Friday, February 25, 2011

How Long to Plan a Lesson?

I know there is no way to measure the time exactly. But I would like to know how long it takes, on average, for an elementary teacher to plan a single lesson, including setup/prep.

Please leave your time in the comments (along with your grade). If you can't say for one lesson, perhaps you can say how long it takes you to plan for the week, and include how many lessons/subjects you teach. (I know, you could probably do the division, but some don't like to be that absolute. Broadening the scope may make it easier.)

Thanks for entertaining my curiosity.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Field Trip to the 4th Dimension: A chat with a colleague

Our elementary school teachers had the chance to step into The Fourth Dimension yesterday. We used a Skype video call to chat with Pernille Ripp about the changes she made to her classroom this year and her reflections on it thus far. Beyond the content (which was pushing long overdue), it was a great experience for all 16 of us just to connect with a colleague across the country (about half way).

Rather than do the summarizing, I will let my teachers’ responses speak for themselves. I will say this is just a few and I had teachers ready to "throw it all away" today in their classrooms.

I think that Mrs. Ripp was very inspiring in her talk yesterday.  She obviously loves her students and gave us all a lot to think about when it comes to the community that is our classroom.  I will definitely be praying and thinking about implementing some of her ideas into my own classroom in the future.  She was very genuine with us and did not just talk “theories”, she is living what she is telling us about and that made her presentation more genuine.

I appreciated everything that she had to say regarding class management, especially her process on dealing with student situations and the reward/punishment system. As a resource teacher I have trouble gaining students’ respect when the only reason they want to behave is because they want a reward from their other teacher. I loved Mrs. Ripp’s theories and plan on implementing many into my classrooms.

I truly enjoyed hearing what Mrs. Ripp had to share with us.  I too have felt overwhelmed at times in the past 3 yrs when it comes to class management and trying to keep up with every little thing for rewards and consequences.  I do support her thoughts and actions and feel as though this is a GREAT idea to help our students become more “in tune” with their actions and our expectations...  Her concept gives students more of an ownership for their actions and teach them about choices before, during and after any given situation.  Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to look outside our box.

Now, I know Pernille would not like getting all this credit (because she told me so). And to the credit of others, she is not the "inventor" of this type of classroom. But she is doing it, which makes her an expert. She is also the person who our faculty will always remember as the catalyst to change. (She is also the one who they will call in October when they feel totally overwhelmed!)

Students Getting Involved

This year, our 5th grade classes (here and here) began a school supply store. The students created "The Smart Mart" so that they could financially support a missionary (and alumnus of our school) living in Indonesia. These students built this business from the ground up, beginning with a name of the store. The students run every aspect of the store, from sales and profit margin to marketing and purchasing. The students keep inventory and determine when it is time to buy more merchandise.

It is amazing to see them work. We have a few future salesmen at our school. More than anything, it is interdisciplinary teaching at its best. Math, writing, economics, technology (the students developed fliers using Publisher)...and the students argue over whose turn it is to do each job.

Additional Info:
The Smart Mart is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before school. You can read more about the Scherer Family and their ministry in Indonesia. They are currently serving with New Tribes Missions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership: An Example

I was very intrigued when I saw Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Chris L. Atkinson. As a young leader, I am always looking to internalize concepts that can help me develop a as person and administrator. The reason it caught my eyes is because I instantly recognized these practices in the greatest Leader:

1. Model the way – Jesus modeled the life we should live. The best example of this is the words of those who admittedly were against him (of course his friends/followers would say he was perfect). Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced him to death, admitted he couldn’t find anything against Jesus (John 19:4-6). In fact, Pilate’s wife even told him the man was innocent (Matthew 27:19). One of Jesus’ executioners admitted his perfection after all was done (Luke 23:47). Even Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus, tried to undo what he did because he felt guilty for accusing an innocent Jesus (Matthew 27:4). The foundation of the Christian faith rests on the example of perfection set by Jesus.

2. Inspire a shared vision – Jesus did a good deal of teaching through parables. These parables were heard not only by his followers, but by the general public and even those who opposed him. The parables can be found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with a majority in the Gospel of Luke. The purpose of the parables was to provide analogies of the coming Kingdom through the means of nature and other colloquial situations. Many of Jesus’ parables are well known even outside of the Christian church (i.e. The Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, etc.) Parables made up about one-third of all of Jesus’ teachings.

3. Challenge the process – It would be an understatement to say that Jesus challenge the status quo of religion (particularly Judaism). Using words like “hypocrites”, “brood of vipers”, “blind”, and others, he stood strong against individuals and groups who were self-serving and missing the point. Jesus reminded everyone that life is not about a set of rules to follow; it is about relationships (hmm…sound like education at all?). In fact, he summed up everything in two commands: Love God and Love others. This was radical compared to the laws, rules, and expectations in his day.

4. Enable others to act – While Jesus taught many thousands sometimes, his main focus was on 12 men. He spent 3 years preparing these men to become the leaders of the movement that would truly change the world. More than anything else, for those who believe in Him, the Spirit of God actually lives in us and guides and directs us. Is there a better piece of empowerment than God himself living in you?

5. Encourage the heart – Unfortunately the Gospel of Christ is often seen is discouraging and condemning. But to those who experience God, his presence is the greatest encouragement you could have. One of Jesus’ final words was words of comfort as he sent his disciples out to do their job. He concluded The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) with, “I am with you…” That is what they needed to hear. Of course, he proved that later when tongues of fire dropped down on his disciples and they started speaking languages they never before knew how to speak.

I find it encouraging to study and to emulate the methods and practices of Jesus as a leader. Not that doing so gets me into heaven, but he lived to set an example. I might as well follow it…



Photo by meandmybadself [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Truth Project

Our culture is filled with assumptive language. Don't believe me, Google "Assumptive Language" and every link of the first page is about selling something (yes, even the blog post about telling others about Jesus). Few people come right out and tell you what to believe anymore. The media, politics, schools, and even the church commonly attempt to shape people's beliefs in an indirect, subtle, and often insidious manner.

As an educator, one of my primary goals is to prepare students to make decisions about their personal beliefs. As a Christian, my hope is that they believe in the Bible. But beyond that, I see people make decisions every day that are driven by deep-rooted beliefs that they often don't even realize they hold.

The Truth Project -- Teaser Trailer

The Truth Project changed the way I look at the world. It is a systematic approach to understanding the Christian worldview.

Everyone has a worldview whether they know it or not. A worldview is the set of beliefs, both conscious and subconscious, that drive our decision-making and interpretation of the world around us. While many people say they have a specific worldview, all too often the actions don't line up with the stated beliefs.
From the Truth Project website:

In a recent study, the Barna Research Group revealed a stunning statistic that continues to reverberate throughout the evangelical world. Only 9 percent of professing Christians have a biblical worldview.
Because of this, today's [Christian] believers live very similarly to non-believers. A personal sense of significance is rarely experienced, we spend our money and time on things that fail to satisfy and we begin to wonder what life's ultimate purpose really is. We are, in short, losing our bearings as a people and a nation.
 Here are a few links to research done by the Barna Research Group.
1. The Barna Update, "A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person's Life," December 1, 2003.
2. A newer Barna Survey, "Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist" March, 2009.

Whether you are a a Christian or not, you must ask yourself: What has shaped my beliefs? What drives my decisions?  Through what lens do I view the world?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Principal Becomes the Student

I recently read a blog post (which I cannot locate now, anyone know?) about a principal who took up surfing lessons and his reflection of that learning process. In response and honor of his efforts, I chose to give it a try as well.

I should begin by saying that I am a pretty good skier. It has been a while, but I’m the kind of guy that would go a whole weekend without falling regardless of the difficulty of the slope. So it was a huge deal for me to agree to learn how to snowboard. The experience was amazing, though. It has been such a long time since I learned something with little to no background knowledge/experience.

This endeavor took place on our school’s annual ski trip to the WinterPlace Ski Resort. My “schooling” started with a few high schoolers who agreed to take me out and show me the ropes. After about 20 minutes and 50 falls just to get to the ski lift, I decided a formal snowboarding lesson was in order.

The group lesson itself was a spattering of educational concepts (perhaps another post coming about that later), but it provided me with the basics I needed. The objectives of the lesson:
  • Name the parts of the board
  • Attach yourself to the board
  • Move around without taking the board completely off
  • Cross the slope on both my heal and toe edge of the board
  • Stop moving
I accomplished all of these objectives in the span of the lesson. Now on to the practice phase…

While the lesson provided me with about 45 minutes of guided practice, I spent the rest of the day on independent practice. Even with the 90 minute lesson, I felt like I was left to trial and error. Watching other snowboarders was little help because they were moving so much faster than me. Any time I tried to imitate a proficient (or better) snowboarder, I flew wildly out of control, usually bruising the posterior region of my body. So what do you do when you just can’t get it? I found a tutor…

I recruited Lindsey, a 9th grader who seemed well adept at boarding (I mean she owned her own pink board with matching boots, she had to be good). She took me and one other student under her wing. It was amazing to see her teach me with skills that I don’t think she realized she was using. We went down the first slope and she just watched me. As we rode the ski lift back up, she told me what she saw me doing. Then she explained what I should be doing and what I needed to change to make it happen. We repeated this about 4 times. Every time we went down a slope, she was right there encouraging me. I can still hear her saying, “Oh you had that! You didn’t need to fall. Trust yourself, you’re doing it…”

Well my confidence grew and I started picking up some steam. Of course, just as I gained confidence, my bell got rung on a big fall. I swear it was like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where the little guy is circling around his head after getting hit with a frying pan. I was seeing stars…time to take a break…

I spent the next few hours in the ski lodge licking my wounds. I had enough Ibuprofen to open my own pharmacy. What this really did was give my brain some time to sort out and process the experience of the morning. This would have made Kevin Washburn and his “Architecture of Learning” model very proud. I felt refreshed and ready to give it another shot.

The rest of the day was spent in independent practice again. I felt good. I ended the day making it down the longest “intermediate” slope with only 3 falls. Day two was even better. I made it down a beginner slope with no falls. I recorded my “Final Exam” run down the mountain to assess what I had learned over the past two days. Take a watch and see what you think. Remember, I had never touched a snowboard before in my life…


Snowboard Exam


Reflecting back:
Probably the greatest emotion I had during all of this was the urge to quit. I kept asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” The battle in my head kept saying, “You’re a great skier. You would have so much more fun doing what your comfortable doing. Trade in your board for skis and go hit the black diamonds.” In fact, it went through my mind that the students would think I was so much “cooler” if I was good at skiing. I wanted to impress people with what I could do already, not with what I was accomplishing.

I am afraid these thoughts are all too similar to the thoughts of my students. We inundate them with new skills and concepts every day.

  • When it comes down to it and students get frustrated, do they have what it takes to push through?
  • Does every student have a “Lindsey” to come along side them?
  • Do my students insist on sticking with the mastery of less complicated skills in order to look “cool” for their friends (or teacher, or parents)?
  • Am I creating a school environment where students want to learn the "hard stuff" and are willing to do what it takes?
  • What do you do to get your students from skiing to snowboarding?

Photo Attribution:
Romain Vignes, “Super G” Mar 13, 2009 Creative Commons Attribution.