Saturday, March 14, 2015

Responsive Classroom

In my district, once a month, we have two hours of professional development.  The district sets it up and it is usually based around a new program or testing.  This year, they decided to go in a different direction.  For three sessions, teachers rotate between three different classes.  One is on iEARN, one is on Second Step, and one is on Responsive Classroom.  I am running the one on Responsive Classroom.  

I have been using this program in my classroom for about 7 years now.  I went to the level 1 training, purchased and read most of their books, and have continued to attend workshops as they come up.  I feel very comfortable teaching others about the program and have run several courses in district to do just that.

I'm not going to get into the whole philosophy here.  Suffice it to say that RC is really about using specific language and behavior to help the children learn to be more responsible, independent, and caring.  And it works.  I have worked with some very difficult children who, while still struggling with behavior, have learned to adapt more easily to others, work with their classmates, and take responsibility for their actions.

The biggest drawback to teaching about RC is that, one of the most important times of the year to establish the program is in the first six weeks of school.  That's right...six weeks.  Not the first day.  Not the first week.  Not even the first month.  But the first six weeks.  What teacher has time for that?  When I went to the training, I fought against it the entire time.  And, when I show others, they do the same. 

What RC has done, and what I finally understand, is that you don't establish this program in a vaccuum.  You do continue to teach, address your curriculum, and prepare for all that is necessary in school.  But you do it with the language and methods of RC.

You might, by this time, be asking why I am writing about this.  I don't get paid by Responsive Classroom.  So why am I promoting it?  You see, running this professional development has really made me think about my kids...and my successes and failures with them.  And I realize that, for all the failures I feel every day, there are far more successes to recognize.

Just this year, I have:

Juan (all names have been changed) - This is a child who is difficult to be around.  While he has a kind heart and means well, he is very self- centered and is unaware of his personal space with regards to others.  Up until this year, he really hasn't had any friends.  In my classroom, I have watched him try to socialize and have finally started to see others socialize with him.  

Just Friday, while we were cleaning the room, Juan came back from one of his many bathroom trips (he needs the breaks).  He walked over to me and, very sadly, sad that a boy in the hallway told him he has no friends. He then told me that the day before, at recess, he had gotten some children in trouble for cheating in a game.  I said, in my usual "Let's not make this a big deal" tone, "What does he know?  Don't you have any friends?" 

He said, "No."  

Just as I was about to cry, Sonya, who is always in everyone's business, comes over and says, "I am your friend."  

Then Melissa chimes in and Tom comes over and, jokingly says, "Hey, Juan.  What about me?" 

Soon all of the kids were telling him to ignore the boy, who is turns out isn't really nice to any of them.  "Stick with us," they told him. "We are your friends."  

Juan smiled, went to help clean up, and, at the end of the day, gave me a hug before walking out the door.  

Cindy - This is a girl who can barely be heard when she speaks.  We have talked often about assertion but I so rarely hear her voice. Recently she started raising her hand to answer questions but still doesn't talk much besides that.
Monday, I was trying to give instructions for our next lesson.  Someone was talking.  I turned around to let the child talking know that she was being inconsiderate to me and her classmates when I noticed it was Cindy.  I just stared at her.  She was helping Wallace, who had been very confused during our last lesson.  He wasn't ready to move on so she decided to help him.  I never did tell her to be quiet.  I just asked her to move out in the hall with him.  

Sonya, Josey, and Jill - I had my data meetings this week.  This is when we sit with all the special area teachers - reading, math, etc - and discuss who is being serviced and how is it working.  What I was happy to hear was that, the same thing I was seeing in class, was being observed by the special area teachers.  These three girls had gone from children who just moved along, waiting for all the wisdom to just seep into their brains, to girls who took learning seriously.  They have become hard working, caring, enthusiastic, active learners.  And their math and reading scores have improved because of this.  I was thrilled and proud.  RC strikes again!

When I headed off to the professional development session on Thursday, armed with some of these images in my head, I guess I finally got across the idea that spending six weeks at the beginning of the year really does make the rest of the year easier.  And it really works.  

I have been getting messages from the teachers since, - emails, FB messages, phone calls - just to let me know how valuable the PD was and how excited they were to try it all.  And, the biggest compliment of all, one very normally disgruntled teacher told me this was the first time she had been in a worthwhile professional development session.  

Maybe more teachers in my district will adopt RC.  I hope so.  I love watching kids grow in character.  And, in the meantime, I'm heading back to class to help Juan learn more socially acceptable behavior to help him keep his friendships, help Cindy learn some leadership skills along with assertion so she can demonstrate her talents to the whole class, and keep the girls motivated to learn.  I really do love my job!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

EduDay with Google in Guatemala

I am sitting in a hotel room right now in Guatemala just thinking about how I got here and what I learned.  It all started with Emily Roth, of Our Global Friendships.  Emily sent an email to us asking us to send pictures for her 
husband's company, Pixsell.  They were having a conference in Guatemala and wanted to display all these classes around the world.  As an aside in the email she casually mentioned that if any of us were willing, we could go present at the conference, all expenses paid.  I, adventurous person I am, jumped at the opportunity.  

Everything happened so quickly and, before I knew it, I was writing a keynote, my first, and preparing a presentation about connecting with Google drive. Plane reservations arrived, information about pick up at the airport, confirmations about the technology set up, and I was on my way.

What I didn't realize was how amazing and important this conference really was. This is what is says on the Pixsell website: 

"At Pixsell, we seek to improve the world through technological innovations.  We challenge the impossible with our technological expertise and a commitment to deliver constant value to people and organizations."

Sounds very...yeah.  But I spent time with Pixsell these past few days.  Luis Bolanos, Emily's husband, and his partner and founder of the company, Joseph Tanpoco, really believe they can change the world.  They put technology into the hands of educators in countries that have very little.  Guatemala is their fourth country.  

Guatemala is a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people I've ever met.  But 2/3 of the children live below the poverty line.  Children often work instead of going to school.  Here is more:

  • 75%: The illiteracy rate in many rural areas of Guatemala
  • Two-thirds: The proportion of Guatemalan children living in poverty
  • $4 a day: The average daily earnings of a rural, Guatemalan family
  • Nine out of ten: The proportion of schools in rural Guatemala that lack books
  • 60%:  The percentage of entry-level jobs in Guatemala that require computer skills
  • 79%: The percentage of Guatemalan middle- and high-school students who lacked the opportunity to learn to use a computer prior to the arrival of our program
  • One out of ten: The proportion of rural Guatemalans who attend middle school
  • 1.8: The average number of years an indigenous Guatemalan woman stays in school

So when they decided to come to Guatemala, they set up this technology conference, EduDay with Google at Guatemala, to introduce the power of Google to educators and the government. They sent out 200 invitations and 500 people showed up.  Most came with no computers.  Many traveled far to get here.  All were excited, skeptical, and enthusiastic.  This all happened because of Pixsell and one lone Google Certified Teacher with an action plan.  Michelle Urdiales is the first person in all of Central America to be a GCT.  Her little action plan was to bring Google to Guatemala. She and Pixsell pulled off an amazing feat!
So what did I see here?

1. A renewed vigor for the excitement of learning.  The educators I met and spoke with were excited to try all of these great ideas. 

2. A whole new level of PLN.  Michelle, Luis, Joseph, Marybell Rodriguez and Jocelyne Perreard, GCTs from Mexico, Pablo Barrios, the publicity guru behind the whole day, Otto Diaz and Mario Estuardo, part of Pixsell, and David Deeds, ex-pat extraordinaire.  I spent so much time with all of these people and was made to feel very welcome and very much a part of it all.  We will be in touch always.

3. Marvin, our tour guide for climbing the active Pacaya Volcano.  This father of three has such a love for his country and for the volcano that it was hard not to get caught up in it all.

4. Rene, our driver, who stayed with us, helped us, carried bags, translated conversations, found a bank to get Quetzels and went above and beyond anything he was supposed to do.

5. A new appreciation for all I have and all I can reach through technology.  Without my PLN, without Google, without support from my district and my family, none of this would have been possible.  

I admire all the people I met.  They are better people than I, living what I know I cannot, working hard against incredible odds, to make things better for others. I am grateful to have been able to spend a few days in their company and happy that I will connect with them all for a long time to come.