Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Who Built Your Tree?

christmas tree photo: Christmas Tree tree.jpg
My family and I decorated our Christmas tree recently and despite the difficulty of convincing a 15 yr old to put down his phone and countering his arguments of disrupting his "weekend vibe" (essentially, listening to music, playing video games, and keeping a high maintenance girlfriend at bay) we kept our family tradition alive.

We have several boxes of ornaments and as our family gets...older...shall we say, the growing challenge is which ornaments we leave off. My typical solution is to buy a bigger and fatter tree. More ornaments, more tree. That suggestion is usually met with, "that tree is ridiculously big" to "do I need to remind of the green scrapes on the ceiling?" from my more reasonable and much wiser wife.

The traditional soundtrack of Burl Ives and Lena Horne propelled our decorating efforts as I paused occasionally to review the memories I was placing on our Grand Fir. As I went along, I began to think about how many different contributors we've had to our family tree. It's fun to watch the tree get 'built up' over the evening as the anticipation of the "big lighting" when it is finished.

There were ornaments that reminded me of family trips, special moments, and ones of our former pets that made me choke up here and there. There were many though, that were gifts from friends and family near and far. The wooden carving from Israel, hand-painted ones from various locales. Ones that looked good to somebody. The beautiful, thoughtful, goofy, and sometime bizarre all make it to the tree. I'll leave one of our ornaments in the box before I pack away one that was given to us. Even the way too heavy ones.

The completed tree is always beautiful and intriguing to look at. It never looks the same from year to year.

I started to think about how my students are similar to our Christmas tree. I get a new batch of students every year. Fresh trees, if you will. Over the course of our ten months together, I get a chance to add ornaments of learning to their tree. Some of the things taught will remain on display, while some will get put away.

The hard part is giving each of these kids a chance to find an 'ornament' that they are proud of. Something (a paper, a project) they want to display (share) or (topic) explore further. I know that everything that we do over the course of a school year won't be included in a child's tree. Not everything we do get them excited about learning, but I'm not the only one contributing to their learning. Their 'trees' get built up by uncountable influences as they move through life.

I just hope that some of what we do in Room 216 has value for them, so that they want to take it out of the box and make the world better place to look at.

Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Basketball Classroom Management

photo by Eric Johnson

I'm a teacher. I coach. I did not become a teacher so that I can coach. I have no dreams of building a dynasty, no illusions of grand recognition, no vicarious thrills to be realized. I want to become a better teacher, not the next John Wooden.

A couple of years ago our elementary boys were in danger of not fielding a team, because of the difficulty of finding a volunteer coach. Understandable. Coaching demands a huge time commitment. From call-up meetings and registration to roster preparation, practices, games, and on and on. There is a lot to do to get a team on the court. Volunteer? There's not a very long line. So faced with the option of our 6th grade boys not having an opportunity to play, I halfheartedly agreed.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. The boys had fun and made a successful run to get to the championship game, although ultimately losing. Along the way, my co-coach (a fellow teacher) and I became friends and I realized that sports helped improve my student relationships and my classroom management.

Sporting relationships are different than classroom relationships, but both help Room 216's learning environment. Having an opportunity to relate to a kid through sports, especially one who might struggle with classroom environments, gives that student another chance to learn.

Our classroom is not the court or track. Sports practices are much more relaxed and informal than in our classroom. That's not to say that things are rigid and over-structured in our classroom, but shooting free throws is very different from understanding the differences between observations and inferences in science. However, if a kid can trust me to show her the proper form for running the 600m, she may just give me the chance to show her how to analyze a literary text. I'm more concerned about the latter, but if a conversation about stride turnover or a better back door pass helps me help them in the classroom, then I'm in.

It could be easily said that coaching and teaching are the same, and to a certain extent, I agree. The difference for me is that coaching can be too goal focused and teaching for me is more of a process with my kids. As a teacher, I want them to learn, be curious, creative, and think to the best of their ability.

I'm careful to keep the coach and the teacher separate. I don't hand out extra laps for missed assignments or classroom misbehavior and I don't talk about the previous night's game in math class. I don't want to alienate the other students in my class and I won't play favorites. Everybody is different and learns in different ways. I don't want to run the risk of 'losing' anybody.

I've found that kids that participate on teams that I've coached are more attentive in class, reign in their behavior choices a little better, respond to re-directions a little quicker and have a little bit more perseverance on learning tasks than they did before the season. All worthwhile results that occur whether or not they made their free throws.

And apparently my 'you're dogging it during suicides' or 'you're not boxing out' looks are the same as my "get back at your fraction practice" look. I might as well put both of them to good use.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YouKidsTeacher