Friday, February 12, 2016

Teaching Tip #103



Teacherscribe's Teaching Tip #103

I think we can’t remind our students of this enough.  When I was listening to Ken Eastman he talked about Kevin Garnett.  I am paraphrasing here, but his quote goes like - success under the bright lights and thousands of people is only possible after countless hours of practice under dim lights alone on the court.  Eastman talked about how Garnett practiced and lifted weights and conditioned every single day, even as a future hall of famer.  He never rested on his laurels or said, “Good enough.”   Garnett worked on his shot every single day.
I think these needs to be ingrained in our kids.
I work on my teaching ever single day.  It’s usually in the back of my mind as I’m driving to work, mowing the lawn, laying down in bed, or all the times I’m researching or writing about teaching (as I am now).  We have to show this to our students.  Furthermore, we have to call out the times our students worked hard and took the stairs (to connect it to the image above) and it paid off.
Too often students like to take pride in doing something at the last second or procrastinating and then getting it done.  We have to put less focus on that and praise the effort and hard work of our students, especially when it pays off.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


It’s What You Do When You Think No One Is Watching
As I stood in the double door leading into the student section of the gym, I couldn’t hear myself say, “How’s it going?” to Mr. Lingen who was leaning against the yellow pads beneath the basket. 
Every student was on their feet, clapping along to the school song.  With the final chants of “Mighty, mighty, Prowlers, mighty!” echoing, coach Bittner grabbed the mic from Mr. Biermaier addressed the student body about her volleyball team which, in just a few hours, would be playing in the section championship for the third straight year with a chance to return to state.
I leaned over and asked Mr. Lingen how he was doing designing the Western Civ curriculum which would be offered for college credit next semester.
He rolled his eyes and said that it was a slow process but that he was looking forward to it.
Then coach Bittner began introducing the varsity players.  As each girl ran to the center of the gym, I began counting the pairs of Crocs I saw.  Luckily for them, there were none.  Wow, I thought.  That’s impressive.  At least they weren’t wearing baseball caps like some of the other supposed student-athletes in our other programs. 
My thought process was broken when Shelby was introduced.  She hopped up from the front row of bleachers and bounded toward the row of volleyball players.  She then gave each girl a high five as she ran down the line and took her place at the head.  In Crocs.
Shelby had black Crocs on.  Oh lord, I thought, and fished my phone out of my pocket.  I searched for Shelby’s last text.  Then I typed the phrase #weretryingtohaveasociety and hit send.
Shelby and Hannah said a few words to the cheering crowd about how they hoped everyone comes to the game, how much the fans meant to them, and how, hopefully, they would see them all down at state next week.
And just like that, the band stood in the upper deck and began pounding out the school song to end the pep fest.
The volleyball players fled the gym, for the buses that would take them to the game in Moorehead were waiting to be boarded.
I pressed my back against the hallway to avoid the stampede.  I waited for the steady stream of players, students, parents, and faculty to subside.
Then I stepped back in the gym looking for someone to harass.  What I noticed stopped me in my tracks.
Nate, one of our special needs students, sat in his wheelchair not five feet from me at the edge of the bleachers.  As a diehard Prowler sports fan, he was decked out in a Prowler jersey and had streaks of blue and gold across each cheek. 
Shelby knelt down beside him with a huge grin on her face.  She asked him how he was doing and if he was going to the game.
Nate grinned broadly and shook his head.  Then he pointed at something on his iPad.
I backed away but continued to watch.
Shelby talked and smiled and nodded her head.  She was in no hurry.  It’s like she doesn’t even know she will be playing in one of the biggest games of her volleyball career in just a few hours, I thought.  In fact, it looks like she could care less.  This kid is a born teacher.  I just hope she gets done with her degree in time to come back to Challenger so she can teach Cash.
“Well, Nate,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder, “if you can’t make it tonight, listen to us on the radio!  I’ll see you on Monday!”
With that Shelby gave Nate a high five, and she was gone.
Right then a thought popped into my head, I hope Kenzie grows up to be just like Shelby.


I am a noticer.

You may not notice, but odds are I will.

What does that mean?
Just this morning in my first block, I have, supposedly, our top students in College Comp 2.  These are the kids who, supposedly, have never got a B and will do whatever it takes to keep their precious little 4.0s.
Yet I notice how when given time to work - they’re completing an infograph instead of an essay on the first book they read, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and they have a take home essay exam to complete by Tuesday - I still see a few students constantly on their phones.
I notice this.  And then I think, let me observe any class, and I bet I can accurately predict not only the students’ grades but what their teachers’ comments will be on their report cards by how often they are on their cell phones. 
I’ve noticed this over the years.  My least inspiring and successful students are constantly on their phones.  They simply don’t develop the ability to tune out the distractions and devote themselves to the real work that college demands. 
This is but one reason 70% of students will leave college without a degree.
At the same time, though, I notice another student right now sitting at the table in front of me, her hand on her head massaging her temples and she designs her own infograph.  I see another staring intently at the screen.  She scribbles something on a yellow Sticky-Note, peels it from the stack, and slaps it in her book. 
They haven’t picked up their phones once.
So what? 
You see, dear reader, what I notice when you don’t think anyone is watching is the most important ‘tell’ of the type of person you are and how much you will succeed.  Plus, this is that type of information I put into the letters of recommendation you ask me for, especially the ones that you will have to agree to only let the university or scholarship committee see.  That means your eyes will never read what I notice about you.
And for some that is a really good thing. 
Here is a real paragraph from a letter of recommendation I was asked to write. Now, let me preface that with this: I informed the student ahead of time that I would not be the wisest of choice for a reference.  However, the student confessed that he had no other options.
So, this is what I wrote - *(&^ is like so many other high schoolers I see.  That is, he is unremarkable.  He shows up to my class, usually on time.  He often turns in his work, usually a day late.  He does not actively engage in any discussions or conversations.  In fact, the only thing he actively engages with is his phone.  Now, I’m not strict on cell phones in my class, so when I notice he has a problem with it, then he really, really has a problem with it.  So unless you are looking for someone who will flunk or drop out after a semester, I would not give this student a scholarship.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Please see his other letters of recommendation, though.
I put that final line in giving him a second chance, but I also knew that he did not actually have any other recommendations.
Before you think I am completely nefarious, let me show you another paragraph from a letter of recommendation I am currently writing for Shelby, who is now majoring in education at Concordia - One thing I will always remember about Shelby was her kindness. The fall of her senior year, I saw her do something amazing. It touched my heart and really illustrates what kind of wonderful young lady Shelby is. In late October, the school put on a pep fest for the volleyball team as they were, hopefully, about to return to the state playoffs. Shelby was announced and said a few words to the roaring crowd. Then when the students were released to leave for the day, I saw Shelby take time out and stop and talk to Nate, one of our special needs students who is confined to a wheelchair who also happens to be a diehard Prowler sports fan. She knelt by Nate as he sat by the exit. Everyone else was pouring out of the gym to get home or to practice. Shelby, however, talked with Nate. She interacted with him for at least 5 minutes before giving him a hug before leaving. I was speechless. She didn’t have to do that. In fact, most of her teammates were so caught up in the moment that they were oblivious to anything else. Again, not Shelby. I believe this illustrates perfectly her kindness and empathy.  In fact, I’d be proud if my daughter, Kenzie, grew up to be just like her.
When did I start noticing the stuff that many people do not even think twice about?
I’m not sure, but I do know the moment when it became clear to me that it is vital to remember the little things because they can have the most profound effect: parent/teacher conferences the fall of 2010. 
Two of my very favorite people in the world were about to walk into my room: Steve and Jennifer Olson.  I first met them when I had their oldest son, Ben, as a freshman football player three years ago.  They stopped by my room then to say hello and talk about how much Ben was enjoying football.  It was then that I thought, wow.  These parents show up for conferences even when I don’t have their son in class!  Impressive.
But this year I actually had the privilege of having Ben, now a junior, in my College Composition I course.
Jennifer said, “Hello, Mr. Reynolds,” with a smile and shook my hand.
Steve gripped my hand next and shook if vigorously at least half a dozen times before pulling me close and saying, “Thanks for all you’ve done for Ben this year.”
“Well, you’re welcome.  He’s a great kid.”
“. . . And Sam,” he said before releasing my hand and taking a seat at the desk next to the one his wife was already seated in.
“Yes, Sam,” I said, thinking about their middle son, who I didn’t have in class, but who was on the ninth grade football team I coached. 
Unfortunately, Sam had gotten a nasty concussion and wasn’t able to play beyond the first few weeks.  He approached me to tell me that he was thinking of quitting.  I balked at such talk and told him to stick around.  Afterall, we only had 13 kids out for football.  We couldn’t afford to lose one, even if he wasn’t able to play! I told Sam that he could be my assistant offensive coordinator. 
Sam agreed and stayed on to help me and to work as a team manager as well.
“Well, I’m enjoying Ben in class immensely, “ I said, pushing a copy of his grades over to Steve and Jennifer.  “His writing is well developed and very thoughtful.  I just wish he spoke up more in class.”
Steve laughed and said, “Well, Ben isn’t the talkative one . . .”
“That would be Sam,” Jennifer finished her husband’s sentence for him.
“Ah, Sam,” I chuckled.  “My assistant offensive coordinator.”
It was odd, I thought that we ended up talking more about Sam at Ben’s conference than we did about Ben.
It was then that Steve and Jennifer leaned in close to me and said, “We just want to thank you for what you did for Sam last week.”
I was shocked.  I stared at them both.  I even frowned.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.  The truth was I had no clue what they were talking about.
“Sam came home on Monday,” Jennifer began, “and told us how you actually threw him a touchdown pass at the end of practice.”  The smile again spread across her face.  I saw her eyes tear up just a little.
“Oh, yeah . . .” I chuckled, finally recalling the incident, which I had completely forgotten about.
When a team is comprised of 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense, it’s difficult when you only have 13 players.  Total. 
So to improvise, we had half of our offense practice against half of our defense.  We had so few kids out, that I actually had to step in and play quarterback on offense so our starting quarterback, Nick Hoffard, could get some reps at safety.
I looked around the huddle at my three offensive lineman, one tight end, and my two running backs.  “Okay, let’s block this one well,” I said.  “Two, twenty six toss.  On one.” I said.  Since these were freshman, though, I had to add instructions.  “Connor make sure you get a good down block on the defensive end.  Grady I’ll pitch you the ball.  Steve make sure you seal the first linebacker you see on the edge.  Grady will follow you and read off your block.”
“Come on guys,” Sam said from just a few feet away from the huddle.  “Don’t let the defense push you around.  You can do this.”
My “offense” all shook their heads.  Then we broke the huddle.
Once the center hiked the ball, I turned and pitched the ball to Grady.  He actually gained three yards before the linebacker shed Steve, the fullback, and drove Grady to the ground.
“Okay, huddle up!” I called.  “Let’s get some reps and get out of here.”
The defense with coach Loe celebrated like they had just stopped us on fourth and goal in the Super Bowl.
“Okay,” coach Loe called out.  “Here’s the deal.  If the offense can score a touchdown, practice is done right now.”
Well, that’s wise, I thought.  The defense is going to let the offense score, coach.  Genius.
“But . . .” Coach Loe yelled.
Ha ha, I thought.  There is always a catch.  Now that is genius.
“If the offense scores, they get out of conditioning.  And the defense has to do double conditioning.”
Instant groans and frighten looks erupted from both sides.  I don’t know if this offense can score, Coach, I thought but kept it to myself.  Even if you let them try and score . . .
“And if the defense stops you, they get out of conditioning.  And the offense has to do double conditioning.”
Well, that’s not fair, I thought.  Again, how are we going to score a touchdown?  I swear if the six guys on defense fell down, we’d still drop the ball and fail to score.
Instead, I said, “You’re on.  Get ready to run double conditioning.  Nancies!” I called and waved my offense over to me.
“So what are you going to run?” Sam asked as he poked his head into the huddle.
“Wait,” I said, turning to Sam who was holding the orange basket full of water bottles.  “Wait, wait, wait . . . Sam, first give everyone here a shot of water.”
Sam began handing out the water bottles.
“We’re going to need this,” Connor said, spraying the water down his throat.  “Because we are going to be doing double conditioning after this play!”
“Ha ha.  Not so fast, you Nancy,” I said.  I had an idea.  “Okay, Sam, here’s the deal.  I want you to play wide receiver on this play.”
“But I can’t have any contact,” he said, putting all the water bottles back into the proper slots in the basket.
“I know.  I know.  No one is going to hit you.”
Like the rest of the offense, he just stared at me.
“Here is what you do.  When we break the huddle, leisurely walk over there and stand by the sideline.  They will never suspect that you’re actually lined up as a receiver.  No one is going to even cover you.”
Heads began to nod as they caught on to my plan.
“Reynolds, must be thinking up some trick play,” Coach Loe called out.  “Hurry up, we’re ready for you.”
“Okay, here it is.  I’ll fake a dive to Steve.  Connor run a shallow drag to draw the linebackers and safety.  Grady you run a swing route into the flat.  And Sam . . .” I looked at him.
Sam stared me right in the eyes with the biggest grin I had ever seen on a kid.
“Sam, you drop the water bottles as soon as the ball is snapped and run a post.  I’ll hit you for the touchdown.”
“Ready! Break!” we yelled, turned around, and sprinted to the line of scrimmage.
“Down,” I called.  “Set,” I yelled. “Go!”
I dropped back and first looked to Connor who was covered by both an inside  linebacker and safety.  Then I looked to Grady in the flat who was covered by an outside linebacker.  Then I dropped back one more step, found Sam streaking over the deep middle and sailed a pass right to him.
Sam hauled it in and high stepped his way into the endzone for a touchdown.
“That’s not fair!” yelled Nick from his safety position.
“Hey, you should have covered the deep middle,” I said.
“Okay, okay, okay,” coach Loe hollered raising his hand.  “The touchdown will count, but since it was a trick play, all conditioning is off today.”
Again, you’d have thought we just won the Super Bowl.
“Get a break down,” I yelled, running toward the end zone.  “On Sam!”
Soon Sam was surrounded by his teammates who were all shouting and giving him high fives.  Sam had never broken the team down at the end of practice before.  Since he scored the winning touchdown, I thought it only fair.
“What’s our motto?” Sam shouted.
“Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way,” his teammates yelled.
Then they lifted Sam and carried him off the practice field.

All of that came back to me in a second as I sat before Sam’s parents.
“Sammie couldn’t stop talking about that when he got home,” Steve said.  The pride was evident in every word.  “It’s been hard for him not being able to play.  He was really down in the dumps.  He didn’t know what he was going to do until you asked him to be your co offensive coordinator.”
“And wide receiver when necessary,” I added.
Steven laughed and Jennifer said, “We just want to that you.”
“Yeah,” Steven added.  “That one play made Sam’s entire year.”
And I had forgotten all about it until you reminded me of it just now, I thought.
Now, I try to notice every little thing I can.  It truly is the things you do when you think no one is watching that matter most.






Daily truths 1

Watch a room full of students at work.  See how often they check their phones.  Let me observe them for 20 minutes, and it'd be interesting to try and guess their grades given their ability to focus or let distractions take them off course.

This applies to adults too.

Teaching Tip #102



Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #102
I love this article.  Share it with your seniors.  Hopefully it will spark an interesting discussion: Seven Things Graduating Seniors Should Know About College.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Teaching Tip #101



Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #101
I’m re-reading one of my favorite books on the art of teaching, Robert Fried’s The Passionate Teacher.  Early on in the first chapter, he profiles an inner-city science teacher who - as a new teacher - received the worst class in the school district.  (a side note here - talk about a dumb a(* practice!  You wouldn’t take your young doctors and hand them the hardest cancer patients nor would you take your rookie lawyers and stick them with the hardest cases, yet we used to do it to first year teachers all the time).
Long before Teach Like a Pirate existed, this teacher hit on one of Burgess’ key concepts - get to know your students first.  Win them over that way before trying to teach them anything.
In fact, this teacher spent the first two weeks of the year getting to know her students.  Then she started sneaking in science lessons so the kids weren’t really even aware that they were being taught.  And she pulled it off.
She had one student in particular who when she walked in was sitting on a counter staring a hole right through her as he was surrounded by several members of his entourage.
Everything about his demeanor said, “I dare you to try and make me get down and sit in my desk.”
She knew this was a no win situation, especially when he was the center of attention of his friends.
So she did the smartest thing she could - she took the attention away from him.
She politely asked everyone to gather around her desk.
The boy on the counter didn’t budge.  She paid him no attention.  He finally joined around her desk halfway through the period, though he still was at a distance.
She just asked them questions and let them talk.  And she listened and listened.
And she won them all over.  Even the disgruntled.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Teaching Tip #100



Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #100
My dream assignment #3 - use Sally Hogshead’s How the World Sees You to determine your students strengths and weaknesses.  THEN match them up with a teacher who is weak in those areas.  Allow both to learn form each other.
Sally Hogshead has a website that focuses on how the world sees you.  What that means is by taking a short personality test, her website will come up with a profile of how others see you - and more importantly - she will highlight your strengths and your major weakness.  The point here is that she shows you what instances put you at an advantage.  In my case, my major strength is “the prestige,” which means I’m not a rule follower as much as I am one who seeks unconventional solutions to problems.  So environments that challenge me yet give me the freedom to ad lib and create are ones that will make me the best version of myself.
Now, on the other hand, my weakness is “reliability.”  Since I’m spontaneous and dislike rules, I am not the one you’d want to count on to do the same thing every single day by the book.  Because that is not in my strengths, if I’m in a job or a task that requires that, I’m not going to be very successful.
Those revelations alone are reason enough to take her test.  But what I would love to see happen is if somehow teachers could be paired up with a student as a “reverse mentor” whose strength is our greatest weakness.
So for me, I’d be paired up with a student whose biggest strength is “reliability.”  They could hold me accountable for all the little rules I carelessly disregard.  They could remind me of all the little things I neglect in the name of trying to do something a little differently.
Think of all that I could learn from them.  Plus, think of the great opportunity the student and teacher would have to learn from each other and work together.
Just wondering, but I think learning and working together are real world skills that companies are in dire need of, right?
And that isn’t even taking into account all that teachers will learn from the “reverse mentors.”  Any teacher knows this to be true - if you really want to learn something, teach it to someone else.
I mean that’s how I finally had to learn grammar (thank you Mrs. Semanko for making me teaching a week or two of your College Prep Composition class all the way back in the fall of 1997).  So what would our students learn when they were called upon to teach us skills that we either lack or struggle with?