Category Archives: Professional Development

High Expectations Revisited

I can’t seem to stop thinking about the NPR article I posted earlier this week about high expectations. I just think it’s so important to expect the world of our kids! But I have more to say on this. I’d like to start a discussion relaying examples and non-examples of productively high expectations for students. Here are my ideas. I’d really love to read yours.

Non-Examples of Productive High Expectations 
– Planning lessons or assignments that are developmentally inappropriate … beyond the measure of what a student’s brain is capable of at a given age
– Being rigid
– Holding students to high expectations without appropriate scaffolding
– Being negative
– Limiting your high expectations to your gradebook but having a negative attitude about how successful your students might be
– Limiting your high expectations to your students’ academics and not just their behavior and motivation levels

Examples of Productive High Expectations
– Believing all students want to succeed … even when their actions say the opposite.
– Behaving at all times as if your students’ education is one of your highest priorities.
– Scaffolding and encouraging. Tell kids they are worth hard work. Tell them they are worth YOUR hard work. Model it. Prove it so they have no doubts. Believe in them. They’ll respond … in ways that just might make you cry. And I’m a firm believer in “There’s no crying in teaching”, but sometimes, those young men and women just move you.
– NEVER NEVER NEVER saying “My students can’t . . . ” Maybe my students are not rocket scientists, but they CAN do rocket science. They just don’t know how yet. They could, though. This might seem like a word game, but it makes such a difference! I believe that with every ounce of my being!

I’m going to be honest to a fault here. Sometimes, I want to punch people in the face when they say “My students can’t handle xyz” or “That’s too hard for my kids” or “So and so is just a behavior” … I’m sure it’s just me being super sensitive and super picky, but if you’ve had a conversation with me before trying to vent about a student, and I’ve given you a weird response or a strange look, I’m sorry. I really am! I am not really going to punch you in the face. And I’m really far from ideal or perfect … I’m far from ALWAYS treating my students with the respect and honor they deserve. I know teaching is hard, and I know our school isn’t the easiest school to work in. I never mean to judge, but it hurts my heart so much to hear any adult write off a kid. Or to hear any adult say their students can’t x,y,z.

High expectations, to me, amounts to MY STUDENTS CAN … everything! And I’m pretty sure that after 6 weeks of school, they know I’d do just about anything to help them REACH and PURSUE success.

Two students today made me so proud that I cried. Now, I don’t cry too much. I did when I was young, but those feelings are long gone. I promise. But I co-hosted a Readathon today (more about that soon), and the biggest idea I’m walking away with is the fact that all kids are readers and all want to succeed.

One of my former 8th graders visited and shared his high school success. In 8th grade, he failed nearly all of his classes and was in trouble at least once weekly. After 6 weeks of high school, he loves school, has all As and Bs, and he hasn’t been in trouble once. Not once! And if all my work amounts to is the look in his eyes when I shared how proud I felt, then who could be luckier than I?

Another current student put his hand on my shoulder and told me how meaningful the day’s Readathon was to him. He said thank you. He was excited about reading. He made a comment to another teacher (shout out Ms. Gold!) that he used to hate reading and now he likes it. And he used to get bad grades, but getting good grades is awesome.

This student is awesome! He has a super supportive family! But look how he’s responded to the idea that people believe in him. Look how he’s responded to having all sorts of teachers checking in on him, complimenting him, and telling him he matters.

High expectations are essential. Sure, they can change our practices, but that’s totally shadowed by the very real fact that they can change lives.

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High Expectations

I naturally have high expectations for my students. Maybe it’s because I have high expectations for myself and couldn’t imagine myself failing. Really. In high school, I had an A in calculus, and I could have probably kept my A if I skipped my homework, but I spent all of my spring break solving 2 proofs … because I knew I could if I just kept trying. Not everyone is wired that way. If you’re a teacher, you know how few students are wired that way. I didn’t have much encouragement from my teachers. And my parents, honestly … they did encourage me, but they would have felt I was totally justified in taking some of that spring break time to myself, but it was never a conversation.

But regardless of the reason, I have always asserted that students will rise to your expectations. I promise they will. Just clearly state them and give them the scaffolds and supports they need. Read up on your Vygotsky and his ZPD!

I read this NPR article tonight. I have tried a few times to start a discussion here, and I’ll keep trying. My expectations for my readers are high 😉 Please share your thoughts and what you do to hold your students to high expectations.

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Private Practice?

I’ve mentioned before, but this year I’m pursuing my National Board Certification in Early Adolescent English Language Arts. If you are unfamiliar with the process, check out the video below.

To certify, I need to write four portfolio entries and pass a test. Two of the entries are responses to 15 minute videos of whole and small group lessons. I’ve barely gotten my feet wet with this process, but the experience has already been enriching.

Last week, two of my colleagues who are also candidates and I video taped parts of our lessons. Yesterday, as a part of a coaching event for National Boards put on by the Arizona K12 Center, the three of us sat down with a mentor who is already an NBCT. We watched each other’s videos and offered suggestions.

This can be scary! For some, criticism is hard to take even when it’s constructive. For others, we are so used to practicing behind closed doors away from any other adult eyes that it can be quite intimidating to let others in. And then there’s the one who didn’t get enough sleep the night before and is worried about her dark under eye circles, and OMG, someone needs a haircut! Of course, I am that third person. 🙂

But, what a valuable learning experience! And you really don’t need crazy technology to do something like this. We used a Flip cam our district owns propped up on books or baskets to get a view of the students working. I’ve already talked to some other teacher pals to see if they’d be interested in doing something like this every so often. I’d love to take turns with my teammates bringing a 5-10 minute clip to team meeting each week to provide each other with feedback. It’s time-consuming and a maybe frightening, but I’m willing to put in the time if someone will send me some good concealer and call my hair stylist for an appointment. If we really want to grow as teachers, it’s time to stop hiding out in our classrooms. Crazy idea. What do you think?

On a tangential note, I’m excited to announce that starting this week I’m joining up with a teachers’ book study right here on the Interwebz!

I just ordered this book on Amazon. It features 49 simple strategies, and we will be focusing on one each week. Each blogger will share ways s/he’s implemented the strategy that week. As readers, you’ll have easy access to all of the blog entries, but more importantly, you can comment and share your own ideas without going through the work of setting up and maintaining your own blog.

Check back later this week for my Strategy #1 – No Opt Out. If you know me at all, you’ll know I have A LOT to say about that (What do you mean I have A LOT to say about everything?) I’m looking forward to it!

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“Smart isn’t something you are. It’s something you get.”

Kevin Feldman spent a good deal of time working in my school district in the 2011-2012 year, and I had the privilege to learn from him a handful of times. I will never forget his statement quoted in my title line. Smart isn’t something I am? Clearly, Mr. Feldman does not know ME. How could anyone say I am not smart? (Obviously, confidence is not something I need to work on.) This sounds like one of those new age, everyone’s a winner philosophies. I actually felt quite stressed about this statement the first time I learned from Mr. Feldman. His training was excellent. I walked away feeling so inspired and excited, but I simply could not reconcile that statement.

It stuck with me, though. And the second time I was able to attend one of his trainings, I started to think more about it and really understand it. I have a long standing motto in my classroom: You don’t have to be right, but you have to try. How can I tell children that and not espouse Feldman’s statement? So, as I often do, I experimented with the idea. This year, I taught a small group of 13 year old boys during summer school. One young man lacked confidence and liked to be the class clown. Because of my crazy personality, I find the goofing off endearing. But almost daily, I repeated Feldman’s statement to the young man. After about three days of saying this, he looked at me incredulously and said “Really? You mean, if I work hard and keep trying, I could be as smart as [insert super student name here]?” I looked him in the eye and said “Absolutely!” The look of pride on his face could bring anyone to tears.

Fast-forward to today . . . 6 days before the new school year begins. I stopped by the classroom of a second year teacher in the cadre group I’m leading. I walked in thinking smart is something I am, hoping to help her. But she reminded me of the reason I took this position in the first place and shared an absolutely fabulous idea with me, and I’m here to pass it along to you. Christina is a gifted and passionate junior high language arts teacher. I hope you appreciate her mini-lesson as much as I do!

Christina based her lesson off of an excerpt from chapter 2 in Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide. The excerpt discusses the role of mistakes in learning. The lesson begins with students brainstorming their thoughts on mistakes by constructing a circle map. Then, she reviews the highlights of the article with her students and focuses on the implications for the classroom. Check out these profound statements!

– Lehrer begins with a quote from physicist Niels Bohr defining an expert as “a person who has made all of the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field”.

– “Mistakes aren’t things to be discouraged? On the contrary, they should be cultivated and carefully investigated.”

– “[O]ne of the crucial ingredients of successful education is the ability to learn from mistakes.”

– “Dweck’s next set of experiments showed that fear of failure actually inhibited learning.”

The article goes on to explain an study in which students praised for their intelligence consistently chose easy tasks that did not stretch themselves, but students praised for their efforts and courage for trying something difficult constantly stretched themselves by trying new things. Look how powerful the fear of failure is! And how powerful it is for our students when we remove it!

It’s so important for teachers to go over expectations during the first week of school, and you can bet I’ll be taking a cue from Christina and making sure my new students know I expect them to make mistakes this year. Mistakes are now a non-negotiable in Ms. R’s room!

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