Welcome back! It's been quite some time since we were all gathered (virtually) around Miss K's Classroom for the #D100BloggerPD Book Study. You're in for a real treat as we continue our study series with Taylor Mali's book: What Teachers Make.
If you're just jumping in with us, don't forget to check out the first two posts by my district colleagues, Colleen Noffsinger at Literacy Loving Gals and Jennifer Lehotsky at Teaching and Learning Redefined.
Before we move on, let's rewind back circa 2011 as I was sitting in Dr. Brian Horn's EDU 209 class at Illinois State University (yes, I promise this story is relevant). I'm bringing you with me to this moment because I was a sophomore in college and just diving into the courses required for my degree in Elementary Education. If you read my home page, you will come to find out that I knew I wanted to become a teacher since Kindergarten. However, in college, I constantly surrounded myself with people who committed to many different majors, whom had diverse interests and passions. For a moment, I became overwhelmed with the countless opportunities that presented themselves before me at Illinois State University. Alike many other 20somethings faced with tackling questions, I found thoughts whirling through my brain such as: is teaching really the profession I want to turn into a career? Can I commit to this for the rest of my life?
EDU 209 was a course designed to provide opportunity for prospective teachers to learn theory and practice in teaching reading and language arts at the elementary level. Dr. Horn was a professor dedicated to - not only teaching us what is stated above - but equipping us with knowledge in education in high-poverty, high-crime communities. I was interested (and a bit intimidated) in some of the information he provided, but one of the biggest things I took away from that class was the confidence I acquired in my ability to serve and inspire students in insurmountable ways.
What was it that helped me find that confidence? I found that fire in my heart that ignited my passion for this profession from one simple thing. There is very little I can remember about that course nearly 5 years ago, other than the day Dr. Horn introduced us to Taylor Mali's poem: What Teachers Make.
Tears in my eyes and even more hope for my future, I was easily convinced there was no other profession for me. You can just feel the passion and commitment Mali has for teaching and inspiring students, teachers, and educators. I thought: I want to be that. I want to do that.
From that vivid memory back in 2011, I now have the privilege to work with my #D100BloggerPD colleagues as we pick apart Mali's book. Full circle, right?
Vignette #4: Calling Home
This past year was my first year teaching and there was nothing I dreaded more than the communication with parents to discuss negative behaviors executed by their child. The communication part on my end was not what created a bubble of anxiety. I am confident that I have the capability to handle these tough situations with professionalism and empathy for the family members on the other end. The students in my classroom crawled their way into their own special place in my heart, so what concerned me the most about calling home was the fact that I was speaking negativity about someone to someone that cares for this very much for their child.
One of the several parts of Mali's poem that sends butterflies from my stomach to my happy teacher heart, is when he invites us into a time when he had to call home. Look above to read this part of What Teachers Make and experience all the teacher feels.
"Because they expect bad news, parents are invariably thrilled when teachers call home for good reasons." -Taylor Mali
And he's right.
In Parent Teacher Conferences, parent faces light up at the great news of his/her child doing well in school - both academically and behaviorally. On the phone, the engagement and tone of a parent can change drastically based on the information received from the other end of the line.
For those students who struggle to behave well in class, they need praise when they do behave well. It's just as important that their parents be aware of this behavior and praise. Positive reinforcement is highly encouraged in my classroom, and every year my students are well aware of the high expectations I have for them. Positive reinforcement and praise for students can actually create a sense of motivation for a child to do better, to strive to be better. Isn't that what we want for our students?
Mali suggests that this sort of positive praise and communication with parents will, in turn, create motivation for our students. Ding, ding! Every teacher loves when we can see positive behavior executed in our classrooms. When students are aware that we see their hard efforts in school, we are setting them up for continued success. We need to remember as teachers is that students need the praise and parents need to hear the great news regarding their child. It truly can make the difference.
Vignette #5: Lightbulb Moments and Happy Accidents
One of the most beautiful moments in my career centralize around those unthinkable teachable moments. The moments that happen when an event is so unplanned, but oh so captivating to you and your students. They're rare, precious, and should not be taken for granted.
Mali describes the "The Lightbulb Moment" as a time being when all of a sudden something clicks in the mind of a student and he or she finally "gets it." I also think of those special moments as being small successes in the right direction. And if a student is headed towards the wrong direction, we have the privilege to help redirect them to help them achieve. These moments happen in my life, in yours, and especially in our students and they need to be recognized.
I can remember a time in my classroom this past year when a teachable moment occurred at one of my student's fingertips. It was "Float a Boat Day," one of the most memorable days towards the end of the year countdown. The lesson was focused around a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activity and was student-centered. It was the day where my students would create their own floating boats out of selected materials I provided. However, the spotlight was on them. We had not yet discussed how to make a boat float, but using their own inquiries, they were to research videos on their iPads using the KidsYoutube app.
The first lightbulb went off for one of my sweet students and I threw my hands up in the air, jumped up and down, and shouted, "YES!!!! Yes. Yes." That moment confirmed for my students that Miss K was losing it (end of they year), as their heads all turned towards me and AH-HA, I had their undivided attention.. for the first time.. ALL YEAR. They saw my reaction to this student. My excitement. How proud I was for this student to discover that he needed to make his boat hollow. It was in that moment, in the hands of that particular student, that I felt accomplished. I had MY lightbulb moment. Throughout the year, I had taught the students the acquired skill-set they needed to achieve success. Just like that, they were able to work through their own problems and solve their own questions.
We held our boats and confidently walked to the playground to set them in the kiddy pool to experiment. All of the boats floated; however; after 5 minutes or so, one boat started to slowly sink below the water. Instead of seeing it from the perspective of failure, we gathered around the pool and started discussing why we thought the boat sank.
Oops, one boat sank. It wasn't planned. Let's refer to it as a happy accident. This happy accident turned into a teachable moment. Can you see how great authentic learning can be?
THAT'S learning. That's the FIRE that Mali teaches for. That's the fire that we need to teach for. That's why we're here.
Check out these photos from my students on Float a Boat Day:
Vignette 6: Definitely Beautiful
When I first heard What Teachers Make, I had trouble identifying with the following lines:
I make them spell
definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful,
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
As a first-grade educator in a highly diverse, Spanish speaking community, my priority for my students is not to have them spell words correctly, but to have them understand our wide-range of English vocabulary and language; to provide opportunities for a more increased cognitive development, rather than a score on the top of a spelling test (yuck).
After reading and re-reading those words, I still could not find that silver lining to help me resonate with Mali. When I purchased this book and read Definitely Beautiful in its entirety, I finally grasped the concept on Mali's purpose behind the selection of those words.
He was specifically taught 'definitely' from his ninth grade teacher in melodic tune:
There is no A
That's it. A song that would never attempt escape his brain again. (Are you sure it's not defiantly?)
He also shared an experience at summer school when a friend had a moment of epiphany when he realized 'beautiful' actually begins with b-e-a-u (the English language is a funny thing, isn't it?).
In the poem, there's a deeper meaning behind students spelling words correctly. Mali wishes for us to experience this deeper meaning with him, too. Both instances when Mali learned to spell 'definitely' and his friend learned to spell 'beautiful' are accompanied by those beautiful lightbulb moments we discussed previously.
He describes these two stories accompanied with having exhilaration that comes with all epiphanies, those unforgettable bursts of new understanding. BOOM.
I'm not sure about you, but my teacher heart is beaming and screaming at that sentence. In case you missed it, here it is again:
"...exhilaration that comes with all epiphanies, those unforgettable bursts of new understanding." -Mali.
I want all students to experience this in my classroom. They are the perfect reason that inspires me to teach authentically and passionately. They are what motivates me to teach in a way so my students can experience a moment as incredible as that.
In this section, Mali also argues that teaching is not made from a gradual, steady process year after year. Instead, the process of learning is more like a series of minor and major lightning bolts that strike the brain constantly. I had never thought about it from that perspective, but when I think about my own personal learning experience, my learning is driven by those 'ah-ha' lightning bolt strikes.
If we want these lightning bulb moments to strike our students, we need to provide them the opportunity to have access to those moments.
Our new academic year is sneaking up behind us. This is the perfect opportunity for us as educators to strive for something bigger, more powerful, than ever before. Whether you're a first year or veteran teacher, I challenge you to engage your students in lessons where lightning bolts are waiting patiently to strike. I can guarantee those will be the moments you remember the most in your entire teaching career.
Those will be the moments in your career that will be definitely beautiful.
Thank you, Taylor Mali, for inspiring this group of amazing educators! Be on the lookout for our next post written by Michelle Brezek at Big Time Literacy.
Here's our complete schedule:
Introduction, Vignette 1: Colleen Noffsinger
Vignette 2,3: Jennifer Lehotsky
Vignette 4,5,6: Kayla Kaczmarek
Vignette 7,8,9: Michelle Brezek
Vignette 10, 11, 12: Theresa Carrillo
Vignette 13, 14, 15: Diona Iacobazzi
Vignette 16, 17, 18: Angela Gonzales
Vignette 19, 20, 21: Leah O'Donnell
Vignette 22, 23, 24: Amy Gorzkowski
Vignette 25, 26: Kristin Richey
I will keep updating these posts so you can have instant access from my page.
Thanks for stopping by! Until next time, friends!