.  After school she came up to me and said “How’d I do?”  I said, “I don’t know, what do you think.”  She said,”I am so proud of myself.” I gave her a double high five and she bounced away.  I also had another student who wrote to me on the first day of school saying that she hoped I could help her gain some confidence and break out of her box.  A couple of weeks ago she stood in front of the room and gave the class a live performance of the song that is in the video below.  I cannot imagine the guts required to step in front of an 8th grade class and sing a song.  In many respects I really don’t want to take any credit for my kid’s performances.  I feel like I just kind of let them be and grow and they do the rest.  But that would be like saying a gardener is not responsible for the harvest, that it was the vegetables that grew on their own.

Dr Kevin Washburn just recently wrote in a post:

…I often observe teachers presenting a sequence of steps that students need to follow to achieve some result. As students practice, the teacher roams the room and checks student work. A student with an incorrect result is often reminded that the steps “are listed on the white board,” and directed to look there to find his mistake. But whose brain processed what and where as the teacher wrote the steps in order on the board? The teacher’s. The student’s brain focused on the what and where of the teacher’s movement and voice, not the material. As a result, the student still lacks the processing of the material necessary to enable higher functioning, such as using the sequence of steps to achieve a result.

However, if the teacher has the students write the steps of the sequence onto index cards and then arrange them in the correct order, the students process the what and where of the new material. Additionally, the teacher can assess the students’ knowledge before they begin making application. Instructive feedback at this point prevents incorrect practice.

While I might not be successful with every student, by the end of the year it’s the students who can identify the problem, come up with the steps, put them into sequence, process the what and where, take that information to a deeper level, and create a presentation that engages their audience.  It is allowing the students to struggle in a safe environment that allows that to happen.

If you are a blogger, please consider sharing something that you are proud of doing with your kids in your next post.  If you don’t have a blog, well then then please share your “something you do well” in the classroom as a comment on this post.  While you are thinking, enjoy the video below from my kids.  It is a song they wrote after studying urban problems in 19th Century America.

10 Things I want to do before I die

Amanda, who is one of my students, started a meme last week that she hopes will sweep through the blogosphere.  She writes in her post:

I know mostly everyone has heard “well what things do you want to do before you die”. There’s books that say 100 things to see before you die or 50 things to do before you die. But I’m wondering right now if you had to pick 10 things to do before you die what would they be and do you have reasons why?

I think is is more interesting that the “7 Things you don’t know about me” meme because it shows a little bit about about who we want to be rather than who we have been.  I have been finally tagged by Herky and so here is my list:

10 Things I want to do before I die (In no particular order)

  1. Climb K-2 I Love to climb mountains.  I have done a bunch 12,000 ft and higher, but would love to climb a mountain that is not only tall, but one with a great history.
  2. Volunteer more at Old Sturbridge VIllage I simply love role dressing up in my 19th Century farmer clothes and going up to OSV.  I think it is a great place and way to introduce people to history
  3. Buy a quad to help with farm work.  I am getting old.  I need help!
  4. Commute each day to school on my bike–or better yet this one. I was able to commute for about two years and it is so relaxing plus I get in great shape.  Hopefully once my daughters are old enough to let themselves into the house after school I will go back to biking.  Or if I get that bike I would be able to beat their bus home and start earlier!
  5. Become famous in education for something…not sure what…a book, podcast, hmmmm  I admit it, I do want 15 minutes of fame, maybe more.  Since my dream of becoming a rock star is probably over, I would say this is the next best thing.
  6. Grow all the food I eat during an entire year.  We come pretty close each year to growing all of our own meat.  I would love to also do all of our own produce.
  7. Retire from teaching as early as possible…which is connected to…
  8. …Become a college professor in a Department of Education.  I love working with in-service teachers.  I am committed to creating an army of virtuous PBL student centered teachers!
  9. Buy my wife a hot tub.  She deserves one.  Someday I hope we can fit it into the budget.
  10. Hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  This is what I want to start doing the day after I retire.  I love being outside.  I love doing back country off trail stuff, but there is something so relaxing about just going in a straight line following a trail.

Honestly, I have spent a quite a bit of time reflecting on my list.  For some reason it really surprised me.  I won’t include my self-psychoanalysis here…

I am going to change the rules a bit.  Amanda originally tagged 10 people.  Howabout if we change the rule to at least five! Please tag your blog with 10tdb4id so we can keep track. I tag the following bloggers:




Meg Griffen

Nicole Hill

And here is a an extra challenge for you.  Tag at least one person that you have never had any correspondence with and who’s blog you have never visited.  Someone outside of your normal PLN.  After searching around I found a blog written by Dana Huff.  She includes many posts that reflect back on her week.  Dana, hello, nice to meet you I’m Paul, can you reflect forward for me and tell me “10 Things that you would like to do before you die.”

Fix the hole, not the peg

A few years ago I was very lucky to have David in my class.  David has Autism.  I have had students that have had autism before.  What made David different was that during the year he was in my class I opened my eyes to a different way of teaching kids, especially special education students.  I realized that every PPT I sat in on was all about how to get kids to conform and succeed in a traditional classroom.  It was the kid that had to change.  It was the kid that would need a IEP, drugs, or checklists.  It was all about taking a square peg and figuring out how to shove them into a round hole.  The meetings focused on fixing the peg, not changing the shape of the hole.  It was very rare to actually get any input from the kid.  We never knew what was going on in the mind of the student.  We seem to enter these meetings with an angle of what does the teacher want the kid to do and how do we make the kid do it.  We sometimes just treat the kid like a lump of clay, and everyone at the table pokes and prods it with suggestions to shape them into what a student should be…in their opinion at least.  Too often we look at the kids weaknesses and try to fix them.  We don’t look at their strengths and try to build on them.  We take a kid who is already frustrated with school, take the things they have the most trouble with, and find ways to convince the kid that sitting in a chair for 55 minutes at a time, taking notes, studying for a test, and doing homework everynight will be the key to their life long success.  We spend a lot of time and money trying to make kids conform to our sytem.  Crazy…

I would like to leave you with a letter written by David for one of his college classes that his mother has shared with me and I have received her permission to share with you.  David was much more than just a lump of clay.  I know that now.  And thanks to him, I will stop trying to mold my students, but instead create an environment in which they can shine. David will shine, as long as he is not forced to become a round peg just to fit into our society’s black hole.

I am David, an individual who possesses autism. My disability makes it difficult to for me to understand the nuances of social conduct. Instead of instinctively knowing these facts, I have to learn them from scratch. For instance, I don’t know when to interject my thoughts into a conversation or when everyone’s interest of my opinions starts to waver. While I have gotten better in many areas, I still have trouble knowing when to speak and how to interpret people’s expressions. I’m still not very good at making eye contact as it’s like getting stage fright, and I am sometimes not aware of my tone. I am also not very social. While I do enjoy talking to people with similar interests, I dislike crowds and extreme extroverts. Being in a packed stadium of exuberant people would be a nightmare for my sense of space and hearing. The situation would overwhelm my senses and make me very unhappy. I prefer a more quiet, controlled environment. I also enjoy my solitude, where I can think in peace and pursue whatever interests me. As a fan of, among other things, Japanese monster movies and anime, I find it difficult to find those who share these interests and so I turn to the Internet. I enjoy reading discussions about them and will, on occasion, join in to add my thoughts to the equation. I also read fanfiction, fan written stories based on copyrighted properties and I often get ideas for tales based around my favorite shows. However, as with with my original story ideas, I procrastinate a lot and have trouble finishing even a story’s plot outline. I hope to overcome this and be able to publish stories about action, adventure, and interesting characters. Many of my tales can get very dark and push a protagonist’s psyche past the breaking point. For instance, I have a story in mind where a very sheltered superhero fan manages to become one and his sanity gradually unwinds when he sees how low people will go. However, that same character will learn to cope with that and still find that people have the capacity to do great and wonderful things. In my own fiction, I’m too idealistic to concede to downer endings.

Why Technology?

Tim Holt recently wrote a post asking people to give their 500 words about why they use technology:

I thought it would be nice to see what all of us “edubloggers” and podcasters in educational technology really believe about education technology.

Why do you do it?

Why do you think it is important?

Who is listening to you?

I want to hear from you. I want to start the conversation about why you do what you do in education technology. What drives you?

Here are the rules:

Can be written or multimedia. ( I chose to record my essay).It cannot be longer than 500 words.

Here is my response with transcript below…feel free to leave a comment on it. Place your cursor on the little “ball” going across the timeline and then click on the “+” sign to leave a written or video comment. Enjoy…wha ha ha….

Almost everyone’s answer I have listened to or read has gone well over 500 words. So because I play by the rules and am not a rebel, here is my answer in exactly 499 words. Hopefully it will be a bit different from all the others:

I believe technology should be infused into our class to connect connect connect. Before discovering 2.0 tech stuff I was like Tom Hanks in that movie where all he did was talk to the ball stuck on an island. I was just looking for a way to survive and get off of my island classroom. Every bottle I threw out for help came back with a message saying you’re crazy, stay on your island. Using technology allowed me and my crazy idea island full of weirdness to connect with other like minded islands. What I realized is that I was actually part of a huge island chain that stretched across the world. My discovery last year nearly blew up my brain with all of the stuff I was doing and learning! I developed health problems and had to practice meditational breathing techniques to relax, was sleeping like three hours a day. I read and listened to everything that had to do with 2.0 stuff…I am not kidding…I even went through the archives. I am so pumped that my kids are starting to make connections with their blogs wikis and podcasts – from Texas to Australia, talking to small children and interviewing old men — By dipping into this pool of knowledge, the connections they make will lead to a world that is a little less scary, a little kinder, and a whole lot wiser.

I believe we should use technology to create create create products that can be used by other people. I can’t even remember the last time we did something in class that ended up in the garbage can. Practically everything we’ve made was created for a specific predetermined audience that the students met either live or at the very least through their blogs and wikis. These creations will be digested and accessible to people for a long time. It really neat to see what links to our wiki – the kids find it amazing that other teachers have chosen their work to use at professional training sessions and with individual classrooms. Who in the world would expend energy and spirit creating something that will just be for a grade, and then just thrown out. Blah! We create create create for real, for people to use now, not to prepare us to be able to make things in the so called real world that they are supposedly entering in seven years. They are in the real world now—they should be creating for people today—thinking inside the box? Nah…the kid’s innovation broke the box months ago.

I believe we should be using technology, and listen carefully because I am going to use some technical jargon here…because its cool cool cool. Come on…the reason I started doing this stuff is because it is just plain cool. Do you really need another reason?

I believe in using technology because kids get into constant state of connecting and creating…How cool is that!

If you would like to join us, just ask.


How do we change schools to prepare kids for Earth 2.0?


I have had the chance to make six formal presentation on implementing Classroom 2.0 tools (wikis, blogs, podcasts). I have had countless individual conversations with parents, teachers, business people, and complete strangers at parties. Can you guess the one group of people who seem to have the least amount of interest? Teachers. Parents and business people (obviously for the most part they are one in the same) seem to be just as excited as I am about implementing these technologies in the classroom…but not teachers. I spent a lot of time this summer on how to present classroom 2.0 tools to teachers and could not find that magic answer. I did just hear an interesting quote on a podcast:

“It must start with the individual. In order for people to use web 2.0 technology they can’t start in the classroom. Forget about the classroom. If you try to teach people how to use blogs, and they don’t understand how to use blogs or how to use wikis or how to use podcasts in their own personal lives, if they do not understand how these technologies change who they are as a learner and how they go about educating themselves and being a member of our society, then trying to get them to do it in real time in front of twenty-five kids with all the technology issues and support issues that are going on is a bar we will not get under.”

I wonder if any presentations I do in the future for teachers should skip the connection to the classroom and just focus on a personal use of these tools.  At this point I do not understand why educators do not keep up to date with changes in educational practices like a doctor would.  Can you imagine going to a doctor that practiced medicine just as they did twenty years ago?  As my knowledge and usage of the tools increases,  and I become more intensely focused on using them to help kids develop 21st Century skills, I question whether my ability to communicate with teachers on the importance of classroom 2.0 skills has actually decreased.  Please send me the secret answer.  All classroom should look like the one in the picture above.

Picture Day or Why we should be blogging, podcasting and doing the wiki wiki

Aeryk Day 285

Picture day was this week and everyone came in making sure they looked their best. I know I spent an extra hour on my hair. As I sat back and watched the assembly line pump kids past the camera’s eye I reflected on my experiences with picture day when I was young. I remembered the same older gentleman coming back year after year with his camera. Positioning each one of us carefully, he took our photo. He had to adjust the background, the lights, the flash, to make sure each photo was special. Then his real work began, He would bring the film back to his studio and develop the pictures getting each one perfect and adjusting the colors if necessary so that a couple of months later we received photographs to bring home to our parents. My mom still has those pictures and they look exactly as they did when I first received them.

I noticed over the years that the photographers at our school all look like they just stepped out of high school or college and change each year. Being a school photographer is now an entry level job — nearly no experience necessary. Underneath each person getting their picture taken was a black mat with markings. Each marking told the photographer where to put the lights, set, background, etc. The “camera” was hooked up to a box of some sort that controlled each photo, and a laser came from each camera. The photographer positioned the laser on a certain spot and clicked. The photos are all digitalized. Did you know that a digital photo will not last more than 50-100 years?! Compare a digital photo to a photo from a negative made from film. No comparison. The negative photo has depth, color, and a beauty that cannot be had with a digital photo no matter how expensive the technology. The art of photography had been reduced to a job that anyone can do for minimum wages. So what happened to all of those old photographers? They are gone unless they were able to keep up with the new technology and create a photography business that was creative and innovative and could offer services that digital photographers could not offer. Or, they accepted the technology and added elements to their business that others were not. Many of the survivors now consult on a shot and then have a less expensive photographer come in with their didgital camera, take the pictures, go home and photoshop them, and print.

So what will happen if we continue to teach using the tools of the 20th Century — pen, paper, and textbook. Our students will be left behind just like the photographers who continued to use film cameras, and if they just become the worker bees implementing the new technology they will fade away just like the digital photos. They will not be able to learn, create, and innovate with the old tools and be able to stay a part of the creative class that will rule the economy of the 21st Century. They will become working slaves to all the others who stay ahead of the pack by turning up the right side of their brain and become entrepreneurs using new technology. Our kids must use learn to use the new technologies not as 21st Century pens and pencils with which to study history, but as tools to create and innovate, with which they can make history.