Saturday, September 10, 2016

Grabbing their hearts


I'm a proponent of big changes. We need to challenge practices and processes that exist just to exist.  I think we need a revolution of sorts in how we're educating our kids. We need to recognize that what we're doing in so many classrooms isn't right for kids and quickly casting these things aside for something better. 

"We've always done it that way" is the scariest phrase in education.

Trying to change archaic practices slowly won't work.  Gradual gives entrenched practices a chance to stay in place. These practices have deep roots and are often in place to make the adults in a school comfortable. School shouldn't be about the adults.

Practices like elementary homework, morning 'work', and spelling tests don't help kids learn. These things exist because they're there. They've always been there. We continue to let these things exist in our classrooms because 'we've always done it that way", not because they enhance learning.

Like the way we've done back to school. Spending the first days of school driving compliance instead of community. Establishing a hierarchy in place of partnerships. Spending the first days going through the rules, not harnessing the undeniable energy that are kids are bringing into our classes after summer break. We've only got our kids for ten months. Why would you wait until Christmas to smile? 

Grab their hearts.

We humans are not very good at noticing change as it happens. (see climate change) Things just seem to pop up and we go, "oh hey, that's new." Slow change is almost imperceptible. "When did you get so tall" has probably come out of your mouth. Despite my preference, incremental change can be good and you can argue that that pace is how most change happens. Slowly. steadily.

As we approached back to school this year, I noticed a big change. Subtle, but undeniable.

Filling my timeline were efforts to make sure our students knew they are important. That we love them. That they matter. 



And El Cajon's magnificent video. What an innovator David Mishayaro is for his kids and educators! No rhythm :) but a great leader. Everyone who is involved in the education of El Cajon's kids are involved in this effort. Splendid.


Or this amazing video that challenges us to look at how we interact with our kids. Every interaction matters. You never know.


There was a moment at some point during the lead up to the first days, when the collective impact of all these positive messages when I noticed the change. Gone were the posts on establishing rules and solidifying procedures. Fewer posts on classroom management and more on creating culture. I couldn't find a post on how the teacher should establish themselves as the center of learning. I didn't see a single picture of a classroom setup with rows.

It was fantastic. There is always a great energy as schools approaches, but I think we've figured out that we have to capture the energy and use it to build long term positive relationships. Relationships are everything.

We've changed to align with that simple fact.

Thanks for reading.
I'm on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Saturday, June 4, 2016

An Open Letter to My 6th Graders


Dear LaSalle's 6th Graders,
I'm writing this to you now, because I couldn’t get the words out quite right at the 6th Grade Graduation ceremony. This year has been a challenging year for me. I don’t think I adjusted to this class as well as I could have. I never quite felt like I was the teacher I wanted to be for you. A year full of ups and downs, but a memorable year for sure. I hope you’ll remember it fondly.
I’m sending this letter much later than I normally do. One reason is because we’ve been so busy the last couple of months. The other, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. It’s the first weekend of “vacation” and sitting here alone in Room 216 trying to figure out what to do with myself today, so I figured I should get started.
There's a scene in a  movie that was made way before you were born (1989), 'When Harry Met Sally", when the wife of one of the main characters (Harry played by Billy Crystal) drops him off  and before she's even out of sight he says to her "I miss you already, I miss you already.” I know how Harry felt. 
I was fortunate enough to talk one on one with John Maxwell once after his speech in which he said, "People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care." You should know by now that I do.
You have amazed me. You inspire me. I want to thank you for helping me become a better teacher. I still need to learn a great deal, but I, like you, am trying to get better. You have taught me a great deal. Thank you.
It is tough being twelve-ish isn't it? 
Some things to consider as you move on:
  • Live your life with some regret. That's probably exactly opposite of what you will hear rich people or celebrities will tell you, but don't be afraid to look backwards and realize that you could have done some things better. Mistakes and the learning they provide you, make you who you are, but don't be so selfish or keep your world prism so small that you plow through life without realizing you're capable of more than you can possibly know.
  • Be humble. Barry Sanders never spiked the ball (Google him). "If and when you get into the end zone, act like you have been there a thousand times before" - The Tragically Hip. My only sports analogy and lyric quotation in this post are here to try and say that you should always be proud of what you accomplish, but realize that there will always be someone better, faster, prettier, stronger, or smarter than you. Be happy and proud of what you accomplish. Don't compare yourself to others. Be the best at what and who you are. Life is not about being better than someone else, it’s about being the best you can be.
  • Take risks. Not the kinds of risks that diminish your spirit, your sense of self or physically hurt you or others, but risks that help you grow and prosper. "Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are built for." - Grace Murray Hopper
  • There is tremendous pain in the world, but also tremendous good.  It is easy to see the pain in the world and think that we cannot attain more, but we are all capable of great compassion and love. There are plenty of examples of hope and kindness, you just might have to look harder and remember longer. If you figure out a way to remember the compliments more than criticism, give me a call someday and tell me the secret.
  • Your friends today don't have to last you a lifetime. We all change and everyone has a different path we have to follow. Follow yours. Realize that the people in your life today don't have a ticket to ride along forever. Value and appreciate your time that you have together, but when you have reached the natural end of the friendship. Move along with grace.
  • Figure out who you are before you attach your identity to someone else. 
  • Choose your words carefully, but make them Louder Than A Bomb. Don’t hold back.
  • Be kind, not mean. The boy or girl you're mad at because they’re holding someone else's hand or you heard that they may have said something bad about you, won't even remember your name in three years. They will however, remember the mean things that come from you if you take that path. Erase Meanness and replace it with kindness.
  • Find your genius. Try to figure out what gets you excited and go after it with all that you have.
You have greatness inside you, find a way to bring it out.
  • Practice my "Grandma Rule" PLEASE! If you wouldn't say it, show it, or write it to Grandma, don't type it, text it, post it, or take a photo of it. Don’t be a coward and hide behind anonymity or fake profiles. Be aware that YOU control your digital footprint and that it is forever. Make it a positive one. Stand for something good.
  • Read a relevant book every six months. Not one assigned by a teacher, you'll get enough of those anyway. Read a book that interests you. A book that has made a difference in the world or tells you about someone who has lived an interesting life. I stole this advice from the head of the National Science Foundation who advised it at my college graduation and I have tried to heed it every year since. While I'm at it, write! Blog, journal, keep a notebook of your thoughts, whatever. Writing forces you to reflect.Writing can unlock life. Choose great words. Get better at writing by doing. Reading good writers makes you a better writer. Read. Write.
  • Wear funny hats. Run like a kindergartner, for no reason at all. Laugh. Travel. Explore. Move out of your current zip code someday. Draw with chalk on the sidewalk. Work in a place that lets you bring a nerf gun and a razor scooter to work. Do some of the things that the old people you know did, but don't want you to know about. Be careful. Be good to one another.
What most of you didn’t know, was that you will be my last class for a while. I’m taking on a new role for our district in about a month as its Director of Technology. I hope that I can help transform our schools over the next few years by putting many of the things we came to take for granted in Room 216 into classrooms throughout our rising District. Wish me your best, I’ll need your support.
I hope that you realize the best that fortune can bring. I hope that I get a glimpse of what you will become someday. Thank you for spending the last ten months with me. I have learned more from you than you have from me. I miss you already. 
All my best,
Mr. Johnson

Room 216 2015-2016 (6th Grade)