Tag Archives: culture

“It’s the Most PAINFUL, Time of the Year”

Instead of the holiday season being “the most wonderful time of the year” as the song goes, for many students it is an incredibly painful time. I am not talking about the girl who is crushed because her boyfriend broke up with her, but students who are deeply hurting.

Many students, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds, are dealing with real trauma daily. This can be escalated by the holidays. In our culture, when all of the messages around them are about joy, presents, and spending quality time with your family, it only amplifies the pain some of our students feel about their home life.

Some students may be dealing with the trauma of the loss of a parent or grand parent. If the death happened around the holidays, then they may be remembering the feelings of loss and depressed. There also may have been a significant income loss in the family household leading to frequent moving or homelessness.

I had a student whose birthday was coming up.  When I asked if he was doing anything for special for it, he said, “No, I never get anything for my birthday.” I took him out for lunch at Wendy’s and it really made an impact on him. Unfortunately, “normal” for him was that no one cared.

Many of our students are not looking forward to presents, but embarrassed that they lack basic necessities. They are not looking forward to holiday feasts, but will be missing the daily breakfast and lunch that the school provides. Maybe utility bills are not being paid and the heat is turned off. For them, holiday vacation means hunger, cold, and loneliness.

For other students, family gatherings means more stress in their homes. They may be forced to go to a non-custodial parent’s house and deal with step parents and siblings who they have strained relationships with. There may be stressful situations including drugs and alcohol abuse, or even worse child neglect or abuse. They are dreading what they will be forced to endure over the break.

For teachers, this means don’t be surprised if you see some acting out behaviors from students the next few weeks. Don’t assume that kids are hyper because they are looking forward to the holidays. It may be the exact opposite. They may be acting out because school is the only safe place in their lives and they are stressed about their home life.

The holiday time is an important time to be patient, loving, and kind to students. If you sense that they seem “off,” pull them aside and have a conversation with them about things at home. Ask them if they are looking forward to the holidays. Seek genuine answers and be a supportive listener. Students need extra care and understanding from us as it may be the only positive part of their holidays.

Student-Centered Teaching

This is the second post in a series where I flesh out why the ideal traits of a PBL teacher are important. Check out the links to the rest of the series below the post.

Why do we teach? A basic question, but how you answer may reveal your philosophy. I would argue that no one’s content is so valuable that kids are going to suffer in life if they miss it. The core of what we do isn’t curriculum, standards, or academic growth. Nope, it’s the kids. So making them the center of your class makes sense. Let’s look at some examples of what that might look like.

Space

The first time I enter a classroom, I observe the space and make some assumptions. Are the desks in rows facing a screen or are there chairs in groups facing each other? Does the teacher’s desk and “personal area” take up a huge chunk of the room? Do the walls have student work showing creativity or does it look like a Pinterest page vomited on them? Are there past projects, supplies, or “junk” laying around demonstating that students make things or does the room feel sterile?

All of these things are evidence of whether the adult teaching or students working is the center of the teacher’s philosophy. Room design communicates to students the culture and values of the teacher from desk alignment, to alternative seating choices to light and decorations. Is it about efficiency and beauty or conversations and inquiry? Student-centered teachers exhibit kid’s work as the theme of their space.

Active

Teachers who have already experimented with projects of any kind, even if they may be dessert projects, are taking the first steps toward PBL. If you have kids making, kids working in groups, or kids presenting in any fashion then you are taking baby steps toward a student-centered philosophy. If you have ever run a simulation, used skits or drama, or run a genius hour then you are more likely to shift to PBL easier.

Teachers with an active classroom of students moving out of their seats and working in groups are more comfortable with PBL. They understand that silence often implies consent to teacher control and that productive noise is evidence of learning. They understand the energy generated from a healthy buzz of working kids.

Why Over What

For years I taught U.S. history, making sure we “covered” all of the standards by the state. But in my mind, the standards and yes, even the project students were doing was not the end all, be all. I had my own set of goals for all of the students in the class. It was my “why,” my enduring understanding.

For me there were 3 things that I wanted every student to learn and U.S. History was the vehicle that I taught threw: 

  1. BS detection
  2. Multiple viewpoints
  3. Empathy

BS detection is important so that my students are critical thinkers. I don’t want them fooled by “fake news” from any political viewpoint. The multiple viewpoints of historical events lead to my final goal of empathy. I want my students to understand others’ views so that they can step out of their own biases and care for others.

Student-centered means teachers are more concerned about the enduring understandings of their content discipline than about any specific standards. It is about developing successful humans, not making sure that students know all of the curriculum.

Culture is Everything

I believe everything that we do and don’t do in the classroom creates our culture. Every word, activity, conversation said or omitted tells students what is valued. The layout of the room mentioned above, greeting students at the door by name, and developing relationships all show students that they are valued.

My mantra for students is a culture of “Trust, Respect, Responsibility, Effort.” At the beginning of the year, in a stern voice with no smile I tell students, “If you have to go to the bathroom or get a drink, don’t ever ask me.” I pause for effect, secretly enjoying the concerned looks on their faces. Then I continue with a smile, “Just go.” I tell them that they don’t have to earn trust in my room but that trust is assumed until broken. I talk to my students as adults, not talking down to them.

Student voice and choice is a key component of PBL and many teachers are comfortable giving students choices over content, products, or assessment methods. But student VOICE won’t happen without a strong culture.

One year early in our Civil Rights project,  a conversation about discrimination turned into an open mic of students sharing stories of when they were treated unfairly. It wasn’t in my lesson plans for that day, but it was one of the most powerful feelings of community in the classroom that I have ever been a part of!

Sally raised her hand and shared that she was gay. She shared the pain of being rejected from her church youth group and her previous school. The culture in our class was strong so that she felt safe to come out in front of everyone. Sally continued to use her voice to stand up for LGBTQ rights. Student-centered isn’t satisfied with student choice, it promotes student voice and amplifies it.

Being student-centered is the most important trait of a PBL teacher. This teacher doesn’t “own” the space, but designs it for group work and shows off high quality work. Their class is active with the healthy buzz of kids working on projects. PBL teachers know their why of putting kids first is more important than their what of content. They work hard to establish a healthy culture of caring and respect where kids know that they are valued and safe.

Links to the rest of the series on Ideal Traits of a PBL Teacher:

  1. Overview
  2. Student Centered
  3. Flexible
  4. Passionate
  5. Self efficacious
  6. Collaborative

Questions? PBL Consulting?  I can be found at my blog michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

How Do You Plan to Trust Students This Year?

hall pass

From http://www.efestivals.co.uk/forums/topic/164728-t-minus-and-counting/page-74

I have been thinking a ton lately about the start of the school year including what I want to do on the first day, but especially about building culture.

I really think many teachers underestimate the importance of culture in schools and classrooms. In my opinion everything about the experience is culture: what we say, how we say it, what we never say, architecture, furniture, lighting, tone of voice, body language, what we do and don’t do, what students do or aren’t allowed to do. Every interaction and activity is a part of our culture and creates the “norms.”

Many teachers have shifted from a syllabus and the “rules” the first day of class to community building and things like designing social contracts together. I applaud this, but it is not enough! If we all agree to be responsible, but you never trust students then you are undermining the culture. If we agree to respect one another but then you micromanage every part of the class then you don’t really respect your students.

What students need from us is trust. Too often we start off the year with an assumption of negative behaviors from students that we need to cut off before they happen. Students will be off-task, misbehave, and waste time. The truth is that they probably will sometimes. But the danger of starting the year with this assumption is that it starts with a negative expectation. The other truth is that students will do amazing things that you never expected and teach you things, if you let them. Let’s try focusing on this instead the first day.

An example from my room is that I always tell students (10th grade) that they are not allowed to ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink in my class. I always say it in my most serious tone with a dramatic pause. Then I say, “Just get up and go if you have to go. I am not here to babysit you for basic human needs.” My starting point is assuming trust and responsibility.

I understand that this example might not work for your specific situation, but what can you do to communicate a starting position of trust, respect, and responsibility rather than expectations of poor behavior?

How to build a PBL Culture

Creating a great culture in a school is no accident. The key is to build a community of trust, respect, and responsibility among teachers and students. Relationships matter. Without strong relationships, there can be no community.

There are also intentional activities that can be planned to help build school community at the beginning of the year. This is especially important if this will be your students first experience with PBL. I recommend not starting the year off with a PBL project or class content, but instead with activities to build community and expose students to the PBL process. Simple, mini projects that teach the structure of PBL help expose students to how PBL works. Then when you start your first project students won’t be confused by the process and the lingo and can focus on the content.

I created this document to share activities that have worked for my school at the beginning of the school year to create culture and introduce the PBL process.

Questions? PBL Consulting?  I can be found at my blog michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

 

Culture Trumps All

I am a big proponent of PBL as a framework for student centered learning. But more and more I believe that culture is the most important part of a successful school or class. PBL can lead to creating that culture (but it is not an automatic thing!) but the culture is a separate thing.

In working with a new school I was able to challenge them with the opportunity that they had to create a culture from scratch. No student would be coming with any realistic pre-conceived notions about what the school will be like. They will be coming excited and curious to find out. The first days of school are critical for establishing the culture of the school every year. But it is more than how the year is launched, because culture is the norms that are actually lived through out the whole year.

I have had years that did not go well. Culture was the main reason why. The good news is that culture can always be re-created in a new year or shifted in the middle of the year. We are well over the half way mark of this school year, but it is still not too late to shift culture in your class.

Are you happy with your culture? What should you change? What should you keep?