Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why It's Important to Share Heartbreak

I don't even recall what the student said. It was an off-hand, joking comment about my weekend. And that's when I started to feel the tears well up. "It was a bit difficult, actually."

A few students noticed, crossed the room, and asked gently, "Are you okay?" I answered honestly.

"Not really."

About a year and a half ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer, but after a difficult surgery and six months of chemotherapy, he recovered. Unfortunately, this past weekend, we learned that he again had cancer. A different type of cancer. But cancer.

I shared this with my students. And what followed was heartbreaking. Cancer has touched the lives of nearly every one of my students.  I have a number of students who have lost uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins to cancer.  The student who left my first period class in tears this morning revealed that her aunt was in surgery this morning to remove a tumor and that family had texted her during class to update her on the progress. A couple of my students have lost parents to cancer. A father lost to lung cancer five years ago. Another student learned this weekend that her mother's cancer has grown. Doctors discovered a tumor on her lung and two more growing on her brain.

It is a club that none of us want to belong to: the Those-Touched-By-Cancer club.

What I discovered today was just how large our club really is. As students in the room caught snippets of what began as a small group discussion, they drifted into our conversation circle, sharing with us their heartbreak. Before long, many in the room were sharing their stories.  At one point, we started to wonder how it was that so many of us, nearly all of us in fact, had so many personal connections to cancer.  "When I was younger, I don't think I understood what it was. Maybe it has always been like this, but we're just starting to realize what it means to have cancer," volunteered one of my tenth graders.

"My family just wouldn't talk about it. I don't think they thought I could handle it. They thought they were protecting me. But not knowing just made it worse."

"Maybe it's always been like this, but we've gotten better at identifying cancer. Maybe the tests have gotten better."

That's when a student made a connection to something we are working on in class. "I wish I did something about cancer for my IonPassion project. That's what breaks my heart. Cancer. That's what I want to fix."

And that's when I could respond, "You can."

This is how meaningful, purposeful, heartbreakingly important works comes from the classroom.  We have to share what touches us, what breaks our heart. Both teachers and students need spaces to share without fear. This is where innovation comes from.  We need classrooms where students have flexibility to share, to find the work that is meaningful both to them personally but also to our local and global communities.

So, now I have students who are rethinking their inquiry projects. I have students who want to do something about cancer. They are not sure what they will research, but you can bet that I'm going to share Jack Andraka's work. Before his 16th birthday, Jack developed a more cost-effective and accurate test for pancreatic cancer. And I know that even before they begin their inquiry work, my students are embarking on learning journey that will certainly bring our community closer. This is learning that touches lives in hopes of changing them. This is what can happen when we share.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lasts and Firsts

This coming Friday will be my seniors last day submitting articles to our online school newspaper, last day of standing up to present speeches in our public speaking class. It will be the last time they spin that combination to change out one textbook for another, last time rushing from class to bathroom to class again all in under five minutes time. Some of these rituals they will miss. Other routines they will wonder how they managed once they have a few weeks or months perspective on their high school experience. But in addition to the list of lasts, this past year has also been filled with quite a few firsts, for both my students and for me.

This was my first year teaching in Michigan. When I started back in September, there were some challenges that I anticipated and some I never saw coming, much like my soon-to-be-graduating seniors. I knew that this year would be markedly different from my previous 13 years of teaching just outside the Philadelphia area. Up until this year, I taught on a four-by-four block schedule with a maximum of 30 students in my classroom. Yes, sometimes 31 or 32 would sneak in, but for the most part, I worked with between 75 - 85 students each semester, approximately 160 each year.

This year, I had 137 students first semester, and 131 in my second semester classes. Some of those 268 students I had throughout the entire year, but not all. This has certainly been the largest number of students I have been responsible for in my entire teaching career. And in addition to getting to know more students, I also learned new standards, new state testing procedures, and new curriculum. I taught classes this year that were all new to me. Although I taught a public speaking class about ten years ago, it was nothing like the class I had this past semester. And the tenth grade class I had taught my previous 13 years was focused on world literature. This was my first year teaching tenth grade students American literature. All new content, all new school. New routines, new systems, new faces. I felt like a first year teacher all over again. There were more times that I can count that I ended up crying in my classroom, crying in the car, crying on the shoulder of husband, feeling overwhelmed. How do I both plan and grade? How can I effectively individualize lessons for this many learners? How can I provide timely feedback on this much writing?

Then I would catch myself in conversations with students. In the past few months, I have had students miss significant school due to in-patient hospitalizations, homelessness, and parent illness. I have multiple students sitting in my rows who have lost parents and lost loved ones to cancer, to divorce, to accidents, to addictions. I have students who feel bullied and lost and alone. They, too, are overwhelmed. And here's what strikes me: I know these things.

I may have more students than I have ever had in my entire career this year, but I also know more students this year. Really know them. The district that I landed in is one that focuses on intervening not just on the academic level, but on the personal level. Each month we meet as an entire staff, the students have a half day of school, and the teachers talk about students. We look at specific students. Why is this student failing my class and not yours? What have you tried that is working? Which students are falling under the radar? Why? Why did this students miss seven days of class in the last month? What's going on at home? We do this each and every month. We connect around the individuals sitting in our classrooms. This is a first for me.

As Angela Maiers wrote not all that long ago, "If you don’t first secure students’ hearts, you don’t have a shot at their brains." The teachers I work with this year care about more than data. During my first year in this district, I have witnessed so many students meet the challenges they are facing head on, both academically and personally. I have witnessed resilience and kindness, empathy and grit. As a first year teacher in this district, students didn't know what to expect from me and neither did I. But I would put forth a challenge, ask them to try a new way of doing something, and students met those challenges and exceeded expectations. In the process, we got to know one another. We grew as a community of learners. And they were not the only ones growing. I had challenging days, challenging weeks. My students would push me. They provided support as well as constructive feedback.

About a month ago, I was offered a consulting position which would have taken me out of the classroom. The offer came at a time when I was feeling particularly frustrated, not with students, but with some of the requirements and politics that happen in a public school setting.  The consulting position would have paid a little more and put me in closer proximity to my family, but something about it didn't feel quite right. It took some soul searching to figure out exactly what it was. The company is wonderful. Their vision and mission align with my values and teaching philosophy. Their attention to team building, dedicated time for reflection, and commitment to personal and professional development are building blocks for a position made just for me. At the time of the offer, I happened to stumble upon Caitlin Tucker's blog post titled "Manifesting My Perfect Teaching Position" and Vicki Davis's post "When Is It Time To Quit Teaching?" After reading both posts, I realized that although I am frustrated by aspects of my current position, I am not ready for this to be my last year of working directly with students. I love coaching and working with teachers, one look at the list of presentations and conferences I've attended in the past couple years is evidence of that, but I am energized by working with young people. I love teaching emerging writers. I love getting young readers excited about new books. I love connecting practicing readers and writers with real audiences and purposes. I have more to give to the classroom.

So this will not be my last year in the classroom.  Unlike my senior students, I am not yet ready to graduate high school.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

We've Got Our Eye on Passion with #IonPassion

We've been talking about passion in my high school English classes for the past two weeks.

No, not quite like that.

Much like the unit I introduced last year, we began our tenth grade inquiry projects about two weeks ago, which this year we've dubbed our #IonPassion Projects (get it? "Ion"...for Ionia), with an exploration of the roots of the word passion.  Students explored how our passions differ from our interests or even our hobbies.  In our discussion, we returned to our very first day of school, where following a failed attempt at folding origami cranes, we learned the importance of failing. Students remembered me saying that I wanted them to fail. I did say this. I want them to take risks, try new things, and fail in order to discover just how resilient they are. We don't learn by staying inside our comfort zones; we learn when we try out new ideas, new ways of thinking. During our discussion of what makes something a passion, students returned to this idea. A passion is something that we will continue to pursue despite setbacks and adversity.  Our passion, as Angela Maiers has pointed out, is what we are willing to suffer for.

And it turns out, I have a variety of passions sitting in my tenth grade English classes!

So now we're looking to connect our passions with experts in a variety of fields. My tenth grade English students have carefully crafted their inquiry questions, found mentor texts, written their initial inquiry proposals, and outlined their action plans for our #IonPassion research projects. But now we need some help. You'll find my students' research blogs linked below.

Roll over each picture to find a description and link to each student's blog. We'd love to hear your ideas and feedback.

1st Period 10th Grade Honors American Literature

2nd Period 10th Grade Honors American Literature

7th Period 10th Grade Honors American Literature

In addition to consulting mentor texts, we are looking for mentors to help us learn more about our inquiry topics. Do you have a passion for photography or mixing music? We are looking to interview, either in person or via email, experts. Please take a few moments to review our inquiry questions below, and if you wouldn't mind if one of my students contacting you, add your name and information to the columns on the right on our list below.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

One of THOSE Days

It has been an incredible week so far. On Monday, environmental reporter from the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, Garret Ellison, joined my journalism class to discuss his writing and research process. We learned all about how he gathers information, interviews for a story, and about how state agencies and the general public interact with the pieces he has written.  Today, Darcy Meade from the Ionia Sentinel Standard shared with us her experiences in both television production as well as working as a newspaper education reporter.

It also happens to be our big poetry week.  Students brought in their favorite poems and lyrics which we posted in a hallway display. My public speaking students listened and responded to the American Academy of Poets "Dear Poet" program. Tomorrow we will chalk our favorite verses outside on the sidewalk of the school's main entrance and share our favorite poets for Poem in Your Pocket Day.

But today has also been one of those days.

Because despite how well I planned for these events, and how well some small pieces went, those things that went oh-so-wrong are overwhelming me.

It started small. Some of the students in my first period class didn't come prepared. I had asked students to bring in their favorite poem or lyrics to share. No big deal. This is to be expected.  I have Chromebooks in my room and a whole slew of poetry books, so students had the ability to look up their favorite verses if they forgot to bring them in.  "Ms. Ward, it can be a song, right?" Of course! Which lead to a short but great conversation about why song lyrics should be considered poetry. Students named off similar traits.  I asked students to list the title, author, and favorite stanza on an index card which we then taped to a hallway display for poetry month.

I teach 15 and 16 year old students. I know that they like to push boundaries. But we know each other. We've built a community of trust. I suppose I should have expected, but didn't, the couple of students who made the decision to write inappropriate lyrics. That question about whether they could use song lyrics wasn't about whether lyrics were poetry. The students were looking to push a boundary. And they did. Pulling up crude and profane lyrics, scrawling them quickly onto a note card, grabbing a piece of tape, and jumping to add their card high upon the hallway wall, far out of my reach.  I had pull a desk from my classroom and scramble on top of it to snatch the offensive verse from the display.

What irks me most is not that I didn't think students would try to push boundaries, they are tenth graders after all and that is what they do, but what irks me most is that the students didn't take into account our classroom community. I sought special permission from the principal to post this display in the hallway, to showcase our love of well-crafted lines, and a couple of students, students who have been in my class and built our learning community together since September, made the decision to disrespect our learning community.

If that was all that happened, I would be handling today better. I know that tomorrow we will have a class discussion about respect and community. And I know that it will be a good reminder for all of us about what we value and how we build our community. But this initial disruption was followed by a much larger one.

Part of my day is scheduled by the students and teachers. Students have 30 minutes each day to schedule time to work with a particular teacher, or a particular teacher can assign a student to "office hours" for more individualized help. It is a wonderful program. I had scheduled my struggling journalism students to my office hours today, hoping to get those who had fallen behind caught back up.  But one young woman wasn't having it. "Why do I have to be here?" she demanded. My room was filled with 30 students, many who needed extra help on specific assignments and others who were still signing into my office hours.  The room fell silent. When I explained, she threw her hands on her hips and stated that she didn't need my class to graduate so she was just planning to fail it. This breaks my heart.  To see someone so young, so angry, so checked out.  I responded something to the effect that I didn't want her to fail. She turned on heel and started to march out of the room.

"Making the choice to leave your assigned time will result in consequences," I called.

"F**k your consequences," she yelled back at me as she walked out the door.

She skipped our journalism class as well.

At the beginning of the year, I start my classes with an exercise. I ask students to fold an origami crane using these awful printed directions in two minutes time. They can't do it. I ask them why, and they tell me what they need to learn. We use this exercise to talk about failure. Failure gives us an opportunity to reassess and reflect, to figure out what went wrong and make adjustments. I tell students, if you aren't failing, then you aren't learning.

But what happens when the teacher fails.  I know this is my learning moment. This is the point where I need to reflect, to adjust what I did and how I respond. I know that there are reasons and personal stories that accompany both of these disruptions today. I know that in the scheme of things, they are not insurmountable issues. But I feel defeated today.

I love teaching poetry. It is sacred for me. It feels trampled.

I love working with students, and it is a point of pride that I do not respond to students with sarcasm or disrespect. I was so taken aback to be spoken to in such a way.

I just finished re-reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, and in it she quotes Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 
I know all of this. But there is a gap between knowing and feeling. I feel like I have failed. And while I may know that I have dared greatly, I still feel pretty lousy in this moment.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Joining the TED-Ed Family

I'm beyond thrilled! I recently learned that I was one of 30 teachers selected to participate in the second cohort of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator initiative. I'm looking forward to sharing a bit more about the program in the coming weeks, but for now, I wanted to introduce the 29 educators that I'm been connecting and collaborating with in the weeks and months ahead.

Reblogged from the TED-Ed blog.

Meet the second cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators!

Kenya. India. Australia. These are just three of the 12 countries represented by the second cohort of 30 TED-Ed Innovative Educators. [Learn more about the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program here.] As leaders within TED’s global network of over 250,000 teachers, these innovative educators are dedicated to making the world better for learners everywhere by helping people make the most of TED’s free tools for teachers and students — including TED-Ed Lessons, TED-Ed Clubs and the TED-Ed Platform. Throughout the year-long program, this outstanding community will connect regularly across time zones and national borders to explore, create and share idea-based innovations that spark student curiosity. Below, meet the second cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators as they embark on this learning voyage.

What does innovation in education look like to you?

We asked the second cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators. Read their inspiring answers below:

Sarah Harkin, Darwin, AUSTRALIA
“Innovation in education means thinking about the hard questions while looking at the larger picture. What isn’t working? Who is being left out? What could be better? Designing solutions to address areas of real need in the classroom can be tricky, as different groups of people must work together to implement new initiatives. However, bettering a student’s future is more than a worthy cause.”

David Aderhold, New Jersey, USA
“Innovation in education means the evolution of thinking over time. It means applying one’s learning to problems in order to create varied and nuanced solutions.”

Mark Ayres, Lancashire, UK
“Innovation in education means changing mindsets. It means using real life situations — and positive role models in the media — to teach difficult concepts.”

John Branya, Nairobi, KENYA
“Innovation in education means helping the students to learn actively and at their own pace, with frequent feedback and encouragement.”

David Burt, California, USA
“Innovation comes from a constant desire to improve the way you teach. Teachers must be willing to evaluate the needs of their students and the effectiveness of their teaching methods. Once a need is identified, educators need to be willing to change lessons, to use different methods — and to adapt new technologies to the needs of their students.”

Wiputra Cendana, West Java, INDONESIA
“Innovation in education means that a new, fresh idea bursts from the mind to bring benefit to the education community. It means integrating visual or auditory media in the classroom so that students can better absorb the content of learning and be more equipped as 21st century learners. It means shifting our paradigm from traditional learning methods to new learning methods that implement more innovation in education. It means that the curriculum itself is very dynamic, like a living organism.”

Sandy Chambers, North Carolina, USA
“Innovation is required! Innovation is creating, collaborating and thinking critically. Innovation in education will prepare our students for the future world.”

Pen-Pen Chen, New York, USA
“To me, innovation in education means not being confounded by limitations, financial or otherwise. It means to create new and effective methods for having students learn. I am a firm believer in Coach John Wooden’s quote, ‘You haven’t taught until they have learned.’ I am also a proponent of Bruce Lee’s approach to martial arts, which is to not subscribe to one particular school of thought, but rather to take learnings and effective methods from wherever you may find them, and incorporate them to achieve the desired results.”

Sunkyong Choi, Daegu, SOUTH KOREA
“To me, innovation in education means to go back to the essence of education. Education is raising a person, I think. It is encouraging students to try something new, instead of defining their abilities by scores.”

Natalie Coleman, Illinois, USA
“It means allowing students to try and fail and try again. It means allowing students to be creative thinkers, free to try what they think will work to solve a problem. Innovation is not pre-packaged. Nor is it determined by demographics. We are currently using our 3D printers to allow students to create their own prototype of an innovative product that will help society on a global level. Allowing them to address a problem — one that they believe they have the solution for — creates a sense of accomplishment and importance in their work and contribution to society.”

Rafranz Davis, Texas, USA
“Innovation in education is about kids learning from what motivates them and designing their own pathways with support. It’s not wrapped in a single device or app, but in the access that the devices and apps provide. Too often, the adults decide what students should be, and we don’t include them in their own learning enough. What if we gave students to room to explore, think, create and build? That’s what innovation is about. True innovation is when we create the space that all students can achieve this regardless of zip code, IQ, economic background, race or gender. It is where we no longer use the phrase, “yes…but” and instead scream, “yes…and.”

Jacqueline Fernandez, Maryland, USA
“Innovation in education is to be comfortable questioning what we do in our schools and why we do it. It’s to make positive changes that will impact student learning outcomes. As a STEM educator, it is my duty to make sure that students are engaged in my classes through my curriculum, lessons and use of technology.”

Bojana Golubovic, Nis, SERBIA
“It can be described in few words: being – doing – knowing. I find the “Nosce te ipsum” learning strategy and Socratic dialogue the best approaches in education today. Yes, I can not imagine education of the 21st century without application of IT in the classrooms, but without reflection on the question: “What is education for?” and “Who am I?” education loses its essence.”

Kathryn Hammond, Florida, USA
“To me, innovation in education is finding ways to make what and how students learn engaging, relevant and meaningful. It means embracing technology and change, and helping students to do the same. It means introducing students to a broad range of resources, information, and perspectives, and giving them the tools, the freedom, and the confidence to move beyond what you have to teach them. It means constantly seeking out new tools, methods, resources, and ideas, or using and combining existing ones in new ways, while systematically evaluating everything we do to make sure that whatever we do is in the best interest of students.”

Susan Herder, Minnesota, USA
“Innovation in education means that we are not treating school and students as part of a factory model, but instead finding ways for students to guide us in their own learning. Innovation is letting go of teaching the way we learned, because ‘that worked then.’ It is about embracing new ideas, providing places to learn iteratively, and recognizing that failure is an important part of working and that most people do not work in isolation. It is about providing ways for students to collaborate with others beyond the classroom walls and to think on a global scale.”

Corey Holmer, Illinois, USA
“An idea becomes an innovation when it is put into action, and innovation exists in education when that idea takes action, through a team effort, and then results in student growth. Innovation also means that an idea is growing, impacting others, and promoting positive change. Educational innovation may include new tools, methods, workspaces, or initiatives, but only if they are the result of a collaborative effort to genuinely enhance student learning. I see innovation in schools whenever teachers, students, parents, or administrators find a new, creative way to address a need. Innovation gains momentum when educators team up, combine their expertise, ask questions, and learn from each other as they work to solve problems or make improvements to existing systems. Innovation doesn’t need to be fancy or result in accolades — but in a school setting, it does need to lead to authentic student growth. True innovation thrives when educators infuse their own passion into learning.”

Ashley Huffmon, Abu Dhabi, UAE
“Innovation in education means that a student has control of their own learning. It is creativity at its best without limitations. It is cooperative learning in such a way that each student learns from one another, and the lessons can be connected to day-to-day life.”

Gwangho Kim, Cheonan, SOUTH KOREA
“Innovation in education is necessary for survival in the future. The world is changing rapidly, and students must learn new skills in school to live in the real world.”

Yau-Jau Ku, Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
“Innovation takes creativity, and creativity takes risks. In order to take risks, it must feel safe, where failure is redefined and seen as a stepping stone in the learner’s journey. Innovation in education is about problem solving, resiliency, and grit. We aren’t providing lesson plans, but creating learning experiences that our students will never forget.”

Alicia Lane, Washington, DC, USA
“Innovation in education means that teaching and learning at all levels is relevant and aligned to ensure that the most critical challenges we face today (engineering better medicines, securing cyberspace, increasing access to clean water and many other needs) will be solved by our current learners when they enter the workforce in the future.”

Jennifer Lehotsky, Illinois, USA
“Innovation in education is about empowering students with the skills to engage in their own learning paths. In the end, it is about teaching them how to use the learning tools available to them, so that they have the grit to solve problems with authentic solutions that were once inconceivable.”

Liz Loether, California, USA
“Innovation means to look at education from different perspectives, and to try something new in an effort to help students become better than they were yesterday. Those that limit innovation see the classroom, the students, and the teaching role as the same day-to-day. Innovation is evolving with the ever-changing world.”

Wendy Morales, New Jersey, USA
“Innovation means taking risks and learning from both successes and failures. Innovation does not always have to include technology, but it has to result in an increase in student motivation and success. An innovative learning environment is one in which teachers and students are learning together, and students are driving instruction. Students have choice and voice in an innovative classroom, and are becoming prepared for a future that will look very different than our present. Innovation requires problem-solving, communication, collaboration and creativity; skills that all of our students will need as we get further into the 21st century.”

Vipul S Redey, Bangalore, INDIA
“Innovation in education means 3 things: Individual attention, immersive learning for things like languages, and a curriculum that honors Constructivism.”

Fred Sagwe, Kisii, KENYA
“Innovation in education will improve what exists, building on existing resources and materials from co-educators, writers and educational technology experts. Innovation acts as a catalyst and a spice to earlier creations.”

Lamar Schrader, Texas, USA
“Innovation in education means sharing ideas on how to activate and cultivate students’ learning. It means helping students make their own lives better and richer, and showing them ways that they can make their world a better place to live in by using their intelligence and talents to serve those around them. Innovation does not mean throwing out good ideas that have worked, just for the sake of the new — but it can mean sacrificing good ideas to get to great ideas.”

Georgios Villias, Athens, GREECE
“Innovation in education means to start using all of our senses and abilities in education, and not only our reading skills. Seeing, hearing, experiencing, doing, talking, cooperating, watching, feeling, creating, constructing, playing, imagining, dreaming — these are some of the verbs that should be used more often in a learning experience, because education should be fun. Innovation means using these verbs in productive and meaningful ways.”

Jennifer Ward, Michigan, USA (hey, that's me!)
“Innovation requires first understanding the root of a problem in order to better grasp where, how, and what kind of change is needed. Innovation involves mistakes, missteps and failures, and it also involves resilience, passion and grit.”

Shameka Williams, Georgia, USA
“Innovation in education means using creative ways to pique student curiosity and interest, while also helping students develop 21st century skills. This can happen through technology, in-field experts, or relating content and approaches to real-world events. I believe that innovation is exciting and that students should feel excited to come into innovative environments.”

Pablo Yafe, Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
“Innovation in education means reevaluating the needs and potential of students in interaction with the world they will be living in. It means training students in the art of producing new content meant to improve their surroundings. It means redefining the teaching role.”

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Find Funding

I have been very fortunate this school year. I've been able to add an instamatic camera, three DSLR cameras with telephoto lenses, and 36 Chromebooks to my classroom. One of my students recently asked me, "Wheredya get all the money for this technology?"

At least once a week, I'm scouring my network for new grants and initiatives to help bring resources into my classroom. I spend at least one of my planning hours each week either researching or writing grants to bring the outside into my class, whether that be through hardware, speakers, or virtual connections to experts in areas we are studying. I am passionate about making sure that what happens inside my classroom walls connects with what is happening outside of them. To do this, I rely on a network of organizations that help provide funding for such initiatives.

In addition to my student, I've also had a couple of teachers in my district ask the same question: "Where did you find the funding?" So I thought I would share some of the resources and organizations that have supported my classroom, as well as share links to a few promising awards that I've recently become aware of.  As I learn of more, I'll update this post. And if you know of any, please share! Use the comment section below to add any links you think other educators should know about.

Crowdfunding for Educators:

  • DonorsChoose.org is a site where teachers can post projects for which they are seeking financial support.  Donations come in from individuals as well as from larger corporations and organizations. Last summer, Staples supported a large number of projects as did the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Recently, athletes, artists, and philanthropists funded a hundreds of projects through the #BestSchoolDay initiative. This is a well-used, well-organized space, but the downside is that if you do not reach your funding goal, you lose all the money donated towards that goal.
  • PledgeCents.com is a lot like DonorsChoose, but with one big difference. Teachers keep all the money raised for a project. So, even if the project doesn't reach its funding goal, say you only raise $125 of the $200 you were seeking, you keep the $125 you've raised.   


  • Being a Google Certified Innovator (formerly known as a Google Certified Teacher) links you in to a whole community of innovative educators from around the world.  Our online communities are a place where we regularly trade cool tools, tips, and of course, grant opportunities. And you can join, too!  Applications to participate in the June 2016 Google Innovator Academy open on April 5th.
  • As a member of Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT) and Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL), I receive a regular newsletter in my inbox which shares upcoming grant opportunities - Big Deal Media. You can sign up for free without having to join either of these organizations. 
  • GetEDFunding tracks a huge list of grants and awards for educators. Create a free account and select your experience and interest areas in order to receive a personalized list of grants your classroom may be eligible for at the state and national level.
  • And this post by Edutopia contains a wealth of advice and links. Make sure you save this post to go back to again and again. 
  • For local Grand Rapids area teachers, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation is a fantastic resource. This group oversees a number of organizations and grant opportunities in our region.
  • Be sure to also speak with your local Rotary club as many clubs are invested in supporting local education initiatives.

Grants and Awards:

  • EdTechTeam Student Device Grant:  One of the best emails I received recently had the subject line, "Your Student Device Grant Application was...Selected!" Months earlier, I enlisted the help of my tenth grade students and together we put together a video and responded to a couple of essay prompts about how adding a class set of Chromebooks would change our classroom. Perhaps my second favorite email was the one that followed a short couple of weeks later which began "Chromebooks have shipped!"  I look forward to sharing with you all the innovations that come from our one-to-one Chromebook classroom.
  • Voya is awarding 100 $2,000 grants for innovative classroom projects. But hurry! The Unsung Hero award deadline is April 30th.

More Ideas:

Friday, March 25, 2016

What is the Opposite of Bullying?

I've had the opportunity to connect with Spring Lake teacher David Theune and his student Elise McGannon at a number of conferences around Michigan recently. When I saw that David was presenting with students at December's ECET2 Conference on Michigan State's campus, I knew it was a session that I didn't want to miss.  It was at this session that I was introduced to the Share Chair, a regular podcast David and Elise produce to introduce their learning community to the diversity of voices in their midst. In February, I was happy to see the pair presenting and podcasting a conversation live at NovaNow. And again last week at MACUL, the pair presented their work, introducing their project with a simple question:
"What is the opposite of bullying?"
Especially at the secondary level, teachers and administrators tend to focus more energy on addressing the negative consequences of bullying. However by focusing only on the negative, we leave a vacuum for the positive message. What are the values of our learning community? Rather than focus a majority of our energy on punishing the negative behavior, what are we doing to promote a positive culture in our learning community? Punishment is a reaction. What are we doing to create a community that it is not built on the shaky and destructive foundation of punitive reactions?

Prior to yesterday's professional development day, I posed many of these questions to my high school students. It began months earlier with our study of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. Our guiding essential question for this unit was "Who are the witches today?" and I asked my students to consider who were the groups in our community that might feel ostracized and isolated. Our class discussed ways in which society isolates the elderly, refugees and immigrants, the homeless and poor. Many students identified the victims of bullying in our school community as being treated as witches, as outsiders. But our conversation didn't end there. Students wanted to find ways to help those in our community that felt isolated and had been victims of bullying.

Initially, our conversations revolved around how to best help the victims, but in allowing space for discussions and sometimes disagreements, the group of students also started to discuss our school culture and community. What were we doing to promote a culture of support, of kindness? What started as a unit project for our study of The Crucible became something much more.

Our unit has long since ended. Some of the students that were initially in my class, switched to other classes when the new semester began but continue to stop by my classroom regularly. Students brought friends into our discussions. This wasn't about a grade or a class project. Because the group was bringing together students from all grade-levels and a variety of classes, students started a Facebook group as a way to communicate with each other and with our larger community. They meet weekly in my classroom to spend time discussing and planning ways to promote kindness in our community. Based on an activity we did earlier in the year, the students have recently sought permission to paint a Kindness Wall near our cafeteria, a visual reminder of the values of our community. They have spoken with the assistant principal and high school principal about their vision and values. And then there was yesterday.

Yesterday was a professional development day for teachers in our district. Students had the day off. However instead of sleeping in, the core members of the Anti-Bullying group rose early in order to be at school by 7:30. Why? Because yesterday they taught the teachers.

The group has been working hard the past few weeks, researching, planning, and practicing a 30-minute presentation for our entire teaching staff on the topic of what bullying looks like in our classrooms. Initially, they started with a 12-slide PowerPoint.  However, after a bit of discussion about what they like to see happen in their own classes, they ditched the PowerPoint in favor of hands-on activities.  So at 8 am on Thursday morning, my students lead us through a quick round of warm-up jumping jacks before we emptied tubes of toothpaste and tried to unsuccessfully smash the paste back into the tube. We then created a Wrinkled Wanda and reflected on what happens when we don't address name-calling in our classrooms. The students also shared with the teachers that they had designed and would be selling anti-bullying t-shirts prior to their April presentation to our student body. Yes, the group not only presented to teachers, but they are also working on a 60-minute presentation for our student body. As the presentation wound to a close, something truly magical happened.

The assistant principal announced that he would be speaking with school administration in the coming days in order to seek funding to send these students to a leadership camp this summer. And that's when you felt the energy in the room build. These are our students, all of ours. How might we support them, their efforts, help them expand their ideas to others in our community?  A fellow English teacher volunteered the idea of having a dress down day for teachers. "I would pay to wear jeans, especially if the money helped to purchase the t-shirts for the students and would send them to leadership camp." This idea was quickly seconded. And then another teacher jumped up, literally jumped up, "Next week is the week before spring break; let's have a jeans week. If we all paid $15 we could buy the t-shirts for the students and send them all to camp." You could feel the excitement. Nods and affirmations flooded the room. I had goosebumps, which I quickly showed the student sitting next to me. She whispered back, "Wow, I didn't expect this!"   

At our mid-morning break, teachers came up to the students to share congratulations, share ideas, and share support.  When students came back to my classroom to reflect on the morning's activities, they were bubbling with energy and ideas.  They were excited to be heading to the leadership camp, but also had ideas for what they would like to do in the future. They want to run their own summer camp next year, a camp to help other schools replicate what they've started: a conversation about what's the opposite of bullying.

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