Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I had a conversation with a teacher this past week, who experienced a fairly sad epiphany.  This teacher is a truly wonderful and compassionate educator.  She had started working with some developing readers (developing is the word I like to use to replace "struggling"--thank you Donalyn Miller), and she was overwhelmed with what she saw in this small group.  Once she was able to narrow her focus to one student, she really saw the extent of their difficulty, and it really made an impact on her.

If you have never worked with developing readers in a small group or one-on-one situation in your class as an educator, you really, really need to at least once.  We often make assumptions about our students when they come to us, and we do not frequently enough actually seek to know if those assumptions are correct.  Primarily we believe that our students, for the most part, have come to us with a base knowledge built on from their previous years, so they are ready for our content and instruction.

We know that some students may have "gaps" or "holes," which are basically little pockets of content that they may have missed for some reason or another along the way.  And we often can tell which students that we see daily that really experience some significant difficulties, though we don't really know the depth of it.  It's time to strap on some scuba gear though, because we can't continue to make assumptions that are routinely false.

Now I know that teachers have a bazillion things to do, and already don't have enough time to do it in.  So we prioritize based on how we can reach "the most" students, and do our best to help the others in some way, usually by calling in another professional to assist with the ones who need the most help.  We tell ourselves things like "there's just not enough time" or "there will still be a plan for them to be successful in high school," or my least favorite phrase--"they are just going to be passed on anyway."  I absolutely understand that, and have even uttered those phrases myself before.  But saying those things doesn't absolve us from doing everything we can for our students.  Reading is important.  It is the most important.  The ability to read, or lack thereof, can make an extraordinary difference in a child's life and future, and then in their own children's future.  It's not just a skillset.  It's a measure of confidence and real-world savvy.  And hopefully, for most, it's a pleasure.  So when you cannot read at a level comparable to those around you, it can be tough.

Have you ever tried to do something that was new or difficult for you, and when you finished you were just so tired?  I recently taught myself how to type some code into google sheets to get the cells to do things I wanted them to do.  It took a while, and when I finished my eyes and brain and self were just so tired.  We expend so much mental energy learning about challenging or unfamiliar things that we are often unusually fatigued, maybe even exhausted.

We need to think about this idea in terms of students who are developing readers.  If you are unable to read words with more than one syllable, how do you get through a day where you are expected to know and understand a host of them?  If I, as an intelligent, grown educator, get fatigued by reading things when I can actually read them, how does a thirteen-year-old feel who reads on an approximate second grade level?  They are frustrated, exhausted, drained, dog-tired, and not nearly as successful as they, or we, want them to be.

So here are my pleas:

1) Take some time and listen to one of your students read aloud, especially if they are a developing reader.  It is more than worth the time it takes out of your class.  You may even find a way to help them understand your content better.

2) Remember that your developing readers have more obstacles on the path towards comprehension than others, and an entire day fighting what they struggle with is hard.  If you get frustrated in class trying to help them, imagine how they feel.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rally Caps

So I didn't learn about the concept of a rally cap until I was at least in college, maybe even later.  I understood what rallying behind someone meant, so I kind of understood the central point, but when I saw the baseball players turn their hats inside out and backwards, I was more than a little confused.

Once I figured it out (or was told about it by either my friend Stuart or my husband, can't remember who), I started using the phrase frequently.  I think sometimes it feels more appropriate to talk about rallying from behind rather than "never giving up."  Because sometimes, honestly, we do give up a bit.  Not altogether, hands in the air and bounce, but we tell ourselves that we will get back to that "tomorrow," which often turns into next month, or sometimes, never.  We'd all love to be the one who says they don't have to rally, but we'd also be lying to ourselves.

Teachers, I feel like, experience more trouble with losing steam and having to rally than most.  We get extended breaks from work in between school years and we rest, recuperate and dream of what we are going to do next.  We get so excited about books we've read and changes we want to make.  Some of us even daydream about a period in our "new" classes and all the magical learning that is taking place in our heads.  And we start school with a work-adrenaline that helps us ride high through the first weeks of school, in blissful ignorance of the same old responsibilities that are slowly mounting.

Then it happens.  Our shiny new strategy or activity looks duller.  We can't plan for the next one because of the meetings or paperwork, or other school functions that demand our attention.  We say we'll definitely get back to it because we think it's important.  Then we move its priority down a little bit in our list for the other things we don't enjoy as much.   And there's that week of chaos, of altered school schedules, or a particular class of students who are struggling to get through the content quickly enough.  so so tired.

The inner struggle is real.  The lull that happens in your innovative instruction is real.  Your frustration with your job and all the things you want to do but can't is real.  But it doesn't have to derail your mission. Just put on your rally cap.

Rally caps help you acknowledge that you are slipping some, that things aren't going exactly like you feel like they should be in your room.  Usually it's because of the myriad of things you have employed in your room that the time in the day doesn't allow for.  But the thing I think is important about rally caps is that they show your willingness and drive to come back from being down.  It's one thing to say "woe is me, my class isn't working the way I want it to," but it's quite another to say, "it's not okay right now, but it's going to be."  It reminds me of a conversation many of us in my district had this past Friday about teacher agency.  You are the one in your room with the power to make the changes needed to see your vision come to fruition.  So it's up to you to decide when it's rally time.

Once the cap is firmly in place, backwards and inside out, it's time to prioritize somethings.  Look at all the things you have going on in class, and the reasons why you do them.  Look at the things that conflict and how you can h
elp them conflict less.  Look for how you can decrease the frequency of things you do so that you can continue to do them all, if their "why" is important enough for you.  Look for things that may need to happen now  so your days can flow more smoothly later.  It's okay to invest time early on in something that will make life easier as you go.

The biggest thing about rally caps though, I think, is that it's a reminder, both for others and for yourself, that you aren't giving up.  What you're fighting for is too important to lose heart over or to quit.  So don't let the lack of time, or pressure of other responsibilities take you away from why you're doing it.  It's time to rally like the Cleveland Indians* in 2001, so let's get to it.

*Yes I had to look that up.  In 2001, Cleveland came back from a 12 run deficit to beat Seattle 15-14 in 11 innings.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Turn and face the strange... ch ch changes

    Over the last year or two, I really stepped up my game in professional development attendance.  I wanted to get involved more in the process of change, because I had felt for a long time that some changes were necessary for our students to start experiencing more successes.  And in all the sessions I've attended on changing our vision of education, all the conversations with like-minded or semi-like-minded individuals, I often don't hear one point that I feel is pivotal--control.

    It is a fact that life is never certain.  It feels especially unpredictable right now, which causes us as humans to desire something concrete and tangible, something stable.  For teachers, it is most definitely their classroom.  No matter what is happening around the world, or what we or our students may be facing once they leave our building, when they are with us, we run the show and provide their education.  We need that structure.  And we tell ourselves that our students need that structure too.  They come from all kinds of situations, some of which are absolutely heartbreaking or tumultuous, and so they need the constancy of coming into our class and following a routine.

   And there is something to be said about students--children--needing structure.  We know that helps when they are learning how to interact socially with peers or understand the demands in a learning environment.  A routine can be helpful for them all through their years in education and beyond.  And goodness knows it helps us as well, because, real talk, "adulting" is hard y'all.  So it's totally understandable that teachers would want to ensure a solid and somewhat rigid framework is involved in their educational practice.  Even if you don't agree with the way education has been in the past, it is hard to compel yourself to change, when the underpinnings of the system were established for what we felt like was the good of the kids.

   The thing is, it is possible to do a great many more student-centered things in your classroom while maintaining organization for your kids.  We don't have to view student choice and classroom structure as mutually exclusive.  Students can feel safe and secure in your room, even if it sometimes feels noisy and disheveled.  But coming to this realization and accepting it is tough because it feels so backwards from what we are used to.  It's always difficult to change a mindset.  Something emotionally, mentally, or physically demanding often precedes a massive shift.  Many times, though, even through the struggle, we feel some sort of fulfillment with our new outlook.

     But you know what?  Not one of us has time for a huge, daunting, possibly terrifying change of ethos.  We have too many students, too many meetings, too much paperwork.  In homage to Elaine on Seinfeld, we "haven't a square to spare" of our time on something like student choice, especially when we as educators know our content better than students.  I mean, they're children, amiright?

    They are just kids, but I swear they are some smart and creative cookies.  They are resilient, funny, and full of initiative to make things around them better and brighter.  They want to make positive change, and any assumption to the contrary is our fault.  To be honest, I think we need to be more like them in some ways.  And we as teachers, definitely, at the very least, need to give them a chance to show us their capability.

   When we talk about students needing structure, we really just mean that they need clear instructions, goals, and parameters.  We do not have to be the "all-brilliant giver of knowledge."  Frankly we could ask them just about any question under the sun and they could get an answer for us.  (Their resourcefulness and access to knowledge via technology is downright impressive.)  So why not help them harness that talent, and do so in a way that does not make us feel like we are losing all authority of our classroom?

   You can experiment with all types of student-centered and student-driven learning ideas.  Project based learning, Genius Hour, self-monitoring, interest-based learning, there are so many ways to go.  But there is one checklist-type question that should be addressed with every one: do you have in place expectations for your classroom that are consistently adhered to by all, yourself included?  If you have clear procedures in your room that are continuously monitored, then the activities types don't really matter, because you students will value those expectations just like you do.

   Now I am not preaching here.  It is incredibly hard to relinquish freedom to students.  We are filled with "what ifs" about it.  What if it turns into chaos?  What if the lesson or project goes wrong?  What if my colleagues get upset with noise levels?  What if parents complain?  What if my Principal comes in and sees what he/she thinks is chaos?  The truth is those are real, though unlikely, possibilities.  Even if they did, though, a change like this is in the best interest of students.  You are making them better learners, better people, and that's an argument that no one could refute.

  I really don't know if I've made a case for you or not.  I hope I have given you enough reassurance to try something.  It is truly an amazing thing watching a student take charge of some aspect of their learning.  Their pride fills me with pride.  Education is not a bed of roses, but it's worth it for moments like that.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Help Lassie, Reading's in trouble!

     Where's Lassie?  We need her help!  Reading fell down a well!

     I recently finished a book that has rocked my world!  It's called Disrupting Thinking and it's by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.  I went through what felt like an abridged stages of grief while reading this book.

     I'm not going to give away big chunks of the book, because I don't want to rob you of the experience of reading it yourself (which you absolutely need to do asap).  But there are a couple ideas from it that I'm going to mention broadly, because they describe my transition through this journey to the post I'm currently writing.

Surely it's not me that did this, my book projects were fun!  My novel studies seemed engaging; the kids participated.

I totally was a part of this.  All those kids that have been through my classes, and I contributed to this problem, even though my intentions were noble.

I helped maim reading in school.  But I don't have to keep helping.

     Once I finally hit acceptance, I was ready.  And since then I've been brainstorming, generating, and sharing resources and plans at a furious pace because of this book.  And I've been encouraging others to do the same, because to me, this matter has become urgent.

     You know those groans?  Those visible displays of anguish that you see when you mention comprehension questions or novel studies?  Well as this book so accurately explains, we caused that.  Our students' hate of reading is on us.  We can try to blame it on other factors--lack of books, lack of time, state standards, "lazy" students, anything we want.  But we own a pretty big stake in the culpability of this one.  Our job is to teach students to read, to learn, to acquire and retain knowledge. That is our task.  So if we have in some way contributed to the opposite of that, the lack of learning, or even the lack of desire to learn, then the onus is on us.  (See what I did there?)  And by draining the joy from reading with our activities and assignments, we have seriously injured our students' love of learning.  Allow me to explain.

    Firstly, when children are young, they enjoy reading.  They love hearing stories, watching us read books to them, looking at pictures.  They are also naturally curious and want to learn things and know things, which makes them more interested in books for that purpose.  But as they get older and start progressing through school, the purpose of reading changes to them.  When you ask them why they read or if they even like it, you get some fairly disheartening answers.  Can you imagine a student saying they read so they can find evidence?  What?!  Evidence for what?!  The ideals they start with begin to fade away.  And from where do you think they heard about supporting your ideas with "evidence" from the text?

     The next idea that was huge for me asks us what we do when we read for pleasure as adults?  We may enjoy reading or not.  We may devour fiction, peer reviewed journals, or even the magazines we see in line at the grocery store that talk about Bigfoot sightings.  But when we do finish reading something that we particularly have enjoyed, what do we do about it?  Do we do any of the activities that we assign to students to do?  Do we give ourselves unit tests or write summaries for practice?  Do we rewrite the story from a different character's point of view?  No.  We don't.  And why don't we?  ... You can say it.  We don't because that is boring.  Who wants to do that?  Not us, and not our students.

     And yes some could say "but school isn't all about fun" or "we did things this way when I was in school and it was okay."  However I would respond with, "false."  I went through school like that too, and I don't think it is "okay."  I stopped reading for pleasure from grade six up past college, and when I think about why, it's because I was told what books to read by people who felt that reading them would be good for me.  And I was too busy dragging myself through those forced texts to read anything else voluntarily.  That's why this point hit me especially hard.  If you had asked me during that time of my life why we read, I probably would have responded just like the other students.  I'm embarrassed that I didn't make this connection and do anything more to fix it in the last ten years.  How many kids have I helped hate reading?

     I can assure of one thing though, and this brings me to the last big point of the book that I'm going to mention.  I am going to do everything in my power to help save reading now.  There is so much to love about it, and I'm going to help teachers show that to students.  To help remove the negative stigma from reading, we have to stop associating it with all the cold, unfeeling tasks that we have continuously relied on in the past.  We have to show students that the feelings they have by watching news, talking with friends, and the like, they can have by reading.  We have to make the content meaningful for them, and often it's not just about choosing specific texts, but more about showing them how to make connections from the text to themselves.  We all know that students are more engaged and excited about things that interest them, and helping them recognize their own personal reactions to text is how we can build that interest in our classroom.

    I've read this book as a part of an informal book study/club with several educators from my county and other parts of the country.  When we started talking about the framework that this book mentions, one teacher from Pennsylvania, Leigh Anne Geib (https://leighanneteaches.blogspot.com/) mentioned a way that she was going to tweak the framework for her older students, and it hooked me.  So I took her idea and ran with it to start making some visuals that I can share with teachers as they read the book and want to start making changes in their classroom.  With the help of some free background images from http://melstampz.blogspot.com I am on my way to making an arsenal of these posters with all types of themes.  Here are a couple I've started with:


    My hope is that as more teachers of all subject areas see this framework and want to apply it in their classes somehow, I'll have resources for them to use.  If a whole hallway or a vertical subject level could get on board with a framework like this, and students were tapping into their feelings from text regularly, we could see some major change.

   I'm excited about this book and the changes it could bring for education.  But I'm also afraid that we are running short on time.  We have spent so long disfiguring reading in education, and we need every  available minute now to help bring it back to life.  With that being said, if you have ways in your class or school where you've begun helping students love reading again, please please comment and share.  Because with a problem this size, we need all the Lassies we can get.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thirty-eight flaming torches...

I'm sitting here, exhausted, at 8:36pm.  I know that the majority of this is temporary.  This is my first full week back to work, and it's an emotional and mentally exhausting thing, going to a new school and meeting new people.  Plus, there's my kids.  Three years old and five months old.  So yea.

Point is, I want to sleep.  I want to sleep very badly.  But I'm still sitting here, because I feel like it's important to document my recent thoughts...and attempts... and failures.  (But if there's a typo, I apologize.  Please don't tell me about it until tomorrow.) 😉

Yesterday in our county we had an amazing showing of support and encouragement for the new school year.  Our employees (almost 5,000) of them, showed up together at a stadium for a convocation, representing our schools and voicing our excitement for the school year.  Curtis Zimmerman came (bless his heart, he was in a suit in a bazillion degree weather, but that suit was sharp!) and spoke to us.  He said my new favorite quote.  And when I say new favorite, I mean I've already started making a canvas of it that is going in my office!  Anyway, he said: "Failure is an event, not a person."

I don't know that I have strictly associated failure as an event or a person, but I feel like I probably have associated more with the person than the event over time.  I hadn't really thought about it until hearing that.  And when I say associate, I don't mean blame, because I don't really think of failure with a negative connotation.  I just feel like when I've talked about things failing in years past, I've always thought more of who was doing it than what was done.  And I have a feeling that is fairly "normal"--as in many people do that same thing.

No wonder we have to work on growth mindset, amiright?  So back to why I'm writing about my failure.  I have what you call the "dreamer's disease."  I love thinking of all these new and cool ideas and ways to get things done.  And one of my big pushes has been to make a channel on Youtube.  I feel like it's so easy to create videos now that smartphones are everywhere, and this ubiquitous app can help us reach a new level of communication and involvement.  So I've been hocking this suggestion to anyone that mentions talking with parents.  But then I realized that in my dreaming I haven't worked on the logistics of a Youtube channel myself.  I'm preaching like it's the best thing since sliced bread and I haven't even tried it.  So I did.

And it was challenging.  I don't want to say hard, because it wasn't beyond my or any other novice's skill level.  But I had a vision of how I wanted it to look, and for the life of me today, I couldn't get it right.  My tester friends would see one video and not the other, and eventually I decided to take a break from it and come back later.  I did some research and played around with it for quite a while.

But I fixed it.  I did it.  It now looks just like I want it to when you first arrive to the channel.(https://www.youtube.com/user/treehrgrove for all your Anxious Annies out there who are dying to see it lol). I could have totally seen myself give up on this and just stop talking about it.  Stop advertising it.  But I couldn't let go of this idea and this process because I believe in the possibility of it, the potential of it SO much.  And I believe that teachers would feel so accomplished from it.  And I think students and parents would benefit from it.  And if I'm going to feel so strongly about it, I am going to make sure that I can help a teacher that wants to try it.

This whole little mini-journey I took with Youtube today reminds me of teachers who want to try something totally different in their class.  They usually see something that just captivates them and they get so excited about it and its possibility.  And then life happens.  School happens with the meetings and PLCs and paperwork, and that bulb starts to fade.  It's sad, and it happens to so many wonderful educators.  Teachers deserve to get to experiment and be excited about new things!

I felt so accomplished today with my Youtube channel.  I feel like I'm on the brink of something great, and I'm anxious to continue it.  But I had to persist past that initial hurdle... and then the few after it.  But it was completely worth it to see and feel that success.  And isn't that true for teachers with their students?  The kids deserve it.  They deserve every little bit of innovation and excitement and energy and passion that we can squeeze out each day.

So teachers, as you juggle the thirty-seven flaming torches this school year and you want to add one more, I encourage you to do it.  Because if you push past the setbacks and failures, you may discover a feeling and intensity that you never knew existed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Question: Tell me what I think about me*

Today was a powerful day for me and other educators in my school district.  We got to be part of a great experience with Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a PIRATE.  Then we got to work with our school-based teams to talk about all the great things we had learned in the past few days of professional development.  The ideas of the last few days were so plentiful and energizing, it's hard to sort through it all, but I noticed the word "question" popped up a lot.  So I figured I would try to explain to myself (and whoever else) what is rolling through my head about it.

We in education are realizing that the way we asked questions previously (and and ask them currently) is not acceptable.  Our questions for students are not appropriate for the outcomes we are seeking.  We realized this when our curriculum standards changed.  Our kids stopped meeting academic goals when the goals became more complex.  Our old questions were not challenging enough, not good enough.  So we are now working on improving this facet of our practice by changing our questioning during instruction.  We are trying to show kids how to problem-solve a bit more with the content, and we are giving them questions to frame processes and provide end goals.  We are also trying to teach students how to question effectively, because, if we are honest, it's not an easily acquired skill for everyone, but it is one that is absolutely imperative for life.  So we press on, seemingly urgently, to make things more rigorous and get those questions flowing.

And then I think about the types of self-questioning and self-monitoring we expect our students to be responsible for.  We require a lot of forethought of students when they turn in assignments.  Some teachers still take off points for what are deemed careless errors or for late assignments.  We assume students are capable of long range planning for assignments just because we tell them far enough in advance about them.  We often expect students to independently go through editing and reviewing processes that sometimes aren't even taught consistently through the years.  Children in our classes have heaps of requirements on them, and if they don't come through we look to question what's wrong with them.

And this is where I've run into trouble.  Because over the last few years I have realized that we are not really being very fair to our students or ourselves.  We expect them to do things that if we are honest we aren't sure we still do correctly.  And they suffer consequences from these requirements that we as their teachers don't even face.  I mean, even when I was in graduate school my professors didn't take points off for late assignments and I was usually given guides with due dates to help me budget my time.

So yes, unreasonable requirements without guidance isn't cool.  But the other thing that isn't cool in my opinion goes back to the question thing.  I know I have mentioned this in a previous post to an extent, so I apologize if there is any redundancy.  But with all the questions we want our students to ask themselves while they learn, there's an incredibly surprising lack of questions we ask ourselves to model that behavior for them.  Before or after we deliver instruction, how often are we asking ourselves about our methods?  Our goals?  Whether our methods met our goals?  Have we even established goals for ourselves?  Or are we still suffering from that "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality?  It can be so frustrating to witness what seems like complacency with effort towards instruction.

But then I try to ask myself, "why do they feel that way?"  I mean I really don't know any teachers that got into this profession because they thought it would be a cushy gig.  (If they did, boy the joke's on them.) Most often it is because they like kids and want to work with kids to make them better, stronger learners, etc.  So why not serve as an example to that?  It seems like there are a lot of reasons why this could be.  Not enough time, personal life stuff, ideological differences, fear.  And though I feel like I've heard the first three as reasons often enough, I haven't heard the last one much, even though to me it has to be the number one reason.

There's a reason why some people don't step out of their comfort zone.  It's uncomfortable.  Who wants to feel that way, especially when it's at your job, your livelihood?  No one wants the risk associated with putting yourself out there.  You could fail.  You could embarrass yourself.  You could make others upset.  You could find out what your flaws are.  And one more time...anyone out there enjoy signing up for any of those feelings?  Didn't think so.  If you avoid reflection and questions, you avoid those possibilities.

But... you also avoid all the growth you could be doing and the joy you could be having with your job.  Because if you aren't stretching yourself outside of that comfort zone, there's no way you're growing.  And there's no way you can tell me that you aren't bored silly at your job.

Today Dave kind of talked about this some, about teachers acting like all the things he does is too hard for them to try.  To which I say "false."  Your job is to try things and do things when you teach, so that can't be it.  The hard part is summoning the courage or will.  And the best way to do that I think is to... ask questions!  Even if they are questions like "why am I doing things in my class this way" or "what is making me nervous about trying new things?"  Any question will require a response, and that response will prompt some kind of thought or action.  Anything is better than nothing.  If we want our students to do it, we have to be willing to do it too.  There's no other way for them to learn.

A very important (even wildly so) goal for me this year is to help people step outside of their comfort zone and get acquainted with the area.  It's so nice out there, and they are missing out on the fun.  Today I saw Dave get people excited in a way that I never though they would be.  And that more than anything thrilled me.  Every time a teacher goes out on a limb to reflect on their craft, only good things can happen.

*Hopefully you totally see my Destiny's Child reference #independentwomen #90sor00s

Sunday, August 6, 2017

To my comrades...

    Another academic year is right around the corner.  Some of us are starting this week, some next, the following, and so on.  But we all know it's coming.  You may be dreading the end of your family time, rest time, vacation time, or you may be anxiously awaiting this next year because of the myriad of ideas that you are ready to implement in your classroom.

   I'm pretty excited, probably mostly due to my new role.  But then again, I'm usually pretty enthusiastic about returning to a new school year.  I normally have thought of something (or some things) the year before or during the summer that I want to try, so I'm ready to get to it.  I'm a bit of a dreamer.  I think of these wonderful ideas about how to really get students thinking and participating and how to establish a rapport with them as quickly as possible to get some real productivity going.  Some of the ideas are unconventional compared to the norm, but it usually doesn't bother me.  With the population I've worked, I've thought outside of the box for a long time.  I used to come back with these ideas, and then hit an unseen brick wall where my intentions take a pretty big hit.  This formidable foe to my creativity is fear.  Now I don't mean some kind of sudden, crippling feeling.  It's more like the slow apprehension that builds during the school year as time passes on, and you fall behind in your lesson plans, or aren't on pace with your peers.  Those new ideas seem like they could be working, but not at a speedy pace.  You start to get nervous when work conversations and PLC discussions come around to what you're doing, and then you start to weigh the importance of your new practices compared to the content you have to cover for the *gasp* end of year test.  And when it comes down to it, you sometimes give them up, or loosen up on the fidelity of their practice.  If this has happened to you, read on, because this post is for you.

    Now obviously we can't change the system in which we teach.  We can't help that we are held to standardized tests (not getting into that on this post).  It seems fairly natural that when you have a built-in end goal of your students showing proficiency on a test, that it ends up feeling like priority number one.  And so when data starts rolling in, you start comparing numbers and the reluctant sense of urgency gets stronger.  And it doesn't help that so many people are relying on those test scores, does it?  Parents, administration, district leaders, legislators, the list goes on and on, and it's hard to fault them, because those test scores have been deemed the "mark" of proficiency and success.  But, (and it's a big but), they aren't in your room every day.  You are the teacher in the room.  You are with your students every day for a year.  You are the one who sees their strengths and weaknesses.  You are the one who sees the big picture and knows what they really need to know in order to be productive, knowledgeable citizens and respectable people.  Because others aren't there, or have other priorities they have to keep in mind, there are some things that you don't hear often enough.  So I'm going to make sure you hear/read them today.

     First of all, thank you for wanting to know your kids so well and wanting to do what is best for them.  Thank you for staying in a field where you are not always respected and valued enough, because you see the importance of our next generations' knowledge and success.  You are appreciated more than anyone is ever going to say, and you'll see that appreciation in notes and conversations from students, parents, and colleagues.

    Secondly, the test is only one assessment for one day of yours and the students' lives.  When it's done, it's over.  I know you know this, but I want to tell you that one day of testing is not going to override or change the skillsets you have developed in your students over the year.  You've made a massive change in them that one test score (even if it's awful) can't erase.

    And finally, as you are preparing and *hopefully* getting excited about the coming year and your new ideas for your class, let me tell you this, and it's really important: it's okay.  It is okay if you decide that working on perseverance is more important than one small piece of a huge curriculum.  It's okay if you teach math, but realize that your kids can't read and it's making it hard for them, so you work on that too.  It's okay if you feel like making experiences for the kids to learn is more important than chapters in a textbook or slides on a presentation.  It is okay for you to think of the whole student instead of just the small piece of that student that enters your room daily.

We often feel like we don't have enough time to help the students who came to us with gaps in their knowledge because we have too much to teach them.  We get so frustrated that they don't have the prerequisite skills they need, and we stew in that throughout the year.  But it's okay to refuse to do that.  Why not work on filling those gaps, especially if they can't move forward without them?  It's okay to say that you are not going to let a student pass through your class for a year without helping them catch up.

     That's it.  I don't think we are ever told enough that it's okay to change priorities and teach our kids what they need to know for the future.  But I'm telling you, it absolutely is.  Not only is it okay, it's imperative.  You have no idea where your students will go after they have you.  But you can help make sure they are ready for wherever they end up.