Category Archives: Student Motivation

First Day Back!

My 2013 school supplies staples

My 2013 school supplies staples

This morning I had my first official day at KIPP University Preparatory here in San Antonio and it was  wonderful. I am jazzed to work with  a great leadership team as well as to have the opportunity to serve kids in a truly one-of-a-kind role. I am the 11th grade U.S. History teacher by morning and the Assistant Principal by afternoon – holla teacher/leader hybrid role! I am also a Miles Family Fellow this year and have been impressed by the quality of the programing so far. I have so much to learn about being a leader of adults and look forward to sharing what I learning (and hearing advice from you) here.

My back to school ritual involves the purchase of the above school supplies (Sharpie higlighters, Paper:Mate Sharpwriter pencils, Pilot Precise rolling ball pens in blue (V7!! not V5!!) as well as a new Moleskine planner. One of the first things I like to do is plan the layout of my classroom. I draw a floor plan for the room and then make a plan for how I want each of the walls in the room to look like; I try to plan down to the detail for the various white boards and really think about what makes sense in terms of communicating information to students, creating a space for student work/collaboration, and also personalizing the space. In the past, I’ve “wallpapered” my room with butcher paper (always blue) and hung up the Cesar Chavez quote “There is no substitute for hard work” but this year I’m at a new school and so I’m thinking about potentially “re-branding” my classroom. A local San Antonio theme? A focus on personal history? I’m in to character development these days and I’m working at a KIPP school so maybe something around that?

One of the other hugely exciting aspects of planning my classroom this year is that my classroom is actually a church banquet hall:

The banquet hall (and my classroom this year!) at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio which is the temporary home of KIPP UPrep

The banquet hall (and my classroom this year!) at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio which is the temporary home of KIPP UPrep

The round tables with chairs! The MASSIVE space! The chandeliers! The massive wall of windows on one side! Folks, I’m in love. Good luck trying to get me back into a traditional classroom after this. The one tricky detail is that I cannot hang anything on the walls which definitely cramps my style. But I am determined to overcome and here are my initial ideas: 1) I get a bunch of rolling white boards, 2) I build some kind of freestanding PVC structures that hold either clotheslines or those big sheets of shower board from Home Depot. Presto! I pin student work to the clotheslines and use the shower board for additional white board space. Any suggestions?


Best-Case Thinking = Best-Case People

A motivational poster from a summer school classroom here at Teach For America's Los Angeles Institute.

A motivational poster from a summer school classroom here at Teach For America’s Los Angeles Institute.

I have just spent the past week in and out of the classrooms of pre-service teachers who are working with high school students in summer credit recovery programs here in Los Angeles and I am inspired. It is an annual professional highlight to work at Teach For America’s Los Angeles Summer Institute and this year is no exception. At our staff meeting tonight, Institute director Sarah Morrill shared the following quote:

“The way you see people is how you treat them and how you treat them is what they become.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have never seen this quote before but it captures what I believe it takes to be an excellent teacher. We have to see the potential in every child – even when it is really, really hard – and then react to him or her as if they will inevitably become absolute best version of the person they will be in the future. Here are my ideas for maintaining a best-case self-fulfilling prophecy mindset with our students:

  • Remember our students are children: I work with high school students whose powers of manipulation and sense of right and wrong are fairly developed; however, I have now seen these students make such radical shifts from one year to the next (and even from one month or week to the next) that I know better to judge right away. High school students are children and they can change dramatically. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best. And in those moments when they have dropped the ball remind them of their ability to be better.
  • Focus on our students’ assets: At times the things our students lack can be staggering. It is easy to become focused on what they don’t have and while it is important to acknowledge potential gaps or shortfalls in academic performance as well as in support structures I found thinking positively about students to be more productive. Particularly when it comes to the child’s identity. The Search Institute has a really helpful list of 40 potential assets adolescents typically have such as parent support, a religious community, engagement in after school activities, cultural competence, and a sense of personal agency and power. This list can serve as a trigger for when we are having a hard time finding something positive.
  • Ask our students to share their achievements and sources of pride: Use student surveys to solicit this information. Specifically ask, “What is the achievement you are most proud of?” or “Who is the person in your life you most want to be like?” Take time every week to celebrate the “Good Things” that have happened in your students’ lives. This can be done by a simple shout out process at the beginning of class on Friday or giving students post-it notes to put on a “Good Things” board.
  • Meet with parents, guardians and others who truly love the child and look for opportunities to adopt their view of the student: When I struggle to connect to a particular student I’ll often work extra hard to build a connection with the child’s family. Likewise, I’ll seek out other teachers (or coaches) who have a positive relationship and ask about what works and doesn’t work in terms of motivating and connecting with the student.
  • Learn about your students hopes and dreams: Often time this comes from listening carefully to students in those moments before class, after class and when there is space to simply know each other as people. During my lessons I never have a spare moment to I have to search out this time during lunch or after school or during advisory or in between passing periods or during sports activities – make it work for you and your context.
  • This mindset also applies to colleagues and administrators! I have the mantra “Don’t judge competency or motivation” written on my planner because I always want to assume the people I work with love kids and have what it takes to create the best school possible. In turn, I’ll hope they assume the best of me and my intentions.

How do you see the best in your students?

Exciting New Changes!

One of the 113 year-old door handles in our new home in San Antonio!

One of the 113 year-old door handles in our new home in San Antonio!

It has been a good chunk of time between now and my last post but now I’m back on the wagon! Since I last wrote, I have sold my house in the Rio Grande Valley, moved back to my hometown (San Antonio), and relocated my family out to Los Angeles for our summer gig at Teach for America’s Los Angeles Institute. Needless to say, it’s been busy! However, I plan on beginning to post regularly again starting today and to help with that commitment I am so beside-myself-pleased to announce that also beginning today The Sacred Profession will also be the blogging home of one of good friends AND teacher heros – Jenny Corroy!

Jenny and one of her parents’ chickens on her grandparents’ farm in the motherland (also known as Wisconsin)

Those of you who have been reading The Sacred Profession when we started last fall will remember Jenny’s amazing classroom tour. In fact, I’ve written about Jenny so much (here, here, here, oh and here) that it seemed like a natural next step to share this space with an educator with whom I share so much in common in terms of pedagogy as well as educational philosophy and values. Jenny is currently teaching 12th grade IB English at IDEA College Preparatory in Donna, Texas (where I also taught) and is the ELA department head there as well.

Plus she’s a total bad ass. This year she won both Teach For America’s Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as TNTP’s Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. I am looking forward to continuing those great education chats we started when teaching down the hall from each other here at The Sacred Profession – welcome on board Jenny!

Teach on, Abby

First, We Fail

There is a moment in my teaching career I have been mulling over recently. It was  Spring and I’d just passed back feedback for the big research papers my students were writing. Before students turned in their papers I passed out a “No Excuses” checklist (see below) and told them that if any of the items on the list were missing I would immediately stop reading their paper and return it to them to correct. They would then receive a consequence for having submitted a late paper.

No Excuses checklist

Because I went over the items on the list many, many times most of the students who neglected items on the list were a little embarrassed when I returned it to them without my feedback and quickly made revisions. However, I remember one student who was completely outraged that I had refused to read her paper. She came to me, sobbing with furry, and accused me of hating her and wanting her to fail. “How am I supposed to get better if you don’t tell me what to do?” she yelled. I pointed out I did tell her what to do, in fact I typed it out on a list and gave her time in class to look for those changes. “Good teachers don’t let their students turn in bad papers,” she shot back, “If you really cared you wouldn’t let me fail.”

The student later apologized and even thanked me for holding her to high expectations; however, her words stuck with me. Do good teachers let their students fail? It is a question that has become central to my professional development this year and one I finally feel like I can answer. Not only do good teachers let their students fail it is actually a hallmark of excellence. Great teachers provide a safe environment – safe from a ruined GPA, safe from social ostrasism, safe from a negative self-image – where students can fail over and over again.

Even though I certainly did not execute it perfectly in the example of the irate student above, it is best practice to set students up to make classic mistakes that directly lead to a deeper understanding of the content. I could tell my students the difference between “their, there, and they’re” but I know they really learn it when they use the incorrect form, catch their own mistake and make the correct substitution. Want to see this principle in action? John Mahoney is a 40+ year classroom veteran math teacher who teaches in Washington D.C. – I am fortunate to call him my friend and colleague with the America Achieves Fellowship.

John Mahoney

John has posted an excellent video online of a lesson he taught where students learn a concept by looking at problems and determining if they were solved correctly or not. They discuss the problem in small groups and then debrief as a class. The vulnerability students show in explaining their thinking as well as their total calm when John says “You are wrong” is a testament to the power of letting students learn from mistakes. The video is posted online here and is well worth the watch (you might have to go through a simple registration process but it is worth it! This Common Core website is a hugely beneficial tool).

Every concert violinist starts out a beginner and every pro basketball player picks up a ball for the first time at some point. Paul Tough has written about the importance of failure in building character in children both in The New York Times as well as in his book How Children Succeed (my review of that action is here), he describes how:

we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know — on some level, at least — that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can. As a parent, you struggle with these thorny questions every day, and if you make the right call even half the time, you’re lucky.

Next year I might make my class theme “We fail to prevail” which I know is cheesy but I think could really be a helpful way to invest kids in really struggling and engaging rigorous academic tasks. Here are some other ways you could set your classroom up for failure (in a good way):

  • Reject perfection and speed: Carol Dweck in her book Mindset describes how our society idolizes doing something faultlessly and effortlessly, as if it is an inherently bad thing to actually struggle, or God forbid, break a sweat. Dweck suggests that when teachers see students who are quickly able to complete a task to perfection we should give them a more difficult task and apologize for “wasting their time.”
  • Model mature mistake making: It is easy to feel like, as the teacher, we have to be perfect ourselves or we will lose credibility. Do not be afraid to apologize and own your mistakes. Students respect honesty and transparency and lord knows they scorn a faker.
  • “No, this is not for a grade:” Some times the pressure of earning a grade needs to come off in order for students to relax and let themselves fail OR in order to actually try because they know the assignment isn’t simply another F to add to the stack.
  • “Yes, this is for a grade:” At the same time, students need to be allowed to experience authentic failure. One bad grade will not kill them – particularly if there is a way to earn redemption by demonstrating actual mastery and improvement.

What thoughts do you have about creating a classroom safe enough to fail?

Guest Blogger: Celebrating Black History Month

Anna Almore is an inspiring educator who works in teacher development here in South Texas. In addition to being a thoughtful person and friend, Anna is doing exciting work here encouraging teachers to reflect deeply on their vision for their classrooms. I saw an early version of this post in a regional newsletter and thought it was one of the best things I have read on teaching Black History Month. Enjoy the read and thank you Anna!

In 1926, historian, philosopher, and scholar Carter G. Woodson declared the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” With the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass falling in that second week, it was only appropriate to celebrate a history systematically left out of curriculum and national consciousness would occur when the nation was celebrating the lives of two freedom fighters. Woodson’s original intent was that this week would no longer need to exist when Black History was justly represented in the story of America.

93 years later, I am pushed to consider two questions: Why does Black History month still matter and why does Black History month matter down here in the Rio Grande Valley?

To me, Black History month is one way we as a nation can commit to the study and celebration of a history of change. A history of freedom, equality, and justice denied. A history of oppression and opportunity. A history of contradictions and compromise. A history of the pursuit of the American dream. A history of this American dream deferred. This history seems to embody the American spirit and power that Margaret Meade famously stated in these words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This story of change is what compels me to study and celebrate Black History down here on the Mexico-US border. Our community has much to celebrate—increased graduation rates, the opening of new early college academies, drop in unemployment rates—but we are still in need of change. With 91% of the population in the RGV identifying as Hispanic, there is only a 12% likelihood of earning a college degree six years out of high school according to our most recent Census data. This compounded with the plight of the Colonias, aggressive patrolling on the border, a heated immigration debate, a widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, and policies that deny medical and essential care to the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged—the pain of our community is real.  This pain is what connects me to Black History, and it’s the promise and hope embodied in this history that makes me study it. The lessons of leadership, community, and love are as relevant today as they were then.

What makes celebrating Black History difficult is that we must embrace and walk through the pain in order to squeeze out the universal lessons of Black history. This process of self-scrutiny, national-analysis, and historic-criticism requires us to deal with the complicated issues of race, class, trauma, hatred, and violence. How does an educator, especially one that does not share the racial background of his or her students, go about doing this? The first step, like any painful path, is having the courage to admit and name the truth of trials and victories of Black history. Once we can honestly do this, the rest comes more naturally.

Once you admit the reality and relevance of Black history, then we must turn to ownership. Why do you care about Black history and what is your point of entry into this particular narrative and tradition? Consider this list:

  • Your decision to join the legacy of education in America
  • The potential of Brown v. Board of Education
  • The power of youth embodied by the Freedom Riders and Sit-In organizers of the South
  • Your belief in MLK’s dream
  • A commitment to earning the title of “Ally” to communities in need
  • The story of Allies who sacrificed their privilege to empower others
  • Your deep friendship with and connection to Black people here, in your schools, or at home
  • A fierce patriotism and desire to see the American dream realized
  • The music, culture, stories, and values of Black people
  • The universalism of this story
  • Your faith and its power to move mountains
  • Last but not least, maybe you are celebrating Black History Month because you are the living example of Black History, a testament to why the fight and struggle was necessary, a person who’s traditions are steeped with justice, equity, and love—you are a Black person living in America today

Whatever your reason is, the next piece of the equation is courage—mustering the courage to share this tradition through your content, stories or media with students. In doing this, it’s imperative to name here that you will without a doubt open up a world of dialogue in your classroom that will undoubtedly be good for kids but also certainly difficult. Here is some advice I’ve compiled recently and over the years to navigate these sometimes awkward, full of mistakes and misteps, but totally worth it conversations:

  1.  Don’t get weird about it: if a student says something inappropriate, recognize that it often comes from a lack of knowledge or what they have seen in the media. Address it immediately, unemotionally, and follow up with a one-on-one conference. If a consequence is necessary, use it. If other students can redirect the conversation—let them.
  2. Use words wisely: Preemptively permit students to use the words “Black” and “African-American.” Redirect kids who use the word “racism” incorrectly by sharing the definition. Have your Webster’s dictionary readily available to shut that conversation down.
    1. From my favorite high school English teacher on the planet: “And, let me acknowledge that some of you are inevitably wondering or doubting yourself about the acceptable language here for talking about race, so let me give you two options: ‘black or African American’ Now, you might find other language used, even by people writing about Brooks during her own early years that uses language that was common or acceptable then but that is considered anywhere from archaic to offense today (see me if you need or want to check on examples), so to eliminate any doubt, I’m telling you to say black or African American. And, let me also be clear that you should not say these words with a whisper or drop in your voice, because even if doing so is a result of your own uncertainty about using the correct terminology, the act of doing it seems offensive, as if it is wrong to identify as or say the word black.”
    2. Add these questions to your bank:
      1. How do you know that to be true?
      2. What are other people’s opinion?
      3. How does this connect to the history of the Valley?
      4. Are you trying to say…?
      5. Is that based on fact or from a stereotype?
      6. Where are you getting this opinion from—TV, media, film, internet, music?
    3. Embrace what you don’t know: if your students ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, embrace the phrase “I don’t know but that is a great question.” Encourage students to research their questions or commit to writing down their questions and doing your own.
    4. Encourage connections: help your students find similarity and overlap in the stories of Black Americans. Show your students how you SEE yourself in this history and they will follow!
    5. Commit to consistency: reducing BHM to one day, one quick conversation reduces the potential impact and perpetuates the idea that you can celebrate and commemorate a legacy of an entire people in one day
    6. Acknowledge reality: there are not a lot of Black people in the Valley and that’s why talking about matters. It’s also why your students experience may be limited to TV, film, the news, and internet. Be sure to name that.
    7. Keep stereotype at the forefront of your mind: share the definition of stereotype and address instances of stereotype objectively, immediately, and with love. Constantly ask, how might what we are saying add to or take away from stereotypes? Commit to destabilizing your students’ stereotypes.
    8. Commit to keeping the conversation going: don’t let February 28 be the cut off for great, deep conversations! Keep the momentum going and honor the legacy of Black people, Carter G. Woodson, and others by not letting it die the last day of February.
    9. Check out this book:

How are you celebrating Black History Month? Leave your suggestions and ideas in the comments section!

“The opposite of love”

At the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; it is now the Civil Rights Museum and a life-changing place to visit

This past weekend I was in Memphis with the America Achieves Fellowship and was unprepared for the power of visiting the Lorraine Hotel – the site of Dr. King’s assassination.  When I walked on the grounds and saw the hotel, all of the images I have seen in history books and in documentaries sprang up. I was overwhelmed with the senselessness of killing and the seeming power of hate.


I had to awkwardly shuffle over to the side of the group and collect myself before moving on. Upon entering the museum, I had a really hard time looking at the in-depth displays about the killer and various conspiracy theories. I passed quickly through that area down to a room honoring others the museum has recognized for achievement in civil rights. One of the honorees is holocaust survivor and the author of Night Eli Wiesel and at the museum there was an exhibit showing a clip from one of his more famous speeches. “The opposite of love is not hate,” said Wiesel, “it is indifference.” This quote made me think about the educational struggle playing out in Memphis today.

At the conference we spent a large chunk of our time learning about and reflecting on the forthcoming merger of two school districts in the Memphis area. Essentially  the economically and prevalently black Memphis City Schools is now set to merge with the more well-off, predominately white suburban school district Shelby County Schools. As you might imagine, this modern-day desegregation effort is complex and fraught with tension. Even where people seem to truly be trying to do what is “best for kids” they are also eleminating jobs, schools and benefits in some of the most economically fragile areas of the city.

I was struck by how easy it is to have good intentions and yet wreck havoc on a historically marginalized community. But, if we are believe Wiesel, is it actually better to try to act in the face of injustice and fail miserably than to stand by and do nothing? Unfortunately, the ramifications of failure at the district or state level – even when well intentioned – can be staggering, and are often most hurtful to those who were completely de-vested of power. At the same time, those who made the harmful decisions are unaffected; their children go to great schools and they receive awards for their leadership.

So what to do? Much of the danger of inadvertent harm is removed when we act along side of others as opposed to over them or outside of them. One of the most engaged and caring actions people can do is to teach. Transferring knowledge from one person to another is such an empathetic, personal action that, using a reverse of Wiesels definition, teaching is truly an act of love. Add active love into the protective empathy of living with in a community and really knowing your students, their families, and their interests and you are less likely to inflict unintended harm. How much more likely are you to truly “do the right thing” if the student you are making decisions for is your own child? or your niece? or your best friend’s daughter?

Memphis was a good reminder that life is short, we must love (not simply live) to the best of our ability each day. Each Sunday, my minister always ends each sermon with a benediction that includes the reminder that “the world is too dangerous for anything but love.”

OK now that the touchy-feely post of the week is done, watch for more practical posts and ideas in the remainder of the week. And a classroom tour! Seriously! It is coming . . .

I purchased this print at a neat store/music venue called the Center for Souther Folklore. Her name is Laura Dukes and she was a well-known Beale street blues artists in the 1950s. Such a compelling image . . .

Warriors and Worriers

There is a great article today in the New York Times called “Why can some kids handle pressure while others fall apart?” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (authors of the great book NutureShock). The article describes new research that shows people carry genetic markers that tip their stress reactions towards one of two possibilities: Warrior or Worrier. Essentially, thanks to both helpful chemical reactions in the brain, the warrior reaction focuses and performs under stress whereas the worrier reaction, again due to chemical makeup, inhibits and even paralyzes.  About half of all people have a balanced combination of the two reactions but the other half favor either warrior or worrier reactions. The authors point out that human survival over the ages has depended on both types of overreactions – those who would fight under dismal odds and those who would put the breaks on when everyone starts jumping off the cliff.

Enter modern education and standardized, high-stakes testing. Researchers found warriors get an edge when they sit down to test and worriers underperform at an average of one whole grade level (from an A to a B, B to a C, and so on) than what they are capable of under non-stressful circumstances. I found this a hard pill to swallow. What the research is saying is that some of our students are born less able to test – it is in their very genes! The good news is, all is not lost for our worrier students. Bronson and Merryman write:

So while the single-shot stakes of a standardized exam is particularly ill suited for Worrier genotypes, this doesn’t mean that they should be shielded from all challenge. In fact, shielding them could be the worst response, depriving them of the chance to acclimate to recurring stressors. Johnson explains this as a form of stress inoculation: You tax them without overwhelming them. “And then allow for sufficient recovery,” he continued. Training, preparation and repetition defuse the Worrier’s curse.

With planning and intervention, all students can be coached to overcome what turns out to be a genetic disposition to stressing out under pressure. What was most interesting about the article however was the authors take on standardized testing as a form of competition. Being a worrier is actually an evolved trait preserved in our genetic code over time because it is useful; risk aversion can keep you alive. However, unlike in other forms of competition, in standardized testing there is no upshot for underperforming:

Taking a standardized test is a competition in which the only thing anyone cares about is the final score. No one says, “I didn’t do that well, but it was still worth doing, because I learned so much math from all the months of studying.” Nobody has ever come out of an SAT test saying, “Well, I won’t get into the college I wanted, but that’s O.K. because I made a lot of new friends at the Kaplan center.” Standardized tests lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children’s anxiety. When you sign your child up for the swim team, he may really want to finish first, but there are many other reasons to be in the pool, even if he finishes last.

The same conclusions largely extend to academic grades. How can we create a classroom environment where our students can learn to deal with stress and compete in healthy ways that allow them to grow and become more resilient? Here are my ideas:

  • Play group games: Working collaboratively in teams to compete against classmates can be tremendously motivating. In my classroom I use one very simple game (check it out here) that frequently brings my classes to a screaming, chaotic – but invested! – all out brawl. Because the game is played in teams the pressure is off specific individuals. At the same time it is kind of stressful but in a fun, low-stakes way.
  • Teach test-anxiety coping methods: Use visualization, breathing exersies, and true-to-life practice. See here for details
  • Show students their progress: Use tracking systems to show students how they have learned over time. Although this is easiest to do with multiple choice style exams it is also extremely effective with an unchanging rubric; this way, students can compare their performance on the same rubric in February to their performance in May. Tracking student growth also allows you to give targeted feedback on specific ways for students to improve. It is also empowering for students because they see a clear path forward. A trackable grade isn’t an unchanging stamp but instead it is feedback on their performance at a specific point in time.
  • Show students this research: Empower students to self-identify as “warrior” or “worrier” and then make a plan for how to compensate for their areas of weakness as well as maximize their strengths.

What ideas do you have?

Hope and Truth

“Truth without hope is failure; but hope without truth is fantasy.”

Mike Johnston, Colorado State Senator, Education Reformer, & Great Person

Recently, I have been thinking about the tension that comes from teaching in what is clearly a broken system. It is so easy to focus on those problems that seem to cripple our progress because they are real, in-our-faces obstacles. There came a point in my career when I had to chose to continue to love teaching. It wasn’t a natural feeling or a made-for-a-cheese-ball-TV-drama-about-teaching moment. I remember thinking: “OK, a lot about my situation sucks and is hard. But regardless of what the future holds for me, today I am a teacher and the children who have been put in my care deserve to spend an hour with someone who is grateful to be there.” It is amazing how effective “faking it till you make it” can be.

I met Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston three years ago at NBC’s Education Nation and heard him say the quote above this past fall. This quote works well to describe the relationship between our faith in our students’ abilities and the data we collect on their academic performance (ex. “I know my students have what it takes pass this AP test but right now only 8% would score higher than 5/9 points on the DBQ.”). As teachers, the importance of constantly maintaining hope but then doggedly fleshing out the detailed truth or reality for our students – and sharing it with them – is often difficult and exhausting. It means giving and grading meaningful assessments regularly (daily?) as well as communicating current reality and a plan for progress in the same breath.

So if you had a crappy January, here is a virtual hug. It will be hard but February will be better and March will be even better. This week on The Sacred Profession look for a new classroom tour (yeah!), a book review, tips for celebrating Black History Month, and a first-hand report on what is happening in the Memphis education world – woot!

Summer opportunity with LearnZillion

Looking for something worthwhile and fun to do this summer? I know about the organization LearnZillion from my work with AmericaAchieves’ Common Core resources (so worth checking out here!). LearnZillion is looking to hire 200 excellent math and literacy teachers grades across all grade levels to design lesson plans that align to the Common Core. Aside from an all expenses paid May conference in San Francisco the work is flexible and not location specific. Instructions for applying to be a LearnZillion Dream Team teacher are here – good luck!

Student Motivation & the Power of Choice

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At the beginning of the second semester I like to take a time to remind my students of the purpose of school. Each student gets a blank version of the flowchart shown above and I put a copy up on the document camera. I talk them through each box and ask them not just to simply copy down what I have but to personalize it.

We begin by reviewing the six aspects of effective effort and students briefly jot them into the first box. Students then set a goal for their 3rd quarter grade for my class in the “Better Grades” (which I sometimes call “Academic Success”). In the High School Diploma box I ask students to write a description of how they will feel walking accross the stage on graduation day. I lead them through a visualization of this moment (ex. “You look out and see your family, they are smiling. You see your teachers, they are so proud. You feel the excitement of your classmates around you – you’re finally graduating!”) and then have them write. Next I ask them to write down one or two ideas they have for what they would like to study in college, where they would like to go, what activities they would like to be involved in, etc. Then I have them describe their dream jobs in the Career box. In the “Power of Choice” box I encourage them to think about all of the areas of their life they will have control over when they are financially independent: they can choose where to live, they can choose what kind of home to live in, they can support a family, they can provide for their children and their aging parents, they can help out a sibling who is in need, they can afford quality medical care, and so on. I have them write down at least 5 goals (such as “visit Paris” or “own a Mercedes” or “ensure my grandma is taken care of”) they have for their adult lives in the “A Better Life.” Next I push them to think about how their good choices will impact our community. How will they give back? How do they intend to address the problems they currently see around them? Finally, we reflect on how the world they leave their children (or others’ children) will be better because they have lived and made good choices.

I find this activity to be incredibly inspiring both personally and to my students. Try it out! Download the blank template here Success Map.