Assasination Obsession: MLK was more than a martyr, much more

With schools attempting to be as safe as possible, field trips are being conducted via Zoom meetings. My students, The Polite Pirates, experienced one of these the other day.

We had the opportunity to hear a gentleman from a local historical society narrate a slideshow about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This person made MLK come to life by sharing many details about his childhood and behind-the-scenes facts from the Civil Rights Movement. I had my students taking notes, while listening. 

Part of taking notes was writing down questions. In the end, while the Zoom was still muted, I told my students to choose one open-ended question that they wished to ask the expert. They were to circle it on their papers. I walked around and looked at the questions. A few had already been answered within the presentation. Perhaps the student missed the answer and wanted clarification. Several had to do with MLK’s death.

I chose the two questions that I thought would further the understanding of what kind of person MLK had been. They were both able to ask their questions.

A girl from my class asked, “What types of texts did MLK like to read?” I loved this question because it focused on what I want my students to develop: A love of reading. Also, it focuses on MLK becoming who he was through reading. 

The other question made my heart stop when I read it: “Why did MLK like to write?” I couldn’t wait for the expert to persuade my students that writing is a powerful tool that could move mountains. 

Both of my students’ questions were asked and the answers were wonderful. What struck me was how many students focused on MLK’s death. They wanted to know who killed him, how old was he when he died, where did he die, what was the date, could you stay at the hotel where MLK was assassinated???? The person from the historical society, when asked one of these, did a good job honoring the questions that were asked, while bringing focus and attention back to MLK’s life and accomplishments. 

I’ve been thinking about this idea of “Assassination Obsession” ever since the Zoom virtual field trip a few days ago. Some thoughts have risen to the surface. First of all, there is the never-ending news of mass shootings and gun violence in our media. I wonder how much mental space this consumes in our youth. Then, there are the video games: “Among Us” and “Fortnite” are the two biggest ones I hear about on a daily basis. 

I have to confess that I haven’t played either of these games. From what I understand, “Among Us” is all about solving a murder mystery. This seems pretty classic. It appears to model the classic game of Clue. The thing is I played Clue when I was young. It was one of many board (bored) games that I enjoyed. I definitely did not talk about it with my friends, and there was no way we planned to join up at one another’s houses (today it would be Zooms and group realtime games online) to play it. 

I am not one to preach against video games or poo poo all violent games or movies, but this experience of witnessing how consuming the topic of assassination was has caused me to wonder what could be done to help students grow healthy perspectives and thoughts. First of all, teachers could redirect thinking the way the expert during my class’s virtual field trip did. “Yes, MLK was assassinated, but that was a tragic, horrible end to an amazing life. Let’s explore and learn about the magnificent things MLK accomplished and inspired, instead of focusing on who or what ended it.”

What ideas do you have? Have you witnessed this obsession, also? What have you done, if anything, to combat the “Assassination Obsession”? Pointers?

Intro to Persuasive Writing

Commercials Have Gone Undercover

I recently read an article from The Atlantic about a change in the way companies market to kids. When I was growing up, a hundred years ago, kids watched cartoons on TV. Every few minutes there would be an interruption in the program. This break from the animated story I’d been watching was filled with videos showing toys, food, and places that kids simply HAD to buy, eat, and visit! These videos are called commercials.

Commercials were made by companies that wanted to sell something. They were designed to convince kids that it was worth spending money on what they had to offer. How did they do this? 

When I was around 12 years old, I bought a Pogoball. I used money that I had earned on my own, delivering newspapers, to buy this toy. Even over 30 years after this experience, I can still remember the feeling of I have to get one of those Pogoballs! I don’t think anyone would have been able to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. I learned a valuable lesson the day I handed my hard-earned cash over to purchase this person-propelling bounce toy: “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”

I got the Pogoball toy home and used an air pump to blow up the ball that fitted inside a hard plastic ring. I stepped on the ring, squeezing the top of the ball with my feet. I leaned forward and jumped… The Pogoball stayed tucked between my feet. I landed, the bottom of the Pogoball squishing on my driveway, and the air pressure within the flexible plastic pushed me up… A precious-little-bit. 

It worked! 

Somewhat. 

I was successfully bouncing, jumping, and… NOT having fun. Rather than propelling me into the air, the toy just squished and pushed. In order to get into the air, I had to jump up. The higher I jumped, the more the Pogoball squished, but it never pushed enough to be considered helpful. After a disappointing afternoon of trying many experiments on various surfaces, jumping styles, and tricks, I placed the Pogoball in the garage, never to be touched again. The money I spent on that toy was gone and hadn’t bought me anything beyond the lesson, don’t be fooled by jingles, acting, and repetition. 

Jingles are catchy short songs that stick in your head. Commercials in the olden days depended on these to mesmerize people. You’d find yourself humming a jingle when riding your bike. You might mention this to a friend, and then the both of you would sing the song together, laughing at how corny it sounded. Later that same day, the both of you would be munching on whatever that jingle was advertising! It is like you were hypnotized into spending money on that product.

One of the reasons jingles get stuck in your head is that you hear them so often. Companies make sure that kids see and hear commercials many times. I remember complaining about seeing the same commercial every single commercial break when I was a kid, only to then go out and buy the very thing advertised in that annoying announcement! Did I spend money on the product in hopes to stop the commercials? If so, it didn’t work!

Commercials from long ago were recorded in studios with elaborate sets, lights, and high-paid actors. These short videos cost companies tons of money to make. But, the price was an investment, because the better the commercial, the more influential the message, the more products would be sold. In other words, although a company would spend a lot to make a commercial, if it were good enough, the business would reep a lot of sales that would produce a great deal of revenue or profit. 

The actors who were featured in the Pogoball commercial had me completely fooled. When I saw the smiles on their faces and all of the many places Pogoballs could be used, I thought that this must be an amazing toy with limitless possibilities for fun. This was a lie. Once I got the Pogoball home and working, I saw that it was actually boring. The actors were paid to pretend that using a Pogoball was mind-blowing fun. 

Nowadays, many families have quit cable. Kids don’t have to look at the clock to see when their favorite shows are on. They can login to Amazon, Disney Plus, and Youtube to watch their shows whenever they want. No more commercials… Right? Sort of. 

According to the article, “Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced By Something More Nefarious (sneaky, evil, criminal),” the persuasive marketing to children has morphed from a jingle-ridden, actor-driven, hypnosis-inducing commercial aired during breaks in a child’s program, to the program itself (Fetters, 2020). Companies that sell stuffed animals stopped making commercials and began making whole shows. When I read this, I remembered the tons of PJ Mask toys my wife and I bought for our daughter. Scarlet didn’t see one commercial for these toys. 

The article mentions one other way that kids are targeted by companies: YouTubers. How many kids nowadays say that they want to be a YouTuber when they grow up? What is this? Who is a YouTuber? One of many answers is that a YouTuber is someone who makes videos that are published on YouTube for profit. The important idea here is that the people videotaping themselves opening toys and products in their bedrooms and homes are getting paid. They are not “high-paid” celebrity actors, like in olden days, but they are actors, nonetheless. They have an incentive to persuade you to buy the product that they are pushing. 

In other words, companies are convincing regular, everyday consumers to act like they are providing an honest review of a product. These Youtubers seem like they are truthfully sharing what they have personally experienced, but they don’t tell the viewer that they were paid to do this. It is a sneaky way to make commercials; Make them seem like they are not commercials at all… No more jingles, No big-name actors, No fancy sets or elaborate narratives… Just regular Joes sharing their honest opinion, right?

Don’t be fooled! Trust the advice, opinions, and stories of people you know over watching a YouTube video. Go ahead and watch your favorite shows on your convenient streaming apps, but know that these are working at getting you to buy stuffed animals, toys, apparel, and more. Commercials used to be convincing. They worked at persuading a specific audience to spend money. Today’s marketing is more covert than compelling. 

One of the many cartoons that I enjoyed watching when I was a kid was “G.I. Joe.” (I’m sure that this show was geared towards helping sell the action figures by the same name… I had spent lots of money on those!) At the end of every episode there was a little lesson, teaching smart behavior to kids. After the moral was explained, a catch phrase was used: “Knowing is half the battle.” 

“Knowing is half the battle.”

While the new ways businesses market to people may not be criminal, it is good to at least know what is going on. Then you can make wise decisions with your funds. A show is not just a show if it is trying to get you to buy stuff. And, now that you know that, half the battle is won; The battle for your bank account. Good luck. 

Fetters, A. (2020, February 2). Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced by Something More Nefarious. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/02/how-toys-are-marketed-kids-without-cable-tv/605920/ 

Please Cheat

Something amazing happened the other day in my classroom. During our class’s online morning meeting two girls excitedly shared that they had worked on a quiz together during a Zoom meeting the previous day. Not only was I “Okay with that,” I enthusiastically celebrated–not their supposed “confession,” as you may imagine it to be–but, their tremendous success! 

I teach a hybrid third grade class of 22 kids in suburban Pennsylvania. In addition to having my students only half of the time, my district shortened our school days, so I have one less hour than I normally would. This has pros and cons. One difficulty to manage is administering assessments. I only see these kids 12 hours a week! It doesn’t make sense to sit them all down and have them bubble in answers on a test during diamond-valuable instructional time!

 So, I have been providing Google forms that contain comprehension questions on days that my students are not physically with me. These forms accompany texts that students read outside of school. I have struggled with what to call these questionnaires. With students taking them in who-knows-what setting with who-knows-how-much help, they aren’t true assessments.

Because I want my students to complete them, I’ve been tempted to call them “quizzes.” And, I confess that term may have left my lips once or twice. 

My favorite title for these text-accompaniments is “teaching tool.” Although this is exactly how I view them, the title has far less pizzaz than “Test.” What I most commonly do is use several different terms in reference to the same assignment. I will call a Google form a quiz, but then explain that it isn’t really a quiz. It is more like an assessment. Then I suggest that I want them to go back and read the feedback that I built into the form, because more than this testing you, it is a “teaching tool.” Does all of this sound confusing? It doesn’t seem to discombobulate my pupils. 

I’d like to write more and provide examples of how I put together and use these Google forms, but this blog is about students supposedly cheating!

…And, how I encourage it!

This past week, I cleared a couple of mental hurdles that I want to share with educators. The first occurred Wednesday, when a student showed me his use of Safari while taking a quiz on vocabulary words. He interrupted a guided reading lesson to show me how he had used split-screen to look up each vocabulary word, as he evaluated them to find which would best fill the blank in a sentence. 

I had to make a split-second decision. 

Do I point out that he ought to have worked harder to learn the meanings and uses of the vocabulary words the day before, so that he would not need Safari? Should I suggest that he didn’t do anything wrong, but ask that he not do that in the future? Can I just tell him to, “Stop interrupting me and my guided reading session,” to buy time and think about the most appropriate answer? Perhaps I should pretend I didn’t hear this news and sweep the idea under the cognitive carpet: “Where were we, students?” 

This is what I did: I stood up and told that student to screen-mirror his device through our classroom Apple TV. The student’s split-screen iPad filled the screen on the wall, so every pupil could view the potential misdemeanor. I then praised the student for this ingenious way of researching answers. I pointed out that vocabulary is a wonderful tool, but when used wrongly, it can wield unfortunate results. “You definitely want to know what you are saying. I love that this student made sure that he got each word just right, when filling the blanks in these sentences!”

I suggested that everyone open the slideshow, containing the definitions of these particular vocabulary words, and have that available in split-screen mode, along with the Google form. Many words are homonyms, and it would be helpful to have the definitions that I provided to accompany your decision-making for filling blanks in sentences. 

Mouths involuntarily fell open. Sighs could be heard. 

I also showed the class how they could simply press and hold down a word in their Google form and a menu containing “Lookup,” among other things, would appear. This would enable them to double-check the meaning of a word, while taking a quiz.

“Wait, hold on here,” you may be thinking. “Weren’t you assessing students’ knowledge of those vocabulary words that kids are now looking up???” 

“Why are you quoting yourself within your own blog?” Mr. Weimann asks himself. “These are not normal times,” he explains. “Stop pretending they are!”

“Yup,” is my answer. “And as long as I am speaking to you within this silly blog, I will explain that we, educators, MUST break out of traditional thinking!!!”

I am speaking as much to myself as anyone else. What I am sharing here are surprising realizations. They are not masterfully planned and researched pedagogies. I am sharing an idea… And, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. 

As revolutionary as this seemed to me at the time and now, my students sort of shrugged the suggestion off. Some will use the split-screen to make sure that they choose the very best word to fill in blanks, and others will just guess at which ones are “right.” There will always be students who want to succeed, some who want to finish so they can bother me with, “I’m done; What do I do now?” There will be kids who need to get assignments completed as perfectly as humanly possible, and others who only care about what is for lunch or “How long ‘til recess?” 

Allowing students to use the tools that they already found and craftily accessed to complete my “teaching-tool-quiz” validated that first kid’s genius and points to the development of 21st century skills. I almost titled this blog, “Another Brick in the Wall,” referencing one of my favorite songs and diatrib-ing against traditional assessment.

I know teachers who are trying to figure out ways to administer the same paper tests that are years-old to students who are wearing masks, sanitizing their hands every ten minutes, sitting 6 feet from one another in a half-full room, and have been teaching themselves through self-guided, unmonitored learning sessions at daycare centers, in bedrooms, at doctor’s offices, etc. This is not traditional. Stop trying to be traditional. Stop attempting to forge “bricks of kids” for a wall that should never be built. Factories are not the future. 

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. I still have the story of two girls sharing all of their answers over a Zoom call to discuss.  

It was the same exact quiz that my in-class student had used split-screen to complete. This was a longer questionnaire, with 24 questions. In all transparency, and what makes this whole story more meaningful, I had actually planned to use the results of this Google form to measure how my students were doing. So, it was honestly a shock when two of my students excitedly shared that they had figured out a way to use split-screen to participate in a Zoom call, while simultaneously filling in answers on a quiz. 

I laughed when they told me. They were so innocent. Again, do I reprimand them? Do I deflect attention from this seeming “abuse of technology?” Should I tell them that I won’t count their “scores?” 

Educators, how sad are you that our students cannot “pair-share” in the classroom? My heart breaks that I cannot partner kids up to help one another and work together! 

These two girls found a way around COVID-19. They snuck under the pandemic wire to escape the confines of their isolation. 

Did I get an accurate measure of their ability to answer questions correctly on their own? 

I cannot even put to text the negative answer to that question. My mind makes the cognitive noise of wagging a metaphorical mental tongue, pedagogical spit flying everywhere. WHO CARES? 

Sure, I want to have data to see how well my kiddos are reading and understanding… but, why? What is that data good for? I would like to know what my students need to grow. Don’t they need to socialize, learn how to work together, figure out ways to problem solve??? 

Let me stop here. I love the fact that my students cheated on their quiz. I’m thrilled that they told me. I rejoice that they found each other. They were not friends before this year, and now they are Zooming. I am ecstatic about the possibility of my students communicating with each other about academics. 

I know I said I would stop, but let me leave you with one more thought: Do NOT force yourselves or your students into regimented, controlling, synchronous instructional sessions at the peril of this kind of organic, collaborative learning opportunity. Don’t do it. Say “no” to building bricks out of kids who ought to be astronauts.

Straight Answers Close Doors

#Bowties EVERY Tuesday!

I’m a bit of a jokester. There are different kinds of jokesters. I’m not the type to play pranks or make up silly stories. My style is to never give a straight answer. My coworkers will tell you that they usually adopt the opposite of whatever I tell them when it comes to deciphering the truth on a matter. Everything I say is met with sighs… That kind of jokester.

Can you just be straight with us?!

In the classroom, I am even worse! Right before I’m able to provide some hokey response, my students complain when one of their peers dare ask me a simple question. They know I will use that inquiry as a tool to teach an entire, off the cuff, mini lesson that will share a ton of valuable, real-world-information, and they will eventually love, but might take time away from whatever task is at hand.

I teach third grade, which finds student-development at pre-abstract-thinking. This doesn’t stop me from throwing curveball answers at every swinging student. Life isn’t straight. Why pretend its answers will be? Look at this pandemic. Look at politics. Look at pedagogy. Everything is swaying and swerving and swinging.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over. This is why I encourage my students to ask open-ended questions. Even when these are “answered,” there is a whole adventure of learning just beyond the horizon of the information provided. Rather than the answer closing a door, it shows you an orchard where, not only can you eat the fruit of that information, but you have a treasure trove of other interesting facts at your disposal.

This morning I noticed a classy comment in the Google classroom. A combination of my having just downed some super strong coffee and my being a jokester caused me to provide a pretty productive answer.

The question had to do with the recent requirement of reading at least 20 minutes per day. My school is operating, like many during the pandemic, in hybrid mode. This means that I don’t get to see my Polite Pirates (students) nearly as much as I would like! Now, they are going to have to deal with my jokester answers in text form! Ha!!

This student wanted to know if I was requiring any kind of proof of her reading. What will she need to “do” while she reads? What tangible things will she produce as a result of having read some text?

My answer: If you do it correctly, you will grow as a reader… As a person… As a citizen… As a Polite Pirate… As a student of life…

Lest you think I left my poor pupil hanging with nothing but a ranting reply, I’ll settle your soul with the fact that in the end, I finally gave the class a clear explanation of expectations.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over.

Combat Prejudice by Turning Your Mind into an Entire Judicial System

Have you ever seen someone who you thought wouldn’t be nice, but once you got to know them, you were pleasantly surprised? Have you experienced the feeling of regret after realizing you’d wasted time keeping your distance from someone, only to find out they are the most friendly, helpful person you’d ever met? And, now that you got to know them, you wish you had that time back. 

To pre-judge is human. It can be useful to observe information and categorize people as friendly, helpful, hardworking, and also unkind, lying, and dangerous. This notion of placing a person into a closed category can be problematic. What if the person who looks scary is actually both friendly and knowledgeable? 

Before pre-judging, consult the jury.

There are few things more classy than having an open mind. Observe the behaviors of others, judging whether their actions are friendly, intelligent, and/or wise. Before you completely write them off, however, do this: Turn your brain into a courtroom. 

This is the case in Chapter 2 of my story, “The Polite Pirates.” The survivors of the massive storm (See Chapter One) did not feel comfortable being stuck on an island with pirates. The leader of the pirates was not only frightening looking, but also appeared to be lazy and bossy. All he did was command his few remaining friends to do things for him! Was he bossing them or instructing them, though? 

What does this mean? When you are judging someone’s behavior, introduce some additional thought-characters; principally, lawyers and a jury. Lawyers use the Law to forge arguments, proving and disproving cases. They interpret laws, using them as tools. A judge is like a referee. What do the jurors do? Jurors are like the audience at a baseball game. If players cheated, and a biased umpire favored the cheaters, the spectators would boo the wrong-doers right out of the stadium. Another outcome, if there was persistent cheating, could be growing disinterest and lack of support for the sport. 

Jurors are common people from the populace who are purposefully un-versed in the language of complex laws (Horan, 2019). They force judges and lawyers to frame complicated ideas into simple, easy to understand concepts for everyday people to grasp. 

Apply this to what you do in your head when you are judging someone. Do not trust your base instincts. Do not assume all you preserve is the whole story. How much backstory are you missing from an action you are witnessing? Try not to project your own attitudes and experiences onto other people. They didn’t grow up the way you did, where you did, with what you had! 

Source:

Horan, J. (2019, March 6). All about juries: Why do we actually need them and can they get it ‘wrong’? Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/all-about-juries-why-do-we-actually-need-them-and-can-they-get-it-wrong-112703

Chapter 1: “The Island”

With Coronavirus keeping everyone at least 6 feet apart, how can we foster a sense of camaraderie?
I was tempted to scrap my usual “Polite Pirate” theme this year, in favor of doing something with “scuba diving.” While I still plan to incorporate this unique concept of underwater exploration & adventure, I decided to keep my original theme, as well.
This blog provides the first chapter of my classroom story. I shared it yesterday with my new students.
While we are all wearing masks, and we must keep our distance, the massive storm that disrupted the characters of our tale is more obviously symbolic of the pandemic pulling pupils out of school than any concept previously dreamed up!
Now, even more than before, we need to find ways to creatively connect with kids. Plugging students into pedagogy will be extra difficult with all of the flip flopping and seemingly impersonal screen work. How will you tie your students to your teaching?

The Captain of Class

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 7.05.40 AM Students wrote comments, connecting to the text, via Google Docs

One of the most important things to establish at the beginning of a school year is comradery among pupils. Several years ago I came up with a story idea that focused on this concept. It introduces my classroom theme of #ThePolitePirates as well as giving us a shared purpose.

The story has grown over the years, as I come up with more themes and invest more time into it. I usually share it with my students in a Google Doc through Google Classroom, so each kid has his/her own copy to practice connecting with the text via leaving comments. This year, for the first time, I plan to publish the chapters in this blog, so anyone can read the story and leave comments.

Feel free to “pirate” my tale. Change and tailor the idea to fit your classroom. I usually…

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Getting to Class; Turn Day One Jitters into Day Won Class

I wrote this two years ago.

For years I have captained a classroom of polite pirates. The theme has involved turning pedagogy into an adventure. Learning content and skills was a treasure hunt for my students. Preparing for the first day of school, when I would meet my new crew was always exciting.

With a global pandemic promising to punish positive thinking, I have been pondering a new theme for this year. I will be teaching a team of “Cave Divers.” Not only will we be learning all about scuba diving, but the class will prepare to go where no one has gone before.

This year, my goal for the first day, week, etc is one word: “Safety.”

I look forward to blogging about the use of this theme of cave diving. Have you had to change your theme to fit the “unprecedented situation” school is facing this year? How have you changed your teaching to meet the safety concerns?

The Captain of Class

It’s August. Back to school sales are raging. Letters are arriving that tell students who their teachers will be this fall. Nervous energy is buzzing through bodies… Not just students’. Teachers worry about the first day of school, also.

IMG_9065 August First, 2018 — This is what I saw when I pulled up to my building.

Here are a couple classy ways that I deal with the start of school jitters:

  1. I have a goalONE goal for the first day. I’ll accomplish more than the one thing, but I measure my success based on this one thing. It isn’t the same every year. Sometimes it is learning everyone’s name. Other years, all I wanted was to get everyone back home safely. Nowadays, my goal usually centers on classroom management. I like  the momentum to begin in my favor, so I establish myself as captain. The class is my crew…

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A Couple Positive Thoughts on Remote Teaching

Today I am returning to school, but unlike any other year. Teachers are entering the physical buildings in my school district in order to prepare classrooms to meet social distancing guidelines: Students are to sit 6 feet apart and face the same direction, among other things. It feels a little like preparing the classroom for the PSSAs, Pennsylvania’s standardized testing scenario. 

I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that every teacher in the world could use some positive thoughts, right now!

Here’s a couple, and I want to hear from educators that have others to share. Let’s see if we can bolster our mental health through optimism. 

Thank you so much for my book, Barbara!

On Friday I was able to hang out with one of my favorite people, Barbara Bray. She is an author, blogger, edu-chat host, and technology innovator, among other things. I have followed Barbara on Twitter for a couple of years now, and I have been very impressed with the topics and hosts that she presents through #Rethink_Learning. 

A few weeks ago, Barbara contacted me about guest hosting a chat. In addition to complimenting me on my recent efforts trying to help people feel comfortable talking about race on Twitter, Barbara shared some of the exciting things that she has been up to. It was Barbara who used the phrase “Pushing the Envelope” first, when she described her attitude about self-growth. I loved it and immediately began researching its etymology. 

We used the saying “Pushing the Envelope” in our questions for the chat that I hosted. Through comments, replies, and shares, Barbara made it appear as though I were the one to come up with the theme of the chat. I mention all of this because it illustrates the classiness of this edu leader. Not only allowing someone else to take credit, but going so far as to promote the idea of another’s credit-worthiness is really above and beyond classy!

Fine and good, but what does all of this have to do with “Remote Teaching”? you ask.

Here’s the thing: Barbara Bray lives in California. I live on the other side of the country, in Pennsylvania. When we “got together” on Friday, it was through Zoom. We had wanted to chat about a blog I’d written recently. As we shared our introductions, a recurring theme was how helpful social distancing has been in the way of connecting people who wouldn’t have “gotten together.”

True, we were not in the same room. But, seeing each other’s facial expressions, witnessing body language, and connecting all of this with a voice, helped breath life into a relationship of text. When we ended our meeting, Barbara was more than a “contact” or collaborative partner. Having shared an experience, we found ourselves forging a friendship. 

This would not have happened, had we never video-conferenced. 

Perhaps your mind is telling you that you would have forged deep and meaningful relationships just fine, if you were face to face with your students in the classroom. While I won’t argue you on that, I will propose using video-conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meeting, Skype, etc. can empower you to begin and build relationships in ways you wouldn’t have. Not only that, but if you think about it, do you honestly communicate with your students equally when you are teaching face to face? Or, do you rely on your class benefitting from the back and forth you practice with the same outspoken students day in and day out?

By being forced to use text more and rely on video-conferencing, teachers can more easily document the discussion equity of all students. While in the physical classroom I would tolerate some students monopolizing whole group conversation, a grid of kids on a computer screen makes this more evident and therefore easier to moderate. 

What benefits or positive thoughts can you come up with as you prepare to begin varied levels of remote teaching? Are there any aspects that you look forward to?

Silence Is Not Classy: First in a Series of Blogs About Race

I feel a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to pen a blog about the race-related upheaval around the United States. The essays I’ve begun are too grow too long and are never good enough for me to post.

Today, I have decided that continuing in silence would be more negative than releasing a text that may not be A+. That idea got me thinking.

Silence condones. 

I tell my third grade students that “Quiet is classy” all year long. Quiet is peaceful. Quiet is controlled. In order to communicate quietly, you must be clear and concise. 

Silence is a lack of communication. The Silent Treatment can be the most torturous punishment. 

Something inappropriate happens. You witness it. You are there; Within proximity, so that you could say something. If you were silent, you said nothing. You allowed it to happen, unchecked. Your silence communicates acceptance. Perhaps you made a face. That nonverbal communication isn’t silent, but won’t be seen by people behind you, people who hear about the story later. 

A quiet person may not want to make a scene. Not every personality is comfortable with being highly visible, and even the slightest sound can be fingernails on a chalkboard in a silent situation. I am picturing the hesitant, shy kid witnessing others misbehave. A cough. The audible shuffling of feet. Nervous laugh. Wrinkling of clothes. Sounds that communicate you are not okay with this can break the silence. These could be a warm up to actually speaking, too. Perhaps the clearing of the throat will loosen the tongue. 

This blog is my throat clearing. I have many things to say. I will start with this one: Silence is not classy.

Ages ago, a Black friend from Twitter posed a question that got me thinking. He asked, “How many people ignore race outside of Black History Month?” Since this seed was planted in my mind, I have made it a point to speak to race all year long. I now use Black History Month to champion the heroes of the Civil Rights and Abolition eras. February is when I will teach biography as a literary genre. 

To ignore race is to make our students ignorant. It’s time to make some noise, even if you are quiet about it.

If you have any ideas about how students or quiet people can voice support for #BlackLivesMatter I’d love to hear from you. Let’s empower one another to speak up with the message, “We are NOT okay with this.” 
Oh, one more thing: If ever you are looking for a definition of “evil,” look no farther than the people who attempt to silence others.

Honesty is an Attitude

Is it always classy to tell the truth? Is keeping the truth from someone the same thing as lying? Can you honestly omit vital information? The word integrity comes to mind, but sometimes there is more to the story than the black- and white-ness of true versus false. There is nuance. To think that one must say the 100% truth at all times is simple-minded. Don’t think that I am advocating for deception; by no means. I’m suggesting that a classy person looks for the best possible outcome; What will help others the most?

We have all heard or read the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” A ruler is duped into parading around town with nothing on because he is too proud to admit that someone could possibly lie to him. The court cowards at the thought of telling him the ugly truth. Finally, an innocent child bursts the bubble, and the crowd spills the beans.

The May/June 2020 issue of Storyworks Junior presents this age old story by Hans Christian Anderson, retold by Spencer Kayden in the form of a play. I assigned this reading, along with the questions that Storyworks Junior provided, recently. As I was looking over my students fabulous answers and leaving comments, a revolution of thought hit me.

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 6.48.32 AMIn this version there is a character named “Royal Aide” who, unlike the other members of court, wants the emperor to be successful. He fears the emperor’s exuberant love of looks, but he keeps this to himself… at least at first.

Through out the play this character shares the honest truth, but is rejected. In this super short, kid-friendly-version (the emperor still has his underwear on) of the age-old story the Emperor rewards the Royal Aide for having been the only person to tell him the truth.

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 6.57.20 AMOne of the questions that Storyworks Junior posed for engaging students when reading this play was, “What message is the author trying to communicate?” Some students simply quoted the text, and told me “It is better to be hated and honest than loved through lies.”

More than being annoyed that my students would copy the text for their answers, it bothered me how simple this seemed. Is lying always wrong? As an educator I am constantly telling students that I am pleased with their “hard work,” even though I am certain that they didn’t work “all that hard” on an assignment. Am I telling a fib? I certainly am! I justify this by telling myself that I am projecting. I’m trying to get them to want to do “hard work.” Does that make my false praise okay?

There are many lessons to be learned from this story, though. Here is one that places honesty on its head: Do not believe everyone is completely honest with you. The Emperor was annoyed when the Royal Aide shared his distrust of the crafty tailors. The Aide was honest with himself before being truthful with the Emperor. He accurately assessed the trickery the tailors were up to.

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This is when I realized, “Wait, there are many lessons, here!”

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 6.30.21 AMThere is a place early on in the play when the Royal Aide was honest with the emperor, but it didn’t pan out well. The palace guard told the aide that two tailors were here to show the emperor clothing that only intelligent people could see. What does the Royal Aide do with this nonsensical information? He shares it with his boss, who he knows to be weak in the area of resisting luxurious fashion!

It was his honesty that got his boss into all of the trouble in the first place. Your with someone who cannot resist candy. They know it isn’t good for them, but they have no self-control. It has gotten to the point where this person actually asked you to help him to avoid candy, so that he will not be tempted. A salesman knocks on the door, selling candy. Do you say, “Hold on,” while you go get your friend who cannot resist buying every item the candyman is selling? Do you send the salesperson away, but tell your friend about the incident? Or, do you keep the interaction to yourself; Perhaps you even lie to your friend, in order to shield him from the pain of his cravings?

In other words, honesty was a horrible choice for the Royal Aide to display in this drama! Even if he didn’t foresee the outcome of his actions, he ought to have protected the Emperor from himself.

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This is the crux of this blog: It’s all about ATTITUDE or motives.

In conclusion, the classiest action is hard to find. One must look deeply into a situation, explore all of the various potential outcomes, and choose what would be best. Also, one must decide “Best for whom?” Are you just looking out for Numero Uno;. yourself; or are you helping others first. On the flip side, will you hurt others in the long run if you are not available to help them due to allowing yourself to fall into disarray? Perhaps it is best to take care of yourself, then others. At what point do you flip the switch, though? It’s tricky.

deep-well-with-green-vinesThe well of understanding is deep. Drink its classy waters. Honestly assess the best outcome for all involved. Good luck!

How do you decide when to switch over from taking care of yourself to helping others?